Digital Security and Press Freedom in Latin America

Advances in mobile technology, the expansion of the Internet, and the development of social networks have provided new communication platforms and digital tools for journalists, citizen reporters, and bloggers. They have helped break down barriers to press freedom and advanced democratic rights.

At the same time, these developments have created new threats to security for media workers and their sources. This is particularly true in parts of Latin America where organized crime, paramilitary groups, and authoritarian officials threaten independent journalists and bloggers alike. Their ability to censor and block information has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. As a new survey on digital and mobile security among Mexican journalists and bloggers notes, corrupt actors are using new technologies to identify and monitor those who may speak out against them. This has resulted in increased fear and self-censorship among reporters.

A joint project between the International Center for Journalists and Freedom House, the survey finds that as journalists increasingly use online platforms, social networks, and mobile devices to post comments or reports about crime and corruption, they face serious digital risks to their identity and privacy.

How well do reporters in the region understand the dangers of digital technology? How do these dangers differ in places like Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Cuba? How can they use technology to empower independent media and combat censorship? Panelists will explore these questions and provide recommendations for how media development stakeholders can improve digital safety training as part of overall democracy and governance efforts.

Digital Security and Press Freedom in Latin America

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy,the International Center for Journalists, and Freedom Houseinvite you to a panel discussion on

Digital Security and Press Freedom in Latin America


Mariclaire Acosta @macostau Freedom House

Eduardo Bertoni @ebertoni Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow/ National Endowment for Democracy

Jorge Luis Sierra @latinointx International Center for Journalists/ Freedom House

Frank Smyth @JournoSecurity Global Journalist Security

With remarks by:

Joyce Barnathan @joycebarnathan International Center for Journalists

Moderated by:

Miriam Kornblith @NEDemocracy National Endowment for Democracy

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

1025 F Street, NW, Suite 800 Washington, D.C. 20004


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Mali’s ‘Tale of Two Islamisms’

HCI leader Mahmoud Dicko embraces civil Islam, rejects Islamist ideology

While radical Islamist forces are wreaking havoc in the north of Mali, “a republican form of Islamism is peacefully conquering the south,” says Hannah Armstrong, a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs in the Sahel.

“The High Council of Islam, an Islamist civil society organization, has gradually emerged as the country’s strongest political force,’ she writes for the International Herald Tribune:

Since a coup d’état by Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo and low-ranking soldiers threw the political class into upheaval last March, the H.C.I. has stepped in to fill the vacuum. Many Malians — 90 percent of whom are Muslim — respect the council for providing social services and education through a network of 165 NGOs. The country’s new leaders are forging close ties with the group in the hope of consolidating their support among the public.

The HCI is demonstrating that Muslim citizens’ political convictions and activities can be informed by a form of civil Islam, which respects tolerance and pluralism, rather than the intolerant, autocratic traits of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood which, as Bassam Tibi has noted, have “ideologized Islam” into a rigid dogma.

“If southern Mali is heading toward Islamism, it is an Islamism based on persuasion, not violence and repression, as in the north,” writes Armstrong:

Also this week Mahmoud Dicko [above], leader of the H.C.I., extended “warm thanks” to François Hollande for the recent French intervention, while slamming “certain Gulf and other Muslim countries” — meaning Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — which called the French campaign an attack against Islam.

One Malian recently tweeted in support of Dicko: “These Arab Islamists are racists for they only conceive of Islam as being by Arabs, blacks are just second class.” He, like most black southern Malians, who overwhelmingly support the intervention, do not grant Arab countries a monopoly on the interpretation of Islam. They favor their own version, leavened by pluralism and compromise-seeking.


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West needs dual-track approach to deal with ‘two Russias’

Credit: NYTimes

“The West should employ differing strategies in dealing with each of the two Russias, recognizing that ‘patriotic’ forces are in power for now, but that they are increasingly alienating the urbanized and educated,” according to Denis Corboy, a former European Commission ambassador to Armenia and Georgia, William Courtney, a former special assistant to the president for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and Kenneth Yalowitz, who served as U.S. envoy to Belarus and Georgia:

The first Russia is modernizing. In 2011 it had the world’s sixth-largest economy by purchasing power parity. Gross national income per capita was approximately $20,000, akin to European Union members Poland and Hungary. Wealthier people often own foreign property or send children abroad for study….  

The second Russia is retrograde. It is returning to a more statist and authoritarian past, away from ideals of civil liberties and the rule of law. The Soviet Union is not about to reappear, but democracy-building groups are under assault, dissidents are thrown into psychiatric hospitals and justice is politically rigged. Russia ranks 142 out of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

“The West should revive tenets of human rights diplomacy from the Soviet era, such as speaking out publicly against repression and raising individual cases of injustice at high levels,” they write in The New York Times, noting that “courageous foreign-funded groups such as Golos, which monitors elections, face harassment or closure.”

Dual track diplomacy, embodying pragmatic but principled approaches, would foster cooperation with Russia on common interests while lifting the spirits of those who seek democracy and respect for human rights,” they conclude.


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US quits bilateral group to protest Russia’s crackdown

The Obama administration has pulled out of a joint working group on civil society with Russia to protest the Kremlin’s crackdown on critics.  

The Civil Society Working Group was a key component of the administration’s “reset” policy with Moscow, but Russian democracy advocates questioned its effectiveness. 

“In practice, it has turned out that human rights and the rule of law and democracy have all but disappeared from the agenda in the U.S.-Russia dialogue,” said Yuri Dzhibladze (above), president of the Moscow- based Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. The group became “a symbolic anatomy of the failure of the reset policy.”

“This particular working group has not been too helpful, and I’m glad it is gone,” he said. “We should not pretend that this has been a real mechanism for dialogue.” 

The panel, which came under the umbrella of the U.S-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, was neither effective nor appropriate, said Thomas Melia (right), U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

He said the decision to withdraw from the working group was made “in light of recent steps taken by the Russian government to impose restrictions on civil society.”

“The U.S. government is open to an honest and open dialogue on civil society and human rights issues with the government of Russia and with civil society,” Melia said in a statement. “We will continue voicing our concerns both publicly and privately about the new laws that restrict the work of civil society in government-to-government discussions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed a law that requires foreign-funded non-governmental organizations to register as “foreign agents”, and the Kremlin ejected the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The panel has accomplished almost nothing in the past 18 months, said Matthew Rojansky, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, because it is clear that Putin’s government has no interest in developing the hallmarks of a civil society.

“We take these things seriously,” Rojansky said, characterizing the American message. “And you have shown you don’t take them seriously.”

The US move also follows a notable spike in anti-Americanism which, observers suggest, has been deliberately promoted by the regime. But some Russian analysts fear the Kremlin’s xenophobia will prove to be counter-productive.

“Conducting a harsh anti-American course, we won’t get anywhere because America has more levers of influence over the main centers of power like China, India, the European Union, Japan and even the countries of the post-Soviet space,” Alexei Arbatov, a prominent analyst at a state research institute, wrote in the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper this week.

A close adviser to Putin today defended the clampdown on foreign-funded NGOs.

“We are effective enough to ensure a growing civil society, growing political engagement,” said Dmitry Peskov, the president’s press secretary, in an interview with the National Interest.

“Definitely we have those who are considered to be members of the opposition. Some of them are popular enough; some of them are not popular at all,” he said. “But, as a matter of fact, the dialogue between the Russian government and the opposition cannot be a subject of the bilateral relationship between Moscow and Washington, and in no way can be an issue of [state-to-state] discussion.”

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Egypt’s liberalism ‘still matters’

The secular groups protesting on the second anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster share the blame for Egypt’s authoritarian drift under the Muslim Brotherhood, analysts assert.

The Islamist’s political dominance is a consequence of liberal and secular groups ceding the initiative to the Brotherhood and ultra-conservative Salafists by failing to unite and organize in the two years since they initiated Mubarak’s ouster.

“They were unable to transfer their popular demands to real political action when they had the opportunity,” said Robert Danin, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, won the most seats of any party in parliament and later propelled Morsi to presidency. Other political parties with varying views and demands have also burgeoned in popularity and public presence, and demonstrations and protests continue in the streets, revealing a consistently vibrant political arena.

The secular parties behind today’s protests need “to accept that, if they want a democratic outcome, they have to fight in the electoral arena,” says a prominent analyst.

“Secular parties have already wasted two years they should have devoted to organizing in squabbling among themselves and hoping that the courts could stop the rise of Islamist parties,” writes Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

With the economy in tatters and many Egyptians, including pious ones, worried about a possible Islamist overreach, secularists can get support. But they need to organize, develop a message, and show more respect for ordinary Egyptians, whose votes they need. It is not that Islamists do not share the blame for the present state of affairs. They have become arrogant and overly sure of themselves, but the only way to stop them is to show that they are vulnerable to competition.

Liberal and secular groups are well-placed to take advantage of Egypt’s new political space and energy, observers suggest.

“People have been mobilized politically in a way that didn’t exist previously,” said Middle East analyst Michael Wahid Hanna of the Century Foundation, a think tank in New York. “There is a different sense of relationship between citizens and government.”

Moreover, while there have been gains in procedural democracy, political mobilization and political life, these haven’t yet translated into institutional reform and a radical overhaul of public policy, he said.

Furthermore, despite the Brotherhood’s authoritarian drift, public opinion still shows notably liberal trends.

Egyptian citizens “consistently express lofty democratic aspirations,” according to a recent Pew Research Center poll (above). Two-in-three believe democracy is the best form of government, while only 19% accept that non-democratic government may be preferable in certain circumstances.

“Moreover, there is a strong desire for specific democratic rights and institutions,” the Pew research finds. “About eight-in-ten (81%) considered it very important to live in a country with a judicial system that treats everyone in the same way, while roughly six-in-ten said it is very important to have a free press (62%); free speech (60%); and honest, competitive elections with at least two political parties (58%).”

There were exceptions to the trend of liberal failure,” according to Michele Dunne and Tarek Radwan.

“Liberal intellectual and media star Amr Hamzawy handily won his Cairo seat in the first round of voting, and several other prominent liberals such as analyst Amr Chobaky and young revolutionary Mostafa Naggar gained seats as well.”

“Islamist and liberal ideology in Egypt have converged over the years around a strongly held recognition of the importance of building democratic institutions and the rule of law,” they write in the JOD, a publication of the National Endowment for Democracy:

The primary difference between liberals and Islamists lies in the Islamist conception of the state as a moral actor responsible for social transformation. This belief is reflected in the post-revolution policies and behavior of Islamist groups and the Islamist-dominated government that promote and defend checks and balances within government, the right to protest, and political participation, but mostly within an Islamic framework that places limits on free speech and on the equality of women and non-Muslims, as delineated by shari‘a. The result might be a more intrusive state than what liberals advocate.

It will take time before Egypt is able to fashion its own distinctive blend of Islam and democracy, says a leading liberal analyst.

“The correct application of democracy and Islam requires a well-educated and politically mature society. This will evolve with time, and not by force,” writes Mohammed Nosseir, a member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptians Party.

“Egyptian society is in dire need of a functional democracy and genuine Islamic values, based on a correct understanding of the dynamics of each, and a complete separation between the two,” he writes on the Atlantic Council’s Egypt Source. ‘Egypt will progress faster and better standing on two legs (democracy and Islam); by crossing legs, however, we are certain to fall down.

Egypt’s liberals may be few in number, but it would be a mistake to underestimate their disproportionate influence on the country’s politics, say Dunne and Radwan, respectively director and associate director for research at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.  

“The dominant narrative that focuses on Islamist electoral ascendance ignores not only the increasing acceptance and even dominance of liberal political ideas in Egypt, but also the transformative and moderating effect upon the political scene exerted by liberals both before and during the transitional period,” they write in the Journal of Democracy:

Leading political figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Hamzawy have done yeoman’s work in assembling a public consensus behind liberal political ideas, and groups such as Kifaya have had an unmistakable impact on the changing political views of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Egyptians generally. Civil society organizations such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (among many others) act as checks on the institutionalization of Islamist social conservatism. Liberal journalists such as television host Yosri Foda, newspaper editors Ibrahim Eissa and Hani Shukrallah, and publisher Hisham Kassem are a constant presence in the mass media and help not only to shape public debate but to raise difficult questions for Islamists.

“Egypt’s liberals, though they do not dominate political life and perhaps never will, remain the vanguard of change in the country,” but they have “helped to make the entire political space more liberal and to defend that space against regressive initiatives, forcing the peaceful (if heated) dialogue and negotiation necessary to resolve differences through a democratic process.” RTWT

Egypt’s current political polarization is characteristic of turbulent change, says one analyst.

“Often enough, when the dust of the revolution is settled, the various groups which had united for the sake of changing the regime become embroiled in protracted ideological, political and personal disputes which might bring uncertainty and even chaos. writes Elie Podeh, a professor in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Egypt has not reached that point yet, but the worsening economic situation and the continuation of the political stalemate might further antagonize the Egyptian people and lead to renewed cycles of demonstrations and violence above and beyond those which accompanied the presentation and passing of the constitution recently,” Podeh asserts.

Egypt improved its status from “Not Free” to “Partly Free” as a result of growing respect for political rights and civil liberties, according to the latest Freedom House survey.

But a crackdown on civil society, the judicial dissolution of an elected parliament and a power grab by President Morsi, and threats to freedom of expression have highlighted the fragility of recent gains.

“The future of the Middle East will depend in significant ways on the success of Egypt’s democratic experiment, which in turn rests at least in part on the ruling Islamists’ commitment to democratic norms,” the report said. “In light of the past year’s developments, the outcome remains very much an open question.”

The US and other external actors can only play a “limited” role in assisting or facilitating Egypt’s transition, says Ottaway.

“Transitions are always predominantly a domestic process, and Egyptians are hypernationalistic and oversensitive,” she writes in The National Interest:

Outsiders must not choose sides. They must reject both the secularist narrative of victimization and Islamist claims that elections have given them a mandate. Secularists need to be told that many of their problems are self-inflicted and that they need to stop dithering and take the task of organizing for elections more seriously. Islamists need to be reminded that an election victory is not a mandate for unlimited power; they face immense problems, particularly economic ones, and they cannot even start addressing them without broad cooperation from all political forces and a skeptical international community.

But the U.S. can do more in two other areas, other observers suggest:

First, it should resume negotiating a free-trade agreement with Egypt. The EU has had one since 2004, and while Egypt’s Salafists will probably balk, business people — including many in the Muslim Brotherhood — would welcome a U.S. equivalent. More immediately, the U.S. could increase the range of tax-free goods that can be exported to the U.S. from Egypt’s Qualified Industrial Zones.

Secondly, the U.S. administration can be more forceful on democracy and human rights. It has understandably soft-pedaled the promotion of stronger democratic institutions since the arrest of U.S. nongovernmental-organization personnel. A new Egyptian law on nonprofits, and trials, will probably follow the elections, clearing the way for this to change. The U.S.- Egyptian security relationship may be paramount, but the U.S. must also stand up for democracy and human rights if it’s to stand for anything.

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