Daily Archives: 28/03/2011

( On 25 March 2011, human rights defender Mr Liu Xianbin was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Suining Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province. Liu Xianbin is a veteran democracy and human rights activist who was a founding member of the Sichuan branch of the China Democracy Party (CDP) in 1998, and has previously served two terms in prison for his activism. He has been in detention since his arrest on 28 June 2010 (see Front Line Urgent Appeal dated 7 July 2011).

Further Information

Following a trial which lasted approximately two hours, Liu Xianbin was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power”, charges which relate to articles he wrote online and for overseas Chinese publications advocating democratic reforms. It is reported that one of the articles introduced as evidence against Liu Xianbin was a piece he had written in February 2010 arguing that non-violent street protests were a necessary and inevitable stage of democratisation. According to his wife, Ms Chen Mingxian, during the trial Liu Xianbin was refused permission to make a closing statement by the judge. His lawyer was also reportedly interrupted continuously by the presiding judge when trying to present a defence.

In 1991, Liu Xianbin was arrested and subsequently sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. On his release from prison, Liu Xianbin continued his activism and in 1998 he helped found a local branch of the CDP in Sichuan province. The following year he was convicted of ‘subversion of state power’ and sentenced to 13 years in prison and an additional three years’ deprivation of political rights.

Liu Xianbin was released in November 2008 and once again resumed his human rights defence. He was an initial signatory of Charter ’08 a month after his release from prison. He also wrote in support of fellow human rights defenders who had been imprisoned, including Mr Tan Zuoren, an activist jailed after documenting the poor construction of buildings which contributed to the death toll in China’s 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province.

Front Line believes that the sentencing of Liu Xianbin is directly related to his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.


( Springtime in the Arab world is looking bleaker now that despots in Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen and reactionary elements in Egypt have gained an upper hand against the pro-democracy protesters who have inspired the world. And the Internet, hailed sometimes in excess as a potent tool for these movements, has itself come under increasing fire from these and other autocratic states seeking to crush popular dissent.

In Libya, the Gaddafi regime plunged the nation into digital darkness during the first week of March, where it has remained. In Bahrain, the kingdom reacted swiftly to pro-democracy demonstrations by filtering sites that let locals share cell phone videos, blocking YouTube pages containing videos of street protests, and taking down a large Facebook group that called for more demonstrations. And even in Egypt, despite the departure of Mubarak, the interim military authority has taken a harsh stand against pro-democracy activists, while trying to stop the sharing of looted state security files, which reveal the extent to which the government uses the Web to spy on Egyptians.

These accounts of Internet abuse have not gone unnoticed. Less known, however, is the degree to which U.S. and European companies have enabled the crackdown.

Corporate Enablers

Egypt’s Internet crackdown appears to have been aided by Narus, a Boeing-owned surveillance technology provider that sold Telecom Egypt “real-time traffic intelligence” software that filters online communications and tracks them to their source.

Israeli security experts founded Narus to create and sell mass surveillance systems for governments and large corporate clients. It is known for creating NarusInsight, a supercomputer system that is allegedly being used by the National Security Agency and other entities to provide a “full network view” of suspected Internet communications as they happen.

Narus has also provided surveillance technology to Libya, according to James Bamford, author of 2008’s The Shadow Factory. In 2005, the company struck a multimillion-dollar agreement with Giza Systems of Egypt to license Narus’ Web-sleuthing products throughout the Middle East. Giza Systems services the Libyan network.

British-owned Vodafone shut down its Egypt-based cellphone network following a request from the Mubarak regime and then restored it only to send pro-Mubarak propaganda to text-messaging customers across the country. When digital rights groups like protested Vodafone’s actions, the company stated that it could do nothing to stop those texts, because it was forced to abide by the country’s emergency laws.

Bahrain reportedly filtered and blocked websites using “SmartFilter” software supplied by the U.S. company McAfee, which Intel acquired late last year. Despite widespread reports of its use, company executives claim that they have “no control over, or visibility into how an organization implements its own filtering policy.”

Cisco Systems, a leading manufacturer of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) systems , a content-filtering technology that allows network managers to inspect, track, and target content from users of the Internet and mobile phones, is a major partner in Bahrain. In 2009, the San Jose, California-based company joined with the kingdom to open an Internet Data Center in Bahrain’s capital “as an essential component in the drive to improve government services to the populace.”

The extent to which Cisco’s own DPI products are part of this deal remains to be seen. Executives at Cisco would not return our requests for comment on the nature of its involvement in Bahrain.

Nokia and Siemens also support Libya’s cell phone network.  A joint venture between these two firms was heavily criticized in 2009 for reportedly assisting the Iranian regime’s crackdown against cyber-dissidents. It’s difficult to know whether they assisted the Libyan government, since Nokia Siemens’ PR didn’t return our call, either.

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Traces of Radiation Detected in U.S. Rainwater (AP):

Trace amounts of radiation from damaged nuclear-power facilities in Japan have been detected in rainwater in the U.S., but pose no health risks, officials said.

Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Nevada and other Western states are among the states that have reported minuscule amounts of radiation.

Nuclear-plant operators Progress Energy Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. in North Carolina and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. also said they have detected trace amounts of radiation.

Nuclear experts and health officials said there is no public-health risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said people are exposed to much more radiation on an international airline flight.

Progress Energy said it picked up low levels of iodine-131, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear fission, at its nuclear plant in South Carolina and a Florida plant.

Pennsylvania government officials said follow-up testing over the weekend showed normal levels of radioactivity in public-drinking water.

Gov. Tom Corbett said Monday the tests were performed after rainwater samples collected on Friday at the state’s nuclear-power plants registered very low concentrations of radiation, apparently from the Japanese nuclear plant damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

Low-level radiation in Massachusetts rainwater (Reuters):

Trace amounts of radioactive iodine linked to Japan’s crippled nuclear power station have turned up in rainwater samples as far away as Massachusetts during the past week, state officials said on Sunday.

The low level of radioiodine-131 detected in precipitation at a sample location in Massachusetts is comparable to findings in California, Washington State and Pennsylvania and poses no threat to drinking water supplies, public health officials said.

Air samples from the same location in Massachusetts have shown no detectable radiation.

The samples are being collected from more than 100 sites around the country that are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Radiation Network monitoring system.

“The drinking water supply in Massachusetts is unaffected by this short-term, slight elevation in radiation,” said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach.

“We will carefully monitor the drinking water as we exercise an abundance of caution,” he said.

At concentrations found, the radioiodine-131 would likely become undetectable in a “relative short time,” according to a statement issued by agency.


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