Training Judges Online to Safeguard Journalists
Mexico, July, 24th, 2017 (Rosental Calmon Alves/UNESCO). Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), specially designed for Latin American judges, train them to promote and safeguard freedom of expression and enlist their help to make the region less dangerous for journalists. The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3, is “Critical Minds for Critical Times”. What better way to achieve critical minds than training the custodians of the legal system about freedom of expression? Impunity in cases where journalists have been murdered or attacked is a grave problem in many Latin American countries. Only 11% of murders of journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean have been resolved in the last decade, according to UNESCO data released in 2016. As noted by many experts in the region, impunity in these cases often invites further violence against journalists. In recent years, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has not only listed Mexico, Brazil and Colombia among the deadliest countries for journalists to operate in, but also placed these countries at the top of its Global Impunity Index, which ranks countries where the murderers of journalists go free. UNESCO thus wondered if MOOCs could be used as tools to reduce violence against journalists in this area. Also, would it be possible to use MOOCs to train judges on issues related to freedom of expression and the protection of journalists? This is why UNESCO launched a MOOC, entitled “The International Legal Framework of Freedom of Expression, Access to Information and Protection of Journalists”. Offered four times between 2014 and 2016, the MOOC has benefited over 3,000 judges and judicial-sector operators in Latin America. The result of a collaboration between UNESCO, IACHR and the Knight Center, the course has reached judges from all Latin American countries, except Cuba. The MOOC follows the Knight Center’s model used for journalism training. The course is asynchronous, so each student can work on days and times convenient for them, within the course period — in this case, six weeks, from May 8 to June 10, 2017. The course content is divided into weekly modules, each with a set of video lectures, reading materials and forums, where students must discuss the topics and respond to questions posed by the instructors. Those who comply with and complete the course requirements receive a certificate. The pilot programme, launched in the fall of 2014 with a grant from UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), was aimed exclusively at judges and other justice operators from Mexico. The response was better than UNESCO could have ever imagined — over 1,000 applications were received, and a total of 932 judges, magistrates, prosecutors, court clerks and other functionaries of tribunals from across Mexico accepted to the course. The Mexican Supreme Court’s support to the project contributed to its extraordinary success. We knew then that we were going in the right direction, using digital technology to offer quality training, with a great benefit-cost ratio compared with traditional, face-to-face training. Following the success of the two pilot projects in Mexico — one at national level and the other for the state of Coahuila — the first MOOC for judges across Latin America was introduced in the fall of 2015. The government of Sweden supported the project, as did the Ibero American Network of Judicial Schools and the Ibero American Judicial Summit. This helped attract more than 1,200 participants. Latin America remains one of the most dangerous regions of the world for journalists. But more judges are learning about the international legal framework of freedom of expression, access to information and the protection of journalists. The MOOCs are examples of concrete actions that can contribute to a better understanding of freedom of expression issues in the region.
Egyptian websites try to resist blocking
Cairo, July, 7th, 2017 (RSF). Egypt’s independent online media are trying to resist and circumvent an unprecedented wave of website blocking and censorship by the Egyptian government. “Egypt is currently in a digital black hole,” said Lina Attalah, the founder of Mada Masr, an influential Egyptian online newspaper publishing in English and Arabic that was one of the first news sites to be blocked by the government. The offensive against the Egyptian Internet began with the blocking of about 60 sites on 24 May and has been growing ever since. According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), 118 sites are currently censored. Never have so many sites been blocked at the same time, except when the government disconnected the Internet altogether during the 2011 uprising. More than half of the 118 currently-blocked websites are news sites. Most are regarded as the media outlets or platforms of the military regime’s bugbears such as Qatar and Islamists. But some are just Arabic or English-language media whose independence irritates the regime. They include political party websites and the sites of the Tor Project and VPN providers whose software enables users to bypass blocking by masking their IP address and appearing not to be in Egypt. “The blocking is so extensive that it reaches all websites publishing content not subject to prior filtering by the Egyptian authorities,” Lina Attalah said. “Even the petitions site Avaaz has been blocked.” Ways to bypass blocking Censored online media are trying to keep their content available to Egyptian readers via the VPNs that are still accessible. But these censorship circumvention methods are not yet widely used in Egypt so their impact is limited. Al Bedaiah, an online Arabic-language newspaper that specializes in covering social conflicts and political prisoners, has seen a drastic fall in its readership now that it is only accessible to those using VPNs. To keep their articles accessible to readers, some media such as Mada Masr post them on related websites such as the French site Orient XXI or on Facebook, which is very popular in Egypt. Facebook is an ingenious if rather impractical solution but how much longer will it work? Last spring, the Egyptian parliament drafted a bill that would make access to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter conditional on being registered with the authorities. Article 19 of a proposed electronic crime law provides for blocking any website that is deemed to threaten national security interests, a phrase that is already widely used in political trials. The parliament has been debating the bill for some time but has not yet passed it. Illegal blocking? For the time being, there is neither any specific legislation nor has there been any official statement from the authorities about the blocking, aside from the publication of a “report” on 25 May that refers to authorization to block certain sites for a series of reasons linked to the need to combat terrorism. As a result, and for want of a negotiation window with the security services, some websites have initiated legal actions against what they hold to be an arbitrary and illegal measure. “We would like to know what the grounds are for a decision of this kind,” said Attalah, whose website, Mada Masr, is among those that have filed a complaint with the attorney-general and have requested an explanation from the administrative court. The free speech group AFTE also filed a complaint on 18 June. Unless their website gets unblocked soon by a judiciary measure, Masr al Arabiya, an independent Egyptian news website, knows it is on the verge of closing. Some of their readers may use VPNs, but this is far from enough. Adel Sabry, the editor in chief, is extremely concerned : he said the security services have been pressuring not only its advertisers but also the politicians and soccer players it interviews, depriving the website of its revenues and content in one go. Sabry has had to lay off nearly half of his 64 journalists and says he will have to shut the website down. The blocking has come at a time of domestic political tension fuelled by next year’s presidential election, an economic crisis, the political crackdown, continuing terrorist attacks and recent nationalistic unrest among sectors of society whose support for the regime has been undermined by its decision to cede two small Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. Bas du formulaire