China: artist, poet, activist Ai Weiwei released on bail

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Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei speaks to members of the media in the doorway to his studio after being released on bail in Beijing June 23, 2011. Ai, detained since April, was released on bail on Wednesday, state media said, citing Beijing police. The agency, in a late evening announcement, said the artist had been freed "because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from". Ai was detained at Beijing airport on April 3, igniting an outcry about China's tightening grip on dissent, which has triggered the detention and arrest of dozens of rights activists and dissidents. [REUTERS/David Gray].


China's news agency reports that the Chinese poet, artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been released on bail. He pled guilty to charges of tax evasion. He is now home. From China Daily:

The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.

The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded, police said.

The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said.

More, from US-based news outlets: WP, AJ, NYT NPR.

As an aside, and not directly related to the news of his release: in New York City, the Asia Society is planning an exhibit of his work.

Journalist and family shot dead in Mexico

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Journalist Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, his wife, and their 21-year-old son were shot to death inside their home in Veracruz, Mexico today. Snip from AP report:

Lopez Velasco wrote a column about politics and crime and was editorial director for the daily newspaper Notiver. His son had been working as a photographer for the same newspaper.
Another reporter was found dead in Veracruz just earlier this month. Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Americas for journalists, according to various press freedom groups: More than 60 have been murdered there since 2000, according to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (ComisiĆ³n Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, or "CNDH"). More than 36,000 people have died in "narcoviolence" since Mexico's president Felipe Calderon initiated a military-led crackdown on drug cartels in 2006.

More coverage: AFP, Notimex, El Universal, BBC,

US underwriting "liberation technology" projects to route around internet censorship abroad

"The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy 'shadow' Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks." From James Glanz and John Markoff in the New York Times.

FBI gives agents new powers to spy on you and go through your trash

The New York Times reported this weekend that the FBI will grant "significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents"—powers that allow them them greater freedom to "search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention." The FBI's general counsel describes the changes as "more like fine-tuning than major changes." The ACLU isn't buying it.

Europride and Gaga in Rome

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(Lady Gaga performs during a gay pride concert in downtown Rome. Stefano Rellandini / Reuters)

The gay icon Lady Gaga was there wearing her green wig, together with up to one million people marching chanting singing in a carnival gay pride march.

Rome is the capital of Vatican too, the place where Pope lives and preaches from his balcony every Sunday morning about how people should live and love. Lady Gaga's motto this Sunday was the power of love. She recalled her Italian origin and name ( La Germanotta) and, in a passionate speech, demanded immediate equal rights for the gays, meaning the right to get married, have children etc. While singing her new song Born This Way, an anthem to diversity...

But only few days ago, the Pope announced his firm opposition to equalize even straight informal marriages, that is, unions not sanctioned by God in a marriage sacrament. Where the Catholic church is concerned, gay marriages are not only a taboo topic but even a place of severe demonization and homophobia.

Read the rest

White man from Georgia is "Gay Girl from Damascus"

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For weeks, journalists, bloggers, and human rights advocates have been trying to track down a "disappeared" mideast blogger named Amina, who identified herself on her blog as a "Gay Girl from Damascus." The journal purported to chronicle "an out Syrian lesbian's thoughts on life, the universe and so on."

Well, not so much. After she went missing, people started digging. And it turns out Amina is a 40-year-old white man from Stone Mountain, Georgia named Tom MacMaster.

Christ, what an asshole.

Update: Andy Carvin (@acarvin) of NPR deserves credit for pushing this story from the start, poking at cracks early on, and doing much of the sleuthing that led to the ultimate realization that this was an exploitative hoax. Here's his post at NPR.org.

Update 2: Credit where it's due: The digging by two bloggers, Ali Abunimah and Benjamin Doherty, originally uncovered Tom MacMaster's identity. More at Electronic Intifada. Jillian York also deserves note for skepticism and questions early on, and smart analysis: related posts at jillianyork.com, technosociology.org, bookmaniac.org, and ethanzuckerman.com.

Iran: Blogger Hossein Derakshan's appeal denied for 19.5 year prison sentence

A court in Iran has denied Canadian/Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan's latest appeal of his 19.5 imprisonment sentence. In 2010, he was charged and convicted of "conspiring with hostile governments, disseminating anti-Islamic propaganda, disseminating anti-revolutionary propaganda, blasphemy, annd operating and managing obscene pornography websites." (via Cyrus Farivar)

Libya: Gaddafi used rape as a weapon, gave troops Viagra, says ICC prosecutor

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(A Libyan woman holding a Kingdom of Libya flag walks past a caricature of Muammar Gaddafi near the court house in Benghazi June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori )

The ICC's chief prosecutor told journalists gathered at the UN today that he has gathered evidence which shows that Libyan leader Col Muammar Gadaffi ordered military agents to "punish women" with rape to spread terror and silence dissent. Human rights groups and journalists working in the region have reported this for months, and the case of Iman Al-Obeidi brought such allegations to international attention (she has since sought refuge in Romania). But this new validation, and the possibility of charges being brought against Gadaffi in the International Criminal Court, are significant.

"It was never the pattern he used to control the population. The rape is a new aspect of the repression. And that's why we had doubts at the beginning but now we are more convinced," he said. "Apparently, he decided to punish, using rape."

He said it was difficult to know how widespread the use of rape was. "In some areas we had a number of 100 people raped. The issue for us was, can we attribute these rapes to Gaddafi himself, or is it something that happened in the barracks," he explained.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo also said some witnesses had confirmed that the Libyan government was buying containers of Viagra-type drugs to carry out the policy, and to "enhance the possibility to rape". "We are trying to see who was involved," he added.

Libya: Gaddafi investigated over use of rape as weapon (BBC News)

Libya: welcome, Maya Mohamed Nabbous (newborn daughter of slain internet journalist)

An update to the tragic story of Mohammed "Mo" Al Nabbous, founder of the Benghazi webcast "Libya Alhurra TV," killed in a firefight this March at age 28: his baby daughter was born this week. Mo's widow writes,

This is dedicated to the Loving Father who never got to see his First and Only baby. He would have been the proudest Dad on the world. After the baby was born and the first time I held her in my arms, she had the biggest smile on her face. I was amazed and so sure that her daddy was with us at that moment. He will remain with us and in our hearts forever.
[Video Link]

(via Blake Hounshell)

Mladic in The Hague

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PHOTO: Bosnian Muslim woman Alic Mina cries near the grave of her son Mihrudin before a mass funeral in the village of Memici, about 30 kilometres from Zvornik, June 1, 2011. The remains of eight people, victims of an "ethnic cleansing" campaign that former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is accused of instigating, were retrieved from mass graves in Zvornik and buried during the mass funeral on Wednesday. Mladic, extradited to the Netherlands from Serbia on Tuesday after 16 years on the run, will appear in court on Friday, according to a statement issued by the court on Wednesday. Mladic was indicted over the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, close to the border with Serbia, during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)


Now that the Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic is safely behind the bars in the Hague international war tribunal, some questions are becoming more urgent.

Where was Mladic hiding all these years? Who helped him evade justice? Why did his protectors stay silent and unpunished? Will there be a investigation and a punishment for them, too? In Serbia, in the Hague, in hell?

In 2008, Radovan Karadzic, Mladic's best-known ally and also a highly wanted war criminal, was arrested in Belgrade while posing as a New Age medical guru. Karadzic had been living undercover for years, with a semi-public persona as a quack medical expert. He often appeared in conferences and wrote for fringe medical papers.

I interviewed some people who worked or spent time with Karadzic.

Somehow I believed those rather simple-minded devotees, who burned candles to cure cancer. Surely people this gullible could not imagine that Dragan 'David' Dabic, this hoarse-voiced impostor with his gloves, long beard and white topknot, was actually Radovan Karadzic. After all, Karadzic was a blustering politician who was always clean-shaven and in dark suits.

But at one point, one of my informants from the clinic became conspiratorial. He pulled out his cellphone showing me a snapshot of the worn, thin face of an elderly man.

Read the rest

Too young to wed: inside the secret world of child brides

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National Geographic has a riveting photo-essay and related feature article out on the problem of child marriages (the focus is on the Mideast and south Asia, though the phenomenon is not limited to this region). The photography is by Stephanie Sinclair, and it is incredible work. Above:

Kandahar policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests a man who repeatedly stabbed his wife, 15, for disobeying him. "Nothing," Kakar said, when asked what would happen to the husband. "Men are kings here." Kakar was later killed by the Taliban.

From the story by Cynthia Gorney, which makes clear there's no easy solution:

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The people who work full-time trying to prevent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the first to smack down the impertinent notion that anything about this endeavor is simple. Forced early marriage thrives to this day in many regions of the world--arranged by parents for their own children, often in defiance of national laws, and understood by whole communities as an appropriate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable.

(...)[I]n communities of pressing poverty, where nonvirgins are considered ruined for marriage and generations of ancestors have proceeded in exactly this fashion--where grandmothers and great-aunts are urging the marriages forward, in fact, insisting, I did it this way and so shall she--it's possible to see how the most dedicated anti-child-marriage campaigner might hesitate, trying to fathom where to begin. "One of our workers had a father turn to him, in frustration," says Sreela Das Gupta, a New Delhi health specialist who previously worked for the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one of several global nonprofits working actively against early marriage. "This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."

(thanks Marilyn Terrell, via BB Submitterator)

When it comes to locking up suspects endlessly on secret evidence, Bagram dwarfs Gitmo

"Some 1,700 detainees at the Bagram U.S. Air Base in Afghanistan are being held without charges or a trial, primarily on the basis of secret evidence that they never get to see or challenge." [Nieman Watchdog Journalism Project, via Spy Talk]

US Supreme Court rules Ashcroft can't be held responsible in case of detention and abuse of innocent Muslim-American

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The Supreme Court ruled today that former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued over his role in the arrest of an innocent American citizen, a Muslim man who was never charged with a crime. From the Associated Press:

By a 5-3 vote, the court said Ashcroft did not violate the constitutional rights of Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested in 2003 under a federal law intended to make sure witnesses testify in criminal proceedings. Al-Kidd claimed in a federal lawsuit that the arrest and detention violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

He was held for 16 days, during which he was strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes.

The ACLU's response to the ruling is here.

Photo: REUTERS. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks to the National Rifle Association's 'Celebration of American Values Conference' in Washington, September 21, 2007.

Egypt: general confirms "virginity checks" forced on female protesters by military

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Via CNN and other sources today, the revolting news that a senior Egyptian general admits so-called "virginity checks" (presumably, forcible examination of the hymen) were performed on women arrested in at least one demonstration this spring. Previously, military authorities denied it. Now, an Egyptian general who asked not to be identified defends the practice—wait for it—as a protective measure for the women's own good.

As noted previously on Boing Boing, Amnesty International reported and condemned news of this systematic sexual abuse by military agents back in March. At the time, women were at the forefront of the historic Tahrir Square protests that overthrew the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. And Amnesty International was told then by a group of women protesters "that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to 'virginity checks' and threatened with prostitution charges."

With that in mind, here's a snip from Shahira Amin's report today for CNN:

The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general said. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."

The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were (virgins)."

...and if you're not a virgin, it's not rape, anyway. But more to the point: these so-called "virginity checks" are nothing less than a form of rape.

As a human biology note, not that it would make this horrific form of militarized sexual abuse any more justified, and not that it was the point of those perpetrating the abuse: examining the hymen is not an accurate way to determine virginity. This is a myth.

And a personal observation? My god, but these women out at the protests in Egypt, knowing that these are the sort of barbaric risks they face, are strong, strong human beings.

(PHOTO: Egyptian soldiers stand behind veiled women opposition supporters at Tahrir Square in Cairo in February, 2011; roughly the same period during which reports of this form of sexual abuse by military began to emerge. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic.)

US Senate and House vote to extend Patriot Act provisions; Obama expected to sign

Update, 751pm ET: The House has approved a 4-year USA PATRIOT act extension, 250-153.


The US Senate voted today to extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act which were scheduled to expire tonight at midnight. The measure is now before the House for debate, and is scheduled to complete its work tonight. Civil liberties advocates charge that the provisions, in particular portions related to electronic surveillance and wiretapping, are a violation of the Constitution. If Congress approves the extension, it goes before President Obama, who is currently in Europe. Reuters reports that White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says the President will use "the autopen to sign" the bill quickly into law. The autopen is a machine that replicates his signature.

One of the three provisions, Section 206 of the Patriot Act, provides for roving wiretap surveillance of targets who try to thwart Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance. Without such roving wiretap authority, investigators would be forced to seek a new court order each time they need to change the location, phone or computer that needs to be monitored.

Another provision, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, allows the FBI to apply to the FISA court to issue orders granting the government access to any tangible items in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and clandestine intelligence cases.

The third provision, Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004, closes a loophole that could allow individual terrorists not affiliated with specific organizations to slip through the cracks of FISA surveillance. Law enforcement officials refer to it as the "lone wolf" provision.

More at CNN.com.