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Netizen Report: Tunisian Court Refuses to Ban Online LGBTQ Radio Shams Rad

Gay Pride

LGBTQ pride celebration. Photo by lewishamdreamer via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world.

A primary court in Tunis has refused to ban the online radio station Shams Rad, which caters to the  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, in response to a legal complaint.

The decision comes despite the fact that same-sex relationships are illegal in Tunisia.

In a lawsuit filed by a union representing imams (worship leaders at mosques), the group asked the court to request that the Tunisian Internet Agency block access to Shams Rad under the pretext that it threatens “social and family values.”

In its February 14 response, the court ruled that the radio station had not violated the rights of others or their reputations, and that the union did not have standing to make such demands.

When Shams Rad launched in December 2017, its founders received a huge volume of online harassment and threats of violence. As in a majority of Arab region countries, homesexuality is a crime in Tunisia, where it is punishable by up to three years in jail.

Pakistan’s High Court says mobile shutdowns are illegal. Will other countries follow suit?

In another judicial victory for free expression, the High Court in Pakistan ruled that mobile network shutdowns as carried out by the Pakistani government are illegal, and contrary to the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-Organization) Act.

The ruling raises the question of whether neighboring countries might someday follow their lead. In Bangladesh on February 12, authorities temporarily shut down mobile internet and throttled broadband speeds during nationwide school exams in an effort to curb attempts at cheating. It then changed course, instead imposing a mobile phone ban near exam halls.

Slovak web journalist shot dead

Aktuality.sk reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were found dead on February 25 in their home, about 65 kilometers from the capital Bratislava. A police commander working on the case said that the killing was “most likely related to the investigative work of the journalist.” Kuciak had been working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project on an investigation of the Ndrangheta mafia, which the organization describes as “one of the world’s most powerful and fearsome criminal groups.” The group also indicated that Kuciak is the first Slovak journalist ever assassinated in retaliation for his work.

Indian Facebook users arrested for mocking prime minister, Hindu gods

Two people were arrested in Uttar Pradesh, India, for allegedly making derogatory remarks made against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindu gods in a video posted on Facebook and WhatsApp. Authorities say they will be charged under India’s penal code for committing “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion and religious beliefs.”

Venezuelan man arrested for predicting a power outage via WhatsApp

The Venezuelan Intelligence Unit (SEBIN) arrested unionist and Communist Party of Venezuela member Elio Palacios on February 14, after he used WhatsApp to warn fellow residents of anticipated electricity blackouts. Palacios said the blackouts would likely be a result of negligence and lack of proper maintenance. This contradicts the government’s narrative that blackouts are the result of sabotage by opposition groups.

Turkey’s parliament to vote on digital media censorship measure

A parliamentary commission in Turkey has approved a bill that would require online broadcasters to be licensed and regulated by federal broadcast media regulator RTÜK. The bill may also extend RTÜK's regulation authority to personal social media accounts, raising concerns of political censorship among free speech advocates. The Committee to Protect Journalists has strongly condemned the bill.

São Paulo’s mayor is blocking his critics on Facebook. Is that okay?

Facebook users navigating to the official page of São Paulo’s city hall are being forced to mind their words or face being blocked. According to official government documents obtained by news outlet R7 via an Access to Information request, moderators for the page are actively banning certain terms and blocking users who criticize current Mayor João Dória. The page is a popular platform for dialogue between the city’s residents and its administration.

Covering the story for Global Voices, Taisa Sganzerla notes that “when a public official blocks users from commenting on their official pages, they effectively censor those users’ voices within a space for civic debate.”

Cuba censors local online magazine El Estornudo

Cuban authorities blocked the website El Estornudo (“The Sneeze”), adding it to a growing list of media outlets that are censored by state authorities. The site features critical essays on social issues and cultural change, and aims to tell stories of the “other Cuba” that is not part of the official story told by the government. In response, its editors wrote an open letter to “the Censor” saying that they would not change their editorial line, despite the block.

Spanish Instagrammer faces fine for re-mixing image of Jesus

A Spanish man was fined for superimposing an image of his face over Christ and circulating it on the internet, which prosecutors said showed “a disregard towards and mockery of” a local religious group, which brought the case against the 24-year-old. The decision led to a wave of indignation online, wherein numerous users posted similar images of their own faces superimposed onto that of Jesus. Supporters also raised money to pay for the fine, which the man says would have cost him 10 days’ worth of wages.

Minority Reporting: Predictive policing in China and the US

A new report by Human Rights Watch sheds light on the magnitude of China’s predictive policing surveillance infrastructure in the western Xinjiang region, where the population is largely comprises Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Using a combination of CCTV facial recognition technology, mobile phone surveillance software, national ID systems and physical surveillance, police now routinely aggregate and cross-reference data about citizens’ activities, movements, financial transactions and a host of other points as part of China’s “Strike Hard Campaign,” which claims to target violent activities and terrorism.

Meanwhile in the US, The Verge published new findings that the New Orleans police department used predictive policing software developed by Silicon Valley firm Palantir in order to track the identities and activities of gang members in the southern US city, without the knowledge of local city councillors.

According to the tech news site, the software “traced people’s ties to other gang members, outlined criminal histories, analyzed social media, and predicted the likelihood that individuals would commit violence or become a victim.” This information escaped the scrutiny of civilian government officials because the software was given to police as part of a “philanthropic” relationship between the department and the company.

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