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Netizen Report: Who will be next? Venezuela’s political crisis sees a new wave of censorship, media repression

A student demonstrator speaks to National Guard members in Venezuela, during protests in 2014. Photo by Jamez42 via Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

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

Online censorship and repression of social media users are reaching new heights in Venezuela, where citizens continue to protest dire economic and public health conditions wrought by the country’s ongoing political crisis.

It has become extraordinarily difficult for journalists to report the news, as they face regular accusations of “disturbing public order” or “threatening the revolution”. Social media users who actively engage with a broad public on various civic issues are also being targeted.

In mid-May, popular Twitter user Pedro Jaimes, who offered climate, meteorological and air traffic reports to nearly 80,000 followers, went missing. Shortly before his disappearance, Jaimes had tweeted about the pathway of an airplane carrying Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, information that is available to the public through online news outlet Efecto Cocuyo.

On June 15, more than a month after he went missing, Jaimes called family members to inform them that he had been detained inside El Helicoide, the military facility turned prison belonging to the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

Meanwhile, accessing basic information and communication platforms online is becoming ever-more difficult. With electrical grids faltering for lack of maintenance and periodically deactivated in an effort to ration energy, internet access is never a guarantee. Yet web-based news and communication systems are increasingly the only way that Venezuelans can exchange and obtain information independent of the state.

In early June, the websites of two major news outlets, La Patilla and El Nacional, were blocked, along with access points for the Tor Network, which enables internet users to circumvent online censorship. Major pornography websites have been blocked as well, in what may be an attempt to test the country’s online censorship capacity. In some countries, these types of measures have been a precursor to efforts to increase online censorship.

Palestinian journalists targeted with assault, mobile phone seizure

Journalists covering a labor rights protest in Gaza on June 19 reported to MADA (the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom) that they were assaulted and had their mobile phones and cameras either confiscated or destroyed by uniformed people associated with the Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip.

At a June 15 protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah, journalists reported that Palestinian Authority security forces used similar tactics in an effort to stop them from filming and reporting on the protest.

Nigerian student suspended for lamenting school’s poor infrastructure

Kunle Adebajo, a law student at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan, was suspended for two semesters for writing an article that was deemed critical of the university administration. On April 20, Kunle Adebajo wrote an opinion article, “UI: The irony of fashionable rooftops and awful interiors”, which described the deplorable state of infrastructure in student residences in his university. University administrators then summoned Adebajo to a disciplinary panel, which described Adebayo's article as “rude, defamatory and insubordinate” and issued his suspension.

In an article for Sahara Reporters, Fisayo Soyombo, an award-winning investigative journalist and an alumnus of University of Ibadan, described the disciplinary action against Adebajo as “a clear uppercut on press freedom.”

Cuban authorities revoke press credentials from renowned blogger

Veteran blogger and former BBC correspondent Fernando Ravsberg, an Uruguayan journalist who has made his home in Cuba since the late 1990s, was denied press credentials by Cuban media regulators for the first time. Ravsberg had long used earnings from his work as an accredited foreign journalist to support his popular blog “Cartas desde Cuba” (Letters from Cuba), where he writes critical commentary about public life and politics in Cuba, and where a single post regularly garners hundreds of comments from readers. Ravsberg reflected on the move in his own words:

Over these past 10 years, they have tried to tame me with kind words of advice, hidden threats, with breaking my teeth, demanding that I be expelled from the country, and ‘warnings’ directed at my children. None of this has worked until now, but removing my foreign media credentials has allowed them to give Cartas a coup de grace.

In Nicaragua, pro-government forces seem to be changing peoples’ WiFi network names

With anti-government protests still raging in Nicaragua, hundreds of people reported in mid-June that their SSID (their Wi-Fi network names) had spontaneously changed in the middle of the night. All of those reporting the change were subscribers to Claro, a subsidiary of the Mexican telecommunications giant América Móvil.

WiFi networks were renamed “QuitenLosTranques,” which means “StopTheBarricades” — a reference to a common local protest tactic of blocking roadways. This message has been used consistently, and as a social media hashtag, by government actors and supporters online. Barricades have been popping around the country in an effort to pressure President Daniel Ortega to leave power and protect communities from state violence.

Program in India offers free phones to poor — but won’t ensure privacy

A mobile phone access initiative is offering free mobile phones to female heads of household living below the poverty line in the northeast Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Although the phones come free of any monetary charge, people who join the program must provide their national ID numbers — associated with India’s controversial Aadhaar national ID scheme — and sign a document giving the government “consent to use those Aadhaar numbers.” An investigation by independent news site Scroll.in showed that participants have not been told how the government might use their Aadhaar numbers.

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