World News Missed in August

Russia and the Central African Republic, August 1

Dead Russian Reporters Researched Mercenaries, Mining in CAR

Three Russian journalists were kidnapped and later killed in the Central African Republic. The reporters were investigating the connection between mercenaries and Russian military contractors and mining industries for a project run by exiled Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The journalists, Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev and Orkhan Dzhemal, were investigating a security firm called Wagner which has close ties to the Kremlin. The three reporters were traveling north to speak with a United Nations representative but were attacked before reaching their destination. Once found, the men’s bodies were taken to two hospitals, one in Sibut and the second in Bangui. The Russian government has since advised Russian citizens not to travel to CAR.

Maldives, August 2

In Maldives, Suspects Are Cleared in Disappearance of Prominent Journalist

Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a journalist who worked for Minivan News, now called The Maldives Independent, disappeared in 2014 and is still missing. In the beginning of August, two men accused of kidnapping Abdulla were set free with all charges cleared.

Abdulla was known for critiquing the government. Shortly following his disappearance, the president of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, began a strict crackdown on the media and all other forms of dissent. Friends and family believe the investigation was incomplete and is a result of increased corruption in the country.

Bangladesh, August 3

Photographer Charged as Police Crackdown in Bangladesh Intensifies

Prize-winning photographer Shahidul Alam was arrested in Bangladesh following an interview he gave to Al Jazeera in which he made what were considered “provocative comments.” Alam was speaking about a series of student protests that erupted over road safety and ended in tear gas and rubber bullets.

Alam had also been photographing the protests, which began after a speeding bus killed two teenagers on July 29th. A few weeks later, 20 officers arrived at Alam’s home in Dhaka to arrest him. He was charged under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act which outlaws any electronic communication that could corrupt the youth, similarly to many other journalists and critics over the past few weeks.

Russia, August 6

Mail.Ru Calls For Changes To Russian Hate-Speech Legislation

Two young people, Maria Motuznaya, 23, and Daniil Markin, 19, were charged with inciting hate speech online in Russia, leading to the Russian Internet services company Mail.Ru to demand less strict legislation. The company claims that users are too often criminalized for nonthreatening online activity.

Motuznaya allegedly incited racial hatred on the social network VKontakte while Markin was charged with posting hate speech by comparing Jon Snow, a character from Game of Thrones, to Jesus Christ in a meme. Though the Russian government has received widespread criticism for its heightened crack down on the media and online dissent, the specific complainer, Mail.Ru, is owned by Kremlin-friendly oligarch Alisher Usmanov. This begs the question as to what the true motive was of challenging strict hate speech legislation as opposed to challenging similarly oppressive treatment of Russian press.

Belarus, August 8

Belarus Detains 18 Journalists in Raids at Independent Outlets

In an apparent recent wave of crackdowns in Belarus, 18 journalists were detained for illegally accessing a Belarusian Telegraph Agency state news website without paying the subscription fee “more than 15,000 times over a two-year period.” The punishment for this offense can fall anywhere from paying a fee to up to two years of house arrest or prison.

One of the reporters arrested was the editor-in-chief of Belarus’s leading independent news website, Tut.by. Marina Zolotova’s newsroom was one of three including the Belarusian Private News Agency and Realt.by that were raided by police officers and the Investigative Committee, which also confiscated files and hard drives.

As a result, several human rights and press advocacy groups such as the Council of Europe and Reporters Without Borders expressed their alarm. Though six journalists had been released after questioning, the organizations called on Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to release the others. Repression of the media and other dissent skyrocketed in 2017 following protests against a tax on the unemployed is predicted to last until elections in 2020.

China, August 16

Google Employees Protest Secret Work on Censored Search Engine for China

In order to expand business prospects in China and show good faith, Google has launched a secret censoring program which would make the existence of social media in the country more appealing to its leaders. What Google didn’t expect is protest from its employees who collectively wrote a letter demanding that the company be more transparent.

A major concern from the 1,400 employees that signed the letter was that they were not being told the ethical and moral implications of this censored version of Google meant to be catered to the Chinese government. Without accurate information, they felt they could not complete the covertly assigned task.

Though China currently holds the largest internet audience in the world, Google has not been able to access that audience since officially leaving China eight years ago due to restrictions and blockages still seen today.

Saudi Arabia, August 19

‘We Are Real’: Saudi Feminists Launch Online Radio

A new radio program called Nsawya FM or Feminism FM has launched in Saudi Arabia to speak for “the silent majority” women who have been mistreated, beaten and even died due to a systematic lack of rights. Though the endeavor is low budget, operating with a microphone, laptop and Mixlr, a live audio streaming website, the impact grows stronger every day as women’s stories are shared.

The program comes at a contentious time in Saudi Arabia. In the same summer, women drove legally for the first time and over a dozen female human rights defenders have been detained. Nsawya FM hopes to gradually educate others about women’s rights, despite critique that the feminist ideals advocated for on the program are too Western and un-Saudi.

Germany and Turkey, August 26

German Journalist Facing Terror Trial in Turkey Returns Home

German journalist Mesale Tolu flew back to Stuttgart after being released from Turkish custody under charges of engaging in terrorist propaganda as well as joining a banned left-wing group, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party.

Tolu, like many journalists detained under terrorism charges in Turkey, denied these accusations. Seven other German reporters have been detained in Turkey over the past two years and are still imprisoned. Tolu’s husband, Suat Corlu, also faces politically motivated charges and is banned from leaving the country with his wife. According to Reporters Without Borders, Turkey currently holds 28 imprisoned journalists, the most in the world.

Myanmar, August 30

Myanmar Army Fakes Photos and History in Sinister Rewrite of Rohingya Crisis

The Myanmar army is revealed to have been engaged in heavy propaganda schemes, most recently publishing a 117 page book in July filled with photographs of war and poverty in Tanzania and Bangladesh which were altered to look like attacks from the Rohingya population in Rakhine.

Another false image is claimed to depict Rohingya Muslims murdering Buddhists in the 1940s. In reality, Reuters found that these photos showed Bangladeshis being killed by Pakistani forces during that time period. The only images of actual Rohingya are meant to show the population invading Myanmar when they were trying to flee from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

When asked for a comment, both the government spokesman Zaw Htay and military spokesman could not be reached while the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Information, U Myo Myint Maung, declined to make any statement besides claiming he had never read the book.

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