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Groundswell of support to free Julian Assange around February extradition hearing

Event in support of Julian Assange - Barcelona 24 February 2020

Event in support of Julian Assange (Barcelona, 24 February 2020) – Photo courtesy of Assemblea Nacional Catalana Flickr account (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange’s hearing for extradition to the United States on February 24, 2020 led many people, both on the streets and online, to rally support for his release. Twitter user Bean summed up the attitude of many people across the globe:

Assange also has significant backing among mainstream journalists:


It is nearly eight years since Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and a year since his imprisonment in the United Kingdom’s Belmarsh Prison for breaching bail.

In 2006 he launched the Wikileaks website, which has published leaked and classified information from the U.S. government and other sources. Major instances include the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, and Cablegate. Assange collaborated with US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning on these leaks.The extradition case relates to indictments for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and espionage. Assange faces up to 175 years imprisonment if convicted of all charges. He has been accused by the American government of putting lives at risk.

Hero or villain?

Assange is a controversial figure for a number of other reasons. In 2010, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for him in relation to sexual assault allegations; the charge has now expired. In 2016, the publication of Hillary Clinton’s private email archive blotted his copybook in the eyes of many progressives, who accused him of doing Russian President Putin’s dirty work and of helping to elect Donald Trump. Assange denies these accusations.

But many netizens dismiss attacks on Assange and Wikileaks. Some believe that what is paramount are the principles involved, not Assange’s character:

Others refuse to support him for a range of reasons:

Former Australian ambassador to Israel and now government backbencher, Dave Sharma, has joined numerous politicians who have little time for Assange. Greg Barns, a human rights advocate and advisor to the Assange team, recently took Sharma to task:

There is a small group of pro-Assange members in Australia’s federal parliament. Opposition backbencher Julian Hill backed the ‘other Julian’ in a House of Representatives speech:

Campaigning to #FreeAssange

There has been a worldwide resurgence of protest meetings and demonstrations. New Zealand academic Alex Hill is an activist who coordinates Candles4Assange:

Catalan separatists, Assemblea Nacional Catalana, posted the photo at the top of the story on Flickr. It depits a protest in Barcelona on February 24. Part of the caption reads: “L’Assange va donar suport a l’autodeterminació de Catalunya: ara som nosaltres qui li’n donem!” (“Assange supported the self-determination of Catalonia: now we give it to you!”).

Guatemalan lawyer Renata Avila (a member of the Global Voices community) reported from the fourth day of the hearing about the latest issue involving Assange’s treatment in the judicial system:

This follows earlier claims by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, that Assange “has been tortured & continues to be tortured” in Belmarsh Prison.

There are numerous Facebook pages such as Free Julian Assange and tens of thousands of Instagram posts petitioning for his release.

Chelsea Manning attempted suicide

Meanwhile, Chelsea Manning was reported to have attempted suicide in the US prison where she is being held, after refusing to answer questions before a grand jury about Assange:

In a later development, a court has ordered her release as the grand jury has been disbanded. Wikileaks has responded:

Online petition

Phillip Adams from Brisbane started an online petition in 2018 which has over 365,000 signatures. It calls on Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to defend Assange: ‘Julian Assange is an Australian Citizen and as such it is the fundamental responsibility of the Australian Government to protect and ensure his human rights are not violated and to this end the Australian Government has failed.’

The radio broadcaster and media personality of the same name is also in Assange’s corner urging everyone to do more:

The extradition hearing resumes in May.

An interview with Roger Robinson, winner of the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize in poetry

2019 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry winner Roger Robinson. Photo by Naomi Woodis, used with permission.

On January 13, 2020, Trinidadian-British poet Roger Robinson won the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for his poetry collection “A Portable Paradise.” The T.S. Eliot Prize honours “the best collection of new verse in English first published in the UK or the Republic of Ireland.”

The judges praised Robinson’s work for “finding in the bitterness of everyday experience continuing evidence of ‘sweet, sweet life.’”

The book is divided into five sections, each of which ends with a poem exploring the theme of paradise, with topics ranging from London’s tragic Grenfell Tower fire to the Windrush controversy. Issues of migration, racism, identity and inequity, are all presented in bold, raw, and honest ways.

Maybe it’s the sting of dissent, maybe it’s the hint of West Indian swagger that makes the reader curious to see where Robinson’s poems go, but he has a rare ability to place himself in the midst of things and yield to that immersion, yet remain a truthful observer. Robinson’s words are a balm to the bitterness of life — the collection compassionately recognises the humanity within us all, bound together by an almost reverent tone of dignity, even in powerlessness.

I got in touch with Robinson shortly after his win and chatted with via email about winning the prize, the collection itself, and why empathy is so important.

Janine Mendes-Franco (JMF): Congratulations! “A Portable Paradise” is a really important piece of work. Is the prize something you’d had your eye on, or did the win come as a happy surprise?

Roger Robinson (RR): I never have my eye on prizes, but I appreciate the prize. I’m always about getting the poems to people rather than trying to win a prize. I do like how the prize is getting me to a wider range of reader, though.

JMF: Interesting that Eliot himself was American-born but chose to live and work in England. You, on the other hand, were born in England and, having returned to Trinidad as a child, also chose to eventually settle in the UK. Have you thought about those parallels and why, for instance, Trinidad might be good for formation, but England might be better for creation?

RR: Hmmmm…interesting. I think Trinidad is also good for creation, but England is good for commerce and access to the international publishing industry.

JMF: The UK Guardian described you as a “British-Trinidadian dub poet.” Do you identify with that? How would you explain what “dub” poetry is to someone who’s never heard that genre of music or listened to a spoken word performance? 

RR: I’ve made a few dub albums. I think other people have called me a dub poet; I’ve not necessarily referred to myself that way. Dub poetry to me is poetry influenced by reggae rhythms, with a working-class focus.

JMF: It’s not coincidental that music has played such an integral role. You have a band (King Midas Sound), you’ve done recordings and music videos, and while all poetry has rhythm, yours has a musicality that stays with the reader. How did you hone your craft into something this unique and feels so authentic?

RR: I don’t know. I think I write from the things that interest me in a moment and I’m truthful to my interests. I don’t think it was a planned thing. Honing craft came through enjoyment of the rigours of practice.

JMF: It’s a daring thing, to be a truth-teller when the truth is a difficult thing to come by. Some of your work is almost like an intersection of journalism and poetry. Is it important to you that your collections are read by those who see “truth” differently from you?

RR: I think that I write like I am, so I’m no more daring than my own emotional truths. It’s no more important to me for people who see truth differently to read it, even though I like the idea of people developing and practicing empathy. The practice of empathy by all different types of people would be more important to me.

JMF: Were there truths you believed about yourself in Trinidad (which I assume was your benchmark for paradise), that did not translate in the UK? If so, did poetry help bridge the gap? What make you start thinking about the idea that paradise might be portable?

RR: I started thinking that paradise might be portable because I wanted it to be — and because my grandmother went to England and brought most of her 11 children to England on the money she made sewing dresses. Her children were her paradise.

I think in England I got a sense of myself as an international artist, which I did not get in Trinidad.

JMF: Quite a few of your poems in this collection have an underpinning of faith in something greater — a more enduring paradise if you will. What did you want this to accomplish?

RR: I wanted people to understand the power of prayer in their time of trauma.

JMF: The “hero” of many of your poems is the underdog in general and the migrant specifically. How, if at all, does the outsider experience inform your writing?

RR: Hmmmm…I can’t tell; I’m too close to it to see. I’m sure it does. I mean, when I came to England I lived in tower blocks so I knew about living in one. I guess it made me see things in a different way.

JMF: I understand you might be coming to Trinidad for the 2020 Bocas Lit Fest. Are you interested in connecting with other Caribbean writers?

RR: Yeah, I am coming to Bocas and I’m definitely interested in meeting other writers. Trinidadian poets like Andre Bagoo, Shivanee Ramlochan and Muhammad Muwakil are gaining in world recognition, and I’d love to connect with Caribbean writers when I’m there.

JMF: Who have been your greatest influences?

RR: Poets like Kwame Dawes, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Sharon Olds. People like Muhammad Ali. Musicians like David Rudder, Brother Resistance, and Bunji Garlin.

JMF: Poetry in Trinidad and Tobago is not necessarily well consumed, though it weaves its way into everything from soca and rapso music to spoken word performances, all reminiscent of the call and response tradition of the kalinda [martial art]. In a sense, all this is Caribbean poetry. Why do you think poetry is a powerful medium?

RR: I think it’s powerful because it helps people to practice empathy. Also it allows people to observe someone practicing vulnerability. A lot of inhumanity will occur without empathy and vulnerability.

JMF: Any advice for regional poets?

RR: Keep writing no matter what anyone says; don’t stop writing.

JMF: What are you most proud of when it comes to this collection?

RR: That I didn’t leave anything back. I gave it all.

Parody song remembers Eastern European fighters in WWII’s Battle of Britain

Collage of portrait photos of RAF pilots Josef František, Stanislav Fejfar and Douglas Bader. Public Domain, via Wikipedia.

The British education TV series “Horrible Histories” by the BBC makes parodies of famous pop songs which help infuse general knowledge of historical events. It is based on a series of illustrated books. The videos are available online.

One of the music videos is called “RAF Pilot Song”. Paradoying British boy-band Take That’s famous hit “Relight my Fire,” it tells the story of the Battle of Britain, when around 3,000 aviators of the Royal Air Forces, with the help ground crew and newly-developed radar technology, prevented Nazi invasion of Great Britain.

The video, published in 2012, is alternatively titled “The Few” in reference to the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous speech in which he said: “Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Hold fire! Is that some foreign chaps
Risking their necks?
That’s right, some of the bravest men
Were Polish & Czech!

The song addresses lesser-known facts about the battle, which lasted for four months in 1940, such as the participation of pilots who had escaped Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.

It directly refers to two airmen: Josef František (1914-1940), who fought against the Nazis in the air forces of CzechoslovakiaPolandFrance, and then the United Kingdom. He was the highest-scoring non-British Allied ace in the Battle of Britain, with 17 confirmed victories and one probable, all gained in a period of four weeks in September 1940.

Also mentioned by name is RAF captain Stanislav Fejfar (1912-1942), who first served in the air forces of his native Czechoslovakia. After his country succumbed to the Wehrmacht, he escaped, serving in the French forces in 1939 and then in the UK.

RAF Wing Commander George Blackwood, who was awarded the Czech Military Cross, said that without the help of Eastern European soldiers, the RAF would not have won the Battle of Britain. In their home countries, the contribution of those fighters is a mark of pride and celebrated in museums, books, and comics.

The second part of the song tells the story of British fighter ace Douglas Bader (1910-1982), who is referred in a verse as “Binky” (the pilots indeed had some curious nicknames). Despite having had both legs amputated after a plane crash in 1931, he rejoined the RAF following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. He is credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.

Many of the pilots of the Battle of Britain were 19-year-olds who went into the cockpit straight after high school. The fight left more than 1,500 casualties for the RAF, and over 2,500 dead, plus a thousand captured aircrew, on the side of German Luftwaffe. Almost 15 thousand British civilians were killed and over 20 thousand injured on the ground.

In August 2019, two members of “The Few” died: the ace pilot Archie McInnes, just hours after his 100th birthday, and Canadian Squadron Leader John Hart at the age of 102. The last four surviving members of the group include Flight Lieutenant William Clark, Flying Officer John Hemingway, Wing Commander Paul Farnes and Flight Lieutenant Maurice Mounsdon.

Battle of Britain has been frequently alluded to in pop culture, with the heavy metal song “Aces high” by the band Iron Maiden being probably the most-known example. This 1984 classic song features another famous 1940 Churchill quote: “We shall fight on the beaches.”

Article licenced under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Source: globalvoices.org

Pseudoscientific racial theories by discredited British psychologist keep going viral in the Balkans

Illustration of fact-check report “The IQ is OK, but journalist standards are at low level,” by Crithink.mk. CC BY.

This story is based on two different stories, one by CriThink.mk and another Meta.mk News Agency, both projects of Metamorphosis Foundation.

On July 2, 2019, Macedonian news site Fokus published an article titled “National IQ of Macedonia is 82, the lowest in the region.” It was illustrated with a color-coded world map ranking countries based on the average intelligence quotient of its populations, with Western Europe, North America, and East Asia at the top of the ranking. The article had over 3,500 Facebook reactions within a week.

The article lists as its main source the book “The intelligence of nations,” authored by Richard Lynn and David Becker and published by the Ulster Institute for Social Research, a think-tank based in Northern Ireland which Lynn directs. What the Fokus article lacks, however, is key background context on this source.

Richard Lynn is a highly controversial figure whose work has been consistently criticized by the scientific community for its lack of scientific rigor, misrepresentation of data, and for promoting a racialist political agenda. In April 2018, Ulster University stripped Lynn of his title of psychology professor emeritus after concluding that he advocated for “views that are racist and sexist in nature.”

Lynn’s think tank — which isn’t connected with Ulster University — also publishes the journal “Mankind Quarterly” which promotes various racial theories that the broader scientific community rejects. Lynn also regularly collaborates with ultra-right-wing publications such as Right NOW! and VDARE and is often praised by extreme right-wing figures around the world.

The Fokus article triggered a cross-border disinformation wave in the past weeks, according to anti-disinfo article by Meta.mk. Shortly after publication, it was widely plagiarized (copy-pasted with minimal changes of the text and without attribution) by several outlets based in North Macedonia, including the website Lider, which is part of a group of right-wing publications owned by Hungarians with ties to the regime of Victor Orban.

The Lider article, headlined “The lowest in the region: National IQ in Macedonia is 82,” was then listed as a source by the Serbian news site Kurir on an article titled “MACEDONIANS WILL DISLIKE THIS RESEARCH: They have the lowest IQ in the region, read here who is the smartest!” On the next day, back in North Macedonia, Kurir’s sister publication, news website Sloboden Pečat (both are owned by the Serbian company Adria Media Group), published a verbatim translation of that story in the Macedonian language, amplifying the visibility of the racist ideas.

The EU-supported project Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – CriThink fact-checked the Fokus article, contextualizing its sources and raising questions about the journalistic standards of Balkans media. Journalist Jugoslava Dukovska, who signed the report, wrote: “Almost always these media fail to report on the sources of the alleged research and don’t attempt to verify their credibility. Instead, they exploit their potential for sensation.”

Not the first time

Screenshot of the article by Fokus with a map reflecting a white supremacist worldview.

This isn’t the first time Macedonian or the wider Balkans media have passed Richard Lynn’s ideas off as scientific fact.

In 2014 websites from around the region published a story claiming North Macedonia had an average IQ of 91, lower than most Western European countries but higher than those of Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia. That story was based on a Czech blog post that quoted another of Richard Lynn’s books, “Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences”, co-authored with Finish writer Tatu Vanhanen and also upholding racialist theories on intelligence.

At that time, Croatian portal Index.hr published a news item titled“This map shows the average intelligence of the peoples of Europe”. Immediately afterwards, Macedonian website MKD picked it up and published a story titled “Macedonian people are among the stupidest peoples in Europe.”

In 2015, dozens of Macedonian portals published similar news items about the allegedly smartest and stupidest people in the Balkans. These stories are still available online.

Only a few professional journalists and scientists have questioned the credibility of the viral articles. None of the websites have published the story have so far issued corrections or retractions.

Harmful stereotypes

In the Balkan context, stereotyping members of different ethnic communities is as old as it gets. There are folk tales from central North Macedonia dating back to the 19th century that say the Shopi — the people who lived in the today’s border region between Bulgaria, Serbia and North Macedonia — thought the sea was a huge fish soup, and that they took out spoons to eat it when they came to the shore. Later, in the former Yugoslavia, it was Bosnians who were the butt of many jokes.

The cyclical spread of pseudoscientific notions about IQ based on race or ethnicity taps into pre-existing stereotypes as well as it reinforces them in this region — no wonder they generate so much social media attention. But while this translates into more clicks for the media outlets who publish this disinformation, it also fuels resentment, discrimination, and hate.

Scientists have long dismissed theories that link ethnic or national origin with intelligence. Intelligence itself is a complex concept that is typically examined by considering the interplay between nature and nurture. Many studies have shown socioeconomic environment, education level of caregivers, and health and nutrition all play a role.

Despite all scientific evidence demonstrating otherwise, white supremacists in the United States and Europe systematically advocate for the notion that intelligence is primarily a result of genetic traits, usually postulating that a narrow subset of white people is genetically superior.

Ironically, the Balkan nationalists who typically deem US and Western European right-wing extremists as ideological alliesfail to see — or choose to ignore — that those pseudoscientific theories usually rank their own ethnicities below that of Western countries.

Article licenced under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Source: globalvoices.org

Dear European Commission: Don’t let political parties use our data to manipulate the vote

“Propaganda” by Pawel Kuczynski. Image used with permission of the artist.

This opinion article was written by Valentina Pavel, a Mozilla Fellow at Privacy International and member of the Association for Technology and Internet, based in Romania. Opinion articles do not reflect the views of Global Voices.

When the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had harvested millions of Facebook users’ personal data — and then used that information to influence elections — the fallout was swift. The UK-based data mining firm closed its doors, Facebook faced global scrutiny, and people around the world learned how easily democratic elections could be hacked by abusing voters’ personal data.

In the time since the scandal broke, you would think that democracies in Europe would have used all the tools at their disposal — including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — to prevent similar wrongdoings in the future.

But the Regulation offers some “flexibilities” for how it is integrated into national law, allowing Member States to introduce some of their own rules. In some cases, rather than protecting individuals’ rights, these exceptions limit freedom of expression, erode privacy, and abet the spread of disinformation. This lack of uniformity in applying GDPR rules could lead to differences in the level of protection of personal data within Member States, including in the context of elections.

The GDPR, which went into force in May 2018, establishes a set of EU-wide rules for the collection, processing and storing of people’s personal data.

Alongside other provisions, the rules generally require private companies and organizations to obtain individuals’ consent before collecting their personal data (such as name, email, phone number and other personal and contact information). The GDPR also enhances people’s rights, enabling citizens to request a copy of their data.

Although the GDPR is an EU Regulation, national governments were allowed to set some of their own provisions into national law, paving the ways for some of the exemptions for political parties that are described here.

For example, in Romania, lawmakers have introduced an exemption that allows political parties and organisations to process personal data without consent and without protective measures against potential abuses, creating a sort of “wild west” of personal data. For example, the national post office, a public body, has begun offering political parties information about elderly people, enabling political parties to target them with personalised information during the electoral campaign.

Romanian lawmakers have also introduced excessive limits on the use of personal data for journalistic purposes, in a move that could interfere with investigative journalism and prevent public interest stories from being revealed. We have yet to see the effects of this problematic exemption.

However, attempts to use the GDPR as a tool to silence free press were signaled in the RISE Project case. The Romanian Data Protection Authority approached the journalists who were reporting on a politician’s possible ties to a fraudulent company, asking for information about their sources and threatening with large fines.

These problematic exemptions lead to a complaint filed with the European Commission, but no action has been taken.

Similar rules in other countries

Romania is not the only EU country where political parties have less restrictions for processing personal data. In Spain, the law allows political parties to collect personal information from public sources such as websites and social media. This problematic exemption has been raised with the European Commission since November last year, but six months on no concrete action has been taken by the EU body.

Spanish local elections took place at the end of April and voters will again go to the polls in late May for European elections. Privacy International’s research has shown that there are questions as to whether political parties’ use of personal data comply with the requirements set out by the Spanish Data Protection Authority.

In the UK, the law still permits political parties to process personal data revealing political opinions without obtaining users’ consent. We already know how sensitive this can be — even before Cambridge Analytica, there was Emma’s Diary, a baby care blog that sold personal data belonging to more than one million people to political parties. This is why, despite the provision in the UK law, political parties have been urged to publicly commit not to use the exemption provided in the law to target voters.

What do these exceptions mean for citizens?

Previous abuses of personal data indicate that these exemptions could lead to the following outcomes:

More voter manipulation: Romania’s exemption essentially legalizes Cambridge Analytica’s practices. As a result, political parties can release misleading advertisements that prey on users’ personal anxieties, and influence them to vote for (or against) certain candidates. Around the world, we have seen how online disinformation has played an outsized role in elections for the past few years. These mistakes from the past should provide justification for regulators to step in and prevent more abuses from happening, but this has not yet taken place.

Threats to individual privacy and security: If a political party or advertiser has your personal data, when they get hacked, so do you. By allowing these groups to collect and store vast amounts of personal data without safeguards, millions of Europeans will become more vulnerable to data breaches and security incidents.

Less access to information: In a world of pervasive tracking where tailor-made messages can be targeted at voters, developing a truly informed opinion can be difficult. How can you think critically when you learn only bits and pieces of the story and only receive messages that are designed specifically for your ears to hear? How can there still be free and informed dialogue?

There’s never been a more important time to implement data safeguards: Disinformation has reached new heights, and the EU parliamentary elections are in a few weeks time. It is critical to fix these harmful exceptions before the elections and before damage is done.

On 26 May, EU voters should pressure their parliamentary candidates to put privacy high on their agendas and preserve democratic processes. After the vote, when the new European Commissioners will be appointed, voters should ask them to firmly enforce GDPR and privacy protections.

Loose data processing provisions for political parties can weaken our democracies. The European Commission must do its job by ensuring that GDPR rules are consistent throughout Europe and that everyone’s data is protected.

Article licenced under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Source: globalvoices.org

The repatriation of African artifacts to countries of origin is tricky business

Screenshot of the French news channel TV5 Monde with Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr, two professors who are leading the conversation on repatriation of African heritage to countries of origin. Image via YouTube.

in November 2017, in a speech at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that “African patrimony” should no longer be featured in European museums and that measures should be taken for its temporary or definitive restitution back to Africa.

Following this request, lecturers Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy from the University of Gaston-Berger in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and the Technische Universität of Berlin, Germany, wrote a report to explain a suggested legal process for returning Africa’s artifacts and treasures, rejecting the notion that these collections belong to French heritage.

The restitution of African art has been an ongoing debate for decades. European colonial powers used monumental archaeology to appear as the guardian of the colonized history, reinforcing an unconscious sense of ownership. Repatriation proponents say former colonial powers appropriated ancient art of colonized cultures and their museums, located in the West, prevent nationals from learning and embracing their own history.

Today, French public museums store about 90,000 sub-Saharan African art pieces, mostly obtained through theft and colonial privilege.

Journalists Konsimbo Ophelie and Poda Gabriel explain in Nsi mababu, a pan-African newspaper: 

Plus de 90 percent des œuvres d’art d’Afrique noire se trouvent hors du continent, selon les experts. Pillées pendant la colonisation, elles sont pour la plupart aux mains du British Museum, du musée du Quai Branly, ou du musée de Berlin. Le Bénin, le Nigéria et la République Démocratique du Congo entre autres, réclament aujourd’hui le retour de ses trésors pillés durant l’époque coloniale. La question des restitutions d’oeuvres d’art africaines est à la fois épineuse, politique et constitue aujourd’hui une polémique dont il faut comprendre les tenants et aboutissants.

According to experts, more than 90 percent of black African artwork are found outside of the continent. Stolen during the colonization times, most of them are found in the property of the British Museum, the Quai Branly Museum, or the Berlin Museum. Today, countries like Benin, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (among others) claim the return of their stolen treasures. The issue of the restitution contains tricky political elements. We need to understand the ins and outs of this.

Many African countries were affected by this looting, which represents 85 to 90 percent of African artistic heritage. Eva Rassoul, a journalist, explains on France Culture, a French radio program:

Dans les musées français, les œuvres africaines proviennent en grande partie du Tchad (9 200 œuvres), du Cameroun (7 800) et de Madagascar (7 500).

The artwork found in the French museums predominantly originate from Chad (9,200 artwork), Cameroon (7,800) and Madagascar (7,500).

Savoy and Sarr explained the legal process for repatriation of Africa’s stolen artificats on TV5 Monde:

Journalist Philippe Rey says the report looks at the role France played in the pillage of Africa’s heritage:

Il raconte les spoliations à travers l’histoire mondiale, évalue la part de la France, dresse un premier inventaire des oeuvres spoliées, fait le récit des tentatives des pays africains pour se réapproprier leur patrimoine, analyse les questions juridiques qui se posent, et énonce un certain nombre de recommandations pratiques pour la mise en oeuvre des restitutions, un des chantiers les plus audacieux de ce XXIe siècle.

It recounts the dispossession through the history of the world, evaluates the role of France, examines a preliminary inventory of the stolen artwork, narrates the African tentative for the heritage re-appropriation, analyses the legal questions, and lists a number of useful recommendations for the restitution process. This work is one of the most ambitious project of the 21st century.

Journalist Laurent Adjovi in Benin celebrates France’s move to return 26 artifacts taken from Benin:

Grâce aux discussions ouvertes avec la France, Patrice Talon offre ainsi une possibilité aux béninois de revoir  par exemple les  œuvres royales, évoquant les règnes des rois d’Abomey Ghézo (1818-1858), Glélé (1858-1889) et Béhanzin (1890-1894), des trônes, de récades, et les sceptres royaux.

Thanks to open discussions with France, Patrice Talon can offer Beninese people the chance to see some of their artwork again. An example of this is the royal artwork, showing the reigns of the kings Abomey Ghézo (1818-1858), Glélé (1858-1889) and Béhanzin (1890-1894), thrones, recades, and royal scepters.

In the spirit of showcasing African heritage and artifacts, Senegal unveiled the Museum of Black Civilizations on December 6, 2018, supported by Senegalese President Macky Sall. The museum adds to other cultural sites such as the House of Slaves and the Henriette-Bathily Women’s Museum.

Un évènement qui intervient au moment s’anime le débat sur la restitution des biens culturels africains pillés par la France pendant la colonisation. C’est un rêve vieux de cinquante ans qui se réalise.

This comes at a time where the debate is at its loudest concerning the stolen African cultural assets by France during the colonization. It is a fifty years old dream come true.

Ivory Coast’s minister of culture, Bandama Maurice, says repatriation of his country‘s historical artwork is definitely in the works:

Nous pensons qu’en 2019, tout ou en partie des 148 objets seront restitués à la Côte d’Ivoire. Nous avons demandé 148 parce que c’est ce que nous pouvons pour l’instant accueillir dans les caisses et les collections de nos musées.

We think that in 2019, most or all of the 148 artwork will be given back to Ivory Coast. The reason we have asked for this number is because we can only accommodate that many in the museum collections.

In the Republic of Congo, too, the Museum of the African Circle was recently inaugurated in Pointe-Noire, a port city, to invite youth to connect to their history and culture.

Ancien lieu culturel pour les congolais, avant d‘être transformé en Cour de justice et de finalement tomber à l’abandon, le bâtiment a été réhabilité et transformé en 2017 pour devenir ce musée. Depuis son ouverture au public le 4 décembre, le Musée du cercle africain a déjà accueilli plus de 600 visiteurs par mois.

Before being converted into a museum in 2017, this building used to be a former cultural place for Congolese people in the first place, then a law court and finally an abandoned place. Since its opening to the public on December 4, the Museum of the African Circle has already welcomed more than 600 visitors per month.

Nevertheless, the process to return African artifacts is difficult and many issues must be resolved before they can be returned. Journalist Yassin Ciyow raises the complexity of this process for Neomag magazine, stating how many of the acquired artifacts were technically given — or taken — as “gifts” during colonial periods. 

En revanche, pour les œuvres issues de l’époque coloniale, la complexité vient du fait qu’après avoir été pillées, elles ont généralement été données ou léguées (dans le cadre légal de l’époque) à des collections publiques françaises. Ainsi, ces œuvres sont de facto entrées dans le domaine public mobilier national, devenant ainsi propriété de l’Etat français. Par le passé, des lois d’exception ont néanmoins été votées afin de “déclasser” certaines œuvres. C’est grâce à cette pirouette juridique que la Vénus Hottentote a pu être rendue à l’Afrique du Sud et des têtes maories à la Nouvelle-Zélande. 

… [The] stolen artifacts from the colonial times were generally given or donated to French public collections. Thus, these artworks are de facto part of the national public domain, and have become a property of the French state. Nevertheless, exception laws have been voted in the past in order to decommission some works. It is because of this legal twist that the Venus Hottentote could be returned to South Africa, and the Maori heads to New Zealand.

Besides the legal difficulties, protection and maintenance of these rare African artifacts once returned has also raised concerns.

Article licenced under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Source: globalvoices.org

Why Bahrain’s ‘torture prince’ can still visit the U.K. despite calls for his arrest

Screenshot from video ‘Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad al-Khalifa’, YouTube. Source.

In recent months, the United Kingdom’s relationship with its Gulf allies leapt into the spotlight with a unique espionage tale amidst a British media landscape otherwise dominated by Brexit.

In November 2018, 31-year-old British academic Matthew Hedges returned to the U.K. after spending seven months in a United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) jail, mostly in solitary confinement, on espionage charges. Hedges’ story, which initially received relatively little attention, made it to the front pages after the U.A.E., a U.K. ally, announced it was accusing Hedges of being a spy for MI6. Hedges and the U.K. government deny the accusation.

Hedges’ story calls attention to the U.K.’s long and complicated history of impunity when it comes to allegations of torture committed by its allies in the Gulf states, and reminds us of some of the reasons Bahrain’s “torture prince,” Prince Nasser bin Hamad, still has the privilege and pleasure of meandering through the U.K. despite clear evidence of abuse during Bahrain’s 2011 uprising.

Hedges suffered abuses during his imprisonment in the U.A.E. that seemed to have surprised the U.K. government, but less surprising was the U.K. government’s tepid response to his torture — in addition to solitary confinement for 23 hours every day, Hedges was drugged by his jailers — despite the fact that the U.A.E. is one of the U.K.’s main allies in the MENA region.

Hedges’ wife Daniela Tejada, who had spent the entirety of the seven months campaigning for her husband’s release, accused the U.K. government of ignoring her constant requests for aid.

The U.K.’s response to the Hedges story revealed yet another example of the leniency afforded by the U.K. to Gulf Arab governments. And activists can’t help but remember how and why Bahrain’s notorious “torture prince” can still walk free.

Bahrain’s ‘torture prince’

Long before the U.K. government allegedly ignored the torture of one of its citizens at the hands of an ally, it faced a legal challenge at home for its role in protecting a notorious member of the kingdom of Bahrain: the king’s son, Prince Nasser bin Hamad.

Nicknamed the “torture prince” by dissidents for taking part in the torture of activists who participated in the 2011 Bahraini revolution, he once tweeted: “If it was up to me, I’d give them all life [in prison].” Indeed, bin Hamad, aged 24 at the beginning of Bahrain’s uprising in 2011, was among those in Bahrain’s ruling establishment calling for the brutal repression of protesters.

As the head of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee, bin Hamad created a special commission to “identify and punish more than 150 members of the sporting community” who took part in the 2011 protests, according to Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). He publicly called for “a wall to fall on [protesters’] heads … even if they are an athlete … Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape.”

Rather than face prosecution in Bahrain, his father promoted the young prince to the commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard on June 19, 2011.

The Prince’s relationship with the U.K. goes back to 2006 when he graduated from the country’s elite Sandhurst Military Academy at the age of 19.

From the Archives: Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa participating in military training in the UK and Canada – July 2006.

Given such a prestigious background, the “torture prince” may have never thought that visiting the U.K. could lead him to trouble. But soon after he allegedly tortured Bahraini protesters, another protester, known only as ‘FF’, made it to the U.K. and successfully applied for asylum.

This meant that the U.K. recognized FF’s legitimate claims, including FF’s fears of retaliation should he or she be forced to return to Bahrain. FF, ADHRB notes, also “alleges that Sheikh Nasser was involved in torture.”

A year later, however, the U.K. government opted to grant the “torture prince” immunity when FF called for his arrest during his July visit to the 2012 London Olympics as the head of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee. Instead, bin Hamad was spotted in the VIP section in one of London’s stadiums that day:

The story doesn’t end there, however. In October 2014, the High Court in London ruled that bin Hamad was not immune from prosecution over torture claims, reviving hopes that he could be arrested.

As the Guardian reported, the dossier was then passed on to the war crimes team of the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism command. The latter subsequently announced that “on the basis of the dossier submitted to it, the police are not investigating.”

Part of the reason why the Metropolitan police decided not to investigate was simply that key witnesses are still in Bahraini prisons and therefore can’t be interviewed. Incidentally, bin Hamad’s representatives made a similar argument, arguing that FF’s allegations “have not been tested in a British court and that there have never been any proceedings against him.”

In other words, bin Hamad’s representatives argued that FF’s allegations could not be tested in British courts without acknowledging that the reason is that key witnesses could not be present in any court or answer any questions by British police.

And so, just a few months later, in March of 2015, bin Hamad uploaded a video of himself jogging across London’s Hyde Park, renewing calls for his arrest. In fact, he’s regularly traveled to the U.K. since the accusations, including to enjoy the yearly Royal Windsor Horse Show in the company of Queen Elizabeth II with his father, the King of Bahrain.

This blatant case of impunity has renewed questions as to whether the U.K. is living up to its international obligations, notably the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment 1987, which says that states must criminalize torture and pursue public officials of other nations when they are present in the state’s territory.”

The U.K. signed it on March 15, 1985, and ratified it on December 8, 1988. Upon signing the convention against torture, however, the U.K. also added:

The United Kingdom reserves the right to formulate, upon ratifying the Convention, any reservations or interpretative declarations which it might consider necessary.

Article licenced under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Source: globalvoices.org

DigiGlot Newsletter: Welsh-language rock music finds a place on streaming music platforms

“Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch” is the name of a village in Wales and is also the place with the longest name in Europe, as seen as a Welsh language exhibit at 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Alan Kotok and used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The DigiGlot Newsletter is a bi-weekly collaborative newsletter that reports on how indigenous, minority, and endangered language communities are adopting and adapting technology to increase the digital presence of their languages, and in the process changing the internet landscape by increasing linguistic diversity online.

Two million plays and counting

Screenshot from Spotify with the number of plays (as of January 29, 2019)

In late 2018, Welsh rock band Alffa became the first group to release a song in the Welsh language that hit one million plays on the Spotify streaming platform with the song “Gwenwyn”. This achievement is especially noteworthy because the band wasn’t particularly well known outside of Wales, but thanks to Spotify’s reach, listeners from as far away as Brazil and Mexico discovered a song in a language spoken by approximately 700,000 people. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a columnist with the Guardian newspaper who herself is Welsh, dug deeper to inquire why a Welsh language song became so popular. She spoke with Alun Llwyd of the music distributor PYST, who credited the Spotify platform’s openness to music in all types of languages. “What’s beautiful is that Spotify judge the songs on musical merit, not the language or the band,” Llwyd said. “Nobody knew Alffa outside a small part of Wales. This is testament to the strength of the song.” Since that earlier story was published, the Welsh song has hit two million plays.

Cree language podcast shares the stories of Cree elders in Northern Quebec

A new Cree language podcast started by Nick Wapachee, a journalism student from Nemaska, Québec, aims to help young people develop their Cree language-speaking abilities. He noticed a trend of young Cree people increasingly speaking English and wanted to help provide more digital content in Cree, so he started a podcast sharing the stories of Cree elders. The In Eeyou Istchee podcast “promotes Cree diversity, respect, and freedom of expression” and helps bring the Cree language to speakers and learners, wherever they are. The podcast can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Malian linguistic organization petitions Voice of America to use official Bambara orthography

In 2013, the international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) started transmitting in the Bambara language, one of the official languages of Mali, spoken by approximately 15 million people. VOA also has a Bambara-language website which recently attracted attention for employing a “Frenchified” version of this Manding language and not the official orthography developed and promoted by the government and partner institutions such as the African Academy of Languages.

Dr. Coleman Donaldson, a linguist, researcher, and teacher of Manding languages noticed the VOA’s use of French orthography. Don Osborn, author of the book African Languages in a Digital Age, wondered whether the reason for this was a scarcity of keyboards to enable writing in the official Bambara orthography. Ultimately it might boil down to VOA’s determining that only a small portion of their audience can read Bambara orthography, but Osborn also points out that this is probably an untested assumption. The Cercle Linguistique Bamakois has initiated a petition calling on VOA to adopt the official orthography. The petition points out the effort and resources that went towards the development of the orthography, and that international broadcasters such as Radio France International have made an effort to use the official orthography on their websites.

A language app to teach kids the indigenous languages of Canada

KOBE Learn is an app designed to help young users learn common words and phrases in Ojibway, Cree and Oji-Cree, the traditional languages of First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario, Canada. The app is collaboration between the local Board of Education, language teachers, elders and community members. The Board was seeking a modern teaching tool that could help to carry indigenous languages into the future.

“Many of our elders are passing away, each day, and it’s really important to keep what we have now,” said Sarah Johnson, the Board’s native language lead. “A lot of our children entering school are not speaking their first language. So this is one small way of retaining, keeping the language.”

Is there an app for that (in Welsh)?

For many of us, the mobile phone has become an extension of the self – always present, and mediating much of our interaction with the rest of the world. Speakers of major world languages are used to having apps and games available in their language, but speakers of minority languages like Cymraeg (Welsh) seldom enjoy this luxury. In a new study, Daniel Cunliffe, a professor at the University of South Wales, examines the more than 400 Welsh apps in the Apple App Store. The research attempted to identify every Welsh language app, as well as to better understand the motivations and perspectives of their developers. Cunliffe found that Welsh app developers face multiple challenges in reaching users, especially with regard to the discoverability of their apps. The study, which concludes with recommendations for developers, language promotion NGOs, and others, will be of interest to any language community that seeking to engage users via their mobile devices.

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Article licenced under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ Source: globalvoices.org

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