Angolan journalist faces fresh charges in blood diamonds case

angola marquesThere are parasites of all kinds in poor countries, Nicholas Kristof writes for The New York Times:

One variety is intestinal, the worms that afflict countless children. In a hospital here in Angola, nurses pointed to a little girl named Marcelina, who they said was at risk of dying from anemia caused by worms and malnutrition. She had so many worms she was spitting them up. The other kind of parasite afflicting Angolan children is the crooked official, often working with Western executives. It’s not a coincidence that Angola is a center for both kinds of parasites.

“Much of the health care budget gets stolen,” Rafael Marques de Morais, an investigative journalist in Angola, told me. “The biggest problem in this country is corruption.”

Last week, Marques de Morais received a Freedom of Expression award from the London-based group Index on Censorship.

angola Diamantes-de-Sangue2-150x150Marques de Morais told the Committee to Protect Journalists that when he arrived in court on Tuesday for his scheduled hearing on charges of criminal defamation, 15 additional charges of criminal defamation had been filed against him…… He faces up to 14 years in prison, if convicted of all the charges.

The journalist has described the legal situation as “Kafkasesque”. In a speech last week as joint winner of the Index on Censorship’s freedom of expression in journalism award, Marques said the trial would make him stronger, The Guardian reports.

He later told the Observer: “It will show Angolans there is nothing to fear and challenge them to hold the authorities to account.”

 Following disclosure of the new charges, Marques tweeted: “I went to court today facing nine charges of criminal defamation. I left slapped with up to 15 additional ones for defamation. Speechless!”

The latest case against Mr de Morais comes after he wrote a book, Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola, the BBC adds. Outside court, scuffles broke out between police and protesters who chanted “free Rafael” and “imprison the generals”, the agency said.

“Rafael Marques de Morais has had to contend with this criminal defamation case for more than two years. The new set of charges added this week underscore that the Angolan authorities want to ensnare the journalist in lengthy legal proceedings, wear down his resistance, and deter others from critical reporting,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. “We urge Angolan authorities to drop the charges and begin a process to reform its outdated criminal defamation laws.”

Marques de Morais has tracked $3 billion accumulated by President dos Santos’s daughter, the $13 million refurbishment of the presidential palace, the Lexus LX 570 luxury S.U.V.’s given to each member of Parliament — all at a time when children aren’t consistently getting five-cent deworming pills, Kristof adds:

I’m honored to be in the same profession as Marques de Morais. He went on trial Tuesday for criminal defamation and could face years in prison; if the United States wants to signal that it cares about corruption, Secretary Kerry could tweet his support and the American ambassador could invite Marques de Morais to a very public lunch.

The last time Marques de Morais was imprisoned, in the 1990s, he said he was released only when the United States ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Richard Holbrooke, visited Angola and insisted on seeing Marques de Morais — in prison if necessary. Angola hurriedly freed him.

Marques is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, specializing in political economy, the diamond industry, and government corruption. A former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, his writings have helped set the agenda for political debate in Angola by exposing abuses of power and endemic corruption through his journalism and his work with Maka Angola, an Angolan platform, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.





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Freedom Matters

People hold long lengths of cloth in the colours of the Ukrainian national flag as they take part in a rally against the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea by Russia, in Odessa……is a supplemental curriculum developed to help high school grade students connect the foundations of freedom to today’s global struggles for liberty. The content is particularly relevant to global studies and world history courses.

These inclusive, teacher-led lesson plans combine the personal stories of dissidents and democracy advocates featured in the Bush Institute’s Freedom Collection with broader, universal concepts of freedom, rule of law, limited representative government, and the protection of individual political, economic, and personal rights. The lesson plans correspond to essential knowledge and skills students are exploring in the classroom.

Nearly 150 educators and school administrators attended today’s curriculum launch, hearing from former First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush and Margaret Spellings, President of the Bush Center, and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. Educators heard first-hand from two political dissidents featured in Freedom Collection videos, Xiqiu “Bob” Fu, a pastor and advocate for religious freedom in China, and Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian human rights activist.

Click here for a detailed TEACHER’S GUIDE.


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‘Don’t steal Nigeria’s election’

nigeria-democracy2In an era of instant analysis too often driven by the superficialities of the twenty-four hour news cycle, Jean Herskovits has published a thoughtful, detailed must-read op-ed on Nigeria only a few days away from national elections, writes John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

Her perspective is that of an academic who is devoted to the development of African democracy and good governance and has been writing about Nigeria for forty-five years. ….She observes that President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling People’s Democratic Party intends to remain in power in the face of Muhammadu Buhari’s credible challenge. But, she warns, “…if there is another postponement, a contrived disruption on election day that leads to an unconstitutional interim arrangement, or if the election results do not appear credible, Nigeria could erupt in violence.”

Professor Herskovits chronicles the remarkable shift in Nigerian politics since the 2011 elections. Then, Christians tended to support the Christian Jonathan, while Muslims supported the Muslim Buhari. But, in 2015, the religious and other conventional divides appear subsumed by disgust at escalating corruption, poor governance (including the failure to pay civil servant salaries), currency devaluation, and military humiliation. Under these circumstances, Buhari’s support is no longer confined to the northern half of the country or to Muslims. RTWT

nigeria buhariBut with incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan locked in a tight race with his challenger, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari (right), observers say the danger of fraud may be even greater this time, VOA’s Abdulwahab Muhammad and Chris Stein report:

The cards may go a long way in making at least one part of the voting process transparent, one expert said, but they won’t eliminate fraud altogether.

“The (Jonathan) government will try to go into an election wanting to know the result ahead of time. At the moment, it is not so confident it will win,” said Jasper Veen, a Nigerian expert for the National Democratic Institute. “To what extent it is willing to go to secure an electoral outcome?” Veen said. “That is the biggest question.”

Afrobarometer analysts Nengak Daniel Gondyi, Raphael Mbaegbu, and Peter Lewis discuss Nigeria’s pre-election pulse:
Mixed views on democracy and accountability

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Can authoritarian capitalism outlive Lee Kuan Yew?

singapore LKYFor the distinctive brand of authoritarian capitalism that the late Lee Kuan Yew imposed on his tiny homeland didn’t merely propel Singapore into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries. It also served as a model for China, the world’s largest country, and, according to some analysts, it is set to dominate the rest of the twenty-first century, John Cassidy writes for The New Yorker 

Lee’s skepticism about Western-style democracy taking root could turn out to be justified. Fearful of unleashing chaos in a society of enduring social and racial divisions, Singapore could retreat from its hesitant steps toward a more open society. And if this happens, the relief won’t be confined to the members of the Chinese Politburo: it will also be felt in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin also views Lee as a mentor. (As Ben Judah reminds us in a post at Politico, Putin awarded Lee Russia’s prestigious Order of Honor.)

While Lee’s model of economic liberalization serves as an inspiration for many developing nations in the region, the country “is sui generis on many levels, making it a difficult act for others to follow,” says CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Karen Brooks. Acknowledging that Lee’s paternalistic governing style “often translated into a considerable suppression of democratic freedoms,” she says the country’s political system is being challenged by a younger generation of Singaporeans demanding new freedoms.

Cracks starting to show in the Singapore model stem from complaints over a lack of freedom of expression and political pluralism, The New York Times reports:

Catherine Lim, a social critic and author, wrote a widely circulated open letter to the government last year taking it to task for not listening to the concerns of its citizens. It began, “We are in the midst of a crisis where the people no longer trust their government, and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust.”

She assailed the government for hardball tactics against its political opponents, saying it had “no qualms” about reducing them to bankruptcy….Karim Raslan, a regional political analyst and newspaper columnist, said the leadership in Singapore would be forced to adjust its tone.

“As a leader in Singapore now, you have to be more inclusive, you have to be able to persuade more and bring people along with you,” he said. “Lee’s iron hand did not really allow for much dissent, but today the hierarchical nature of Singapore has broken down.”

In a recent paper about China’s fascination with SingaporeMark R. Thompson and Stephan Ortmann, both from the City University of Hong Kong, cited one estimate that 22,000 Chinese officials made study visits to Singapore between 1990 and 2011. Lee and his government came to offer successive Chinese leaders an idealized example of how the Communist Party could absorb market changes and exposure to the outside world without succumbing to public discontent and rampant corruption, Chris Buckley writes for The NYT’s Sinosphere:

“What they’re looking for is ideological reassurance that they’re not falling into what we call the ‘modernization trap,’ that by advancing economically they’re not necessarily creating the basis of their own collapse,” Professor Thompson, who is the director of the Southeast Asia Research Center at the City University of Hong Kong, said in a telephone interview. The Singapore experience came to mean even more to Chinese admirers as other authoritarian Asian governments gave way to electoral democracy and fractious party competition.

“As political change occurred in South Korea and Taiwan,” Professor Thompson said, “increasingly it became only Singapore that combined for the Chinese leadership a very interesting model of effective economic governance, rapid growth, of state involvement with meritocratic rule, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, strict limits on political participation and democracy.”…..

But Cherian George, a Singaporean journalist teaching in Hong Kong, said Mr. Lee’s more authoritarian admirers abroad failed to note that he allowed a degree of regular electoral accountability that, while circumscribed, was unavailable in purely one-party states.

“From the very start, he insisted on an incorruptible system,” Mr. George said. “There’s no shortage of strong leaders around the world and their fans who say they look up to Lee Kuan Yew, but ignore this very inconvenient aspect of his governance.”

“Mr. Lee’s enduring legacy is his views on ‘Asian values,’ but … such a view has been refuted with many countries from South Korea to Indonesia and even Myanmar now moving towards democracy,” said Chee Soon Juan, who leads one of Singapore’s struggling opposition parties.

“China will undergo political reform as well and this, rather than Mr. Lee’s prognostications, will determine future geopolitics in the region and beyond,” said Chee, a former Regan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

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‘Yugoslavia scenario’ to follow Russia’s war of ideas?

russia piontkovskyThe central question facing Russia is: What will fall quicker: Putin’s regime or Russia itself? according to a prominent analyst. Putin’s exercises with “green men” in Crimea are setting an example for authoritarian regimes in Asia, Andrei Piontkovsky (left) tells Leonid Martynyuk of the Institute for Modern Russia:

“Green men” of these regions could also appear at any moment in the Far East and Siberia. The latter could also appear at any moment, discover that they are many, and propose to hold a referendum to express their political vision. That’s not even to mention the Islamic regions in the Volga River basin. The longer this agony goes on, the fewer chances there are for Russia to stay within its current borders in the future.

All authoritarian regimes fall as a result of a combination of two things: massive demonstrations in the streets and a split among the elites, says Piontkovsky, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:

From December 2011 to January 2012, there were enough people in the streets: 100,000 to 150,000. If a notable split would have happened among the elites (at least into Medvedev’s circle and Putin’s circle, or into systemic liberals and siloviki), then there would have been 500,000 out in the streets the next morning, and the split would have only grown. But there wasn’t a single signal from the elites. After giving it thought, systemic liberals decided that restraining the protest movement would serve them better than splitting with Putin. So it became possible to bring down the protests. The chance that we all discussed in 2011–2012 was missed because of extraordinary greed and the stupidity of our elites.

russia duginAlexander Dugin (right) is the intellectual who has Vladimir Putin’s back in the emerging ideological conflict between Russia and the West, say analysts Andrey Tolstoy and Edmund McCaffray. At home, Putin uses him to create a nationalist, anti-liberal voting bloc, while abroad Dugin is the lynchpin of numerous irregular networks of anti-liberal political resistance and sabotage. No individual better represents the tactics of the current Russian regime, they write for World Affairs:

According to Dugin, while modern-day Atlanticists, led by the United States, have consolidated their position via international organizations and political hierarchies, their Eurasian opposition is disorganized and largely defenseless. This is because Atlanticism, by prioritizing individual liberties above all else, dissolves social bonds and obligations and devalues cultural legacy, thus destroying the very fabric that allows traditional societies to exist. Its hegemony is pursued by construing any opposition to its political or economic interests as an affront to freedom.

A Yugoslavia-like scenario?

The annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, large-scale military maneuvers by  Russian armed forces, the continuing increase in military outlays despite the deepening economic crisis, and President Vladimir Putin’s stated readiness to use nuclear weapons make it increasingly likely that a Yugoslavia-like scenario will play out on the territory of the former Soviet Union, says Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007.

In the absence of any factors that would seriously limit the Kremlin’s ability to expand its military and political zone of control among the former Soviet republics and to destabilize them at will, the likelihood is higher than ever that Russia and its neighbors will become drawn into such a conflict, he writes for The Moscow Times.

Russian media and politicians have frequently accused the newish government in Kiev of harboring neo-fascists and Nazi sympathizers, The Washington Post notes:

That’s because a segment of Ukraine’s nationalist right-wing, active in anti-Moscow street protests a year ago, embraces controversial Ukrainian heroes such as Stepan Bandera, a guerrilla who fought the Russian and Polish occupation of what’s now Ukraine and won Nazi patronage. Moscow’s critics say the real fascism lies in the neo-imperial ideology supposedly motivating Putin.

RUSSIA NAZI PACTA hint of that ideology was evident at the International Russian Conservative Forum held in St. Petersburg on Sunday, purportedly a gathering of respectful traditionalists from the European Union, Russia, and beyond, Bloomberg reports:

But the lineup, including Hitler apologists, Holocaust deniers, apartheid fans, and a Russian skinhead who once decapitated a puppy as a publicity stunt, gave it an air of dark surrealism. Speakers condemned the U.S. as the enslaver of Europe and sang the praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin, holding up Russia as the last fortress of Christendom in the war waged on it by liberalism and multiculturalism.

Experts argue that the agenda of the conference, whether Putin was aware of it or not, fit the Kremlin’s current ideology, which really comes down to with Putin or against him, analyst Anna Nemtsovawrites for The Daily Beast:

Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the Sova group monitoring cases of xenophobia and racism, suggested that not many among the Kremlin’s senior bureaucrats were eager to shake hands with a “neo-Nazi” from the National Democratic Party of Germany, Duo Voidt; or Jared Taylor, a smooth-talking American advocate of what he calls “racial realism”; or Italian far-right leader Roberto Fiore, or anyone from fascistic Greek party Golden Dawn. “But in today’s reality, these are the only people willing to help the Kremlin to undermine stability in Europe and USA,” Verkhovsky said.

The event was further confirmation of Putin’s love affair with Europe’s Far Right, Andrei Malgin writes for The Moscow Times.

“Putin is attempting to create a so-called ‘conservatives international.’That way he hopes to sow division in Europe by breathing life into marginal, ultraradical organizations, regardless of their ideology,” he adds.

russia info warfareWhy bother trying to sell an ideology to the world when Russia can actively undermine other countries’ ideologies and truths? According to the professionals who run Russia’s state-controlled media, objective or absolute truth does not exist, writes Vedomosti editorMaxim Trudolyubov:

The Soviet state’s attempt at modernization fell short by refusing, in principle, to grant individuals rights to autonomy, liberty and property. But it was rebelling against a purely Western approach. Today’s Russia rejects Western-style competition, the rule of law and independent institutions while allowing capitalism and certain changes to economic and social policy under strictly controlled limits.

“The Kremlin’s lack of a full-fledged constructive plan for the future or an ideology behind it is itself an attempt to improve upon past errors,” he suggests.

Over the last decade, Russia has had plenty of time and resources to test and perfect its propaganda machine, while Western democratic media has been in decline, says Christopher Walker, executive director of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, in an interview with the Lithuania Tribune’s Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė:

So we face this dual challenge of confronting Russia’s exploitation of open democratic information space beyond its borders while also trying to intercept democratic media and messages within Russia’s borders – which even in the age of globalisation, the age of the internet, has become rather effective in censoring and managing information that matters. Entertainment flows pretty easily in Russia, there’s an enormous amount of material on information that flows on the internet in Russia, but I think the important question is news about politics, serious news about corruption, that does not get on the airways to a national TV audience…..


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