Russian authorities threatened YouTube and other tech giants with steep fines, as well as criminal charges for local employees, if they refused to remove references to an app Navalny developed.
Freedom of Speech… Kinda
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki is facing criticism for stressing the platform’s commitment to free speech on Monday just weeks after it removed posts from its site at Russia’s request.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Wojcicki claimed that free speech is one of the company’s core values. However, many found the remarks particularly interesting because of YouTube’s recent decision to comply with the Russian government’s demand to silence jailed politician Alexei Navalny and an app his group developed to help voters.
Google, Apple, and other tech giants were ordered to remove references and search results related to Navalny’s Smart Voting app from their platforms after the Moscow Arbitration Tribunal claimed the app was illegal due to its connection to Navalny-backed groups that were labeled as “extremists” earlier this year. The app connected voters with what few opposition candidates were left in the recent federal parliamentary elections after many were banned by the government from running.
In the end, Google and Apple caved and took the Smart Voting app off their platforms. YouTube then followed by taking down a Smart Voting video.
In her Bloomberg interview, Wojcicki justified the company’s decision by saying, “When we work with governments, there are many things that we have to take in consideration, whether it’s local laws or what’s happening on the ground. So there’s always going to be multiple considerations.”
Wojcicki declined to comment about the specific requests from the Russian government, but for many, like notable Russian dissident Gary Kasparov, her comments came off as insincere.
“Sorry, but if you say “but” after stating that free speech is a core value of your company, maybe you don’t have any core values at all,” Kasparov wrote in a tweet critiqued Wojcicki’s remarks.
Russian Threats Against Tech
Despite being behind bars, also Navalny tweeted about the situation himself.
“If something surprised me in the latest elections, it was not how Putin forged the results, but how obediently the almighty Big Tech turned into his accomplices,” he wrote. “I know that most of those who work at Google, Apple, etc. are honest and good people. I urge them not to put up with the cowardice of their bosses.”
Google also faced internal backlash for caving to the demands. According to several reports, employees blasted the company for taking down the Voting Smart app and requiring YouTube to remove a video about it. However, it’s likely YouTube and Google were in a tough spot. That’s because Russian authorities threatened to levy hefty fines against companies that refused to take down Smart Voting and even threatened to bring serious criminal charges against local staff if the companies didn’t follow the ruling.
To some, the decision is simple: Companies like Google should leave Russia. Doing so, however, would signify the effective end of open anti-Putin discussion online in Russia. Many young people and opposition members rely on non-Russian platforms like Google, YouTube, and Telegram to stay informed and share their experiences. YouTube, in particular, has long been described as a safe haven for free journalism and anti-government opinions.
Wojcicki touched on this in her Bloomberg interview. “I think we really want to make sure that we’re working and serving audiences as much as we possibly can,” she said, adding, “if it comes to a point where there’s an issue with the government, we’ll do our best always to work that out.”
The increased scrutiny on the situation seems to have caused further headaches for Navalny and his allies. On Tuesday, Russian authorities opened an investigation into whether or not he and two others founded an extremist organization, which carries a 10-year prison sentence. If found guilty, he would not be out of prison prior to the next presidential election in 2024.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (Associated Press) (Radio Free Europe)
Gang That Kidnapped American and Canadian Missionaries in Haiti Seeks $17 Million Ransom
The incident has fueled calls for the government to take action against gangs, which control many territories in the country and have repeatedly carried out large-scale abductions for ransom
The gang that abducted 17 American and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding $17 million for their safe release, Haitian officials said Monday.
The group, which consists of one Canadian and 16 Americans, are all part of Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish and Mennonite charity based out of Ohio with a long history of working in Haiti.
While on their way to visit an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, the group’s bus was stopped at gunpoint by the 400 Mawozo gang. The gang is known for being one the most dangerous in the area, reportedly having about 150 members.
Multiple outlets, including CNN and Reuters, report that during the gang’s confrontation with the missionaries some victims managed to get messages out to associates to let them know what was going on. One even managed to drop a pin location on his mobile phone, helping authorities get a better idea of where exactly this happened.
By 4:53 p.m on Saturday, the kidnappers contacted Christian Aid Ministries to make their steep demands. According to authorities, the request is a noticeable jump from the thousands to tens of thousands the gang typically asks for.
Lack of Government Control
While Haitian authorities are involved in the investigation to free the missionaries, they actually have little power in the area. Croix des Bouquets is largely out of the government’s control and is instead run by 400 Mawozo. Government authority being replaced by gang activity isn’t uncommon in Haiti, and in some places, government control is almost completely lacking. This was highlighted on Sunday when Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to turn back from a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of revolutionary war hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines due to its placement in gang territory.
The issue makes recovering the missionaries far more complex, but Haitian authorities aren’t alone. The FBI has been involved in the investigation and is continuing to help Haitian authorities.
“The FBI is part of a coordinated US government effort to get the Americans involved to safety. Due to operational considerations, no further information is available at this time,” The agency said in a statement to Reuters.
Reports indicate that the hostages are being held in some kind of safe house for the gang. Currently, no one is believed to be physically hurt. The gang has warned against harming the hostages, although according to a Haitian security forces member who spoke with CNN, the group didn’t seem too worried about those threats.
Haitians Call for Changes
Abductions in Haiti have always been an issue, but the problem has become particularly bad lately. In 2020, the Haitian National Police reported 234 kidnappings. In the first eight months of this year, there have been at least 328.
Some organizations claim that number is actually low. In fact, the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights reported that at least 600 people have been abducted this year. The center said that much of the increase was caused by 400 Mawozo, who have figured out that kidnapping busloads of people is more profitable than just taking individuals.
The issue is so prolific that just before the kidnapping on Saturday, a Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday, with its president further justifying the move in a written statement a day later.
“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Union President Méhu Changeux wrote. “We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country.”
Since Monday, many parts of the country have come to a standstill amid the strike, putting increased pressure on a government with little resources to handle the underlying cause of discontent: gang activity and government instability.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Associated Press)
5 Dead, 2 Injured After Bow and Arrow Attack in Norway
Police have called the incident a terror attack, though exact details regarding the suspect’s motives remain unclear.
Super Market Attack
The Norwegian town of Kongsberg is reeling from a deadly incident at Coop Extra supermarket on Wednesday that police are treating as “an act of terrorism.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., a 37-year old Danish man entered the market, armed with a bow and arrow, along with other weapons. He then began firing at those inside the building.
Authorities quickly responded and were on the scene within five minutes. Despite a police confrontation with the suspect, the attack continued. Four women and one man were ultimately killed while two others were left injured.
The suspect initially avoided arrest after managing to flee the scene. Police Chief Ole Bredrup Sæverud told reporters Thursday that it took 35 minutes to catch the attacker.
While police described the incident as a terror attack, they refused to specify a motive. Officials did hint that the rampage might have been religiously motivated by revealing that police had previously been in contact with the suspect due to his conversion to Islam and possible connections to radical content and teachings. Still, Sæverud clarified that the perpetrator hadn’t been actively investigated at all in 2021.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was just hours away from leaving office after she was ousted in recent elections, described reports of the scene as “horrifying” on Wednesday. Incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said in a Facebook post from Thursday morning that the attack was a “cruel and brutal act.”
Norway’s King Harald expressed his sympathies to the mayor of Kongs-berg, telling the country, “We sympathize with the relatives and injured in the grief and despair.”
“And we think of all those affected in Kongs-berg who have experienced that their safe local environment suddenly became a dangerous place. It shakes us all when horrible things happen near us, when you least expect it, in the middle of everyday life on the open street.”
Attacks of this nature are rare in Norway. In 2019, a right-wing gunman tried to enter a mosque before being overpowered and hitting no one. Wednesday’s attack is the most deadly since July 2011, when a far-right extremist killed 77 people at a Labour party summer camp.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Protests Erupt in Italy Over World’s Toughest Vaccine Mandate
The violence is believed to have been instigated by far-right groups that oppose COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic-related safety measures.
Green Pass Pushback
Demonstrators gathered in Rome over the weekend to protest against Italy’s plans to require a coronavirus “Green Pass” for all workers starting Oct. 15.
The Green Pass is a European Union initiative that shows whether someone is vaccinated, has recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or has received a negative COVID test in the past 48 hours.
Since August, Italy has required the pass for entry at restaurants and use of long-distance trains, along with nearly every other activity that involves interaction with others or use of a public space. Now, the pass will be required to enter a workplace, which critics argue is particularly harsh.
Individuals who can’t produce a valid Green Pass will be suspended without pay, making it the most extreme of any COVID-19 mandate in the world.
The weekend protests started out peaceful, with people chanting “Liberta,” which means freedom. However, the scene turned violent by Saturday when a group of protesters affiliated with the far-right Forza Nuova party decided to storm the headquarters of the CGIL, Italy’s biggest and oldest labor union.
Protesters then marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, prompting police to respond with anti-riot measures like tear gas, water cannons, and shield charges.
It’s unclear how many protesters were hurt in the ongoing fighting, but dozen of police officers were reportedly hurt in the scuffle. By Sunday evening. at least 12 protesters were arrested, many of who are members of Forza Nuova, including its leader Roberto Fiore. Authorities also indicated in a press conference on Monday that it had identified at least 600 other people who took part in illegal activities during the demonstrations.
Fiore was unapologetic about the rioting, and Forza Nuova said in a statement, “The popular revolution will not stop, with or without us, until the Green Pass is definitively withdrawn. Saturday was a watershed between the old and the new. The people decided to raise the level of the clash.”
Saturday’s events have led many of the country’s largest political parties, including the 5Star Movement and the Democratic Paty, to support a motion calling for Nuova Forza and similar groups to be dismantled in line with a constitutional provision from 1952 that bans fascists parties.
While that motion is still going through the legislative process, prosecutors have already seized the group’s website in line with a 1988 law that bans inciting violence through public communications.
“The events [on Saturday] take us back to the darkest and most dramatic moments of our history and they are an extremely serious and unacceptable attack on democracy,” Valeria Fedeli, a senator with the center-left Democratic Party, said on Monday.
The violence from the weekend may make it seem like a sizeable chunk of Italians are against the vaccine; however, over 70% of all Italians are already vaccinated, making it one of the highest rates in the world.
According to polling from the summer, most Italians think the new rules will help in the long run and prevent another catastrophe like last year when the country ran out of room to bury the dead due to the number of deaths caused by COVID-19.