World News Missed in January

Vietnam, January 1

New Year, New Repression: Vietnam Imposes Draconian ‘China-like’ Cybersecurity Law

New laws have been enacted in Vietnam restricting the flow of information on the internet and encouraging widespread censorship similar to that of China.

Under these new laws, the government can demand that internet companies hand over user data and delete “inappropriate” content critiquing the communist government. The Ministry of Public Security has given companies such as Facebook and Google until November to comply with the cybersecurity laws, which also demand that the companies open representative offices in Vietnam if they still want to do business in the country.

In response, Facebook said it is still committed to free and safe expression while Google is getting ready to open an office in Vietnam.

Germany, January 4

German Politicians’ Data Published Online In Massive Breach

A major data breach occurred in Germany as documents from hundreds of German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, were leaked onto the internet.

No one has claimed responsibility for the massive hack but Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that the German parliament and government computers have not been compromised.

Authorities are looking into all possibilities including espionage. The data, which was published on Twitter, included addresses, personal letters and copies of identity cards of German public figures. The twitter account itself has been around for four years and had a history of leaking data to the public. The account has been deleted since this latest data breach.

U.S. and E.U., January 8

U.S. Downgraded E.U.’s Diplomatic Status (but Didn’t Say Anything)

The U.S. downgraded the diplomatic status of the European Union’s delegation to the U.S. over a year ago but did not release the major shift in international cooperation to the European Union. The secrecy of the demotion was only brought to light after a German newspaper, Deutsche Welle, reported on it.

The European Union became aware of their demoted status when Ambassador David O’Sullivan was not called in the order of protocol of ambassadors paying their respects at former President George Bush’s funeral.

President Trump has made his concerns about the European Union clear several times. Trump called the European Union a “foe” of the U.S. in terms of trade last July and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had given a speech to the European Union questioning the need for multinational organizations.

Poland, India and Montenegro, January 16

Polish Police Detain Suspects For Hate Speech After Gdansk Mayor Death

Polish Mayor Pawel Adamowicz was stabbed to death while speaking on a stage at a charity event. The mayor was a member of the liberal party and spoke openly against anti-immigration policies. As a result of the mayor’s death, hate speech and aggression online and in the streets has increased, forcing police to detain at least ten people charged with instigating violence on social media.

Before the mayor was murdered, he, along with ten other politicians, were targets of fake death certificates from the far right. Adamowicz was the mayor of a town called Gdansk for 20 years.

Critics have said that politicians on the far right in both Poland and Hungary have been engaging in hateful rhetoric against immigrants and refugees, which has spread online.

Indian Opposition Seeks Scrapping Of 1870 Sedition Law After Students Charged

Indian politicians and media outlets are calling for the 1870 colonial-era sedition law to be revoked after police used the law against ten students for the 2016 rally at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Authorities say there were anti-India posters present while the students deny the accusations, claiming that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trying to undermine free speech in the midst of election season. The rally itself questioned the execution of the Kashmiri separatist convicted of an attack on parliament in 2001 but the students claim no violence or incendiary language was used at the gathering.

The Indian government has also recently charged an academic, a journalist and a community leader from the northeastern state of Assam under the sedition law, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Montenegrin Journalist Jailed In ‘Disturbing Setback’ For Press Freedom

A Montenegro court sentenced investigative reporter Jovo Martinovic to one and a half years in prison, a ruling that international media activists are calling “a terrible injustice” and a “disturbing setback” for the country’s press freedom.

The court convicted Martinovic, who has reported heavily on crime for both local and foreign outlets throughout his career, on charges of drug trafficking and criminal association. Martinovic denied the charges and claimed that they were aimed at retaliation for his reporting.

Before his arrest in October 2015, Martinovic was conducting a journalistic investigation on arms trafficking in the Balkans.

Various press freedom organizations have rebuked the sentence, with the Committee to Protect Journalists saying that Martinovic’s conviction “will have chilling effects on press freedom in Montenegro.”

Uganda, January 22

Uganda plans restrictions on artists

The Ugandan government is proposing new regulations on artistic content in a move that critics are saying will help discourage negative coverage of authorities.

The action comes amid concerns by government authorities after the rise in popularity of pop star and political activist Bobi Wine. The 36 year old musician has gained recognition among Uganda’s youth due to the strong criticism of the government in his lyrics.

Uganda’s president, 74 year old Yoweri Museveni, has been in power since 1986 and is expected to seek re-election in 2021.

According to Peace Mutuuzo, junior minister for gender, labour and social development in Uganda, the newly proposed regulations include requiring artists to submit song lyrics, as well as scripts for film and stage performances, to authorities in order to be vetted prior to publication.

China and Australia, January 24

China says Australia writer held on national security charge

China announced that it had detained Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun for allegedly “engaging in criminal activities endangering China’s national security.”

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying offered no details on the supposed actions that led to Hengjun’s arrest, but claimed that the case is being followed according to Chinese law and that Hengjun’s “legitimate rights and interests have been fully guaranteed.”

According to friends of Hengjun, the novelist and online commentator had been living in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University with his wife and her child before returning to China a week before his arrest was announced.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the Australian government has requested access to Henjun, along with an explanation from the Chinese government as to the reasons for Henjun’s arrest.

Indonesia, January 26

BBC journalist Ging Ginanjar: A giant of Indonesia’s battle for press freedom

Tributes from journalists and activists around the world poured in following the death of BBC Indonesia journalist Ging Ginanjar, an editor credited by his colleagues with playing a monumental role in promoting press freedom in the world’s largest Muslim nation.

In 1994, Ginanjar co-founded the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia’s first independent journalists’ association. The organization was formed amid heavy censorship by military leader Suharto, whose government repeatedly intimidated journalists and shut down independent media houses.

While the cause of death is not clear from the reporting on the 54 year old press freedom icon, the BBC wrote that Ginanjar was one who would “animate the bureau with his passion for journalism, an energy that served his country so well when it was needed.”

Russia, January 31

How Russia Is Strong-Arming Apple

A decision by Apple to comply with Russian law could allow security officials within the state to have access to the data of thousands of Apple users.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian government agency that oversees media and telecommunications, confirmed that, for the first time, Apple Russia will conform to a 2014 law that requires that digital data of Russian citizens be stored on servers located within Russia.

Under counterterrorism laws, Apple could also be required to decrypt and submit data to Russian security services on request.

Apple has repeatedly framed itself as a proponent of data privacy, with CEO Tim Cook condemning the “weaponization” of personal data.

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