Tuesday, 13 June 2017

LGBT persecution: The case of Uganda

June holds many Pride events across the globe where it is permissible. In many places, it simply isn't. LGBT today continue to be one of the most persecuted minority groups on the planet. Even in places where rights have advanced significantly, like in the United States, LGBT persons continue to suffer both de facto and de jure persecution. Since the election of Donald Trump, homicides against LGBT are up 17%, excluding the horrific Pulse nightclub massacre that happened one year ago. Politicians continue to introduce laws designed to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT Americans and other places in the world.

When political leaders promote agendas of hate, there are real consequences. Take the situation in Uganda and the tragic death of human rights activist David Kato.

Life imprisonment for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Seven years for “gross indecency.” In February 2014, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, broadening the criminalization of same-sex relations, which had already been illegal since British colonial rule. You didn’t have to be in Uganda to be punished – the law contained provisions for Ugandans to be extradited, should they be caught violating this law abroad. You didn’t even have to be gay, as the act included penalties for those who aided or abetted same-sex acts, whether the “aid” came from individuals, companies, or NGOs.

A February 2011 leak of US diplomatic cables revealed US concerns about the worsening human rights situation in Uganda and discussed a UN funded conference held in 2009 during which David Kato, considered the father of Uganda’s LGBT activism, gave an impassioned speed regarding the anti-LGBT atmosphere in his country. MP David Bahati followed with a tirade against homosexuality, which received massive applause.

Bahati, described in the US cables as a man whose homophobia is “blinding and incurable,” authored the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which originally called for LGBT Ugandans to be put to death. Uganda is not the only African country to criminalize homosexuality; thirty-eight of 53 African nations have laws on the books that punish homosexuality in some way. However, Uganda’s law was considered particularly severe, reflecting a climate in which an overwhelming majority of Ugandans disapprove of homosexuality and LGBT citizens suffer violence, vandalism, discrimination, and “correctional” rape.

And death.

On 26 January 2011, David Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his own home. Some weeks earlier, he had won a court case against a tabloid that had pictured Kato and another man on the cover with the headline, “Hang them.” The tabloid had been publishing lists of names and addresses of Ugandans who were rumored to be gay; it was responsible for some of the persecution as those identified in the lists were harassed, discriminated against, detained, and beaten. Kato and other activists had seen increased harassment since a high court judge granted a permanent injunction against the tabloid to prevent it from identifying gay people. 

While Kato paid the ultimate price for his fight to protect LBGT Ugandans from the scourge of bigotry and human rights advocates across the globe mourned his death, the environment did not improve. Three years later, the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law. Uganda saw an immediate spike in human rights abuses following its enactment. Human rights group Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG) published a report documenting 162 cases of persecution against LGBT Ugandans in May 2014 alone. LGBT Ugandans suffered violence at the hands of authorities and private citizens, evictions, employment termination, denial of health care, destruction of property, family banishment, and social stigma that continued well after the Constitutional Court of Uganda struck down the law in August 2014. The SMUG report, entitled, “And that’s how I survived being killed: Testimonies of human rights abuses from Uganda’s sexual and gender minorities,” found 264 cases of persecution from May 2014-December 2015.

Sadly, the Uganda situation hasn't improved. In fact, one has to wonder if the climate of hate that is spreading across the globe hasn't emboldened other would be LGBT killers in Uganda and elsewhere. Let us hope this is not the case.

In too many countries, to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender is to be stigmatized or even treated as criminal. LGBT individuals need online access to healthcare, social networks, support and advocacy, without the worry of a digital trail. SumRando VPN, Web Proxy, and Messenger allow these individuals to maintain their anonymity and security when accessing the internet and communicating online.

We want to help you survive.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Notes on the Underground

"I self publish."

Such an empowering word. "Samizdat." The idea seems quaint in the digital age, but the need for such underground communication is as important as ever. We are witnessing a global backsliding in democracy at a rather alarming rate; even the world's staunchest proponents of human rights and ideals are experiencing existential threats to their institutions the world once strove to live up to.

The demonization, detention, and even death of journalists has become far too widespread. 2016 was one of the worst years for journalists that we've seen in many years, led by Erdogen's regime in Turkey, who arrested 81 media workers in 2016, often shuttering media outlets with it, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And what role has the global adoption of the internet played in the world's slide toward authoritarianism? How can you quantify it? The proliferation of amateur outlets purporting to report the news without the education and professional training necessary to verify facts, identify and assemble a portfolio of trustworthy sources and recognize those who would seek to disseminate false information, and even refrain from kneejerk reactions and personal opinions when inappropriate, has contributed to a global climate of conspiracy theories, "alternative facts," "fake news," and a host of other misinformation events.

The Soviet Union was, at times, one of the most heinous empires in human history, as most non-authoritarian-inclined people would agree. Censorship, of course, was an inherent part of the regimes power. Indeed, without censorship, such a regime could not exist!

It's why the samizdat existed, too, but to fight it. Russian poet Nikolay Glazkov coined the term as a joke (showing that comedy always sides with the resistance.) His father was repressed as part of Stalin's Great Purge. Consequently, Glazkov was expelled from university for being related to "an enemy of the people."

LOL. The only enemies of the people are those who seek to oppress the people.

In Moscow, Glazkov worked odd jobs and printed poetry under the publishing house name "Samsebyaizdat" (self-publishing house), clearly a knock against state-run publishing houses. He later shortened the word.

Glazkov may have used the term as a joke, but the samizdat were no joking matter. They were an essential tool to dissidents, who reproduced censored and banned material by hand and passed it from reader to reader. Harsh punishments were doled out to those caught with censored material, so the practice was highly dangerous. Boris Pasternik's Nobel Prize winning Doctor Zhivago was the first full length book to be passed around by samizdat. Samizdat covered a wide range of topics, from political and literary texts to nationalist and religious works.

It is hard for many of us to fathom having to pass around ideas like that, on papers that are passed around, sometimes to the point of disintegration. Today, we have encryption that works the same way as the samizdat. While the Soviets had prying eyes looking for people who were passing documents around, Putin's regime has prying eyes reading what Russians and others write on the internet. What we have seen today in the United States shows just how far reaching is Russian cybercrime and cyberwarfare. It can affect the stability of countries.

That is why encryption is so vital. Using SumRando Cybersecurity products will mask what data you are transmitting, making sure that Putin isn't intercepting your communications. We offer a VPN for internet browsing, Messenger for communicating, and STASH for transferring files anonymously.

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