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The Third Wave, The Fourth Screen, The Fifth Power, And Beyond

Egypt: Bloggers open the door to police brutality debate [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

‘Extraordinary rendition’ has passed into common parlance over the last year as human rights organisations have accused the US government of exporting suspects to be tortured in regimes like Egypt, Morocco and Syria. But while cases involving international suspects get the headlines, these countries are regularly cited by human rights activists as having a major domestic torture problem, with the police in particular seeming to act with total impunity.

Now in Egypt, bloggers have struck a blow against police torture, by publicising videos shot by police officers of their colleagues beating suspects, and of police cadets receiving training. Add to this articles in the independent press and protests by civil society organisations, what’s fast becoming a national campaign is gathering momentum.

Demagh Mak and Wael Abbas writing in Arabic, and others writing in English, such as Hossam e-Hamalawy, have consistently sought out and brought to light videos of incidents of police brutality on their blogs over the past few months. It’s videos like this one – uploaded by Wael Abbas – that appear to be shifting the debate:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqJyJSpWkrw]

As reported by Hossam el-Hamalawy, an investigation has been launched into the conduct of the officer shown slapping the suspect in the above video, although it has now emerged that the officer in question has not yet been suspended from duty.

The brutality of Egypt’s police is not a new story – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights have regularly documented and condemned police brutality in briefings and reports.

But sustained pressure from the bloggers, and the publication of an investigative piece into the police torture video in the independent Egyptian weekly newspaper, El-Fagr, have forced the story into the mainstream. On 27th November 2006, El-Fagr published an expose on violence against suspects in the country’s police stations, identifying the officers in the video above, and describing a second, much more brutal video.

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Filed under: Cellphone, Citizen Journalism, Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Journalism, Law, Middle East & North Africa, Mobile, Online Video, Police, Politics, Prisons, Protest, Technology, WITNESS

China: Videos emerge of clashes between police and students in Jiangxi [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Hot on the heels of the Chinese government’s claim of a 22.1% reduction in “mass incidents” (read “protests”), here’s some more video of “mass incidents” from China, in case you missed this portion of John Kennedy’s latest Beijing bulletin:

Backing up to China late last month, students at one technical college in East China’s Jiangxi province found out from a television show that they wouldn’t be getting the four-year university diplomas they had been promised, and some started rioting. There was bloggage here, here and camera footage posted here, but the story didn’t hit YouTube until a few days later. Video clips of the two thousand-strong team of police and soldiers arriving at the school, moving in, inspecting dorms, chasing students and attacking them here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.

To give you a taste, here’s video number 7, showing the police dispersing protesters:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZsmyYdsoq4]

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Filed under: Cyber-Activism, East Asia, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Military, Police, Politics, Protest, Technology, WITNESS

USA: Video-sharing places L.A.’s police in the spotlight [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Hop over to Technorati right now and you’ll see that six out of the top fifteen videos being linked to by bloggers show the same incident – University of California police officers using a taser gun on an Iranian-American student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, in the Powell Library at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Here’s one of those videos, from UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, which explains the story (which contains some graphic imagery and abusive language):

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4_s4Un0TkI]

For more background and reaction, take a look at Iranian group blog Iranian Truth‘s coverage of this story. There may be more coverage in the Persian-language blogosphere – Los Angeles has such a significant Iranian population that it’s sometime humorously called Tehrangeles

The UCLA incident is one of three videos of different incidents showing police in Los Angeles appearing to use excessive force when arresting suspects. All three videos were shot by ordinary citizens. The first video of the three emerged on YouTube, and showed an LAPD officer punching a handcuffed suspect repeatedly in the face after a foot chase. The second video, which has not appeared online yet, but was shown as evidence to the L.A. Times by the victim’s lawyer on Monday 13th November, involved a homeless, handcuffed suspect being doused in pepper spray by the arresting officer. The officer has since been cleared of wrongdoing, citing the officer’s restraint in the face of the victim’s “belligerent, threatening and combative behavior”.

Emily at PicturePhoning.com provides links to other incidents involving police captured on video by citizens both in the USA and elsewhere. This seems to testify to a trend that can only grow as more and more people get access to videophones. Some groups are encouraging citizens to use their phones and cameras to record abuses by the police and to upload the clips to video-sharing sites. Sherman Austin, a founder of Cop Watch L.A., a police watchdog website, told a Yahoo! reporter that:

We urge everyone to have a camera on them at all times so if anything happens it can be documented. The concept of patrolling the police is something we are trying to push as a form of direct action.

Do you think this could be an effective form of scrutiny of the police?

Filed under: Cellphone, Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Law, North America, Online Video, Police, Technology, WITNESS

Mexico: The last moments of Bradley Roland Will [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Journalism seems like a precarious profession to practise in Mexico. It’s ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist.

The latest tragic example of this came on Friday 27th October, in the southern state of Oaxaca, with the shooting of Brad Will. Brad was in Oaxaca as a journalist for New York City Indymedia, trying to get stories out about the protests in Oaxaca (for up-to-date accounts and context of the crisis in Oaxaca, read my GV colleague David Sasaki’s latest post). While filming skirmishes between paramilitaries and protestors in Santa Lucia on Friday afternoon, Brad was shot in the abdomen and neck, and died from his injuries, prompting the CPJ to call on the government to investigate Will’s death. Now Indymedia has released the tape that was in Brad’s video camera when he was shot.

It’s a sixteen-minute video with English subtitles, and beware, the last minute (from 15’30) is very difficult to watch. Click here to launch the Quicktime video (there’s a YouTube version without subtitles here).

Brad Will’s Indymedia press pass

There’s more footage at Mexican opposition blog Hoy PG, which points to a piece of unidentified news footage of Brad Will shortly after he was shot – not for the faint-hearted.

It’s a moot point whether these are human rights videos per se, but Brad’s tape in particular ends so shockingly, and depicts with such brutal suddenness the risks run by those determined to bring human rights stories to light, that it demands to be seen. But as one of the blogs David Sasaki quotes had it, there’s a balance to be struck between outrage at the killing of Brad Will, and at the mounting number of local deaths and injuries.

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Filed under: Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Journalism, Law, Military, Online Video, Police, Politics, Protest, Technology, WITNESS

Zimbabwe: Smuggled DVD brings union protest beatings to light [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

This video reached me late last night via Ethan Zuckerman. At nearly ten minutes, it’s longer than the other videos we’ve put up, but I strongly recommend you watch this.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI1l7jmabBA]

It includes footage of the Zimbabwean police and security intelligence services breaking up a peaceful demonstration by members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU) on September 13th. The police repeatedly beat the demonstrators, who are calling for the provision of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for the treatment of HIV, a minimum wage, and stabilisation in the prices of certain basic commodities. The bulk of the video involves interviews with the ZCTU members describing the events of the day, and the actions of the police. Ethan and Rachel Rawlins have kindly provided a transcript.

When news of the beatings originally leaked out, trades unions in other countries strongly condemned Robert Mugabe’s hardline approach with legitimate and peaceful demonstrations. Last week a court dismissed the police report on the incident, and postponed the trial of the ZCTU protestors until October 17th, to give the Criminal Investigation Department time to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations of police torture. When footage of the protests was smuggled out of Zimbabwe on DVD to South Africa this week, it prompted the head of one of South Africa’s labour unions to say that she would give President Thabo Mbeki a copy of the DVD of the beatings in a meeting with him on Friday.

More as and when it emerges…

Filed under: Africa, Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Law, Online Video, Police, Politics, Protest, Technology, Unions, WITNESS

Iraq: Rare testimony of abuse by the Iraqi Security Forces [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS’s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Torture in Iraq, says the UN, is “out of control”, and “worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein”. So it was especially timely for Brian Conley at Alive In Baghdad to e-mail us to say that he had an interview with a man who claims to have been beaten and abused by Iraqi security forces in Ramadi:

Click on the image to play video


The man in the video, referred to as “Majed”, talks of being arrested without charge by members of the Iraqi National Guard – now known as the New Iraqi Army – on 13 July 2006. The abuses he alleges include arbitrary detention, persistent beating and kicking, and whipping with an electric cable. He shows the camera the physical scars of his ordeal.

There are some questions about this case that the video interview doesn’t answer: did Majed make a complaint to any official authorities? If he did complain, did the Iraqi Security Forces deny the allegations or agree to investigate them? If the allegations are true, and the perpetrators are identified, is there any prospect that they will be punished? What about the US officer whom Majed refers to?

Nonetheless the alleged maltreatment described in the interview should be enough to make us all sit up and take notice.

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Filed under: Citizen Journalism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Law, Middle East & North Africa, Military, Militia, North America, Police, Violence, War & Conflict, WITNESS

Eastern Europe: Video documents homophobia on the rise [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

The latest twist in the long-running saga of anti-gay violence and state oppression took place yesterday in Moscow, as an appeals court upheld the earlier lower court ruling to ban Moscow’s Gay Pride March in May 2006. The gay rights activists who brought the case will now attempt to challenge the rulling in the European Court of Human Rights, and they say they expect to win.

As GVO’s Eastern and Central Europe Editor Veronica Khokhlova reported in May 2006, Moscow’s Mayor, Yuri Luzhov, banned the Moscow Gay Pride march from taking place. The religious leaders of Moscow met – on the one issue they could agree – to back his decision and called for violence against anyone who tried to marcha call that was unfortunately heeded. The video below – apparently uploaded to YouTube from a Russian anarchist site – doesn’t directly show the violence that took place, but does give a very immediate sense of the atmosphere in Moscow that day, and of who was involved:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXHzoONni-k]

Just as sites like YouTube can be used as a dissemination tool for less savoury content, they can also be used as a tool for solidarity and support, and potentially as evidence. In the case of anti-gay violence, users have tried to upload their own footage (as with the videos in this post), and, where first-hand footage is not available, they have uploaded clips from their local TV news (here’s a clip from Serbian TV’s coverage of the 2001 Gay Pride in Belgrade).

And that solidarity and support may well be needed. Human Rights First, a US-based organisation, released a report earlier this year citing an increase both in rhetoric and in hate-crimes of a homophobic or racist nature in Russia (PDF) over the past year. But it’s not just Russia where this is a trend. Since the accession of 8 Eastern European countries to the EU in May 2004, the spotlight has come to rest increasingly on the rise in official, or state, homophobia across Eastern Europe.

The most high-profile manifestation of this is how governments handle Gay Pride marches – which are now held all over the world – in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT organisations march to commemorate LGBT rights, and to celebrate LGBT pride.

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Filed under: Cellphone, Citizen Journalism, Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Law, LGBT, Mobile, Online Video, Police, Protest, Sexuality, Technology, Violence, WITNESS

China: Government’s video-censorship foiled [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

When a young teacher is found dead outside her apartment building in Ruian, the police report concludes suicide, but her family and students suspect a cover-up. Over a thousand people take to the streets in protest, and are met with police violence. Protestors film the clashes on their cellphones, and upload the clips to Chinese video-sharing sites, but the clips are rapidly taken offline – only to re-appear on other sites, as respected English-language Chinese blog Danwei reported on Tuesday. The Dai Haijing story – pieced together online by Roland Soong of another blog EastSouthWestNorth, or ESWN – is, despite the best efforts of the Chinese authorities, gathering pace online.

Since GVO’s own John Kennedy blogged about the disappearing protest videos, also on Tuesday, at least three have emerged on YouTube and on Photobucket, including the video below:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0kbTf1DIHk]

It’s clear why the authorities don’t want this footage to be seen. Despite the low definition of the cameraphone, the video clearly shows police officers beating protestors. ESWN quotes one commenter on bingfang.com as saying “Post those video clips and photographs onto international websites and let the world see the so-called democracy in China.” The consequences of doing so are unclear – whoever uploaded the videos to YouTube has a blog, http://dhj2006.blogspot.com/, which now returns the message “Sorry! Blog temporarily closed!” One US-based law professor’s blog suggested that the authorities are sensitive because it reveals the lack of trust in public institutions.

It’s more likely to be a question of timing. Wen Jiabao was in the UK on Tuesday to talk climate change with Tony Blair, and this is a bad time for a story like this to be leaking. The authorities have been concerned by the increase across the country in organised protests – against farmland seizures, corruption, pollution – of which the government said there were 87,000 in 2005, or around 240 per day. The latest release from the Public Security Ministry a month ago showed a slight decrease in protests for the first half of 2006, to 39,000, still well over 200 a day – and well before the Dai Haijing case.

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders issued a statement Monday claiming an intensified crackdown by the Chinese authorities ahead of two Chinese Communist Party events and the 2008 Olympics. The statement calls for the release of a number of journalists, writers, lawyers and activists arrested and imprisoned in the last month, and robustly states that:

“The ruling authorities appear not to appreciate that their conventional tactics of using harsh crackdown to tighten control in advance of major political or social events has become obsolete. Rights consciousness is on the rise in China and grassroots activities to defend rights have been spreading rapidly. Repression has contributed to a growing and more active community of human rights defenders.”

This series of posts at ESWN illustrates the challenges faced by bloggers trying to get stories like this out to a wider audience, but this doesn’t just affect China’s bloggers – we’d like to hear your stories, wherever you are, about how you make sure videos like these remain online when the authorities seem extremely keen to ensure they get deleted.

This section of GVO is a collaboration between WITNESS and Global Voices Online, and in the coming weeks we’re going to be highlighting a wide range of footage filmed by citizens, as with these videos, or by perpetrators of human rights abuses themselves, as I wrote about last week. We’ll be seeking out videos from cellphones and camcorders, depicting – as in today’s post – protests and reactions to human rights violations, but also many other rights issues including gay rights, refugee rights, prisons, police brutality, and violations by the military as well as the economic, social and cultural rights like those to water, housing, and health and a host of other human rights-related footage. We’ll also be looking for footage of survivors of violations speaking out about abuses.

If you come across videos of this kind, whether on video-sharing sites like Google Video, Photobucket, BlipTV or YouTube, via email, or via MMS, please do let us know, either through the comments facility below, or by email.

In the guidelines, you’ll find an outline of the kinds of footage we’re looking for, and here are instructions on how to upload the footage to websites securely, and so we can find it easily.

Filed under: Cellphone, Cyber-Activism, East Asia, Freedom of Speech, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Law, Mobile, Online Video, Police, Protest, Technology, WITNESS

Malaysia: Cellphone video captures police excess [via GV/WITNESS]

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

When the Malaysian police started accepting crime reports sent in by members of the public from their cellphones, little did they expect that their own misdemeanours would one day be caught in the frame.

Malaysians have had to put up with police corruption and misconduct as a part of everyday life. But now blogs and video cellphones have given Malaysians who are exasperated by the lack of action against the police a new and very public outlet. A new Malaysian blog – Polis Raja Di Malaysia (or “Royal Malaysian Police”) – aims to pull together footage documenting police misconduct from video-sharing sites like YouTube and GoogleVideo. The blog promotes itself with the strapline “Police should fight crime, not fight the people”. Cellphone videos on YouTube range, for example, from footage and photomontages of the police breaking up protests to a police officer firing into the air unprovoked while breaking up a fight – as shown below.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t6uZ348P-o]

One recent video that hasn’t made it onto Polis Raja Di Malaysia yet, but has been on other blogs, appears to show police officers beating and humiliating two youths in a police cell. It has caused controversy in Malaysia and human rights organisation Suaram calls it “the tip of the iceberg”. The video, which shows a youth being forced to lick his saliva off the floor, was apparently filmed by one of the police officers on his cellphone, and only came to light when he sent the phone in for repairs. A technician uploaded the clip onto the internet, and one viewer sent it in to Malaysia TV3’s Utama Bulletin news programme, which aired it last week.

It’s just one of many alleged cases of police brutality that remain either uninvestigated or unpunished, and this one has only stoked up a controversy because video evidence surfaced – in this case, unwittingly released by the police officer himself. As a result, it seems that Malaysian police officers are now banned from carrying cameraphones.

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Filed under: Cellphone, Cyber-Activism, Freedom of Speech, Governance, GV, Human Rights, Internet, Law, Mobile, Online Video, Police, Politics, South-East Asia, Technology, WITNESS