politics of cyberspace

Bahrain sentences rights defender to two years

Amnesty International on July 19 condemned Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, condemned the conviction as a "flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism." Rajab still faces numerous similar charges in cases expected to resume in August.

Mexico: spyware turned on rights investigators

The horrific case of 43 college students from the Mexican village of Ayotzinapa who disappeared in September 2014—allegedly murdered by a local narco-gang—made deeply embarrassing international headlines again this week. The New York Times reports July 10 that sophisticated spyware supplied to Mexico officially to track narco-traffickers and terrorists was instead used against human rights investigators looking into the Ayotzinapa case.

Ukraine says Russia behind global cyber-attack

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has publicly blamed the recent global cyber-attack on Russia and the Kremlin. The SBU stated that the hackers behind the most recent attack are the same as those who conducted an attack on the Ukrainian power grid in December 2016. Experts worldwide are still trying to decide who was behind the most recent attack, which took out computers, disrupted shipping, and hit banks across the globe. Some experts are unsure if the Russians are the ones behind the attack, as Russian oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft both reported that they were affected by the attack. There was a minor ransom demand for $300, but it has been concluded that financial enrichment was not the purpose behind the attack. The SBU stated that "the main purpose of the virus was the destruction of important data, disrupting the work of public and private institutions in Ukraine and spreading panic among the people". While purpose of the recent attack was directed against financial institutions, it quickly spread to other sectors.

Qatar crisis places US regional policing in pickle

In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)

Turkey: 200 on trial over coup attempt

A trial over the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey began at a prison courtroom in Sincan on May 22. Two hundred of the 221 defendants in the case were marched into the courtroom before a group of pro-government protesters, some of whom threw nooses and demanded the death penalty. Many of the protesters had lost relatives during the coup, which resulted in 240 deaths, primarily civilians. Most of the defendants are former military personnel, with ranks ranging from captains to generals. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the defendants, who they are accused of "commandeer[ing] tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government." US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, named as the number one defendant in the case and accused of orchestrating the coup, will be tried in absentia.

Turkey: thousands more fall to post-coup purge

Turkish authorities removed more than 3,900 people from their positions in the civil service and military pursuant to a new national security law published on April 29. Those removed included prison guards, clerks, academics, and employees of the religious affairs ministry, all of whom the government alleged had links to terrorist organizations. This is the latest action by the Turkish government since a state of emergency was issued after a failed coup attempt in July of last year. Also on April 29, Turkey blocked the website Wikipedia on the grounds that it posed a threat to national security.

DRC soldiers arrested in video-recorded massacre

Seven army officers have been arrested and charged with war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to government officials at a press conference on March 18. The charges stem from a massacre of unarmed civilians in Kasaï-Central Province in February that was recorded and widely shared on social media. Congolese military auditor general Joseph Ponde Isambwa said that all seven arrested soldiers were members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or FARDC. Ponde said the charges against the officers include "war crime by murder, war crime by mutilation, war crimes by cruel inhuman and degrading treatment and denial of an offense committed by persons subject to military jurisdiction."

Anti-Semitic threats and 'false flags'

A former journalist named Juan Thompson, who was sacked by the Intercept last year for inventing sources, has been arrested after the FBI traced back to him multiple bomb threats against Jewish community centers, and one against the New York headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League. Authorities are claiming psycho-sexual motives, saying he attempted to pin the threats on an ex-girlfriend who dumped him. In true troll fashion, NBC reports that he even feigned outrage over the threats on his own Twitter account. And while some of the threats were in the name of his ex, some were in his own name in an apparent attempt to frame his ex for framing him. Plenty twisted, but none too bright. Reports in the Riverfront Times, of Thompson's hometown St. Louis, delineate his long history of improbable inventions about himself on social media, revealing an inveterate liar with a pathological antipathy to the truth rivaling that of our incumbent president. The fact that he worked for the lefty Intercept, and that he is African American, makes this a propaganda windfall for the right.  So, are the "false flag" theories reportedly floated by Trump (and certainly by some of his supporters) now vindicated?

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