World News Missed in September

Myanmar, September 3

Reuters Reporters Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison by Myanmar Government

Myanmar convicted two Reuters reporters for violating a law regarding state secrets. This came after the two journalists were arrested last year for taking pictures of mass graved of Rohingya Muslims murdered by the Myanmar military.

The two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were sentenced to seven years in prison. The verdict is an indication of the violent crackdown by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya Muslim population in the northern part of the country.

This has been seen as a landmark decision as it reflects the country’s policies towards journalists in the wake of an evolving humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia, September 4

Saudi Arabia Moves to Ban Online Satire, in Latest in its Fight Against Political Dissent

Saudi Arabia has announced that it is making online satire a punishable offense. The kingdom can punish anybody “disrupting the public order” with up to five years in prison or with a fine of $800,000.

Saudi authorities have been cracking down on political dissidents since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed in June last year. Many citizens have already been convicted for these so-called cyber crimes, which are typically linked to posts on Twitter.

This also comes after a September 2017 development when authorities encouraged citizens to report anyone participating in political or religious dissent online. Authorities have classified these crimes as “acts of terrorism.”

South Sudan, September 6

South Sudan Military Court Sentences Soldiers to Prison for Killing Journalist

A South Sudanese military court sentenced ten soldiers to jail after finding them guilty of the murders and rapes of foreign aid workers, as well as one journalist. The South Sudanese government was ordered to pay rape survivors $4,000 each, while the family of the slain journalist, John Gatluak, was awarded 51 cows as a part of a court-ordered compensation package.

The attacks took place in 2016 at the Terrain Hotel in Juba. Since the civil war began in 2013, this marked the worst attack against foreigners by the South Sudanese government. Moreover, this was the the first time South Sudanese soldiers were sentenced for committing crimes since the country gained independence in 2011.

The compensation was seen by the survivors as insulting and the lawyer representing the rape survivors stated his clients were not “relieved” to hear the verdict; however, Amnesty International viewed the convictions as a “key first step towards ending chronic impunity in South Sudan.”

North Korea and South Korea, September 14

North Korea Opens Liaison Office, Further Easing Tensions

Earlier this month, both North and South Korea established a permanent communication channel through the creation of a liaison office on the north side of the border. This marks the latest efforts from both sides to finally end the tensions between the countries.

Before this office was created, the two sides communicated with each other through telephone lines and fax machines. During periods of heightened tension, these means of communication were cut off. Now, both sides can communicate directly any day at any time.

This development is expected to greatly improve relations between the two countries, as it had been established just in time for the September 18th inter-Korean summit.

Myanmar, September 16

Demonstrators Gather In Yangon to Protest Sentencing of Reuters Journalists

At least 100 protestors gathered in Yangon, Myanmar to protest the jailing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. These two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of violating a state secret law.

The group consisted of everyone from local journalists to high school students. Thar Lun Zaung Htet, who helped organize the protest, argued the reporters were simply doing their job, adding that “losing press freedom means our democratic transition is going backwards.”

Last month, the United Nations stood behind the two journalists and called for the Myanmar government to release them immediately, in what has been seen as a direct attack on press freedom in the country. The future is still unknown for Lone and Oo as it is unclear if the government will cave into international pressure.

Egypt and Iran, September 17

Egypt Launches Campaign to Fight Fake News, Citing National Security Concerns

A new crackdown is underway in Egypt by current president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. El-Sissi, who took power in 2014 to kick off an offensive against so-called “fake news.” El-Sissi cited national security concerns, mentioning that the country’s “fake news” is polarizing and is aimed directly at the government’s stability.

A unit was established by the government last month when el-Sissi claimed to have tracked 21,000 rumors in a three month span. He has directed his authorities to silence the outlets spreading the rumors. In the past few months, access to 500 online sources was blocked.

Many see el-Sissi’s dialogue is seen as comparable to Donald Trump’s in the United States. El-Sissi is a major ally of Trump’s and has said that he would want to see a united media behind Trump.

Iran Accuses Twitter and Facebook of Terminating ‘Real Iranian Accounts’

Twitter and Facebook terminated hundreds of accounts linked to a propaganda campaign in Iran last month. The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, lashed out on Twitter, questioning why the social media giant shut down the accounts of “real Iranians.” He further questioned the decision to allow “bots” which are spreading “regime-change propaganda” to continue operating, which he claimed were American-backed.

This development came just five months after the Iranian government blocked the popular messaging app, Telegram, which was used by 40 million Iranians. The government cited national security concerns for the decision.

Twitter has not commented on Zarif’s accusations. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stated earlier this month that he believed the United States and Israel were responsible for a cyberwar aimed at spreading propaganda to discourage Iranian popular support of the government.

North Korea, Russia and Singapore, September 20

UN Report on North Korean Sanction Violations Blocked by US after Tension Increase with Russia

The United Nations released a 148-page report detailing North Korea’s evasion of sanctions set forth by the Security Council. The report was delayed and almost embargoed to be released to the public because Russian companies allegedly participated in the breach of sanctions and introduced amendments to the report to water it down.

Nikki Haley and the US delegation immediately called foul and blocked the report from being published. A number of US allies believed that the Russian amendments were reasonable, which has caused an unusual amount of tension to rise between a number of countries. The United States has therefore been accused of countering its own national interests in order to deliver an unnecessary blow to Russia.

In a leaked version of the report, details emerged revealing Russia’s assistance to North Korea with the smuggling of refined oil to the country, as well as their compliance when a North Korean construction company was created in their consulate in Vladivostok.

Singapore Parliament Backs Legislation to Hold Tech Companies Responsible for Combating Fake News

Singapore is the most recent country to launch efforts to combat “fake news.” Last Thursday, a parliamentary committee in the country recommended that legislation be passed to ensure that technology companies prevent the spread of “fake news.” The committee denounced Facebook, Google and Twitter for not filtering out deliberately fabricated information.

Google released a stated that the company “took the issue of false information seriously,” promising to work with Singapore’s government to tackle the issue in the future. Twitter released a similar statement.

Activists are concerned that the government could abuse this law in order to suppress free speech and punish political dissent. As a result, Singapore’s already low World Press Freedom Index ranking of 151 is at risk of dropping even lower.

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