N.K. defector warns ‘Freedom is Not Guaranteed’ pervasive censorship is a warning

Galatians 4:16 “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

Important Takeaways:

  • Survivor of Terrifying Escape From N. Korea Is Warning of ‘Brainwashing’ She Sees in America: ‘Freedom is Not Guaranteed’
  • Yeonmi Park is warning there’s a “brainwashing” unfolding in America, citing pervasive censorship
  • “I get censored on YouTube and Twitter because I talk about China,” she said. “Never in my life I thought in America I had to fight for freedom of speech. Even in America, the freedom is not guaranteed, and it’s slipping away every single day.”
  • “South Korea was the poorest country when they adopted the U.S. democratic system,” she said before differentiating between the Koreas we see today. “One is the 11th largest economy in the world, and the other country [does] not have electricity in the 21st century. Same potential. Same history. Same people under two different systems. One is communism; one is capitalism.”

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China jails citizen-journalist for four years over Wuhan virus reporting

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A Chinese court on Monday handed down a four-year jail term to a citizen-journalist who reported from the central city of Wuhan at the peak of this year’s coronavirus outbreak on the grounds of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, her lawyer said.

Zhang Zhan, 37, the first such person known to have been tried, was among a handful of people whose firsthand accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more dire picture of the pandemic epicenter than the official narrative.

“I don’t understand. All she did was say a few true words, and for that she got four years,” said Shao Wenxia, Zhang’s mother, who attended the trial with her husband.

Zhang’s lawyer Ren Quanniu told Reuters: “We will probably appeal.”

The trial was held at a court in Pudong, a district of the business hub of Shanghai.

“Ms. Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech,” Ren had said before the trial.

Critics say that China deliberately arranged for Zhang’s trial to take place during the Western holiday season to minimize Western attention and scrutiny. U.S. President Donald Trump has regularly criticized Beijing for covering up the emergence of what he calls the “China virus”.

The United Nations human rights office called in a tweet for Zhang’s release.

“We raised her case with the authorities throughout 2020 as an example of the excessive clampdown on freedom of expression linked to #COVID19 & continue to call for her release,” it said.

Criticism of China’s early handling of the crisis has been censored, and whistle-blowers such as doctors warned. State media have credited the country’s success in reining in the virus to the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

The virus has spread worldwide to infect more than 80 million people and kill more than 1.76 million, paralyzing air travel as nations threw up barriers that have disrupted industries and livelihoods.

In Shanghai, police enforced tight security outside the court where the trial opened seven months after Zhang’s detention, although some supporters were undeterred.

A man in a wheelchair, who told Reuters he came from the central province of Henan to demonstrate support for Zhang as a fellow Christian, wrote her name on a poster before police escorted him away.

Foreign journalists were denied entry to the court “due to the epidemic,” court security officials said.

A former lawyer, Zhang arrived in Wuhan on Feb. 1 from her home in Shanghai.

Her short video clips uploaded to YouTube consist of interviews with residents, commentary and footage of a crematorium, train stations, hospitals and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Detained in mid-May, she went on hunger strike in late June, court documents seen by Reuters say. Her lawyers told the court that police strapped her hands and force-fed her with a tube. By December, she was suffering headaches, giddiness, stomach ache, low blood pressure and a throat infection.

Requests to the court to release Zhang on bail before the trial and livestream the trial were ignored, her lawyer said.

Other citizen-journalists who have disappeared in China without explanation include Fang Bin, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua.

While there has been no news of Fang, Li re-emerged in a YouTube video in April to say he was forcibly quarantined, while Chen, although released, is under surveillance and has not spoken publicly, a friend has said.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva. Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Hugh Lawson and Nick Macfie)

Turkish prosecutors accuse newspaper of ‘asymmetric war’ on Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Black Sea city of Rize, Turkey, April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for journalists from a leading opposition newspaper on charges of supporting a terrorist organization and targeting President Tayyip Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods”.

An indictment seen by Reuters on Wednesday said Cumhuriyet had effectively been “taken over” by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for a failed coup last July, and used to “veil the actions of terrorist groups”.

Turkey has purged more than 113,000 people from the police, judiciary, military and elsewhere since the coup attempt, and has closed more than 130 media outlets, raising concerns among Western allies about deteriorating rights and freedoms.

The authorities say the measures are justified by the gravity of the coup attempt, in which rogue soldiers tried to overthrow the government and Erdogan, killing more than 240 people, most of them civilians.

“(Cumhuriyet) started an intense perception operation targeting the government and president of the republic … through asymmetric war methods,” said the 324-page document, parts of which were published by Turkish media on Tuesday.

Cumhuriyet, long a pillar of the secularist establishment, is accused of straying from its principles in the years leading up to the coup attempt and of writing stories that serve “separatist manipulation”.

The indictment named 19 journalists, of whom 12 have already been detained, including well-known columnist Kadri Gursel, and Ahmet Sik, who once wrote a book critical of Gulen’s movement.

Three of the 19 could face up to 43 years in prison for “aiding an armed terrorist group without being members of it.”

The newspaper called the charges “imaginary accusations and slander” and said some of the testimonies in the indictment were from individuals previously seen as close to Gulen.

“Set them free immediately,” said its Wednesday front page.


Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison for former editor Can Dundar, jailed in 2015 on charges of publishing state secrets involving Turkish support for Syrian rebels, but later released. Dundar lives in Germany.

Current editor Murat Sabuncu and other senior staff were arrested late last year over alleged support for the failed coup, sparking protests in Istanbul.

Social media posts including Tweets comprised the bulk of evidence in the indictment, along with allegations that staff had been in contact with users of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by Gulen’s followers.

Some suspects were accused of “serving the interests” of the PKK militant group, which has waged an insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast for three decades, and of the far-leftist DHKP/C, which was behind a series of armed attacks in recent years.

“There are lots of organizations in Turkey. The Gulenist organization, the PKK, DHKP-C. We are being blamed for helping them all… and it seems I am the prime suspect,” Dundar said in a video selfie on his website.

He said the fact Cumhuriyet staff had learned about the indictment in pro-government media was “another legal scandal.”

“I stand with all of them and I will continue to be their voice until the end,” he said on the website, which he set up from Germany to keep covering Turkish affairs.

(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)

German cabinet agrees to fine social media over hate speech

The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo taken in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

BERLIN (Reuters) – The German cabinet approved a plan on Wednesday to fine social networks up to 50 million euros ($53 million) if they do not remove hateful postings quickly, prompting concerns the law could limit free expression.

Germany already has some of the world’s toughest hate speech laws covering defamation, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, backed up by prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities.

“There should be just as little tolerance for criminal rabble rousing on social networks as on the street,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement, adding that he would seek to push for similar rules at a European level.

The issue has taken on more urgency as German politicians worry that a proliferation of fake news and racist content, particularly about 1 million migrants who have arrived in the last two years, could sway public opinion in the run-up to the national election in September.

However, organizations representing digital companies, consumers and journalists, accused the government of rushing a law to parliament that could damage free speech.

“It is the wrong approach to make social networks into a content police,” said Volker Tripp, head of the Digital Society Association consumer group.

The draft law would give social networks 24 hours to delete or block obviously criminal content and seven days to deal with less clear-cut cases, with an obligation to report back to the person who filed the complaint about how they handled the case.

Failure to comply could see a company fined up to 50 million euros, and the company’s chief representative in Germany fined up to 5 million euros.

Bitkom, an association which represents digital companies, said the government should build up specialist teams to monitor online content for potential infringements, rather than expect social networks to do it themselves.

“Given the short deadlines and the severe penalties, providers will be forced to delete doubtful statements as a precaution. That would have a serious impact on free speech on the internet,” said Bitkom manager Bernhard Rohleder.

Since it was unveiled last month, the draft law has been amended to include new categories of content, such as child pornography. It also now allows courts to order social networks to reveal the identity of the user behind criminal posts.

To address free speech concerns, the legislation was tweaked to make clear that a fine would not necessarily be imposed after just one infraction. “It is clear that freedom of expression is of huge importance in our vibrant democracy … however, freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins,” Maas said. Maas said a government survey showed Facebook deleted just 39 percent of content deemed criminal and Twitter only 1 percent, even though they signed a code of conduct in late 2015 including a pledge to delete hate speech within 24 hours.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Thorsten Severin; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Teacher Bans Missouri Middle School Student From Reading Bible

A Missouri middle school student has been banned from reading his Bible during free class time.

Loyal Grandstaff, 12, attends Bueker Middle School in Marshall, Missouri.  Last month, he was reading his Bible quietly to himself during free time in class when his teacher confronted him.

“I was just reading,” he told local television station WDAF. “I was reading because I had free time. I had time to do what I wanted to, so I just broke it out and read.  … I like to read my Bible because it’s a good book.”

“He doesn’t want me reading it in his class because he doesn’t believe in it,” Grandstaff said.

The boy’s father said that the teacher is violating his child’s rights.

“I feel like it violated his freedom of religion but also his freedom of speech,” Justin Grandstaff told reporters. “There’s kids walking around disrespecting their teachers, kids walking around cussing and everything else, and they’re practically getting into no trouble at all.”

Principal Lance Tobin said that he will be investigating the matter because “Bibles are not banned on campus.”

Supreme Court Unanimously Sides With Pro-Life Group

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in favor of a pro-life group that wanted to challenge an Ohio law that put them at risk for a lawsuit if someone felt their political ads were “false.”

The Susan B. Anthony List had sued a now-former Democratic U.S. Congressman who had claimed the group lied about him in a campaign ad that said he supported taxpayer funded abortion because of his support of the Affordable Care Act.  While the Congressman dropped his complaint against the group under the Ohio law, the group sued to say the law was unconstitutional.

The group said that the lawsuit by former Rep. Steve Driehaus also violated the group’s freedom of speech.  The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the group had no standing to pursue a lawsuit because the suit against them had been dropped after the election was over.

The ACLU, a very anti-life legal group, surprised observers by backing SBA List in the case.

“Speech is rarely black and white,” an ACLU spokesman said.  “If the government silences one side of the debate, the public is less informed and others might be fearful of criticizing elected officials.  The answer to unpopular speech is not less, but more speech.”

Anti-life groups said the case is about the “right to lie” despite the fact the SBA List has shown the Affordable Care Act includes multiple abortion funding provisions.

Government Wants To Monitor Newsrooms

An FCC commissioner is raising the alarm about some within the administration and the FCC that want to investigate internal workings of newsrooms.

Ajit Pai wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the FCC is proposing what they term a “voluntary” study of broadcasters regarding the stories they run and the stories that do not make it to air.  Investigators would enter newsrooms across the country and question reporters, editors and station owners about the items covered on their air and what information was included in those reports.

Commissioner Pai says that the FCC is seeking to discover “station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”   The investigators will ask questions directed to find out “the process by which stories are selected.”

One of the questions that will be asked of reporters is “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?”

Commissioner Pai noted while those at the FCC pushing this study say it’s voluntary, the people being asked to participate cannot operate their businesses without licenses from the FCC.  Rejecting the study could be seen as a negative when the station asks for a license renewal.

The study also wants to include newspapers when the FCC has no authority to regulate print media.

United States Makes Significant Decline In Press Freedom

The United States fell 13 spots in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index from 32nd to 46th, one of the biggest declines in the survey for a country that didn’t feature murders of reporters.

The U.S. was the featured country in the report’s section on information sacrificed to national security and surveillance.  The conviction of Bradley Manning and the situation with fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden were described as “warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.”

The report also cited the Department of Justice targeting the Associated Press and taking their phone records without warning because they wanted to know who leaked CIA information to a reporter.  Also the cases of James Risen of the New York Times and Barrett Brown, a freelance journalist, who are facing jail time for publishing classified information without revealing sources or testifying against them.

Finland topped the list for the fourth straight year followed by Netherlands and Norway who held their same positions from last year.  The bottom three are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.