First East Ukraine Referendums to Be Held

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The People’s Council of the People’s Republic of Donetsk (DNR) has scheduled a referendum for May 11, according to Council Chairman Denis Pushkin, despite warnings from Kiev and a request by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The referendum will concern the status of the region–whether it wishes to remain Ukrainian or become Russian. The council moved forward with the referendum after a unanimous vote that the referendum would not be postponed.

“The referendum will be the eleventh of May,” began the ” Interfax ” announcement of the vote by the co-chair of the DNR government, Miroslav Rudenko.

The public council in Lugansk also made the decision to hold a referendum, reportedly, according to spokespeople for that organization.

In recent days, Putin asked pro-Russian separatist forces in Southeastern Ukraine to postpone referendums.

Pro-Russian separatists have been demanding referendums since March, purposing unification with Russia.

By James Haleavy

Source:

Vesti

NSA Reform Begins: US House Revises USA Freedom Act to End Bulk Data Collection and Telephone Metadata

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American mass surveillance programs, such as those carried out by the NSA, have begun to change, as Wednesday the US House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a revision of the USA Freedom Act, Human Rights Watch reported Thursday.

The rewrite purposes to prohibit government bulk data collection of records, including phone and internet metadata. The data collection currently takes place under several US laws, such as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows collection of all phone and other business records.

The rewrite includes many of the proposals suggested by President Barack Obama earlier this year. The revision aims to end the massive sweeping style of records collection, instead creating “specific selection terms” for collection.

The rewrite also places new reporting requirements on the government, provides a mechanism for emergency requests, and allows companies to report limited information about orders receives. The rewrite also creates an expert panel that will be able to intervene in FISA court in some instances.

The revised version of the Act is one step toward bulk data and telephone metadata collection reform, but Human Rights Watch says there is still work to be done. Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at the organization, said, “The USA Freedom Act revision would help end one of the most problematic programs Edward Snowden revealed last year. However, the bill does not address needed reforms to surveillance programs that affect millions of people outside US borders.”

Also, several provisions that had been included in the earlier draft of the revision were removed or weakened, according to Human Rights Watch. A special advocate to represent the public’s interest in FISA trials is no longer included. In the earlier draft version, there was also a provision for challenging government gag orders, but it was removed.

A further criticism of the revision is that other laws and regulations, such as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333, also allow mass surveillance and bulk data collection, and these laws, which affect more people than the US Freedom Act and include actual content–not just metadata–are not affected by the current actions of the House.

Thursday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is scheduled to review the US Freedom Act, and is expected to pass the revised Act without further modifications, after which the revision will move to Congress.

By James Haleaey

Source:

Human Rights Watch

Azerbaijan Takes Chair for Council of Europe

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Azerbaijan has assumed the Council of Europe chair amid a dire human rights situation within the country. The taking over of the chairmanship of the decision-making human rights institution takes place in light of Azerbaijan’s unseemly track record of human rights abuse, as highlighted in Amnesty International’s report Behind Bar’s: Silencing dissent in Azerbaijan, released recently.

The report finds an trend of increased repression in Azerbaijan since the October 2013 elections, and documents “how harassment, beatings, and unfair trials, detention and imprisonment are routinely used in Azerbaijan to control and curb the voices of opposition parties, independent media outlets, and any other individuals critical of the government.”

Just last week a court in the capital, Baku, sentenced eight NIDA activists to prison terms of between six and eight years. The charges–drug possession, explosives and intention to “cause public disorder”–
Outside the courthouse after the reading of the sentence, police broke up NIDA supporters and others gathered there, detaining at least 26 activists and journalists.

NIDA–which is the Azerbaijani word for “exclamation”–was founded in 2011 by a small group of young people purposing to enact democratic and social changes in the country. The group currently has 350 members, including several politicians.
At the time, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme, Denis Krivosheev, said, “This verdict is an affront to human rights and a timely reminder of Azerbaijan’s continued refusal to respect basic freedoms.”

The Council of Europe is comprised of 47 member states. It is a decision-making human rights institution, based on the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Azerbaijan, the oil-rich country bordering Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Iran between the Black and Caspian seas, assumed the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on Wednesday, May 14 2014.

By James Haleavy

Sources:

Amnesty International

New Russian Internet Law Against All Bloggers and Providers Passed, Thanks to Edward Snowden and the CIA?

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Further strictening of Russian internet law passed the legislature Monday, and is expected to further cool Russian internet expression, while Russian President Vladimir Putin explained the law in terms of “the way its done everywhere” to deal with the CIA-initiated internet, and thanked Edward Snowden for playing his part.

Under the law, commonly refereed to as the “bloggers law” because the owner of any website–referred to as a “blog” in the language of the bill–with a daily following of 3,000 or more, including social media followers such as those on Twitter and Facebook, will be forced to register a real identity and address with the government, and will be responsible for any content posted on the site, including its accuracy. Henceforward, no internet user with a basic amount of social media clout will be anonymous legally in Russia, and will be held to the same standards as mass media outlets, but without the protections granted regular media. The law is expected to have a cooling effect on expression on the internet in Russia.

Recently, two of Russia’s largest blogging services, Yandex and LiveJournal–announced that publicly visible counters would stop below the 3000 number.

The law also requires all online platforms–search engines and social networks–to maintain records of everything posted online for the previous six months. The records must be kept inside Russia. In is not clear in the law whether this provision covers Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other international social media.

The new internet regulations will take force August 1.

The legislature also ruled Monday that as of July 1, common swearing will no longer be allowed in movies, television, theater or music. The four words that were banned are those crudely denoting male and female genitalia, sex and prostitutes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his views of the internet a few weeks ago on a live national TV broadcast, saying, “You know that it all began initially, when the Internet first appeared, as a special C.I.A. project.” “Special services are still at the center of things,” Putin continued, and thanked American fugitive exile in Russia, whistleblower Edward Snowden, for showing the world the efficiency of NSA data collection.

Putin explained the new law, saying that anyone affecting thousands or more people with their opinions should be considered a media outlet, and said that this was “the way it is done all over the world.”

Comparing the new internet laws to the Chinese model, one prominent critic said, “It is part of the general campaign to shut down the Internet in Russia. They have not been able to control it until now, and they think they should implement the Chinese model. But they don’t understand how it works. The Chinese model also stimulates the development of local platforms, while the Russian laws are killing the local platform.”

China employs a policy of tightening censorship of the internet, and has banned all Western social media, including Google, Facebook, YouTube and twitter.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Sources:

The Wire

Land and Sea Journal

US Orders Sanctions Against South Sudan, Following Up on Threat

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Following up on threats made Monday, the US has imposed the first sanctions against South Sudan, where the president has not come to the table to discuss peace with the rebels after over four months of fighting has disrupted the nation and displaced over a million South Sudanese.

On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry threatened sanctions against the country’s government if they continued to evade peace talks, and on Tuesday Kerry announced travel bans and asset freezes against two participants in the ongoing conflict. The sanstions come under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last month.

The sanctions were imposed on one individual from each side of the conflict. From the government side, a member of the presidential guard, Marial Chunuong, was singled out by the US for leading attacks against civilians in and around the capital, Juba, and from the rebel side leader Peter Gadet was targeted for leading an April 17 assault on the city of Bentiu in which 200 civilians were killed.

An unidentified Obama administration official commented on the sanctions, saying, “The primary purpose is to isolate and apply pressure to change the decision-making calculus of the key actors involved.”

The leaders of the two main groups at conflict, President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader, former vice president, Riek Machar, agreed Tuesday to requests by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to hold the first face-to-face talks this Friday in Ethiopia.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Source:

BBC

South Sudan Top Rivals President Kiir and Rebel Leader Riek Machar Both Answer Ki-moons Requests to Hold Face-to-Face Talks

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Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, announced Tuesday that rebel SPLM/A leader Dr. Riek Machar has agreed to face-to-face talks with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Ki-moon spoke with Machar via satellite telephone shortly after his arrival in South Sudan. Last Friday, Kiir also agreed to attend the face-to-face meeting.

“He [Machar] said that he has been invited by Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn in his capacity as a chair of IGAD to come to Addis Ababa and he responded positively that he will be in Addis Ababa for meeting in time,” the secretary general stated, “but he said he will try his best because he is now in a very remote area.”

Ki-moon arrived in Juba, capital of South Sudan Tuesday, with plans to meet with President Salva Kiir in order to push for a ceasefire, as well as hold discussions with the leaders of South Sudanese civil society groups, especially women’s and religious groups. Ki-moon will also visit the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection compounds on his visit, where thousands of South Sudanese are currently seeking shelter, and where Ki-moon will meet with community leaders as well as UN staff and peacekeepers.

Monday US U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened sanctions against South Sudan’s government if they should continue to evade peace talks.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Sources:

Eye Radio

 

Wikileaks Leaks Vatican Supported 1973 Pinochet Coup in Chile

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Italian newspaper La Repubblica has published a Wikileaks cable that shows that the Vatican communicated with US diplomats in October, 1973, and expressed support for the Pinochet coup in Chile.

In the communication, between Vatican second in command, Secretary of State Giovanni Benelli, and US diplomats, Benelli expressed, “grave concern, and to Pope Paul VI regarding the successful leftist international campaign to completely distort the realities of the situation in Chile”.

Benelli also expressed concern about an alleged terrorist leftist campaign purposing to demoralize the Board of Governors in charge of the country after the September 11 coup.

Of the aftermath of the coup, Benelli said, “we must admit that there has been bloodshed in cleansing operations in Chile, but the embassy in Santiago, Cardinal Silva and Chilean bishops in general have assured Pope Paul that the board is doing everything possible to bring the situation back to normal and that the international media stories that speak of a brutal crackdown are unfounded”.

Benelli also stated, “The Vatican is convinced, and the Nunciature has confirmed that during the last months of the Allende government, the Embassy of Cuba was serving as arsenal to distribute weapons made in Eastern Europe to the Chilean workers.”

La Repubblica is a newspaper related to Wikileaks in its function of spreading previously secret cables throughout the world.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Source:

The Clinic

Ukraine Acting Defense Minister Explains Why Anti-Terrorist Operations Are Going So Slowly

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Mykhailo Koval, the acting defense minister of Ukraine, made statements Tuesday explaining that anti-terrorism operations taking place in Southeastern Ukraine–based on “liquidation” of diversionists and terrorists–are not performed with haste in order to prevent casualties among the civilian population.

The defense minister told a story explaining the situation Tuesday at the briefing after the closed session of parliament.

“One of the ambassadors of the Central European State asked me why the anti terrorism operation goes so slow,” said Koval. “I answered that we have two options. The first option involves the use of heavy artillery. We could raze this settlement to the ground, put a yellow-and-blue flag and report on the performance of tasks. The second option–which is what we do–is block, step by step, and liquidate the diversionists and terrorists, as well as avoid involvement in the fighting of the civilian population. I asked the diplomat ‘What option would you chose,’ and he said, ‘I select your Ukrainian variant.’ So you should understand that our participants of the counter-terrorism operation work according to this option.”

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Source:

Puterak Olexandr at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

 

Ukraine Referendum, With Three Big Issues, Voted Down by Split Ukrainian Parliament

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Three big issues in Ukraine were set for a nationwide referendum May 25, but the majority of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, voted against the referendum Tuesday.

The three issues pressing in Ukraine that were to be addressed in the referendum were territorial integrity, the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, and decentralization of power.

The bill to hold the referendum was proposed on Monday. The vote against the referendum was not a landslide; 154 members voted in favor of the referendum.

Parliamentarian Alexander Briginec called the proposed referendum “populism,” and wrote, “The referendum should be held, but not during the war.”

Pro-Russian groups have occupied buildings throughout Southeastern Ukraine since March. Earlier this month, the Ukrainian parliament passed law to crack down on separatists, providing maximum sentences of 12 years for actions that purpose territorial changes.

Dozens of people have so far died in the clashes between pro-Russian forces and nationalist Ukrainian forces in Southeastern Ukraine.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Source:

Voice of Russia

Human Rights Watch Releases New Report Calling USA “A Nation Behind Bars” and Says to Reform Criminal Sentencing

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Human Rights Watch has just released a report finding that too many US laws violate basic principles of justice. The report, released today, entitled “Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution,” finds that the US has the highest reported rate of incarceration in the world because punishments are far more severe than are necessary to meet their purposes.

A co-author of the report and US Program at Human Rights Watch senior advisory, Jamie Fellner, stated, “The ‘land of the free’ has become a country of prisons. Too many men and women are serving harsh prison sentences for nonviolent and often minor crimes. How can a country committed to liberty send minor dealers to die in prison for selling small amounts of illegal drugs to adults?”

Between 1997 and 2009, according to the report, prisoners in the US have increased 430 percent. The report also found that more than 95,000 criminals under 18 were in adult prisons and jails in 2011, based on Bureau of Justice Statistics data, and black Americans are nearly 10 times more likely to be in prisons. Currently, over 40 percent of all federal criminal prosecutions are for “illegal entry and re-entry” and border crimes, according to Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch urged US legislators to ensure that punishments do not exceed the gravity of a crime, reform or eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws, ensure age-appropriate punishments for adolescents and children, reduce or eliminate criminal sanctions for immigration offences, and prevent racially biased enforcement of laws. Human Rights Watch also urged the decriminalization of personal use drug possession.

By Sid Douglas

Sources:

Human Rights Watch

Russia Paying Trolls to Comment on News Websites, Another Newspaper Says

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Another major newspaper believes that the Russian government is paying internet users to spam the comments section under their articles with aggressive, provocative pro-Russian propaganda. UK’s The Guardian newspaper moderators believe this is an orchestrated campaign.

The Guardian moderators, who deal with 40,000 comments per day, and The Guardian users believe the Russian government is paying webizens to troll their papers, using denigrating and abusive terms against other commenters who criticize Russia or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Guardian’s former Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, is in no doubt about Russia’s internet campaign, calling it “a well-attested phenomenon in Russia.”

The Guardian reported on the problem as early as 2012. “A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous,” the paper reported.

The Atlantic also reported on the problem, in October 2013. The paper cited a St. Petersberg Times article about a woman who was interviewed for a job in a “comment-mill,” where workers were expected to and distribute politically supportive or discrediting social media posts.

The Atlantic also noted the prevalence of this abuse of social media, reporting that the NGO Freedom House had stated that the practice is widespread in 22 of the 60 countries it examines, led by China, Bahrain and Russia.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Sources:

The Guardian

The Atlantic

Russian Government’s Own Civil Society Organization Finds Crimean Referendum Falsified

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights has published a report that finds that the Crimean referendum that served as the sole pretense of validity in Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, was falsified.

Council member Yevgeny Bobrov, human rights worker Svetlana Gannushkina and lawyer Olga Tsetlina prepared the report after visiting Simferopol and Sevastopol April 15-18. The report was published on the President Soviet website Monday.

Although many reports from various sources have found that Russia had falsified the vote, these reports were discredited by the Russian government as US propaganda.

The report finds that the turnout for the referendum in Crimea was 30-50 percent–not the reported 50-80 percent–and only 50-60 percent of those voters favored joining Russia. Voter turnout and support for Russia was higher in Sevastopol city, where, the Council reported, there was a heightened fear of “illegal armed formations.”

The Crimean referendum was held March 16 behind a blockade of armed Russian and pro-Russian forces, which prevented Ukraine from entering Crimea to enforce Ukrainian law while the referendum took place. The results of the referendum were announced to be 97 percent of an 83 percent turnout in favor of joining Russia, although the ballot only had two options: join Russia and revert to an earlier constitution to separate from Ukraine.

Separatist forces in Southeastern Ukraine are also calling for Russia to assist them in Crimea-style separatist referendums.

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Sources:

President Soviet

Kharkiv Human Rights Group