Somali security forces shut down radio stations

shabelle“Somali security agents shut down two radio stations and ordered its reporters to leave a building they were occupying for non-payment of rent, a government official said on Sunday,” Reuters reports:

The official said the Shabelle Media Network‘s stations had been given a deadline to leave the government-owned building, which they had initially refused.

“The issue is nothing to do with media freedom. But they were asked to leave government property that they had been in,” the Somali government official told Reuters.

But the station said its occupation of the building was legal and they had an agreement with the transport ministry, Agence France Presse reports:

Before the widespread violence that broke out in Somalia in 1991 the building had belonged to a Somali airline.

somaliOn Friday the radio station posted a statement on its website saying it had filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court which the Court had thrown out, and the regional court had also rejected the case.

“In that regard, we have decided to stay in the premises and resist the move, we will rather die inside the building instead of having been killed outside,” it said.

One of Somalia‘s most respected independent media outlets, Radio Shabelle, based in the capital city of Mogadishu, and a second station, SkyFM, were closed because of their coverage of government corruption, according to a representative of the National Union of Somali Journalists.

The union reports that another journalist, Mohamed Mohamoud, was killed over the past weekend.

Somalia is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, AFP reports:

shabelle Eighteen media professionals [including Mohammed Mohamud Tuuryare, right, and] at least four from Radio Shabelle were killed in Somalia in 2012 — the east African country’s deadliest year on record, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) — and more than 50 have been killed in the last six years. At least six media workers have been killed this year.

The Shabelle Media Network, formerly a National Endowment for Democracy grantee, last year received the prestigious Press Freedom Prize from Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).

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China & Vietnam: same system, same problems

The mother of a well-known Vietnamese dissident blogger is appealing to media outlets, as well as the public, to attend his upcoming trial on charges of violating state interests, VOA’S Tra Mi reports.

Dinh Nhat Uy (above) is the first blogger publicly charged under Vietnam’s controversial new Article 258, which provides criminal penalties for “abusing freedoms to infringe upon the state’s interests.”

Earlier this month, rights advocates condemned the sentencing of pro-democracy blogger and lawyer Lê Quoc Quan to 30 months in prison and fine of 1.2 billion dongs (approx. US $60,000).  

No new thinking

“China and Vietnam have two of the few Communist Parties still in power, so it is hardly surprising that they face many of the same problems,” The Economist notes:

What might alarm them most, however, is the shortage of obvious solutions. Both parties scheduled meetings of their central committees this autumn. Both plenums were seen in advance as important in the evolution of national reforms. China’s plenum is due next month. Vietnam’s has come and gone, producing few apparent signs of new thinking.

The Vietnamese Communist Party “seems in more of a pickle,” it observes, citing the 26m comments on revised draft constitution distributed for public reaction earlier this year:

Three clauses in particular attracted attention. Liberals hoped the constitution might guarantee an independent judiciary. At present it promises that the state “shall unceasingly strengthen socialist legality”. Some had also hoped for a change to Article Four, which enshrines the role of the Communist Party as “the force leading the state and society” in a one-party system. And third, many people argued that Article 19, which declares that “the state economic sector shall play the leading role in the national economy”, is both obsolete and damaging

In Vietnam, as in China, the ruling party has cracked down on online dissent, The Economist reports:

In Vietnam only “personal information”, and not news articles, may be exchanged online. This seems to be a doomed attempt to reclaim the monopoly on sources of mass information that the party enjoyed before the internet arrived. Even if the crackdown were enforceable, it would be too late to extinguish the cynicism about party and government that is smouldering in Vietnam, as in China.

“Unfortunately, this is part of the ongoing persecution of peaceful critics in Vietnam. The government should immediately stop these actions against people that violate their freedom of expression,” said Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson.


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Kremlin propaganda and Russia’s regression

The Kremlin is addressing Russia’s economic problems by dusting off Soviet-era propaganda and policies, says Leon Aron, director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The resulting paranoia and intolerance are bound to yield a toxic harvest when the regime falters or loses control, he writes.

The 2008–09 financial crisis demonstrated that gas and oil exports could no longer serve as Russia’s engine of economic progress. Russia needed to dramatically change its investment climate through deep institutional reforms that would boost economic liberty, expand the rule of law and property rights, diminish corruption, and create more political choices for its citizens. Yet the Kremlin has chosen to address these challenges with authoritarian consolidation, buying short-term stability at the expense of the country’s longer-term prosperity and progress.

Elements of the Kremlin’s massive propaganda campaign include militarized patriotism and patriotic education; a selective recovery of Soviet symbols and ideals; the ultraconservative Russian Orthodox Church as the moral foundation of the regime; the promotion of a culture of subservience; and the intimidation, stigmatization, and repression of civil society and its vanguard, nongovernmental organizations. Leading independent Russian experts have called this strategy a “conservative turn” and a “reactionary wave.”

Yet instead of producing the consolidation and unity expected by the Kremlin, this campaign may yield polarization, radicalism, and violence that will prevent the country’s peaceful and inclusive transition to a more dignified version of citizenship.

As a political culture of citizenship emerges in Russia — a culture characterized by the resentment of and protest against despotism — the regime is betting on its opposite: the traditional culture of subservience. The campaign is aimed at the political mobilization of the more conservative and paternalistic segments of the electorate. According to Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, Russia’s oldest and most authoritative independent polling organization, the Kremlin’s goal, at least initially, may not have been to establish a permanent traditional and religious consciousness. Instead, the Kremlin seeks to discredit civil society and its liberal and democratic values, including the idea of inalienable rights, personal dignity, and the desacralized notion of a state — that is, the state as an instrument of society set up with the consent of the citizen, rather than “an unchallengeable entity from God.”

Unique Civilization and Soviet Ideological Tropes

Just as the Soviet Union declared itself the world’s trailblazer on the road to Communist paradise, Russia is now professing to be a unique civilization with exclusive predestination. Such a definition implies the abandonment of the “European choice,” a strategic direction for the country which, until now, the post-Soviet Russian leaders, including Putin, repeatedly affirmed. The Kremlin has moved from mimicking democracy to outright rejecting Western values; anti-Westernism has thus become a pillar of the new reactionary political culture.

Although no one advocates a return to the state’s complete ownership of the economy or to totalitarian politics (at least not yet), the political sociologist Alexei Makarkin sees a return to “an amended and corrected USSR” where ideology, culture, and society are concerned.

Besieged Fortress and America the Enemy

Among the values that the regime seeks to inculcate is another Soviet ideologeme: portraying the country as a fortress besieged by virulent enemies. The deployment of this ideological stereotype of the Cold War era has several objectives: to rally around the flag in the face of the potential loss of sovereignty and to soften the blow in advance of severe economic complications by enabling Russian leadership to point a finger at foreign malfeasants. Perhaps most important, however, is that the alleged external hostility perpetuates the pretense of an endangered society that only Putin’s skillful and courageous leadership can protect.

As the Soviet Union’s enemy number one, the United States was a logical choice to cast as the prime target of the propaganda campaign. A signal for a no-holds-barred propaganda campaign was given from the top in 2011 when Putin accused the U.S. Department of State of playing the lead in organizing the first protests against the falsification of the Duma election results. This was followed by media attacks on and harassment of U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul. Then, in fall 2012, the Kremlin ordered the expulsion of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

At some point, the authorities themselves might be scared by what they have allowed to “crawl up through the floorboards: the clerical, the nationalist, the jingoist,” says Boris Makarenko, a professor at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics and the chairman of the board of the Center for Political Technologies.

But by then, they may not be able to reverse the process. Assiduously sown by the Kremlin, the dragon’s teeth of demagoguery, paranoia, xenophobia, anti-Westernism, intolerance, and obscurantism are bound to yield a toxic harvest when the regime falters or loses control outright. In the worst case, as in the ancient Greek legend of the Golden Fleece, the campaign may yield massive violence that will be an enormous setback for a peaceful and inclusive transition to a more dignified version of Russian citizenship.

Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the director of Russian Studies at AEI.

This is an extract from a longer article. RTWT

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