Jailing of Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste a ‘death knell for freedom of expression,’ says Amnesty
A court in Egypt has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to three years in jail after finding them guilty of “aiding a terrorist organization.”
Egyptian Baher Mohamed, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste were all handed three-year jail sentences when the court in Cairo delivered the verdict on Saturday, sparking worldwide condemnation of the decision.
Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months for possession of a spent bullet casing. An appeal against the verdicts is planned.
Judge Hassan Farid, in his ruling, said he sentenced the men to prison because they had not registered with the country’s journalist syndicate.
He also said the men brought in equipment without security officials’ approval, had broadcast “false news” on Al Jazeera and used a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission. Following the sentence hearing, both Mohamed and Fahmy were escorted to Tora prison in southern Cairo, according to Egyptian media.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday announced that Vemma Nutrition — a multilevel marketing firm that relies on independent salespeople, called affiliates, to buy and sell its energy drinks, diet shakes and supplements — has been shut down for engaging in “deceptive and unlawful acts and practices.” The announcement followed an Aug. 17 suit filed against the company, in which the FTC accused it of operating as an illegal pyramid scheme.
In October, Al Jazeera exposed the company’s predatory practices and the lucrative lifestyle it afforded CEO Benson Keith Boreyko in a series about multilevel marketing firms. In the stories about Vemma, Al Jazeera detailed how the company rebranded itself to appeal to unsuspecting teens with its Young People Revolution, or YPR, movement. The stories unearthed information about his former company New Vision, which was also shut down by the FTC because of its claims that its supplements could cure attention deficit disorder. In 2011 he changed the name of New Vision International Holdings Inc. to Vemma International Holdings Inc.
“[The Al Jazeera report] was the only in-depth, extensive coverage of Vemma by mainstream media, which lent weight and force to the FTC’s investigation,” said Robert Fitzpatrick, who runs the watchdog website Pyramid Scheme Alert and was quoted in another story in the series about the psychology behind multilevel marketing firms.
Vemma was closed down for, among other things, using “interrelated companies that commingle funds and have common ownership, officers, directors and office locations,” according to the FTC lawsuit. This interconnecting company structure was initially documented by Al Jazeera in the 2014 exposé, which showed that Boreyko and his family incorporated dozens of interlocking companies that share addresses and list only Boreyko and his siblings as the principal shareholders, directors and officers.
Al Jazeera America found that CEO Benson Keith Boreyko made roughly $12 million in 2013 – 7,500 times more than three-quarters of Vemma affiliates.
The FTC investigation was aided by the offices of the attorney general in Arizona, South Carolina and Michigan as well the police department in Tempe, Arizona, where Vemma is headquartered.
The mother of Michael Brown says she will “never forgive” the “cold and malicious” police officer who shot and killed her son nearly one year ago in Ferguson, Missouri.
“He wouldn’t even admit what he did was wrong. He wouldn’t admit he had no reason to do what he did,” Lezley McSpadden said of former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. “I’ll never forgive him.”
McSpadden said of Wilson: “He’s evil, his acts were devilish.”
Wilson killed Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, after stopping him because he was walking in the street, not on the sidewalk. The killing of Brown, an unarmed black teen who, according to some accounts, had his hands in the air at the time of his death, by a white police officer sparked widespread protest and renewed debate over police targeting of black men.
McSpadden’s comments to Al Jazeera followed an interview with Wilson published by The New Yorker, in which he admitted that, aside from ongoing litigation brought by the Brown family, he seldom thought of the 18-year-old Brown.
“Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point,” Wilson said, before adding that he believed Brown didn’t have a proper “upbringing.”
McSpadden responded to Wilson’s comments by saying the officer was the one who “didn’t have the right upbringing.”
“Because those are words that you just don’t use, especially after you took somebody’s life and you know you had no reason to,” she said. “But he can’t hurt me with his words. What he did last year hurt me really bad, so his words mean nothing to me.”
Wilson, who scuffled with Brown before the shooting, told authorities that he feared for his life during the confrontation and fired his gun in self-defense. Witnesses, however, contend that Brown was in a nonthreatening position when Wilson fired the fatal shots.
Amazon, Google, other large companies employ hidden workforce of low-wage content moderators
In “The Other Silicon Valley,” Al Jazeera takes a look at how California’s tech boom affects the working class. This is part one of a seven-part series.
Far behind the scenes at many of the world’s most popular websites, an invisible army is hard at work keeping content safe for the public. YouTube relies on them to screen all of their videos — some 300 hours of uploaded content every single minute — for pornography, hate speech, and other explicit, illegal, or offensive material. Amazon’s product recommendations are only partially automated; many are checked or manually selected by workers.Facebook uses them keep explicit content out of news feeds.
These content moderators range from full-time employees working out of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View California to subcontractors cloistered in Filipino office parks to freelancers scraping together a little extra money in the privacy of their own homes. Some of these digital freelancers find piecework through online labor markets such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, one of several “crowdsourcing” services that allow companies to tap into a global network of people who scrub their content, one assignment at a time.
They form the unseen backbone for much of the social web but are rarely acknowledged and often poorly paid. Lilly Irani, a professor at the University of California-San Diego described them in a recent essay on the website Public Books as “data janitors” who quietly scrub the social web free of vulgar material.
Irani and others who study the hidden world of content moderators say that their work has consequences far beyond the desire to shield our monitors from NSFW videos. They are asked to make implicit political decisions about what constitutes offensive or obscene content; and although they play a crucial role for companies that rely on user-generated content, their work is undervalued. The fact that they remain invisible means everyone else can indulge in the illusion that the Internet is a truly open, democratic forum for free expression and debate.
The debt forgiveness movement born out of Occupy Wall Street has entered a new stage in its activism around student loans. On Monday, a wing of the campaign known as Debt Collective announced a “debt strike” by 15 former students of the for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges Inc.
The former students have said they will not repay any more of their student loans, in protest of what they describe as predatory lending practices on the part of both Corinthian Colleges and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Organizers working with Debt Collective said the coordinated action was a test run for larger debt refusal actions.
Debt Collective organizer Ann Larson compared the action to work stoppages conducted by the labor movement.
“This is the same kind of collective organizing,” she told Al Jazeera. “Collective bargaining can happen along economic lines when debtors join together.”
For their test case, Debt Collective selected a particularly ripe target: Corinthian Colleges has already been the subject of both state and federal investigations regarding its lending practices. Since June 2014 the company has been under tight financial supervision from the DOE, which is shepherding it through the process of selling off some of its campuses and shutting down others.
Ann Bowers, 54, one of the former Corinthian students who is refusing to pay down her loans, told Al Jazeera she owes between $30,000 and $40,000 after three years in the Everest College system, which is owned by Corinthian. She earned her associate degree at Everest and had completed her first year in on an online bachelor’s degree program when she found out that her school’s parent company was in trouble with the DOE.
“I asked them about transferring,” said Bowers, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida. “I went through the process with one school, and they didn’t accept all of my credits. And I found out Everest had taken six years of my lifetime funding [in federal loan eligibility] in three years. I was devastated.”
Bowers, who is disabled, said she has been unemployed for the year since she left Everest.
Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, who were held in Egypt for 411 days, were reunited with their families.
Their release on Friday came a day after an Egyptian court granted bail in the case against the journalists and said the next hearing would be on February 23.
Fahmy was asked by the judge to pay a security bond of around $33,000.
After Friday’s ruling, Jihan Rashid, Baher Mohamed’s wife, said: “I’m going immediately to tell the kids that their father is coming home today and that life will be beautiful. I’ll wait to welcome him back. Life has changed today.”
Adel Fahmy, Mohamed Fahmy’s brother, said: “We will play by the law we will abide by the Egyptian law and I am sure that he’s been vindicated by this, and will later be completely vindicated when this case falls apart.”
The judicial fight for Mohamed and Fahmy will continue until the charges are dropped.
Baher was initially sentenced to 10 years and Fahmy 7 years in prison. That decision was recently overturned.
Egypt’s highest court of appeals has challenged the evidence presented by the prosecution, saying the proceedings were flawed and ordered a retrial.
Earlier this, month another Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste, was deported to Australia after spending 400 days in detention.
Fahmy – who is an Egyptian-Canadian – was told by the authorities that his only way to freedom is to renounce his Egyptian citizenship, which he has done.
The three Al Jazeera journalists – Mohamed, Fahmy and Greste – were arrested in December 2013.
They were wrongly accused of promoting the banned Muslim brotherhood.
“The bail release is a small step in the right direction but this should have happened 411 days ago. There’s no evidence that they’ve been complicit with the Muslim Brotherhood; no evidence that they’ve been involved in terrorism,” Human Rights Lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said.
Two Al Jazeera English journalists have appeared in a Cairo court for a retrial due to lack of evidence over alleged links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
The retrial of Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed was ordered by the Court of Cessation last month, overturning a lower court’s verdict which found them guilty of aiding the outlawed group.
A third Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste, who was also to be retried, was deported on February 1 under a presidential decree after languishing in jail for 400 days. He has since returned to his home in Australia.
Fahmy and Mohamed have now spent 411 days in prison.
Lack of evidence
Giving its reasoning on Monday for overturning the lower court’s ruling, the Court of Cassation said the “criminal court’s verdict lacked evidence to support its ruling” and “was hasty in pronouncing its verdict”.
It said the first case failed to prove how the journalists had joined the Brotherhood, and failed to prove that an act of “terrorism” actually occurred.
The lower court also “did not wait for medical and legal reports which it had requested after several defendants spoke of being under physical and moral pressure” to make confessions, the appeals court said.
The three journalists, along with seven of their colleagues outside the country, were accused of spreading “false news” during their coverage of demonstrations protesting the military’s toppling of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed received sentences of between seven and 10 years.
In a bid to secure his own release and deportation, Fahmy renounced his Egyptian citizenship and is awaiting a return to Canada, where he also has citizenship.
The journalists have repeatedly said that they were being punished for just doing their jobs.
Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb, according to a six-month-long, nationwide investigation by Al Jazeera America.
At the heart of this voter-roll scrub is the Interstate Crosscheck program, which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names. Officials say that these names represent legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.
Until now, state elections officials have refused to turn over their Crosscheck lists, some on grounds that these voters are subject to criminal investigation. Now, for the first time, three states — Georgia, Virginia and Washington — have released their lists to Al Jazeera America, providing a total of just over 2 million names.
The Crosscheck list of suspected double voters has been compiled by matching names from roughly 110 million voter records from participating states. Interstate Crosscheck is the pet project of Kansas’ controversial Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach, known for his crusade against voter fraud.
The three states’ lists are heavily weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel and Kim — ones common among minorities, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed, fully 1 in 7 African-Americans in those 27 states, plus the state of Washington (which enrolled in Crosscheck but has decided not to utilize the results), are listed as under suspicion of having voted twice. This also applies to 1 in 8 Asian-Americans and 1 in 8 Hispanic voters. White voters too — 1 in 11 — are at risk of having their names scrubbed from the voter rolls, though not as vulnerable as minorities.
If even a fraction of those names are blocked from voting or purged from voter rolls, it could alter the outcome of next week’s electoral battle for control of the U.S. Senate — and perhaps prove decisive in the 2016 presidential vote count.
“It’s Jim Crow all over again,” says the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr. Lowery, now 93, says he recognizes in the list of threatened voters a sophisticated new form of an old and tired tactic. “I think [the Republicans] would use anything they can find. Their desperation is rising.”
SAN DIEGO/TIJUANA — Six small gray plastic propellers whirred into action as flight test engineers Brad Golding, 34, and Grant Lieberman, 24, powered up the four-pound Y6 drone for a morning spin. The status lights blinked green, indicating the autopilot was initialized, and the three-armed vehicle lifted into the air and zipped off toward a pallet of shrink-wrapped supply boxes.
Outside the 3D Robotics office in San Diego the air was hot and still, with downtown Tijuana visible across the border with Mexico. It’s there — a 4-mile drone flight away (if the FAA allowed it) — where 3D Robotics has its manufacturing facility, and dozens of 20-something “associates” in blue lab coats, jeans and sneakers were busy printing circuit boards, testing autopilots and assembling 3D’s IRIS drone, sold online for $750.
Like a growing number of tech companies in the region, 3D Robotics is a binational startup happy to leverage its unique location along the U.S.-Mexico border. On the one side is orderly San Diego, which Forbes named the No. 1 place to launch a startup in 2014. On the other is chaotic Tijuana, which offers low-cost labor but also a growing number of talented engineers of its own. According to entrepreneurs on both sides, the “Cali-Baja Mega-Region” is poised to become its own Silicon Valley.
Too often conversation around the U.S.-Mexico border focuses on security and immigration, making what some see as a seam instead become a symbol of division. But businesses like 3D Robotics see the border as an advantage and an opportunity.
“If you want to build 10,000 of something a month and it’s the exact same product and it doesn’t change, that’s an easy thing to do in China,” said Tim McConnell, 3D Robotics’ director of engineering. But if you want to build only 100, make some changes and build 100 more, McConnell said, you’re better off “nearshoring” in Mexico.