Myanmar court extends pretrial detention of US journalist

The US Embassy arranged to have the detained journalist speak by phone with his wife, Julianna, in Yangon. (AFP PHOTO / COURTESY OF THE FENSTER FAMILY)
The US Embassy arranged to have the detained journalist speak by phone with his wife, Julianna, in Yangon. (AFP PHOTO / COURTESY OF THE FENSTER FAMILY)
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Updated 02 July 2021

Myanmar court extends pretrial detention of US journalist

The US Embassy arranged to have the detained journalist speak by phone with his wife, Julianna, in Yangon. (AFP PHOTO / COURTESY OF THE FENSTER FAMILY)
  • Myanmar court extends the pretrial detention of US journalist Danny Fenster who was arrested in May.
  • Fensert is reportedly in good health but appeared to have lost some weight at Thursday’s hearing at the special court at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where he is being held.

BANGKOK: A court in Myanmar on Thursday extended the pretrial detention of Danny Fenster, a US journalist employed by an online news magazine in the military-led Southeast Asian nation who was arrested in May on an incitement charge that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment.
Fenster, who is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24, as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family.
Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told The Associated Press that the 37-year-old journalist was in good health but appeared to have lost some weight at Thursday’s hearing at the special court at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where he is being held. He asked that his wife send him medicine and food. Two consular officials from the US Embassy also attended the hearing, the lawyer said.
The next hearing is scheduled for July 15, but the case will not come to trial then because the court has too many cases backed up, he said.
Fenster’s court appearance came a day after authorities began a release of about 2,300 prisoners who were charged in connection with protests that erupted after the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. The new government has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting journalists.
Those released included protesters as well as journalists. Most were being held on the same charge as Fenster. Because there is no official list of freed detainees and the releases are taking place over several days, the exact number of journalists freed is not known.
An unofficial tally kept by Myanmar journalists says of 88 journalists who were arrested after February’s military takeover, 49 have been released, including 14 on Wednesday.
In June, a court released US journalist Nathan Maung, who was arrested in March while working for Kamayut Media, a local online news platform. The charges against him were dropped, his case dismissed and he was deported to the United States.
“The Myanmar junta’s continued detention of journalist Danny Fenster is outrageous and unacceptable. Independent reporting of what’s happening on the ground in Myanmar should not be considered a crime,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement.
“The authorities should immediately drop all charges against Fenster, and permit him to leave the country if that is what he wants to do. The junta should also unconditionally free the more than 50 Burmese journalists who are still in detention and lift the license revocation orders imposed against numerous local media outlets,” Robertson said. Myanmar is also known by its old name, Burma.
Than Zaw Aung said Fenster is charged in connection with his work at a previous job, as a reporter and copy editor for the online news site Myanmar Now.
Myanmar Now, along with several other media outlets, had its license revoked in early March, banning it from publishing on any platform. However, it has continued to operate online.
Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July last year and joined Frontier Myanmar a month later, so it is unclear why he was arrested, his lawyer said.
“I don’t know in detail. What I can say is that he was accused as a staff member of Myanmar Now. I’m not clear if it concerns a story posted on Myanmar Now or not.”
Fenster’s family in the United States, led by his parents and brother Bryan, have rallied support for his release with a website, an online petition and contacts with their representatives in Congress to keep pressure on the State Department to push Myanmar on the case. The US government has made repeated pleas for media freedom in Myanmar and for Fenster’s release.
The Irish rock band U2, which has long taken an interest in the fight for democracy in Myanmar, on Wednesday tweeted its support for Fenster’s release.
“Journalism is not a crime. We join @RepAndyLevin and @bryanfenster in urging the immediate release of journalist Danny Fenster from detainment in Myanmar and thank heroic organizations like @pressfreedom for fighting to protect journalists everywhere — #BringDannyHome,” it said.
“This is what we want. We want champions of human rights and social justice in a connected world to take on our cause,” Bryan Fenster said Thursday. “And what better example of that than all the guys in U2?”
Bryan Fenster said he was able to speak to his brother on the phone this week — their first conversation since Danny Fenster was detained.
The US Embassy arranged to have the detained journalist speak by phone with his wife, Julianna, in Yangon. “Then, they were able to get in touch with me on another phone and kind of held them up to each other so we could hear each other and talk to each other,” Bryan Fenster said.
“To finally hear his voice, you know, we could finally exhale, sink into the back of the couch for a little bit,” he said. “He sounded good. We were able to crack a few jokes that made me feel really good, in particular, because he’s got a great sense of humor. And happy he has his wits about him given the circumstances.”


Snap launches hub to help amateur, professional creators

Snap launches hub to help amateur, professional creators
Updated 48 min 30 sec ago

Snap launches hub to help amateur, professional creators

Snap launches hub to help amateur, professional creators
  • Creator Hub will educate new, experienced users on getting most out of Snapchat, Spotlight

DUBAI: Social media company Snap Inc. has announced the launch of its new Snapchat Creator Hub, an online resource to support its creator community and help users make the most of Snap Camera.

The Creator Hub is aimed at amateur and professional creators, providing tips, tricks, and information in English and Arabic on how to leverage Snap’s various tools and platforms.

Tony Ghazal, talent partnerships manager at Snap Inc. for the Middle East and North Africa said the Snapchat community was “among the world’s most expressive and inventive storytellers, especially on mobile.”

He added: “Our aim is to provide creators with the best tools to share their stories, to improve their skills, and to connect with their audiences in a meaningful way.”

The hub features video tutorials from Snap Stars and regular creators that guide viewers through everything from getting started to advanced tools within the Snapchat app.

It also features tips on how creators can succeed on Spotlight, the company’s entertainment platform for user-generated content.

“For the last decade, Snap has pioneered the innovation behind AR (augmented reality). In that process, we deeply value our partners and creators, and are grateful for all the exciting new experiences they bring to the Snapchat community,” Ghazal said.


Facebook plans to hire 10,000 in EU to build ‘metaverse’

Metaverse is a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality. (File/AFP)
Metaverse is a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 October 2021

Facebook plans to hire 10,000 in EU to build ‘metaverse’

Metaverse is a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook plans to hire 10,000 workers in the EU to work on the new virtual reality tool 'metaverse'

MENLO PARK: Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.
The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build “the metaverse,” a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile Internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.
In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company’s inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts.


Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China

Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China
Updated 16 October 2021

Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China

Apple removes popular Quran app for users in China

DUBAI: Apple has removed a popular Quran app from its app store in China on the request of Chinese officials. 

“Quran Majeed,” a reading-friendly application used by millions of Muslim users around the world, has been deleted on the Chinese app store for “hosting illegal religious texts,” the BBC reported. 

“According to Apple, our app Quran Majeed has been removed from the China App store because it includes content that requires additional documentation from Chinese authorities,” the report cited the app makers as saying. 

“We are trying to get in touch with the Cyberspace Administration of China and relevant Chinese authorities to get this issue resolved.” 

It is reported that the app has more than one million users in China.

The BBC report said it contacted the Chinese government for a comment, but had not received a response. 

The Chinese Communist Party officially recognizes Islam as a religion in the country. 
But China has been constantly accused of committing human rights violations, that amount to genocide, against the millions of Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslim, living in Xinjiang.


Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage
Updated 16 October 2021

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage

Google cyber-threat arm exposes Tehran’s online espionage
  • An Iranian-government aligned group has tried to steal personal information and passwords of notable individuals across Europe and the US through 2021
  • Iran set to continue on the same cyber-espionage path despite the exposure of their tactics, expert tells Arab News

Tech giant Google has exposed how Iranian-backed groups attempt to use its platforms to carry out espionage on behalf of the government in Tehran.

In a blog post released on Thursday, Google’s Threat Analysis Group exposed the work of APT35, a shady hacking group that Google said is linked to the Iranian government.

Ajax Bash, of TAG, said: “This is the one of the groups we disrupted during the 2020 US election cycle for its targeting of campaign staffers. For years, this group has hijacked accounts, deployed malware, and used novel techniques to conduct espionage aligned with the interests of the Iranian government.”

APT35 “regularly conducts phishing campaigns targeting high risk users,” Bash said.

In one instance, he said, Iranian hackers targeted lecturers from a British university — the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London — and impersonated them in an attempt to trick others in the academic community into divulging their personal information and passwords. This form of cyber espionage is called credential phishing.

“APT35 has relied on this technique since 2017 — targeting high-value accounts in government, academia, journalism, NGOs, foreign policy, and national security,” said Bash.

“Credential phishing through a compromised website demonstrates these attackers will go to great lengths to appear legitimate — as they know it’s difficult for users to detect this kind of attack.

“One of the most notable characteristics of APT35 is their impersonation of conference officials to conduct phishing attacks,” said Bash. He explained that Iranian-backed operatives impersonated officials from the Munich Security Conference and an Italian think-tank to steal passwords and information.

Amin Sabeti, the founder of Digital Impact Lab and an Iran-focused cyber security professional, told Arab News that Google’s blog exposes how Iran continues to build on its national cyber security strategy.

“This report shows again that Iranian state-backed hackers are very good in social engineering and they have improved their technique,” he said.

“For example, using a legitimate website to convince the target to enter the credential details of their online account is something new that we didn’t see a few years ago.”

Sabeti also said that, despite Google unmasking Iran’s cyber-espionage activity, it is unlikely that they will change their strategy entirely.

“I think we will see the same techniques but with new ideas.”

Google’s Bash said: “We warn users when we suspect a government-backed threat like APT35 is targeting them. Thousands of these warnings are sent every month, even in cases where the corresponding attack is blocked.  

“Threat Analysis Group will continue to identify bad actors and share relevant information with others in the industry, with the goal of bringing awareness to these issues, protecting you and fighting bad actors to prevent future attacks.”

Decoder

Credential phishing

It is a form of cyber attack in which hackers impersonate a reputable entity or person to steal user ID or email addresses and password combinations, then use the victim's credentials to carry out attacks on other targets.


Goal of new UAE-based creative agency to prove role, value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism: Mimi Nicklin

The goal of FREEDM is to prove the role and value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism, says Mimi Nicklin. (Supplied)
The goal of FREEDM is to prove the role and value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism, says Mimi Nicklin. (Supplied)
Updated 15 October 2021

Goal of new UAE-based creative agency to prove role, value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism: Mimi Nicklin

The goal of FREEDM is to prove the role and value of empathy to balance humanism with capitalism, says Mimi Nicklin. (Supplied)
  • Virtual, hybrid agency FREEDM aims to bring togetherness to advertising world

DUBAI: FREEDM is a new UAE-based creative agency that was launched last month. Headquartered in Dubai, the majority of its team is spread throughout the world in countries including the US, Singapore, India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

Backed by investors Sean McCauley and Richard Aybar of The Devmark Group, who are founding board members, FREEDM is led by Mimi Nicklin, who has worked in the advertising industry for 15 years and is the author of “Softening the Edge,” which explains why empathy is critical to turning around businesses.

Nicklin told Arab News: “When I arrived in the Middle East three-and-a-half years ago, I took over a business that needed a substantial amount of turnaround and I decided to do that with empathy at the core.

“It worked against all sorts of criticism, and we turned around to be a phenomenal small business — with empathy at the heart.”

She pointed out that empathy levels had been declining for three decades, a situation that has had far-reaching consequences, such as mental health issues.

“We have over 300 million people with depression, which is one of the heaviest costs on our healthcare services worldwide today; and anxiety issues are almost out of control — even the World Health Organization has recognized burnout as an official workplace-related illness,” she said.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has made many mental health issues worse inspiring Nicklin to combine the learnings of the global health crisis, her past work experiences, and research on empathy, to create a new kind of agency.

“If we don’t take the learnings of the trauma that hit our world, then we’re just going backward and I don’t understand why the business world seems to want to revert to 2019 with such ease,” she added.

On how to translate empathy to the workplace in the fast-paced agency world, she said: “It translates to elevating our people in order to balance people and profit rather than sacrificing our people in order to drive profit.”

Nicklin noted that advertising agencies have been under increasing pressure in the last two decades as client demands have increased and team sizes shrunk.

“We are an industry that doesn’t sell product, we sell creativity. And creative people need space and time that procurement can’t put a price on. As creative talent is being deprioritized, creative effectiveness is suffering.”

Today, creative businesses contribute to 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, employ 30 million people globally, and are the biggest job providers for workers aged 18 to 25, according to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

“That basically makes us the industry of tomorrow, and my belief is that the industry of tomorrow cannot function as it did yesterday,” said Nicklin.

FREEDM’s vision is to create an environment free of biases and restrictions that allows creativity to flourish. That includes recruiting talent from all walks of life regardless of age, gender, or economic background.

“We are not a particularly strong industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion. And this business is set to change that by being founded in a very different way,” she added.

For clients, it does not only mean access to exceptional work that addresses their marketing goals, but also being able to fulfill social and personal goals by “directly impacting human beings by creating freedom for them,” she said.

“I believe that we are all people before we are employees, leaders, or executives. And I think the last two years, particularly, have created a shift in society where we are all more aware of our collective role in improving and sustaining the world around us.”

The results speak for themselves with the agency receiving a phenomenal response within one month of its launch and winning new clients every day for at least an entire week. As of September, the agency already had nine clients with more in the pipeline.

From the outset, FREEDM has aligned its business with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and UNESCO’s International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.

UNESCO believes that the creative economy needs to accommodate creators, through careers in the creative industry that are “viable, and characterized by dignified working conditions, decent pay, and growth opportunities.” In order to fulfill this goal, it has called on policymakers and global leaders to conduct an exhaustive policy review that includes employment, intellectual property, and education.

“That means we have to reformat our entire business and our industry. So, it’s an incredibly big challenge, but at the same time, I believe you can’t create change without discomfort,” Nicklin added.