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Rise Of The Surveillance State From Kiev To Washington

Clashes in Kiev last week  (Pic courtesy presstv.ir)


If this blog posted yesterday the confident prediction by Turkish author and playwright Meltem Arikan that the world turning digital from analogue would lead to the downfall of patriarchy, political oppression and police violence, think again! Not that Arikan, activist and survivor of police brutality at Gezi Park did not envisage pitfalls on the road to that ideal, but there was certainly a note of optimism in her tone.

 But the Ukrainian government’s sophisticated use of surveillance technology to track down protestors in Kiev appears quite unlike the fumbling efforts of the Erdogan government last year in Istanbul. President Yanukovych’s regime’s monitoring of electronic devices of Euromaidan dissidents was so systematic that “Many people in Kiev awoke Tuesday (January 21) morning to a frightening text message on their phones. ‘Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.'”
     
The rise of the ‘surveillance state’ from Washington to Kiev is described by Timothy Karr in an article for the Free Press as an “information counterrevolution.” A ‘surveillance state’ is collaboration between tech companies and governments that use data in their possession to control citizens by spying on them. But that is not all: companies too control the public by limiting and/or denying their access to information – and thereby overturning the concept of net neutrality – which was recently demonstrated in the verdict in Verizon vs. FCC.
“In 2014, we’re experiencing a new age of ‘strategic data,’ says Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, which earlier this month released its annual list of the top political risks worldwide,” writes Karr.
“‘It’s about states using data to engage in surveillance on their populations domestically and internationally.’ It’s top-down, and it’s not only about official use of personal data to protect national security. Governments and corporations are mining our data for more benign practices, too, like predicting traffic patterns or monitoring the spread of diseases,” Karr explains.
You can read the article here

Freedom Of Expression Crushed In Ukraine By Legislation And Police

Woman begs police not to attack protestors (Pic courtesy BBC)


Freedom of expression and assembly became targets of assault both in Ukraine’s legislature and on the streets of Kiev, as the embattled government of President Viktor Yanukovych passed emergency legislation to criminalise libel and police attacked protestors. Over forty journalists covering the clashes were injured.

The new round of protests – after an earlier wave popular dissent, which turned violent in December – began after the Ukrainian parliament passed Act 3879 on January 16 that the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said copied “some of the most repressive provisions of recent Russian legislation.” The legislation contained provisions under which the penalty for defamation could be damages between 50 to 300 times the minimum wage, 150-240 hours of public service work and under “aggravating circumstance” up to two years in prison, said RSF.
“International experience has shown that criminalizing media offences and, even more so, making them punishable by imprisonment, helps to create a climate of intimidation that discourages journalists from tackling sensitive subjects,” said RSF.
The new law also prescribed prison sentences for “extremist content” which RSF said were not defined, up to three years in prison for circulating pictures of judges, policemen and members of the Special Forces, while internet sites could be closed without a warrant. In what are very similar to laws enacted in Russia, the Ukrainian parliament also introduced provisions that would cripple NGOs that try to “influence state decisions, change government policy and shape public opinion and are foreign funded.” They will have to register as ‘foreign agents.’
Following the hasty passage of Bill – there was no debate – and its promulgation into law with Yanukovych’s signature on January 17, all hell broke lose as a crowd of 200,000 incensed by the draconian provisions in the law took to the streets. Incidentally, the Act 3079 also bans public protests.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) quoting Ukrainian media, protests turned violent on January 19 when dissenters attacked the police with stones and Molotov cocktails. In the ensuing melee CPJ said 42 journalists were injured mostly by stun grenades and rubber bullets, while some had reported being shot in the eye or leg. Some were detained and had cameras and other equipment damaged.
“Journalists in Ukraine are under attack in the street and in Parliament,” said CPJ’s deputy director, Robert Mahoney. “We deplore the assaults on reporters covering the protests in Kiev and call on the security forces to respect the right of journalists to work in safety. We also urge the government to repeal the laws, which give Ukraine some of the most repressive media legislation in Europe.”
Among those who were assaulted and detained were Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s reporter Dmytro Barkar and his cameraman Ihor Iskhakov as they were filming the clashes. RFE/RLreported that its Ukrainian service was providing live-stream video of the protests when Barkar and Ishakov “were attacked by members of the elite Berkut police force. The two were separated and held for five hours without access to a phone or legal aid after being beaten and struck on the head and body with batons.”
RFE/RL’s Chairman Jeff Shell condemned the attack: “Attacking journalists under any circumstances is unacceptable. This was an egregious and shocking suppression of free press that left our reporters badly injured and in need of emergency medical care. There needs to be a prompt and thorough investigation.”
Meanwhile the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) wrote to leaders of the European Union to condemn the violence through their respective organisations and “take all actions, including sanctions, necessary under your rules and statutes to force the Ukraine government to respect the statutes of the Council of Europe of which they are a member and the conventions and covenants which they ratified.”
“The IFJ and its affiliate unions worldwide believe that the recent actions by the Ukrainian government, its Head of the Security Service, Oleksandr Yakymenko, and its Security Council, Andriy Klyuyev, are a step back from their international obligations and are aimed at instilling a climate of fear among journalists and at destroying freedom of speech, peaceful gatherings and political pluralism in the Ukraine,” said the letter signed by IFJ President Jim Boumelha and EFJ President Mogens Blicher-BjerregÃ¥rd.
RSFsaid the Ukraine-based International Media Institute (IMI) had a complete list of the injured went on to report that “Oksana Romanyuk, who heads IMI and who is the Reporters without Borders representative in Ukraine was again described as a ‘foreign agent’ – a synonym for a spy – by the state TV station ‘UT1′ last weekend.”
Meanwhile on Tuesday, January 21, in fresh confrontation five protestors were killed and 1700 injured reported AFP. Earlier, two anti-government activists were abducted. One of them Igor Lutensko, a civic sector coordinator, was abducted from Zhovtneva hospital in Kiev beaten and then left in a forest. He reappeared at Euromaidan with injuries later. The other, Yuri Verbytskii did not. His body was later found in the woods Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.
On Wednesday Yanukovych had talks with opposition leaders that included Vitaly Klitscho, the former world heavyweight boxing champion who called for snap elections as a way out of the imbroglio. Meanwhile, The Guaradian UK said, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was defiant blaming the victims for their own deaths. “The participants of these disturbances cannot be called peaceful. These are criminals, who are disturbing order. I want to officially state that the victims are the responsibility of the troublemakers.”
On Friday, (January 24), BBC said that Yanukovych had held talks with religious leaders and agreed to use all “legal measures” if a solution to the crisis is not found and “also promised to amend anti-protests laws rushed through parliament last week and reshuffle the government at an urgent session of parliament due to begin on Tuesday.” But BBC said as talks appeared to stall protests began spreading from Kiev to the regions as regional offices were attacked by anti-government dissenters.  

Crackdown On Ukraine’s Journalists: Where Personal And Political Merge

Protests Against Assault on Journalist in Kiev (Pic New York Times)    


At first it appears the latest affront to media freedom – the brutal assault in Kiev on journalist Tatyana Chornovol in the early hours on Christmas Day – is the consequence of her critical account of Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko’s financial dealings. But that Zakharchenko controls the police that have repeatedly clashed with anti-government protestors in Ukraine, shows how the personal merges with the political in a country bereft of the rule of law.

 “Chornovol was driving home in the early hours on Wednesday, when a sports utility vehicle ambushed and rammed into her car, according to recording taken with a video camera on the dashboard of the journalist’s car, which was later published on the website of the independent Internet newspaper ‘Ukrainska Pravda‘ for which Chornovol writes,” said the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ went on to say that in a video taken at her hospital bed Chornovol – who is being treated for concussion and serious multiple facial injuries had said, “‘I jumped out, tried to run. I was caught and they began beating me on the head. They didn’t say anything. They just hit.'”
Euronews quoted Choronovol in greater detail. “‘Before being beaten, I had filmed the Interior Minister’s residence and the residence of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and I think that this car started to chase me after I left the prosecutor’s place,'” she had said.
But soon the personal dissolves into the political. “Zakharchenko has been heavily criticized recently for police brutality in the dispersal of anti-government protests that have swept Ukraine over the past month. Zakharchenko is the most senior official with direct authority over police involved, according to international press reports,” reports CPJ.
RSFpoints out how Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government has turned assaulting journalists covering public protests in Kiev to targeting media organisations and now individual journalists. “There has been a sharp increase in violations of freedom of information since the start of the Euromaidan movement. At least 50 journalists have been physically attacked during demonstrations since the start of December and three opposition media were stormed on 9 December,” it said.
RSF, CPJ and other international media watchdogs have demanded an investigation into the assault.
Meanwhile, Euronews said “Angry protesters are demanding the resignation of Ukraine’s Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko after an opposition journalist was badly beaten by unknown attackers. They marched to the ministry in Kyiv, where they also denounced President Victor Yanukovych and insisted that the attack on Tetyana Chornovol is far from an isolated case.”
RSF reported police was investigating the case and arrested three suspects under the Criminal Code for “hooliganism.”

Forty-five Journalists Among Injured As Ukranian Police Attack Protestors

Protests in Kiev


Journalists were among those injured Sunday, when Ukrainian police attacked protestors who broke away from a 300,000-strong demonstration in Kiev to storm President Viktor Yanukovych’s offices after he refused to sign a free trade agreement and establish deeper political links with the European Union.

 The Huffington Post said that the rally in Kiev’s Independence Square was orderly despite the government banning protests, turned violent when thousands of protestors broke away from the main demonstration and surged towards Yanuchovich’s offices and tried to break through a police cordon with a front loader. They had also thrown rocks and other missiles. The police had used truncheons, tear gas and flash grenades to push them back Huffington Post reported.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that attacks on journalists had left 45 injured. Although the main assault on protestors occurred on Sunday, a smaller opposition rally on Friday was also violently dispersed. RSF noted that “most of the violence against journalists was deliberate.”
“The frequency and gravity of the attacks on journalists indicate a deliberate desire to crush freedom of information,” RSF said. “It is unacceptable that the media have again been the victims of the political unrest they were trying to cover as part of their professional duties.
“The police in particular have been guilty of targeted and disproportionate violence in blatant disregard for their obligation to protect the media. We urge the competent authorities to order the necessary investigations and to punish those responsible for the violence.”
RSF said the 45 injured, which included eight foreign journalists, comprised eight who had been hit by stun grenades and teargas canisters, 26 who had been “beaten by members of the police and the special forces who knew they were journalists” and five had been targeted by demonstrators or persons in civilian dress. Many had to be hospitalised. Index on Censorship (IoC) said that among the journalists injured from the foreign media were correspondents from Associated Press and Euronews.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that reacted sharply to the crackdown and complained to the organisation’s head was confronted with a problem of its own – OSCE’s 2013 chairman-in-office is Ukraine’s foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara.
IoC quoted from the letter Dunja Mijatović OSCE’s representative for the freedom of the media wrote to Kozhara in which she said, “I am especially concerned that in most of the cases, the beatings were reportedly conducted by the law enforcement officers who attacked the journalists and disregarded their press identification. Violence against journalists cannot be tolerated.”
In a related development Freedom House has just published a detailed report on freedom of expression in Ukraine during its tenure as chairman of OSCE. The report’s summary said, “In spite of the generally high quality of legislation, the reality of implementation is less impressive. Citizens may freely express their views, and collect and disseminate information, but access to free and pluralistic media and to public information held by the authorities is inadequate. Journalists’ working conditions are not secure enough to work safely and remedies for violations of journalists’ rights or attacks on journalists are ineffective.”
IoC also quoted the Belorussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reprimanding Yanukovych’s government for the violence. “Being in the centre of events is a journalists’ job, but not a reason to try brutal force on them. We call on the authorities to investigate each incident of attack on our colleagues, and to ensure normal conditions for journalists’ work. Absence of reaction to the violence looks like connivance,” BAJ said.
Huffington Post said Ukraine’s opposition had denounced those who had incited the attack on the presidential offices as government-hired thugs but called on the president to resign. “‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration, it’s not a reaction. It’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader,” reported Huff Post.
The violent rallies are reminiscent of the rallies of 2004 Orange Revolution when protestors occupied the streets to force fresh polls after allegations of fraud surfaced over the presidential election won by Yanukovich. The re-election soon after would bring pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power.