Sudan Restricts Social Media Access to Counter Protest Movement

Since last year Internet freedom in Sudan declined due to a crippling economic crisis that made access to ICTs prohibitively expensive for everyday users. The government also exerted increasing control over the online sphere by arresting online journalists and activists and introducing new restrictive laws and also blocking access to social media used to organise nationwide anti-government protests triggered by an economic crisis.

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Largest Spike in Hate Crimes Since 9/11, Says a Report

The number of hate crimes reported in the United States jumped by 17% last year, the largest increase since 2001 when the terrorist hijackings on 9/11 fueled a surge in attacks on Americans of Muslim and Arab ancestry.

A total of 7,175 hate crime incidents were reported to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program in 2017, up from 6,121 in 2016, said the UCR Program’s annual Hate Crime Statistics report, Xinhua reported.

It’s the third year in a row the FBI has reported an increase in hate crimes. The number of hate crimes in 2016 rose about five percent from 2015.

The 2017 incidents encompass 8,437 total offences, meaning some involved multiple criminal charges.

According to the report, the most common bias categories in single-bias incidents were race/ethnicity/ancestry (59.6 percent), religion (20.6 percent), and sexual orientation (15.8 percent).

The victims represented a cross section of society, with African-Americans and Jews the most frequently targeted victims. Of 34 bias motivation categories tracked by the FBI, all but five reported an increase.

Of crimes motivated by race, ancestry or ethnicity, about 48.8 percent were motivated by hatred against African Americans, 17.5 per cent stemmed from bias against whites, and 10.9 percent were classified as anti-Latino or anti-Hispanic bias.

In addition to the 7,106 single-bias incidents reported last year, there were also 69 multiple-bias hate crimes reported.

About 5,000 of the hate crimes reported were categorized as crimes against persons, such as intimidation or assault. About 3,000 were considered crimes against property, such as vandalism, robbery, or burglary.

Some hate crime incidents are classified as both crimes against persons and crimes against property, the report noted.

The report, Hate Crime Statistics 2017, includes hate crime information for last year, broken down by location, offenders, bias types, and victims.

The number of law enforcement agencies reporting hate crimes also increased with about 1,000 additional agencies contributing data across the country, the FBI noted.

Reporting hate crime data to the UCR Program allows the public, researchers, community leaders, and local government to raise awareness of the issue and gain a more accurate picture of hate crimes, said the FBI on its website.


Internet Freedom Remained Stable in 2017 After a Decline in 2016

Internet access and speeds improved (see Availability and Ease of Access: Key Indicators).

Local authorities ordered temporary telecommunication service shutdowns in at least 37 separate reported incidents (see Restrictions on Connectivity).

Officials ordered service providers in the Kashmir valley to block 22 social media sites for a month, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp (see Blocking and Filtering).

Over 20 people were detained for online comments about religion or political issues ranging from a water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to a demonetization policy intended to combat corruption; a Kashmiri was held for several weeks in Chhattisgarh for sharing an “anti-India” cartoon (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).

The Supreme Court recognized privacy as a fundamental right in a landmark ruling in August 2017 (see Surveillance, Privacy and Anonymity).

Internet freedom remained stable in 2017 after a decline in 2016. Improving access was offset by network and social media shutdowns ordered by authorities.

The number of internet subscribers and internet penetration increased significantly during the reporting period, as India consolidated its position as the world’s second largest internet consumer base after China. Both governmental and nongovernmental entities made efforts to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that privacy is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution and a committee was set up to frame a data protection framework for India.

However, other developments undermined internet freedom. The number of network shutdowns increased substantially and local authorities ordered service providers to temporarily shut down internet access in at least 37 reported incidents in various states.

There was also an increase in the number of criminal charges for online speech filed under the IT Act and provisions of the penal code. Many people were detained for content circulated on WhatsApp or published on Facebook, including group administrators who were not responsible for the content.

Obstacles to Access:
12/25 (Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Internet penetration in India continued to increase in 2017 with mobile penetration playing a significant role. Inadequate infrastructure remains a significant obstacle to access, especially in rural areas; however, various governmental and nongovernmental efforts to improve access nationwide are underway. Nearly 40 information communication technology (ICT) shutdowns were ordered by local authorities, some lasting several months in Jammu and Kashmir. The top ten internet service providers (ISPs) still hold almost the entire market share, but strong competition among them continues.

Availability and Ease of Access

Internet access and speeds improved during the reporting period (see Key Access Indicators). India had the second largest number of Internet subscribers in the world after China in 2017, having overtaken the United States. Official statistics recorded over 431 million subscribers in June 2017, though only 21.6 million had fixed-line internet connections. There were an estimated 269 million internet users in urban India and 163 million in rural India in 2016.

However, internet penetration remains low, reaching 33 percent in June 2017, up from 27 percent in June 2016. Mobile penetration was much higher, reaching 92 percent by June 2017, up from 81 percent the previous year. The Broadband Commission ranked India 78 out of 196 countries in terms of mobile broadband penetration, up from 156 out of 179 countries the previous year.

While India’s average connection speed was one of the lowest in Asia, it is catching up to the global average, which Akamai documented at 7.2 Mbps in the first quarter of 2017.Approximately 34 percent of all internet users had narrowband subscriptions in 2016, down from 56 percent in 2015. Despite overall growth, India has a relatively low adoption rate for high speed broadband (faster than 10 Mbps), at just 19 percent, though this rate grew by 285 percent during the course of 2016.

The minimum speed required to qualify as broadband in India has been 512 Kbps since 2012, though the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended raising the threshold to 2 Mbps.

The Global Information Technology Report by the World Economic Forum and INSEAD ranked India in eighth place out of 139 countries for affordable internet access in 2016. It was previously in first place, and per minute cellular and fixed broadband tariffs are still among the lowest in the world. While the cheapest internet plans might seem extremely affordable with respect to the average monthly income, India has significant income inequality.

India ranked 66 out of 137 countries for infrastructure in 2017, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. Though up from 68 the previous year, the results suggest poor infrastructure is still an obstacle to access. India ranked a low 88 for electricity supply; and 110 for technological readiness, the capacity of a country to fully leverage ICTs in daily activities.Only 27 percent of all Indian schools had a computer in 2016. That increased to nearly 80 percent at secondary level and above, but less than half were connected to the internet.

Public and private sector initiatives to improve access are underway. The government is developing free public Wi-Fi zones in major cities, with some operational in the past year. In January 2017, the Maharashtra government activated 500 Wi-Fi hotspots across the city of Mumbai,though further expansion fell short, and they were only free until August 2017.

During the coverage period of this report, Google partnered with the public sector company RailTel to provide free Wi-Fi at train stations, connecting 100 by the end of 2016. Over 5 million people were using the service every month.

The government’s Digital India Programme, launched in 2014 is expected to be implemented by 2018. It aims to connect India’s gram panchayats, institutions of self-government in rural areas, via fiber-optic cables, ensuring universal broadband access with accompanying e-literacy programs. Internet-connected common service centers (CSCs) aim to cover all 250,000 gram panchayats; as of March 2016, 157,000 had been established, with 20,000 operated by women.

The program proposes to use satellites, balloons, or drones to push faster digital connections to remote parts of the country, as well as multiple system operators such as cable TV services, which already have last-mile connectivity. As a result of the program, electronic transactions related to e-governance projects almost doubled in 2015.

Such initiatives took on new significance during the coverage period, which saw a major push to digitize financial transactions. The government demonetized currency notes in the denominations of INR 500 and INR 1000 (US$7.5 and $15) in November 2016; the notes made up over 85 percent of the total currency in circulation. A Digi Dhan Abhiyan program was designed to promote digital payments to more than ten million inhabitants of rural areas, reaching 2.5 million people by the end of the year. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) also announced an alliance with Google to raise awareness of digital security surrounding payments.

Language remains a barrier to access. With 22 official languages, only about 12 percent of the population of India speaks English, yet more than half the content available online is in English, and over 100 languages were unrepresented online in 2013.

Projects to encourage local language usage are underway. In 2014, the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), which operates and manages Indian domain names, launched the Dot Bharat domain for local language URLs. By April 2017, the number of local language users in India had overtaken the number who rely on English. One study showed that nearly 70 percent of Indian internet users consider local language content to be more reliable than English content. In April 2017, Google partnered with a local business federation to develop content in Indic languages.

Studies have shown that economic and social conditions result in barriers to internet access for women, and only 29 percent of Indian internet users were female in 2015. Internet usage was lower among rural women (25 percent), though it had grown by 30 percent since 2015. Twenty-four percent of Indian Facebook users were women, well below the global average of forty-four percent, according to one calculation. Internet Saathi, a partnership between Google and Tata Trusts to promote digital literacy among rural women, was active in 25,000 villages across 10 states by October 2016, training more than 500 participants a week.

Restrictions on Connectivity

The Indian government does not routinely block the protocols or tools that allow for instant, person-to-person communication, although local authorities around India have restricted ICT connectivity and usage during times of perceived unrest since at least 2010.

The frequency, geographic distribution, and duration of these shutdowns have increased significantly in the past three years. During the coverage period of this report, authorities ordered providers to restrict local mobile phone, SMS, wireless, and occasionally fixed-line internet service in at least 37 reported incidents, which lasted for hours, weeks, or even months at a stretch.

Local authorities have justified these orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973), which permits broad state action to curb any violation of law and order. The Gujarat High Court upheld the use of this general law to order shutdowns in September 2015. The Supreme Court is yet to consider the matter substantively and refused a petition challenging it in early 2016.

Other laws used to justify shutdowns also lack specificity. Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which permits the central government to order website blocks (see Limits on Content) has been consideredto apply to blocking of service. Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, which allows state and central authorities to order that any message not be transmitted in public emergencies, has also been cited in support of service disruptions. State officials in Odisha suspended service for 48 hours under the Telegraph Act after content considered to derogate Hindu deities resulted in violence.

In August 2017, outside the coverage period of this report, the Department of Telecommunications of the Central Government issued new rules under the Telegraph Act to regulate the temporary suspension of telecom services. The rules authorize national or state-level officials to issue temporary suspension orders to shut down telecommunications services in times of public emergency or threats to public safety.

With at least 12 documented incidents, Jammu and Kashmir continued to be the most affected state. Shutdowns affected both mobile and fixed-line connections, and the longest lasted several months.
In June 2016, mobile internet services were suspended across the state for three days after a temple was vandalized, launching an outbreak of violence.They were suspended for a day on a second occasion in the Jammu region because of security fears surrounding an annual wrestling contest hosted on contested land.

In July 2016, security forces shot and killed militant commander Burhan Wani in Kashmir, sparking widespread protests. All mobile service providers except BSNL, the state operator, suspended phone service in the Kashmir valley, and all operators suspended mobile internet throughout the state. The phone services were restored after a few days. Mobile internet services were restored in the Jammu region after 17 days. In the Kashmir region, mobile internet for post-paid subscribers remained unavailable for 134 days. Internet was not restored for prepaid subscribers until January 2017, almost 6 months later.Broadband internet in the valley was also shut down for 5 days in August due to the ongoing tensions between protestors and security forces.

In September 2016, broadband services across Kashmir were suspended for an additional five days prior to the Eid festival.

In April 2017, both mobile and fixed-line broadband internet services were suspended for a few days in the Kashmir valley when local by-elections sparked unrest. The measure was intended to curb rumors, but had the opposite effect, reports said. Mobile internet across the valley was suspended again amid student protests.Social media applications were also blocked (See Blocking and Filtering).

Shutdowns were implemented in several more states, including Maharashtra, Bihar, Odisha,Uttar Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh. Haryana and Rajasthan saw at least seven incidents each. Haryana shutdowns came in response to ongoing, sometimes violent protests by the Jat caste over their eligibility for government affirmative action quotas. In Rajasthan, internet was blocked on at least four occasions in Bhilwara district, once following the murder of a Hindu nationalist activist in September 2016, and three times within two weeks in December 2016 after communal violence flared in December 2016.

The government does not exert much control over the internet infrastructure. Twelve submarine cables connect India to the global internet; ten are consortium owned, while the others are private. There are gateways to the international internet in Chennai, Mumbai, and Agartala in Tripura, which facilitates connectivity in north-eastern states.

There are four landing stations where the cables meet the mainland in Mumbai, and three in Chennai; Digha, Kochi and Tuticorin also have one cable landing station each. BSNL, the state-owned telecom operator, owns two of them; the rest are privately owned. Major telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications own three stations each. These cable landing stations imposed hefty fees on ISPs until regulators mandated a reduction in 2013. Tata Communications and Airtel challenged that reduction in the Madras High Court. A single judge dismissed it, and an appeal was pending in early 2017.

Undersea cables are mainstays of mobile and internet communications and any damage to them leads to service disruptions. In December 2016, Cyclone Vardah caused damage to Airtel’s undersea cable at Chennai, slowing internet speeds.

Over 80 percent of telecommunications towers are privately owned. Market share is split between Indus Towers, a joint venture between Bharti Infratel, Vodafone, and Idea Cellular (31 percent); BSNL (18 percent); and Reliance Infratel (12 percent), and Bharti Infratel (10 percent) according to 2015 figures.


In Aung San Suu Kyi’s Myanmar – Hate speech overtakes Free speech !

“Media freedom soars in Myanmar– but not praise worthy at all”

It hasn’t been an easy first year in government for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Nobel peace laureate, and her National League for Democracy. The publication in February, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, of its investigation of abuses of this predominantly Buddhist country’s Muslim Rohingya people, and the assassination of U Ko Ni, a close adviser to Suu Kyi, have again turned the spotlight on this emerging Asian democracy.

The UN report is a damning judgment of her management of a crisis whose existence her government had repeatedly denied, and it further highlights the deep conflict in the country. In addition to the divisions between Buddhists and Muslims, there are ongoing issues with Myanmar’s 135 or so ethnic minorities, many of which have been looking for self-determination for decades.

But as Myanmar – formerly Burma – comes out of the isolation it suffered after a military coup in 1962 it faces a new reality: the internet. Sometimes referred to as the land of tech and temples, Myanmar has seen enormous growth in internet penetration, mobile-phone adoption and social-media usage in the past few years, spurred by the lifting of censorship and rapid opening of its telecom and media market.

With the cost of Sim cards dropping from $1,500 to only $1.50, mobile communication is now affordable for many; 83 per cent of households have a mobile phone, and about 80 per cent of those devices are smartphones, according to the research agency LirneAsia.

After years of being shut off from the world, Myanmar’s citizens have enthusiastically gone online.

Exacerbating tensions

But the improvement in digital infrastructure has been accompanied by a rise in hate speech. Anti-Muslim sentiment is particularly widespread on social media, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and as the conflict between the Rohingya and Buddhists has grown worse, so has the rhetoric online. This is particularly problematic as people in Myanmar rely so heavily on social media for their information.

With more than 11 million internet users among Myanmar’s 53 million people, the danger posed by internet hate speech has led several NGOs to launch projects encouraging tolerance.

Experts say the country’s sudden access to the internet has not been accompanied by discussions about how to read content critically. Myanmar has a “low media and information literacy rate”, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Clare Lyons of the BBC’s international charity Media Action, who is based in Yangon, says, “You have a country that for decades has been fed the news . . . They haven’t been exposed to that much in the way of real, critical news.” She adds that “in the media there’s so much negative portrayal of different ethnicities. And for Muslims there’s pretty much no portrayal unless it’s around the political issues.”

To counter this Media Action is making The Tea Cup Diaries, or La Pe’ Ye Ta Kwe Ye Diari, a radio drama that hopes to increase understanding and tolerance between ethnic and religious communities. Transmitted by MRTV, the state broadcaster, it is set in a busy tea shop on the outskirts of Yangon (formerly Rangoon); it features entertaining but realistic stories and a diverse cast of characters.

In Myanmar tea shops have a reputation for inclusivity, welcoming people from all backgrounds. They provide a space to share a cup of tea and exchange opinions. Within this setting the drama helps listeners to “grow to understand each other a little bit more and build trust”.

Its theme is social inclusion and tolerance, Lyons says. “Each season we have key storylines that will showcase or challenge different cultural stereotypes, religious stereotypes or discrimination.”

Other organisations have established similar projects to bring communities together. One, Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation, or Mido, has worked with Facebook to promote positive speech and tolerance online. The project, called Panzagar, or Flower Speech, started with a Facebook page and some drawings in response to hate speech that threatened to lead to violence.

Htaike Htaike Aung, executive director of Mido, says that the social-media company helped it to develop a set of online stickers, for people to use to counter any hate content that they see.

Aung says, “Many Burmese with little education easily fall prey to fake news and propaganda. Some users believe whatever they see on Facebook and share it without first finding out if the post is true or false.”

Alan Davis of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting shares this view. “Not all hate speech is deliberate, and a lot of hate speech comes from a lack of understanding or awareness,” he says.

The institute has also worked to counter hate speech in Kenya, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, all countries where it became a problem as they emerged from autocratic rule. It started its work against hate speech in Myanmar in 2016, to promote greater tolerance of ethnic, religious and marginalised groups. Davis says, “The way to beat hate speech is not through silencing people but via education, information and debate, and by getting all points of view listened to and engaged with.”

Perfect storm

Davis describes a perfect storm in which history, technology and politics overlapped to create fertile ground for online hate speech. “Moving from a closed and controlled country to a more open one, it was very likely Myanmar would experience hate speech.”

Combine this with the growth of social media, the loss of trust in traditional media, and the sheer number of ethnic minorities in Myanmar and “you already have the ideal set-up for hate speech”.

Htaike Htaike Aung of Mido agrees. “Even before the internet become popular here we already had anti-Muslim sentiments rooted in some communities. The extremist groups had been publishing booklets; it was in offline form. But the internet has really given a push to that, because stories can be made much more compelling using digital mediums.”

Social media can be criticised for being a platform for hate speech, but it merely mirrors much deeper divides. And Davis says the hate-speech problem is being made worse by a lack of leadership in the country and by traditional media’s failure to counter the rise of Buddhist nationalism.

In Yangon it is hard to find anyone critical of Aung San Suu Kyi, but her silence on the international stage about such important issues may erode that trust. “There is a certain level of disappointment that there hasn’t been more change since the government came in,” one person says.

The work of NGOs and initiatives such as Panzagar can do only so much. “There’s great need for political leadership,” Davis says. “Without it we are in a vacuum. That’s the worst possible thing, isn’t it? A vacuum.”


Fate Of Rohingyas Hangs In Limbo

Over 80 Rohingya Muslims lodged in various prisons across Bengal are staring at an uncertain future as their plea to get refugee status is yet to be heard by Indian authorities.

The 83 Rohingyas, including several women, were arrested in the past five-six years when they were trying to cross over to India through Bangladesh. Of these 83, 27 have already completed their sentences but are still in jails.

“We have written to state home department and also to the MHA regarding the issue of Rohingyas lodged in Bengal prisons and also about those 27 prisoners who have already completed their sentence. But we are yet to receive any communication from them. So they are still in prison as we can’t just let them go,” ADG (prisons) Adhir Sharma told PTI.

He said that the matter has been informed to the state Home department and the state home department has taken up the issue with MHA.

“After we were informed by the jail authorities, we have given several reminders and letters to MHA. But there has been no concrete response,” said a senior official of the state home department on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the issue of Rohingyas has been a sensitive one as there are reports that terrorist organisations have being trying to exploit the condition of Rohingyas worldwide.

“It is not just a case of a foreigner asking for refugee status. The case of Rohingyas is different from others seeking refugee status,” said the official.

Just a few months ago, NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), which works in coordination with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had approached the state home department and the jail authorities so that the Rohingyas can be granted refugee status.

“Few months ago we were able to talk to the Rohingyas lodged in various prisons, and we made preparations so that their plea seeking refugee status can be forwarded to UNHRC, who had forwarded it to Ministry of Home Affairs. But as of now nothing has moved forward,” said Madhurima Dhanuka, consultant with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), told PTI.

The Rohingyas are among millions of stateless people worldwide due to the fallout of clashes with Buddhists in Myanmar. Thousands more, unregistered, are living in other parts of the country such as Jammu and Hyderabad.

According to UNHCR, there are five important pointers that cumulatively form the criteria for being termed as a ‘refugee’.

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership to a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of origin of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of protection of that country,” UNHCR states.

In the case of Rohingyas, there are certain laid down identification tests to differentiate between a Rohingya lodged in prison and other inmates.

“We identify a Rohingya from other inmates on the basis of geographical description, religion, language, physical features, education, occupation, and the kind of house they had in Myanmar,” said Dhanuka.

According to her, an asylum seeker approaches UNHCR in New Delhi following which the UN body gives a registration form to fill asking broad details like name, country of origin and why he or she fled the country.

“Once the person fills up the form and submits it to UNHCR, the person is given status of person of concern to UNHCR. UNHCR then gives document to that effect. Following various interviews and examinations if the case is found positive she is granted refugee status and settled within his or her community,” she says.

“We had managed to interview few adults and few children in Balurghat jail and Berhampur jail. Their case studies were forwarded to UNHCR office in New Delhi office,” an NGO official said.

When contacted, UNHCR officials said one of the main problems with Rohingyas is that they sneak into India through Bengal from Bangladesh and are detained as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

While talking about the number of Rohingyas having registered as refugees under UNHCR and living in India, Shuchita Mehta, Public Information Officer of UNHCR India, said, “There are around 9,150 Rohingya refugees and 2,406 asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in India.”

The state home ministry official too agreed with the views of UNHCR, and said, “They don’t want to go back to Myanmar fearing they would be killed and most of them identify themselves as Bangladeshis so that they can be pushed back to the neighbouring country after serving jail term.”

The UNHCR official also said that it has been organising sensitisation programmes for jail officials and police officers and these were aimed towards helping the officials to identify and distinguish the Rohingyas from others and help them to appeal to UNHCR for refugee status.


Africans recount everyday racism, says- ‘It’s like I have a disease’


How often do you look down upon the older generation because they used to differentiate on the basis of caste and treat the lower segment of society as untouchable?   That was so backward, right?

But we don’t do that. Because we are progressive. We are progressive because we like certain pages on Facebook that promote equality. We are progressive because we have a friend from other caste/religion and we mention his name and the fact that we celebrate ‘his festivals’ with him, any time someone mentions racism or religion bias.

But just stop for a while, and think. Equality doesn’t end and begins on religion and cast. It goes way beyond, and covers all mankind. We still discriminate, look down upon certain races and treat them as if they are beneath us. This video will tell you how.

Just take five minutes out of your lives and watch this video above. It’s worth the effort if it can mould your perspective a little.