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With Ethiopia Bloggers' Twitter Suspended, Kerry Chats with YALI

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 9 -- The attack on Ethiopia's Zone 9 bloggers, which Inner City Press covered in late April, has spread to US-based Twitter, which has suspended the bloggers' accounts.

   As one example: Nesnail Feleke, pictured here with US Secretary of State John Kerry, has had his Twitter account @EthioLiberty "suspended."  The same is true for Tesfalem Waldyes, whose @tesfalemw has been "suspended."

  On May 9 at 10 am, Kerry is holding a "Twitter Chat With the Young African Leaders Initiative Network," YALI, to "answer questions about his recent trip to Africa and U.S. policy in the region."

  What the US' policy toward US-based Twitter suspending the accounts of the very "emerging generation of African... activists" President Barack Obama's signature YALI is said to invest in?

  What will the US say and do about Myanmar deporting journalist Angus Watson for covering a media freedom protest there with "only" a business visa - or about Yemen's deporting Adam Baron, which Inner City Press covered yesterday, here?

  After Kerry visited Addis, new State Department human rights official Tom Malinowski tweeted that Kerry "raised the case of blogger Natnail Feleke who with 8 of his peers was imprisoned last week."

 Okay - now that US-based Twitter has suspended Natnail Feleke's account, what will Malinowski and Kerry do? Did Twitter give in to Ethiopia, as it has been doing in Turkey, where Ergodan has also claimed it have "copyrights" his own leaked phone calls?

  This recalls an anti-Press complaint to the UN now being banned from Search by Google under a spurious US Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint, here. In the UN itself, a request has been made to have UNTV censor even cut-aways of opponents, click here for that. The new Free UN Coalition for Access is asking the UN and countries' diplomats at the UN about all this.

  After Ethiopia conducted a sweep and arrest of journalists including Tesfalem Woldeyes and six bloggers from the Zone 9 collective, that the US had highlighted bloggers in Russia and Vietnam on April 25 was raised.

  US Assistant Secretary of State Malinowsi on April 25 spoke about the US defending bloggers; the examples he gave were in Russia and Vietnam: "Dieu Cay," Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai. 

  Later on April 26, Malinowsky said, "Alarmed by Ethiopia's detention of 6 bloggers & 2 journos yesterday. Violating freedom of expression is a sign of insecurity, not strength."

   As press freedom seasons heats up, some were surprised not only by this brief filed in the Supreme Court but also by this week's US announcement of renewed military aid to Egypt, including 10 Apache helicopters. Isn't Egypt the country with journalists including but not limited to those of Al Jazeera locked up?

After questions, the State Department clarified the specifics of aid to Egypt on April 24:

"The Egypt bilateral foreign assistance budget for FY2014 is approximately $1.5 billion and includes $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) – $200 million in Economic Support Funds; and over $7 million for other security assistance programs, including International Military Education and Training, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs. The $650 million from FY2014 FMF will be the first of this funding to move forward, pending Congressional notification and approval."

  The next day new US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski was asked about the detained Al Jazeera journalists. He replied that withholding of one additional certification is in part due to the Al Jazeera case, and therefore the case has consequences.

  But here is how US Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby explained the certification:

Secretary Hagel told General Sobhy that we are not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition, and he urged the Egyptian government to demonstrate progress on a more inclusive transition that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians.

Secretary Hagel also informed Minister Sobhy of President Obama's decision to deliver ten Apache helicopters in support of Egypt’s counterterrorism operations in the Sinai. The secretary noted that we believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security.

  While some say "safe and free," the above shows the relationship between "U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security" and the freedom of the press issues at stake in Egypt. Watch this site.

Footnote: Outright censorship as well as freedom of the press issues have arisen at the UN with respect to Voice of America, on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors John Kerry serves. Freedom of Information Act requests have been filed with the BBG - and with the State Department, including with regard to South Sudan and the US Atrocities Prevention Board. The issues are being pursued by the new Free UN Coalition for Access. Watch this site.


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