Rights group slams Morocco’s ‘manual’ of press repression

Rights group slams Morocco’s ‘manual’ of press repression
Protesters during a mass action in support of Omar Radi, a Moroccan journalist who was earlier detained over a tweet criticizing a judge, on December 28, 2019 in Rabat. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 28 July 2022

Rights group slams Morocco’s ‘manual’ of press repression

Rights group slams Morocco’s ‘manual’ of press repression
  • Rights group accuses Moroccan court system of ‘procedural flaws that taint the handling’ of journalists’ cases’
  • Morocco has insisted that its justice system is independent

NEW YORK: Morocco is jailing journalists after flawed trials for non-political crimes, particularly sexual ones, in order to silence them, part of a range of “techniques of repression,” Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
“Moroccan authorities have developed and refined a full manual of techniques to muzzle the opposition, even as it claims to be simply applying the law against them in a neutral manner,” it said.
The New York-based group presented the findings in a 141-page report focusing on eight journalists and public figures prosecuted in cases it said were really “veiled political attacks.”
It accused the Moroccan court system of “procedural flaws that taint the handling of these cases.”
Two of the most prominent cases are Omar Radi and Soulaimane Raissouni, both sentenced on appeal this year on sexual abuse charges to six years and five years in jail, respectively (Radi was also accused of “espionage“).
Another, Taoufik Bouachrine, was jailed in 2018 for 12 years on accusations of rape and people-trafficking, a sentence increased to 15 years on appeal by the public prosecutor.
All three have a history of critical reporting on the country’s authorities, and they have all denied the charges against them.
Morocco has insisted that its justice system is independent and that the cases had “nothing to do” with the men’s journalist work.
HRW however said that “trials targeting opposition figures are often marred by serious violations of the right to due process.”
It cited the “prolonged and unjustified” year-long pre-trial detentions of both Radi and Raissouni — the longest allowed under Moroccan law.
The rights group also cited the judiciary’s refusal to hear defense witnesses, “without providing reasonable justification.”
It also accused pro-government media outlets of “ferocious defamation campaigns” against Radi and others, which included revealing personal details of family members in what HRW said was an effort to intimidate them.
On top of that, it accused Moroccan authorities of spying on critics of the government, including with the controversial Israeli-made software Pegasus.
Investigative journalistic outfit Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International last year accused Morocco of using Pegasus against multiple targets at home and overseas.
Morocco denies the allegations and has opened libel cases in France and Spain against journalists making the claims.
HRW urged Rabat to “respect the right to peaceful expression” and “put an end to the methods used against critical journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists.”
It said its report was based on interviews with 89 people both in Morocco and abroad.
Moroccan Justice Minister Abdellatif Ouahbi was asked Monday in parliament about “the practices of certain foreign human rights organizations.”
Morocco accepts their observations but “refuses the bad faith exploitation of the reports for political purposes.”


Iran detains journalist whose sister is behind bars for Mahsa Amini coverage

Iran detains journalist whose sister is behind bars for Mahsa Amini coverage
Updated 15 sec ago

Iran detains journalist whose sister is behind bars for Mahsa Amini coverage

Iran detains journalist whose sister is behind bars for Mahsa Amini coverage
  • Elnaz took part in covering the death of Mahsa Amini while in custory of Iran's morality police
  • US-based NGO for journalists' protection urges Iran to release all detained journalists

LONDON: Iran-based journalist Elnaz Mohammadi was detained on Sunday at the Evin prosecutor’s office in Tehran while her sister, journalist Elaheh Mohammadi, also remains in custody following her coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death.

Elnaz, head of the social issues desk at the state-run reformist Hammihan newspaper, was summoned by the local authorities “for an explanation,” Shargh daily reported.

Elnaz is the twin sister of Elaheh, who was arrested in Sep. 2022 for reporting on the Sep. 16 incident involving Iran’s morality police, which sparked country-wide protests.

Elaheh, alongside journalist Nilufar Hamedi, has been behind bars since Sep. 29 for “conspiracy to commit a crime against national security and propaganda against the establishment,” according to Iran International.

Elaheh and Hamedi face the death penalty if charged and convicted of espionage.

Like her sister, Elnaz covered the fallout from Amini’s death in her work at Hammihan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded on Monday that Iranian authorities drop any charges against Elnaz and release her immediately and unconditionally.

It could not be immediately verified where Elnaz was held or whether any charges have been filed against her, CPJ wrote in a statement.

“Iranian authorities must immediately release Elnaz Mohammadi, her sister Elaheh, and all other journalists arrested over their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the ensuing protests,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

“Authorities must let members of the press do their work without fear that they will be summoned and detained,” he added.

The Iranian judiciary has recently expedited the process to sentence — or free on bail — journalists and protesters, sending journalist Hossein Yazidi, who was arrested on Dec. 5, 2022, to prison for a year as well as imposing on him a two-year travel ban, as per Shargh newspaper.


Big Tech not doing enough to remove fake news, activist NGO Avaaz says

Big Tech not doing enough to remove fake news, activist NGO Avaaz says
Updated 14 min 33 sec ago

Big Tech not doing enough to remove fake news, activist NGO Avaaz says

Big Tech not doing enough to remove fake news, activist NGO Avaaz says
  • Findings raise doubts over companies's ability to comply with new EU online content rules

BRUSSELS: Twitter, Google’s YouTube, Meta Platform’s Facebook, Microsoft’s LinkedIn and TikTok are not doing enough to remove fake news from their platforms, raising doubts about their ability to comply with new EU online content rules, activist NGO Avaaz said on Tuesday.
The companies are due to present reports this week on the measures they have taken to comply with the updated EU code of practice on disinformation which is linked to the online content rules known as the Digital Services Act (DSA) that came into force last November.
Avaaz said it analyzed a sample pool of 108 fact-checked pieces of content related to a 2022 American anti-vaccine film and found efforts by the social media platforms including Meta’s Instagram to remove disinformation fell short.
“Overall, just 22 percent of disinformation content we analyzed was either labelled or removed by the six major platforms,” Avaaz said.
It said the companies did not do enough to tackle disinformation in languages other than English.
“Despite explicit platform commitments in the code to improve their services in all EU languages, our research found that in certain EU languages — Italian, German, Hungarian, Danish, Spanish and Estonian — no platform took any action against violating posts,” Avaaz said.
“This study suggests that most of the major platforms are failing to comply with their Code of Practice commitments and might infringe upcoming DSA obligations,” the group said.
Meta, Alphabet, Twitter and Microsoft last year vowed to take a tougher line against disinformation after committing to the updated EU code.
Companies face fines up to 6 percent of their global turnover for DSA violations.


Turkiye detains four over quake social media posts

Turkiye detains four over quake social media posts
Updated 07 February 2023

Turkiye detains four over quake social media posts

Turkiye detains four over quake social media posts
  • The four individuals detained for sharing “provocative posts aiming to create fear and panic”

ISTANBUL: Turkish police on Tuesday said they had detained four people over “provocative” social media posts following a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake in southern Turkiye.
The quake struck the region early on Monday, killing more than 4,800 people in Turkiye and Syria, injuring thousands and leaving many more without shelter in the bitter cold.
The four individuals were detained after officers found accounts that shared “provocative posts aiming to create fear and panic,” the police said.
It added that a wider investigation into social media accounts was ongoing but offered no information on the content of the posts.
Turkish social media have been filled with posts by people who complain about a lack of search and rescue efforts in their area, particularly in Hatay.
The police appeared to address such claims on Tuesday.
“The address and location information of citizens who seek help is immediately ascertained and coordination is established,” they said.
Turkish authorities have in the last few years cracked down on social media posts, especially those considered to support “terror,” but this has led to accusations that freedom of expression has been curtailed.


Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention

Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention
Updated 07 February 2023

Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention

Disney+ in Hong Kong drops ‘Simpsons’ episode with ‘forced labor’ mention

HONG KONG: An episode of “The Simpsons” that refers to “forced labor camps” in China is nowhere to be found on the Disney+ streaming service in Hong Kong amid growing censorship concerns in the city.
Hong Kong once boasted significant artistic and cultural freedoms compared to mainland China, but authorities have clamped down on dissent following democracy protests in 2019, including stepping up film censorship.
Episode 2 of the US animated hit’s 34th season included the line: “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones and romance.”
“One Angry Lisa,” which first aired last October, could not be accessed on Disney+ using a Hong Kong connection but is available elsewhere, AFP confirmed.
It is the second time in three years that the streaming service’s Hong Kong version has dropped a Simpsons episode that satirised China.
The previously affected episode showed the Simpsons visiting Beijing’s Tiananmen Square — the site of a deadly 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters — finding a sign there that read: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
The Hong Kong government and Disney did not immediately provide comment.
In 2021, Hong Kong passed censorship laws forbidding broadcasts that might breach a broad national security law that China imposed on the city.
Censors have since ordered directors to make cuts to their films and refused permission for others to be shown.
While those rules do not cover streaming services, authorities have warned that online platforms are still subject to the national security law, which criminalizes the broadly defined crimes of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
In recent years, Hollywood has been accused of bending to China’s censorship regime to tap into its vast consumer base and billion-dollar box office.
A recent United Nations report found allegations of torture and forced labor in the far-western Xinjiang region were credible, accusations Beijing denies.
Rights groups say more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are detained in what the US State Department and others have said amounts to genocide.
In 2020, Disney came under fire for filming the live-action Mulan remake in Xinjiang, with local government agencies thanked in the credits.


Google unveils ChatGPT rival Bard, AI search plans in battle with Microsoft

A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 2019. (AP)
A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 2019. (AP)
Updated 07 February 2023

Google unveils ChatGPT rival Bard, AI search plans in battle with Microsoft

A sign is shown on a Google building at their campus in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 24, 2019. (AP)
  • Currently, Google presents text that exists elsewhere on the Web for questions where the answer is clear

CALIFORNIA: Google owner Alphabet Inc. on Monday said it will launch a chatbot service and more artificial intelligence for its search engine as well as developers, an answer to Microsoft Corp. in their rivalry to lead a new wave of computing.
Microsoft, meanwhile, said it planned its own AI reveal for Tuesday.
The cascade of news reflects how Silicon Valley is anticipating massive change from so-called generative AI, technology that can create prose or other content on command and free up white-collar workers’ time.
The ascent of ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI that could disrupt how consumers search for information, has been one of the biggest challenges to Google in recent memory.
In a blog post, Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said his company is opening a conversational AI service called Bard to test users for feedback, followed by a public release in the coming weeks.
He also said Google plans to add AI features to its search engine that synthesize material for complex queries, like whether learning guitar or piano is easier. Currently, Google presents text that exists elsewhere on the Web for questions where the answer is clear.
Google’s update for search, the timing of which it did not disclose, reflects how the company is bolstering its service while Microsoft is doing the same for Bing, embedding OpenAI’s capabilities in it.
Microsoft has said it plans to imbue AI into its all its products and on Tuesday plans to brief news outlets on developments it did not specify, with its CEO Satya Nadella, according to an invitation seen by Reuters. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, tweeted that he would also attend the event.
How Google aims to differentiate Bard from OpenAI’s ChatGPT was unclear. Pichai said the new service draws on information from the Internet; ChatGPT’s knowledge is up to date as of 2021.
“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence and creativity of our” AI, Pichai said.
Behind the new chatbot is LaMDA, Google’s AI that generated text with such skill that a company engineer last year called it sentient, a claim the technology giant and scientists widely dismissed.
In a demo of the service, Bard like its rival chatbot invites users to give it a prompt while warning its response may be inappropriate or inaccurate. It then bulleted three answers to a query about a space telescope’s discoveries, the demo showed.
Google is relying on a version of LaMDA that requires less computing power so it can serve more users and improve with their feedback, Pichai said.
ChatGPT at times has turned away users because of explosive growth, with UBS analysts reporting it had 57 million unique visitors in December outpacing potentially TikTok in adoption.
Google also plans to give technology tools, first powered by LaMDA and later by other AI, to creators and enterprises starting next month, Pichai said.