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Russia Passes Censorship Law Criminalizing News That ‘Disrespects’ Government

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  • New laws passed by Vladimir Putin will make it illegal to spread “fake news” and other content that is considered disrespectful to the Russian government.
  • The passage follows some of the biggest protests Moscow has seen in years over a separate bill that would effectively cut Russia off from foreign internet servers and create a firewall similar to China’s.
  • All of the laws have been criticized as authoritarian efforts to silence dissent as part of the country’s broader move to increase “sovereignty” over its internet.

Putin Signs New Laws

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two new laws on Monday that will make it illegal to spread “fake news” and information which “disrespects” the state.

The first law says that corporate entities like online news outlets that spread “fake news” will face fines of up to 1.5 million rubles, or $22,900. Citizens who spread “fake news” could receive fines up to 400,000 rubles or $6,090, according to Russia’s state-owned newspaper TASS.

Putin speaking at the First Russian Internet Economy Forum
Source: President of Russia

The second law punishes users and outlets that post content that “shows obvious disrespect for society, the state and official symbols of Russia, the Russian Constitution or other agencies,” according to TASS.

Offenders of the second law face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,552) for a first offense, and up to 300,000 rubles ($4,656) and 15 days in jail for repeat offenders.

Under these new laws, prosecutors can report online media to the government – which in turn can block access to websites if the content violates the law either by spreading “fake news” or insulting the government.

Significant Changes to Russian Censorship

While these laws might not come as a surprise, many experts have said they represent a significant shift in the censorship of Russia’s internet.

According to Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute:

“Russia has not historically had major constraints on Internet freedom. The Internet has thus been one realm in which full diversity of opinion and free expression, even on the most sensitive political topics, were generally permitted […] The prosecutor general now has essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable under the new law.”

Maria Snegovaya, an adjunct fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, elaborated on that point, saying that the prosecutor’s office can now block news sources before any sort of ruling by a court or a judge.

“In other words, it significantly expands the repressive power of Russia’s repressive apparatus,” Snegovaya said, comparing the legislation to laws implemented by Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.

Protests Over Other Internet Bills

These new laws passed by Putin are not the only controversial pieces of legislation that attempt to restrict internet access.

Just last week, demonstrators hosted massive protests in Moscow and two other Russian cities over yet another internet bill. The protests in Moscow were described as some of the biggest protests in the Russian capital in years.

White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies, stated that 15,300 people attended the protest, while Moscow police put the numbers at 6,500.

The bill in question would essentially cut Russia off from the global internet by directing Russian web traffic through servers controlled by the government. It also could create a system that would allow the Russian internet to work without foreign infrastructure.

Supporters of the bill say that it is necessary to protect Russia from foreign meddling, but critics have said the bill resembles China’s internet firewall, calling it an “iron curtain” and arguing it will stifle dissent.

The Trend of Censorship

The law that sparked the protest has not yet been passed by Parliament.

While the laws passed by Putin on Monday will certainly bring considerable change to Russian censorship, these kinds of laws are becoming increasingly common in Russia. The legislation reflects broader efforts by the government to increase “sovereignty” over its internet.

Russia has introduced other internet laws in the last few years.

Last year, a communications oversight agency tried to ban the messaging app Telegram after the company refused to give the government access to encryption tools that would allow them to read users’ messaging data, a move which prompted another wave of protests.

Some have said these tactics are a way of controlling public discourse, especially as Putin’s approval rating has fallen significantly in the last few years.

This last point is significant because some experts have said that the new laws passed Monday could make it almost impossible for individuals or groups to call for public protests because protesting government policies and actions could be considered disrespect of the government under the new law.

All of these laws have serious implications, but they also seem to show a trend in Russian censorship.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NPR) (Moscow Times)

International

Thousands Flee Syria as Turkey Launches Military Offensive

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  • Turkey formally started a military offensive in Syria Wednesday, launching airstrikes, bombs, and sending in ground troops.
  • Numerous civilian and military deaths have been reported, and an estimated 60,000 Syrians have fled the region.
  • The move comes after the Trump administration announced it would step aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.
  • Many world leaders and U.S. lawmakers, including Republicans who have been staunch supporters of President Trump, condemned the move, with some arguing that Trump will be responsible for the fallout.

Turkey Launches Offensive

Turkish military forces have entered the second day of an offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

The assault started on Wednesday with Turkish forces launching airstrikes, bombing and shelling the territory. Several hours later, Turkish troops crossed the border into Northern Syria, officially starting a ground offensive.

The move comes just days after the White House announced that the U.S. would be stepping aside to allow Turkey to go forward with the long-planned operation while also removing U.S. troops from the region.

The announcement appeared to follow a call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has said that this military operation is necessary to secure Turkey’s border with Syria and clear groups Turkey believes are terrorists. The operation targets the Kurdish groups that largely control that region of Northern Syria.

Specifically, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) which makes up most of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey claims that those groups are allied with a separatist movement called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been responsible for violent attacks in Turkey.

While Turkey considers the SDF a terrorist group, the U.S. does not. U.S. forces in Syria have recruited and trained the SDF for years to fight alongside them, and the SDF has done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters in the region.

For a while, the U.S. has discouraged Turkey from launching a military operation against the Kurdish forces who have been fighting ISIS with them. But now, many have argued that the U.S. has basically given Turkey the green light to launch a military offensive against their own key allies.

The Numbers So far

Shortly after the operation began, pictures and videos began circulating showing civilians fleeing amid smoke from the sites of the bombings.

The New York Times reported that the airstrikes on the first day alone hit in or near at least five towns along more than 150 miles of the border, while Turkey’s Defense Ministry claimed on Thursday that it has hit 181 of its “terrorist” targets.

The Defense Ministry also said Thursday that 174 militants have already been killed, but that has not been independently verified.

Others have reported lower numbers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 23 SDF fighters were killed though dozens more were injured

As for civilians, the Kurdish Red Crescent reported that at least 11 civilians have been killed so far, including two children.

The Syrian Observatory also said that more than 60,000 Syrians have already fled the immediate region.

The fact that so many are already fleeing is likely to worsen the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. 

It also appears to complicate Erdogan’s plan to carve out a so-called safe zone at the border where he would return Syrian refugees. Now, many are saying that the military operation will just create more refugees.

World Leaders Respond

Concern over refugees and other humanitarian issues have been raised by numerous world leaders who have condemned Turkey’s actions.

European Union Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the EU “calls upon Turkey to cease the unilateral military action,” continuing that the operation will “undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements.”

A spokesperson for the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also emphasized the need for civilian protections in a statement.

“Civilians and civilian infrastructure should be protected. The secretary-general believes that there’s no military solution to the Syrian conflict,” the spokesperson said.

A number of Middle Eastern leaders have also publicly criticized the move. In a statement, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry condemned “the aggression launched by the #Turkish army.” 

“The seriousness of this aggression on northeastern Syria has negative repercussions on the security and stability of the region, especially undermining the [international] efforts in combating ISIS organization,” the statement continued.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also took to Twitter, where he said that Israel “strongly condemns the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish areas in Syria and warns against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.”

U.S. Leaders Criticize Trump

After Turkey officially launched the military operation, President Trump was swiftly met with outrage by U.S. lawmakers, including notable Republicans who have been staunch supporters of the president. 

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) directly blamed Trump for the violence in a tweet on Wednesday.

“News from Syria is sickening,” she wrote. “Turkish troops preparing to invade Syria from the north, Russian-backed forces from the south, ISIS fighters attacking Raqqa. Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has also been very vocal in his opposition to the Trump administration’s decision.

“Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump Administration,” he said in a tweet. “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS.” 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke out on the issue as well, and added that Congress could take action against Trump’s decision,

“[The Kurds] actually fought on the ground. They had people dying. To just abandon them like that so the Turks can come in and slaughter them is not just immoral, it taints our reputation all over the world,” he said.

“It’s a terrible mistake. We’ll have to think of what options there are. I’m sure the Senate will, potentially, take some vote to disagree with that decision.”

Trump Defends Decision

But Trump, for his part, has continued to defend his decision. 

In a statement to the media, Trump said that the U.S. “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” and added that Turkey is “committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”

During a press conference on Wednesday, Trump also reiterated that he would crack down on Turkey economically if they did something he did not like in Syria.

However, several of his later remarks received some backlash.

When asked about the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, Trump said: “As somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. But they’re there to help us with their land and that’s a different thing.” 

He was also asked by reporters whether he was concerned about ISIS fighters breaking free from Kurdish custody, to which he responded, “Well they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes.” 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (CNN)

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Mexican Mayor Dragged Through Streets After Failing to Fulfill Campaign Promise

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  • Angry residents of a small town in Southern Mexico stormed a local mayors office, pulled him out of the building, tied him to a pickup truck, and dragged him through the streets. 
  • The mob was upset with the mayor for failing to build a road into the community, which was a major promise made during his election campaign.
  • Eleven people were arrested and charged with abduction and attempted murder.

Mob Storms Mayors Office

Eleven people were arrested in Chiapas, Mexico on Tuesday after pulling the mayor of Las Margaritas out of his office, tying him the back of a pickup truck, and dragging him through the streets.

During his election campaign, Mayor Jorge Luis Escandón Hernández promised to build a road to the indigenous Tojolabal community of Santa Rita Invernadero, which is located in the municipality of Las Margaritas. 

However, locals are outraged that he has failed to follow through on that promise and have made their frustrations clear.

The angry mob stormed his office to complain about the road issue. According to the Mexican news outlet Excélsior, some municipal employees tried to stop the group who were armed with sticks and tubes, but they eventually made their way into the building.

Mayor Kidnapped 

Video taken by bystanders showed several people pulling the mayor out of his office and forcing him into a truck.

Another clip from a local surveillance camera showed the mayor being dragged from the back of the truck through the streets.

The mayor was dragged for several blocks before he was eventually rescued by state police. The incident also sparked a brawl between police and locals which ultimately resulted in 20 injuries and the 11 arrests, local reports say.

Mayor Escandón is “safe and sound,” according to a news release by the State Attorney General’s office. He was reviewed by medical experts but suffered no major injuries. 

During a press conference a few hours after the attack, the mayor said those arrested would be charged with abduction and attempted murder, according to BBC. 

Similar Attacks Against Politicians 

This was the second attack directed at Mayor Escandón this year by an angry mob of locals fighting for the construction of the road. Four months ago, a group of men trashed his office when they were unable to find him inside. 

Attacks on political figures are not uncommon in Mexico. According to The Washington Post, politicians are often targetted by criminal organizations for not complying with gang demands.

In more recent cases, however, locals have been lashing out against political figures for their empty promises. In April 2018, 200 Las Margaritas residents kidnapped 24 municipal, state and federal government employees to demand that a road be built by then-Mayor José Domingo Vázquez López, according to Mexico News Daily.

The employees were held hostage when the mob went to request a meeting with the mayor. After seeing that he was not in the office, the angry group took the employees and destroyed the building.

Months before that incident, Vázquez was held captive for days because he failed to follow through on an agreement to build a road, according to Vanguardia.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Mexico News Daily) (The Washington Post)

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International

Are You At Risk? Why the “Revenge Porn” Problem Is Only Getting Worse…

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For years now Revenge Porn has been in the spotlight, popping up whenever a celebrity has their nude images leaked by an ex-partner or hacked from their phone’s cloud service. But the term “Revenge Porn” has been met with criticism, facing pushback because the term “revenge” implies the victim deserved it. Instead, researchers and activists have moved towards using the term Nonconsensual Pornography (NCP).

NCP doesn’t just include revenge porn, but also things like hacks, child pornography, and even casually sharing and showing a nude someone sent you to another third-party. Research shows that a large percentage of everyday people take part in NCP, often without realizing that what they’re doing is wrong.

Groups like the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative have pushed for new laws to be put in place to punish the spread of NCP, and it’s having effects. In the U.S., 46 states, DC, and a territory have enacted some kind of law banning NCP, or it’s various forms. Although there’s yet to be a federal law banning it specifically.

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