Mexico's "War on Drugs" leads to catastrophic rise of murder, torture, "disappearance"

Human Rights Watch reports that instead of reducing violence, the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and "disapparances." Read the report. [Video Link] Read the rest

Blue Coat "deep packet inspection" tools used by Syrian secret police and other repressive regimes

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more information on Blue Coat, a US company whose "deep packet inspection" products are being used by the Syrian secret police with reportedly horrific consequences for Syrians who dare to express dissent online. Blue Coat denied knowledge of the products' use in Syria, then changed their tune after incontrovertible evidence surfaced. Now they've told the WSJ that they don't want their products used in Syria because it's illegal to sell technology to Syria.

But what they haven't said is, "We don't want our products used in Syria because they're being used to figure out who to kidnap, torture, and murder."

And they haven't said, "We'll stop selling our products to countries like Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia" -- repressive states (that are legal to sell technology to) where Blue Coat's products are used in the same fashion as in Syria.

In other words, Blue Coat is only concerned about breaking the law, not about helping in human rights violations. Depending on the program, criminal penalties for violating OFAC regulations can range from $50,000 to $10 million with imprisonment ranging from 10 to 30 years for "willful violations."

Given Blue Coat's early denials, we're skeptical that their violation wasn't willful. As Andrew McLaughlin put it in a tweet, "Shame on Blue Coat. Their denials re knowingly assisting Syria censorship don't ring true."

Blue Coat's blatant lack of concern for human rights is alarming. There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries.

Read the rest

Oakland PD told a judge it wouldn't use projectile weapons any more

The Oakland PD's use of projectile weapons such as flashbang grenades used in the assault (possibly by non-OPD officers) on the Occupy Oakland camp seems to violate the 2004 court settlement it agreed to in a class-action settlement with Iraq war demonstrators who were assaulted by police: "You would think that after signing an agreement and paying out taxpayer money to 'compensate' for abusive police practices, the Oakland Police Department would learn how to behave in a civilized fashion when dealing with people exercising their First Amendment rights." (Thanks, Cowicide!) Read the rest

Hollywood production in Chinese city of Linyi attended by human rights abuses

According to Chinese activists, the production of a Hollywood movie called "21 and Over" from Relativity Media in the Chinese city of Linyi has led to human rights abuses. Local activists accuse the government of Linyi of horrific corruption and violence, and the arrival of the production crew has been attended by gangs of unidentified thugs who stone and beat activists, diplomats and journalists who try to visit the site.

In the past several weeks, dozens of activists and Chen's supporters have risked being violently assaulted to attempt visits to his home in a bid to draw attention to his plight. The latest group was made up of 37 petitioners who traveled there by bus from Beijing on Sunday and fled after being attacked by about 50 unidentified thugs as they approached Chen's village, said one petitioner, Peng Zhonglin, from Jiangxi province. Linyi police refused to comment when reached by phone.

Human Rights Watch's senior Asia researcher, Nicholas Bequelin, said it was puzzling that Relativity appeared comfortable cozying up with the city's political leadership.

"They seem to be eager to assume this role of being a prop in Linyi's propaganda campaign to cast itself as a civilized municipality that promotes culture when the reality is that it is not only holding one of China's most prominent human rights defenders, but going to extraordinary lengths to persecute him," Bequelin said.

Activists slam US studio for filming in China city Read the rest

Rightscon: a human rights/technology conference in Silicon Valley

Next week marks the inaugural Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference (AKA Rightscon) in San Francisco. This event will explore the role that technology plays in the expansion -- or elimination -- of human rights and the ways that technologists and high-tech firms can either help or harm humanity. In an age when American companies supply "deep packet inspection" technology to the Iranian government so that Iran's secret police can figure out whom to brutally murder (to cite just one example among many), this is an important question.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is dispatching several staffers to speak at the event, and they've provided a helpful guide to the more interesting sessions to keep an eye on.

Google, a Rightscon sponsor and participating organization, as well as a member of GNI, is just one example of a company that has done a lot of thinking on human rights: its YouTube platform has been instrumental in getting news out of Syria, thanks to a policy that allows violent content to remain available if intended for documentary or educational purposes. And just this week, Google expanded its use of encryption technology to default to SSL search on Google searches.

Twitter, whose General Counsel Alex MacGillivray will be among the keynote speakers at Rightscon, is another company that has taken human rights under consideration when designing its policies, particularly when it comes to free expression. Another rights-thinking company is Mozilla, whom the EFF has praised for its stance on privacy.

On the lists of attendees and sponsors, EFF also sees several companies about which we have grave concerns.

Read the rest

The FBI and the War On Us: Racial profiling on an "industrial scale"

Justin Elliott in Salon: "New documents obtained by the ACLU show that the FBI has for years been using Census data to “map” ethnic and religious groups suspected of being likely to commit certain types of crimes." Read the rest

Occupy Wall Street takes over Times Square (updated)

Watch live streaming video from occupynyc at

445pm ET: Happening as I post this. Watch live video here. More on the New York City protesters' longer-term plans back at Zucotti Park, including a map, at Mother Jones. (via @antderosa)

Update, 715pm ET: I've been following live reports on Twitter from various sources, and the situation in Times Square sounds intense. By various estimates, 15-20,000 demonstrators have occupied the Square. NYPD are out in full force, including the Counter-Terrorism unit (photo below).

At least a dozen (maybe more) officers on horseback, and buses and paddywagons ready for mass arrests. Multiple sources on the scene describe police tactics aimed at, more or less, "kettling" people into a defined zone, surrounding them with nets, officers on horseback, and police with batons.

Here's a video uploaded a while ago that shows protesters near the "Toys-R-Us" at Times Square. And here's another, that gives a sense of the crowd density a couple hours ago. And here is another, showing mounted officers entering the area filled with demonstrators.

And below, via AntDeRosa at Reuters (a good one to follow today):

Occupy Wall Street protesters shout slogans against banks and economic system while they take part in a protest at Times Square in New York October 15, 2011 REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

There are various reports floating around on Twitter now that NYPD has been "authorized to use tear gas" against protesters. Some on the scene are tweeting that NYPD is ordering crowds: "Leave now and you won't get hurt."

The situation sounds volatile, and like a very large number of people (including families with children, and disabled persons who have limited mobility) are packed into an ever-shrinking space. Read the rest

Hostess life: "What I learned by being a migrant sex worker in Japan"

Bloomberg News has published a two-part, first-person investigative piece by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, on the lives of Filipina sex workers in Tokyo, Japan. To study the living and working conditions of these "hostess bar" migrant laborers, Parrenas became one.

The Bloomberg pieces are excerpts from her new book “Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo,” released this week by Stanford University Press.

Here is part 1. And here is part 2.

The Bloomberg excerpts are fascinating, as is the book, for providing an unusual glimpse inside a world most of us will never witness first-hand.

Read the rest

Shell funded warring militias in the Niger Delta -- report

In Counting the Cost: corporations and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, Platform and a coalition of NGOs accuse Shell Oil of funding vicious conflicts between rival gangs in the Niger Delta, bribing local militias to gain access to oil, and contributing to terrible human rights abuses in the region, including devastation in the town of Rumuekpe and the slaughter of 60 people there.

The gang became locked in competition witha rival group over access to oil money, with payments to one faction provoking a violent reaction from the other. "The [rival gang] will come and fight, some will die, just to enable them to also get [a] share. So the place now becomes a contest ground for warring factions. Who takes over the community has the attention of the company."

Platform alleges that it was highly likely that Shell knew that thousands of dollars paid per month to militants in the town of Rumuekpe was used to sustain a bitter conflict. "Armed gangs waged pitched battles over access to oil money, which Shell distributed to whichever gang controlled access to its infrastructure."

Rumuekpe is "the main artery of Shell's eastern operations in Rivers state", with aroundabout 100,000 barrels of oil flowing per day, approximately10% of Shell's daily production in the country. Shell distributed "community development" funds and contracts via Friday Edu, a youth leader and Shell community liaison officer, the report said, an exclusive arrangement that magnified the risk of communal tension and conflict.

Read the rest

Stephen Fry and Brit talk-show guests marvel at American prison system's brutality

In this clip from QI, the talk/quiz/comedy-show that Stephen Fry hosts, Fry asks the participants "where one percent of Americans can be found." The correct answer is prison, and the contests proceed to make a series of horrified remarks and jokes about this startling fact.

(via Sociological Images) Read the rest

Ugandan police firing pink-dyed water at protestors

On MSN's photoblog, striking photos of Ugandan police attacking demonstrators with water-canon that fire pink-dyed streams of water. Presumably, the pink dye helped the police track down protestors after the fact.

Ugandan police disperse protesters with water cannon

(Image: James Akena / Reuters) Read the rest

Putting the Internet freedom movement into context: Barefoot into Cyberspace

Becky Hogge is the former executive director of the UK Open Rights Group, but she left us a few years back to write; she says,
When I left the Open Rights Group a couple of years ago to concentrate on writing, my dream was to bring geek issues like online free speech, privacy and copyright reform to a mainstream audience with a book that was cool, accessible and fun. By a stroke of luck, the year I picked to write the book, 2010, was the year WikiLeaks took hacker culture to the top of the global news agenda. The book that resulted was published last week, "Barefoot into Cyberspace", and interweaves an insider's take on the drama of 2010 with a mix of personal reflections and conversations with key figures in the community like Stewart Brand, Boing Boing's own Cory Doctorow, Ethan Zuckerman and Rop Gonggrijp.

This is not just another WikiLeaks book. It sets out to ask a specific set of questions that I took with me when I left digital rights campaigning. Will the internet make us more free? Or will the flood of information that courses across its networks only serve to enslave us to powerful interests that are emerging online? And how will the institutions of the old world -- politics, the media, corporations -- affect the utopians' dream for a new world populated not by passive consumers but by active participants?

You can buy the book on Amazon in Kindle and print formats, and it's also available as a free download, licensed CC-BY-SA.

Read the rest

Bachmann's husband operates a "pray the gay away" psuedo-science clinic

In case you're curious about what happens during pseudo-scientific, inherently bigoted treatments to make gay people be straight, ABC news and Truth Wins Out have been investigating the clinic owned and operated by Michelle Bachmann's husband. Read the rest

CIA man reveals secret "black site" prison: "Some Will Call Me a Torturer"

Spencer Ackerman in Wired: "Though heavily censored by the CIA, [former CIA operative Glenn Carle] provides the first detailed description of a so-called 'black site.' At an isolated 'discretely guarded, unremarkable' facility in an undisclosed foreign country (though one where the Soviets once operated), hidden CIA interrogators work endless hours while heavy metal blasts captives' eardrums and disrupts their sleep schedules. Afterward, the operatives drive to a fortified compound to munch Oreos and drink somberly to Grand Funk Railroad at the 'Jihadi Bar.' Any visitor to Guantanamo Bay's Irish pub -- O'Kellys, home of the fried pickle -- will recognize the surreality." Read the rest

New York legislature says "I do" to same-sex marriage (big photo gallery)

People on the street cheer after the New York Senate passed a bill legalizing gay marriage in New York June 24, 2011.

The state legislature of New York tonight made same-sex marriages legal. New York now becomes the sixth state to allow gay people to get married, and the most populous state to do so. Reuters: "State senators voted 33-29 to approve marriage equality legislation introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat in his first year of office."

Gov. Cuomo has already signed the bill, so it will become law 30 days from now.

Human rights, dignity, equality, gift registries, tax breaks, divorces, and everlasting love for all.

They're celebrating in the streets tonight. Below, a couple follows the New York Senate sessions via twitter as they await the vote announcement. More photos follow of crowds awaiting, then celebrating the news, at the historic Stonewall Inn. The one photo that's really making the rounds tonight, however, is this one of a rainbow-lit Empire State Building.

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Read the rest

Belarus: KGB goes after activists through their social media accounts

AP: "Belarus is undergoing a severe economic crisis, and longtime President Alexander Lukashenko has overseen a sweeping crackdown on opposition and government critics. Authorities routinely block opposition websites using web-filters similar to those used in China. Pro-democracy activists such as those protesting Wednesday routinely use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking websites to support one another and their cause." But one activist says he was arrested this week and only released after he agreed to give the KGB his social media account passwords. Read the rest

Bahrain: 8 prominent opposition activists sentenced to life in prison

From Foreign Policy: "A military tribunal in Bahrain has sentenced eight prominent opposition activists to life imprisonment and 13 others to lesser prison sentences, on charges of seeking to topple the monarchy and collaborating with a foreign terrorist group, among a host of other charges."

Zainab Al Khawaja (@angryarabiya) is the daughter of one of the activists sentenced today. Her Twitter feed today was filled with a chilling account of the sentencing, and what she went through to witness it. Here is a collection of her tweets today.

"I do feel that one reason I wasn't beaten today is Twitter," she wrote. "It makes them feel exposed, they like committing their crimes in the dark." Read the rest

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