China disrupts WhatsApp ahead of Communist Party meeting

Chinese authorities appear to have severely disrupted the WhatsApp messaging app in the latest step to tighten censorship as they prepare for a major Communist Party congress next month. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2017
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China disrupts WhatsApp ahead of Communist Party meeting

BEIJING: Chinese authorities appear to have severely disrupted the WhatsApp messaging app in the latest step to tighten censorship as they prepare for a major Communist Party congress next month.
Users in China have reported widespread disruptions in recent days to the Facebook-owned service, which previously malfunctioned in the country over the summer.
Experts said the problems began on Sunday, but text messaging, voice calls and video calls appeared to be working again on Tuesday, though voice messages and photos were not going through.
WhatsApp provides message encryption technology that likely does not please Chinese authorities, which closely monitor and restrict cyberspace through their “Great Firewall.”
Many Chinese activists favor WhatsApp over local messaging apps because of its end-to-end encryption function.
China has tightened online policing this year, enacting new rules that require tech companies to store user data inside the country as well as imposing restrictions on what is permissible content.
Chinese cyberspace regulators said Monday they slapped “maximum” fines on major Chinese tech firms Baidu and Tencent for allowing the publication of pornographic, violent and other sorts of banned material on their social media platforms. The amount of the fines was not disclosed.
websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a slew of foreign media have been blocked for years.
The WhatsApp troubles emerged ahead of the Communist Party congress on October 18, when President Xi Jinping is expected to be given a second five-year term as the party’s general secretary.
“It smells like Party congress pre-emptive blocking,” said Jason Ng, who researches China’s Internet at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.
China usually steps up surveillance around major events, Ng said.


While the WeChat messaging app owned by China’s Tencent company is more widely used in the country, many WhatsApp users complained about the disruptions.
“As we get closer to the Party congress, I think authorities will use more extreme censorship measures. The public knows that WeChat isn’t safe,” prominent Beijing-based activist Hu Jia told AFP.
“Me and other dissidents use WhatsApp to communicate 70 percent of the time. For the few days WhatsApp was completely inaccessible, we didn’t talk at all,” Hu said.
Earlier this month, WeChat informed its users in a new privacy policy that it would “retain, preserve or disclose” users’ data to “comply with applicable laws or regulations” — confirming long-held public assumptions about the company’s practices.
Other users in China noted that the WhatsApp disruptions would make it difficult to work with clients abroad.
“Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Viber were blocked before. Now even WhatsApp is blocked? Without good messaging tools, it will reduce the efficiency of the foreign trade industry,” wrote one person on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media website.
“I can live without the others (applications), but blocking WhatsApp is driving me crazy,” said another.
WhatsApp declined to comment.
The Open Observatory of Network Interference, a global censorship detection group, said China started blocking WhatsApp on Sunday.


To operate in China, some foreign tech companies have complied with local regulations. But others such as Google have chosen to pull out completely from mainland China.
In July, Apple removed software allowing Internet users to skirt China’s “Great Firewall” from its app store in the country, drawing criticism that it was bowing to Beijing’s ever-growing web censorship.
Such software, called virtual private networks (VPN), allow people in China to access any website, even those that are blocked.
Beijing mandated in January that all developers must obtain government licenses to offer VPNs and there has been concern that it might ban them outright.


Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after Daesh radio silence

Updated 22 June 2018
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Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after Daesh radio silence

  • After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk
  • On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city

MOSUL: During the Daesh group’s rule in Mosul, radio stations were banned and replaced with broadcasts of militant propaganda. Today, young Iraqis are filling the city’s airwaves.
One budding presenter is Nour Tai, who at 16 years old faces the microphone with a confident tone and a professional style.
She hosts a weekly program on One FM, a Mosul station launched in February that broadcasts a mix of music, entertainment and current affairs debates.
Her career began a year ago thanks to a talent show organized by Al-Ghad, a station in the Kurdish city of Irbil which hosted many of those displaced from Iraq’s second city.
She said at the time that she was passionate about radio because “it touches everyone.”
“I want to be part of it,” she said.
She now sits in the One FM studio, accompanied by her father, as a degenerative illness left her blind three years ago.
She says her aim is to “give people hope, especially those who suffer from a handicap.”
“I want to tell everyone that we can all contribute something and that we can realize our dreams,” she says from the cramped studio.
The launch of One FM came six months after Iraqi forces declared victory over Daesh following three years of brutal militant rule in Iraq’s second city.
Daesh had shut down independent radio stations and anyone caught tuning in could expect severe physical punishment.
The emergence of stations such as One FM is a step in the city’s transformation since Daesh was ousted following a vast, months-long operation.
Young presenters are busy 24 hours a day, producing and broadcasting shows which are also filmed for broadcast on the radio’s website and social media accounts.
The channel is run by volunteers who bought the necessary equipment by pooling their savings, some selling their own belongings to fund the station.
Yassir Al-Qaissi, One FM’s head of communications, says their aim is to “denounce violence and extremism, and broaden people’s minds.”
There is a need to “erase the terrorist ideology and end the sickness of our society, such as sectarianism and racism,” the 28-year-old says.
Ahmad Al-Jaffal, 30, says the militant occupation “created a vacuum of thought.”
“With my program, I try to promote ideas of coexistence, of mutual understanding, and of acceptance of the other,” says Jaffal, who worked as a journalist prior to the Daesh takeover in 2014.
One FM is not the only ambitious new station on the local airwaves.
Mosul residents who took refuge in Irbil after the Daesh takeover of their city launched two stations: Al-Ghad and Start FM.
After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk.
That means it has more radio stations than the two state-run channels it had under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
All currently broadcast analogue signals and can only reach Mosul and its surroundings.
The US invasion in 2003 brought a multitude of new options for listeners, although these were co-opted by American occupying forces or political parties.
The period before the Daesh offensive was risky for journalists and presenters in Mosul, who were regularly targeted by Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
Mohammad Salem, a sociologist, says the new stations will need government supervision to ensure that this time they are not misused for political or religious purposes — “especially as some of their funding sources are unknown.”
On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city.
Taxi driver Mohammad Qassem, 27, says the music and entertainment shows are a welcome addition to his long days.
“We can finally listen to all the songs that IS deprived us of for three years,” he says happily, before pushing the volume up to maximum on his car radio.