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July 6, 2022 3:35 am

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1. Russian, Former USSR and Global Voices

Global Voices: Expelled Chinese diamond mining firm quietly returns to Zimbabwe


Will a history of exploitation repeat itself?

A secret airstrip was built in a diamond field seized by the Zimbabwe army in 2007. Zimbabwe has long struggled with diamond mining exploitation from foreign companies. Photo by Aristocrat’s Hat via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The quiet return of expelled Chinese mining company Anjin Investments to diamond fields located in eastern Zimbabwe have sparked concerns of exploitation of Zimbabwe’s resources under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, natural resource experts have said.

The state restored Anjin’s license following intense pressure on Harare by Beijing, and the company has begun setting up operations earlier this month.

Anjin’s history of exploitation

Anjin Investments is a joint venture between the Anhui Foreign Economic Construction (Group) Co Ltd (Afec), and Matt Bronze Enterprises, formed by Zimbabwe’s defense ministry and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.

Anjin Investments and other diamond companies were stopped from mining the diamond fields located in Marange by former President Robert Mugabe’s government in 2016 following allegations of failing to remit taxes.

Marange is a diamond-rich area located 400 kilometers east of the capital Harare within Manicaland Province.

Zimbabwe’s office of the auditor general and parliament noted that Anjin Investments had never produced financial statements to account for its diamond mining operations.

According to a parliamentary report on record, between 2010-2015, Anjin produced approximately 9 million carats which generated about $332 million United States Dollars in revenue. Out of that figure, $62 million USD went to the government as royalties and 86 million USD was spent under corporate social responsibility.
However, due to its military connections, Anjin Investments constructed a defense college at a cost of $98 million USD.

The company was one of the seven companies that were permitted to operate in Marange diamond fields prior to the consolidation of the mines in 2016.

The other companies included Mbada Diamonds, Diamond Mining Corporation (DMC), Jinan Investments, Marange Resources, Kusena and Gye Nyame. Government-owned a 100% stake in Marange resources and 50% in the other six diamond-mining entities in Marange.

These companies were forced into a merger to create the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), but Anjin resisted the move.

Anjin and Jinan were negatively affected by the merger, angering Chinese authorities who viewed the move as an assault on property rights and a violation of the investment agreement companies shared with the government.

This development also led to the overall deterioration of relations between former president Robert Mugabe and the Chinese, who had been his “all-weather friends.”

Ignoring human rights abuses

When Anjin left Marange, they dismissed hundreds of workers without paying their outstanding salaries and severance packages. The company was accused by its employees of racism and abuse of workers.

Anjin recently recruited scores of employees at Chibuwe village, with the assistance of local councilors who were asked to provide names for the company to select, according to Farai Maguwu, director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance:

Lack of transparency regarding the return of Anjin, therefore, raises these questions, who authorized them to mine in Marange? Why were formal government institutions overlooked?

Anjin joins ZCDC, which has also been plundering Marange and committing horrific human rights abuses without any tangible benefits to the community.

Chibuwe village is located within Manicaland near Marange, situated at the deep end of the Save Valley.

Omen Dube, provincial mining director for Manicaland, expressed ignorance about the presence of Anjin when contacted for comment.

Onesmo Moyo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, also professed ignorance on the matter saying as far as he was concerned Anjin does not have a permit to be in Marange. Moyo said:

Anjin is one of the companies we are in discussions with but no decision had been made on their return.

Will history repeat itself?

The government’s move to re-select Anjin Investment along with the Russian company Alrosa as the two foreign diamond-mining companies signals a red flag to those fighting corruption and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Although the Chinese share close ties with Zimbabwe, in Anjin Investment’s case, the government should put national interests first, notes Mukasiri Sibanda, a Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) economic governance officer:

How can a company mine diamonds from 2010 to 2015 and fail to produce audited financial statements, a basic integrity requirement?

Between 2005 and 2016, as much as half of all outbound Chinese investment went into the extractive sector, according to Quartz Africa. A third of those funds have come to Africa, where the highest numbers of Chinese mines are found in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mining sector has been the core driver of Chinese investment in Zimbabwe, and indeed the rest of Africa.

Diamond mines were, in fact, the source of China’s growing concerns about the Mugabe regime’s indigenization policy, which required 51% local ownership of foreign businesses.

The Centre for Natural Resource Governance, a natural resources governance watchdog based in Harare, said that China must ensure that its companies in Zimbabwe, Anjin in particular, comply with the laws of Zimbabwe and get social licenses from the communities where they intend to operate.

Maguwu also said:

It is also important for China to ensure its companies are transparent and accountable to the local populations and the government of Zimbabwe.

Anjin investments will soon pour $20 million USD to resume diamond mining operations. Full throttle extraction is expected to commence by the end of May 2019.

Global Voices


Categories
1. Russian, Former USSR and Global Voices

Global Voices: Angola's president said there was no starvation in the country in interview, sparking indignation


João Lourenço, President of Angola. Photo: Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

An interview given by the President of Angola João Lourenço to RTP, Portugal’s public television channel, in which he stated that there was no hunger in his country, caused some outrage among citizens.

During the 30-minute interview broadcast on 4 March, the Portuguese journalist of RTP África referred to a UNICEF report which stated people were dying of hunger in Angola. Lourenço then rejected the existence of starvation in the country, while admitting that there was malnutrition. He said:

A nossa luta é lutar para reduzir os índices de pobreza, devido aos longos anos de conflito armado. Hoje há oferta de bens alimentares em Angola, não se pode dizer que existe hoje fome em Angola, é uma questão de alguma má nutrição.

Our struggle is to reduce the rates of poverty, owing to the long years of armed conflict. Today there is a supply of food in Angola, one cannot say that today there is [serious] hunger in Angola, it is a question of some malnutrition.

President João Lourenço said this just before the visit to Angola of Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and a few days before a Catholic priest and human rights activist criticized the death of Angolans from hunger in a region suffering from drought.

The activist Manuel Mapanda, better known as Dago Nível, questioned the President’s comments:

Como é que o senhor vai dizer que não existe fome em Angola? Não leu a Denúncia do padre Jacinto Wacussanga sobre a morte de um Angolano por fome? Será que nos Gambos e no Curoca já não há fome? Assim que Jlo assumiu a presidência a maioria dos Angolanos passou a ter a cesta básica, e a fome foi eliminada?

How is the gentleman going to say that hunger does not exist in Angola? Did he not read the criticism of Father Jacinto Wacussanga about the death of an Angolan from hunger? Does it mean that in Gambos and Curoca there is now no hunger? As soon as Jlo [João Lourenço] assumed the presidency the majority of Angolans got basic essential goods, and hunger was eliminated?

During the unfortunate interview, the Angolan head of state also made clear his intention to combat corruption, which is part of the party’s electoral programme:

Ninguém pode garantir que daqui para a frente não haverá corrupção e, que não haverá corruptos, mas que não ficarão impunes tal como sempre foi. Não haverá mais intocáveis, segundo João Lourenço. Esse tempo ficou para trás.

Nobody can guarantee that from this moment onwards there will be no corruption and that there will be no corrupt people, but that they will not remain unpunished. There will be no more untouchables, according to João Lourenço. That time is behind us.

In 2018, the Regional Forum for University Development (FORDU), a civic association in the field of education headquartered in southern Angola, produced a documentary (with no online version) entitled “Angola, a country at risk”. It highlights the high number of people searching for food in bins, both in the urban centre of Huambo province, the documentary focus, and in the country’s capital Luanda.

Captura de imagens do vídeo que existe apenas em DVD físico | Foto do autor, Simão Hossi -- usada com permissão

Screengrabs from the documentary, available only on DVD | Photo of the author, Simão Hossi — used with permission

On JM. Notícias, a Facebook page dedicated to sharing news, there was a clear criticism of the president’s remarks:

Precisamos reconhecer que ainda há muita gente em Angola vivendo á [sic] margem da sociedade, problema que dificilmente se resolverá se não haver uma promoção de programas de inclusão social credíveis, onde é cobrado e prestado contas. E não com este nascer de uma nova elite de gatunos tipo quem não se safou no outro tempo, que aproveite á [sic] brecha agora em que o artista principal e financeiro da nação é o J.Lourenço.

Olha que os principais desafios estão ai mesmo diante dos vossos próprios olhos, em vencer os problemas nas áreas da saúde, educação, habitação, etc, que pelo menos já deveriam dar alguns sinais mesmo que tímidos, mais [sic] nada se vê .

We need to recognize that there are still many people in Angola living at the margins of society, a problem that will be difficult to resolve if there is not a promotion of credible programs of social inclusion, where it is held accountable. And not with this birth of a new elite of crooks who didn’t get away with it before, who take advantage of the opening now where the main protagonist and financier of the nation is J.Lourenço.

Look at what the main challenges are right in front of your eyes, to overcome problems in the areas of health, education, housing, etc., which should at least already be showing some signs even if slight, but nothing can be seen

Global Voices


Categories
1. Russian, Former USSR and Global Voices

Global Voices по-русски: Анимационный фильм показывает, как принятый в Мьянме Закон о телекоммуникациях подрывает свободу слова


Показ фильма на Форуме по защите цифровых прав в Мьянме. Фотография предоставлена НКО Engage Media

[Все ссылки ведут на страницы на английском языке, если не указано иное]

Короткий анимационный фильм помогает объяснять людям суть Закона о телекоммуникациях и то, как с помощью этого закона могут душить свободу слова.

Фильм Are You Ready [Вы готовы?] снят некоммерческой организацией EngageMedia совместно с несколькими активистами по защите цифровых прав в Мьянме. Первый показ состоялся в декабре 2018 года в городе Янгон на Форуме по защите цифровых прав. Среди тех, кто помогал организовать показ фильма, были представители местного технического центра Phandeeyar Innovation Lab, а также сотрудники компании-разработчика ПО Myanmar ICT for Development Organization.

По словам представителей Engage Media, в фильме «рассказывается о влиянии на свободу слова в Мьянме, а также о том, как нарушаются цифровые права граждан». Они добавили:

The film showcases how authorities abuse the law to avoid and repress dissent.

The law is frequently used by the powerful to silence dissent, and with more than 100 cases filed, its chilling effect on free expression is widespread.

Фильм демонстрирует, как власти нарушают закон, чтобы избегать инакомыслия и подавлять диссидентов.

Сильные мира сего часто используют закон, чтобы заставить замолчать инакомыслящих. Возбуждено уже более 100 дел, так что ограничение свободы выражения стало распространённым явлением.

Фильм акцентируется на 66(d) статье закона, согласно которой преступлениями признаётся всё: от «вымогательства» и «навязчивого преследования» до «оказания неправомерного давления» в отношении другого человека. Статья выглядела противоречивой уже в 2013 году, потому что в основном ей пользовались власти, когда им нужно было запугать критиков или журналистов. Её расплывчатые формулировки и описываемые суровые наказания применяются, чтобы заставить замолчать обычных граждан. Вот точный текст [рус] статьи 66(d):

66. Whoever commits any of the following acts shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to a fine or to both. (d) Extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening to any person by using any Telecommunications Network.

66. Лицо, совершившее любое из перечисленных далее действий, в случае признания виновным по решению суда подлежит ответственности в виде тюремного заключения сроком до трех лет, штрафа либо обоих этих наказаний. (d) Вымогательство, принуждение к совершению каких-либо действий, неправомерное ограничение свободы, клевета, навязчивое преследование, оказание неправомерного давления либо угрозы в отношении какого-либо лица с использованием телекоммуникационных сетей.

В 2017 году в неё внесли небольшие правки, но защитники прав человека утверждают, что это в целом не изменило драконовский закон. Маун Саун Кха из молодёжной группы Athan отметил особое значение анимационного фильма для проводимой кампании по отмене статьи 66(d):

There have been no effective changes even though Telecommunications Law was amended in 2017. But there were more than 70 cases under the law. Are You Ready reflects the impact of Article 66(d) and it is very helpful to the Telecommunications Law amendment campaigns.

Даже несмотря на то, что в 2017 году в Закон о телекоммуникациях внесли правки, не было никаких реальных перемен. Зато заведено уже более 70 дел, напрямую связанных с нарушением положений этого закона. Фильм Are You Ready отражает, как статья 66(d) влияет на нашу жизнь. Он очень полезен в рамках кампании, целью которой является внесение правок в Закон о телекоммуникациях.

Смотрите анимационный фильм:

Global Voices по-русски


Categories
1. Russian, Former USSR and Global Voices

Global Voices: The story—and uncertain future—of a Barcelona occupation that is both shelter and cultural center


Activists and homeless people have created Okupa Casa Cadiz inside

The Casa de Cádiz, now occupied. Photo: Pere Montiel

Close to the Sagrada Familia cathedral, a popular tourist destination in Barcelona, a group of homeless people occupy a building called “La Casa de Cádiz.”

Formerly the cultural center of the Andalusian city of Cádiz, the building had been abandoned for 10 years when its current residents occupied it November 2019. The place is now called Okupa Casa Cádiz — and it’s more than just a shelter. It hosts painting workshops, free Spanish and Catalan classes for refugees and migrants, “philosophy cafes” with group readings, and music concerts.

Refugees, migrants, pensioners, and whole families who cannot afford the expensive rents in Barcelona live here, where they all manage the household’s chores and activities.

On his YouTube channel, Largarder Danciu, a resident and a fierce advocate of the project, says that the participants would like to improve their current economic situation, and projects such as this can help them.

The Okupa Casa Cádiz has complex and numerous challenges, nonetheless. The police came once to stop improvements following complaints by neighbors, and a second time after the city hall of Cádiz formally denounced the squatting. Cádiz’ mayor, José María González, known as “Kichi“, faced some criticism for that, as he presents himself as an anti-capitalist and an advocate against evictions.

Of all the challenges the project faces, the most critical is the fact that the Cadiz municipality has put the house for sale. In January, after protests, they offered the current residents a temporary concession.

But they are skeptical of Cádiz’ offer because it requires them to open a legal association. This makes them feel “controlled,” as Danciu explained to newspaper La Voz de Cádiz.

The Okupa’s residents are pushing for new terms, and they want two associations — the National Andalusian association, which is a civic and cultural organzation devoted to promote Andalusian culture and the Carpa association, a network of artists working to promote and create cultural and artistic spaces  — to mediate the negotiation with the Cádiz government.

However, the spokesperson of the Cádiz government, Ana Fernández, told local newspaper La Vanguardia that “given its economic situation, the regional government of Cádiz can’t pass up the income that would come from [the sale of] a site with these characteristics.”

Dinner time at La Casa de Cádiz. Members gather around the table. Photo: Pere Montiel. Used with permission.

The word okupa is widely used in Spain and some Spanish-speaking countries to refer to occupations of abandoned lots and buildings without the owner’s permission and with the intention to turn them into affordable residences or spaces of sociability. In English, this is commonly known as “squatting.”

While the unlawful occupation of idle property has existed throughout history in different cultures, it is believed that the okupa grew into a coherent social movement in Spain in the 1980s.

Usually, the primary purpose of squatters is to respond to economic difficulties, but they also denounce real estate speculation and private property laws.

In addition to these issues, Okupa Casa Cádiz is also particularly concerned about what they call “privatization of social services.” In Barcelona, the government outsources social services such as home care –through which people with disabilities or important physical conditions are attended in their homes– and social emergency care –that attends, for example, senior citizens or homeless people that have suffered from accidents or people in urgent need of shelter– to private companies.

On an interview, Lagardier criticizes those companies, saying they “make a business out of poverty.”

Regular chores and cultural activities

Okupa Casa Cádiz‘ webpage shows the activities as well as how they manage their budget.

The members do regular chores like cooking, cleaning, and laundry. A committee of residents awards points to those who complete them and that allows them to continue their stay. In the image that can be seen inside the tweet there’s a task schedule:

Participation in household chores is very important at #OkupaCasaCadiz. Building habits and making homeless people feel like the project is theirs. Institutions treat us like we’re incapable of doing anything. pic.twitter.com/md2kqnfqma

Other people involved in the project help residents organize initiatives such as book readings as well as artistic and therapeutic workshops:

LandArt painting workshop at #OkupaCasaCadiz. Homeless people learn to manage our emotions through art. pic.twitter.com/avbgs01md0

Besides offering Catalan and Spanish language classes, they also hosts concerts of alternative music, like the one they held on March 23 with the hip hop duo “No Somos tu Rollo” (We’re not your problem).

Their crowdfunding space on GoFundMe has raised 3,400 euros out of a goal of 7,000, and they have also received help from the neighborhood.

Hip hop duo “No Somos Tu Rollo” performing at Okupa Casa Cádiz. Photo: Pere Montiel. Used with permission.

Global Voices


Categories
1. Russian, Former USSR and Global Voices

Global Voices: Slovenian officials rebuff Hungary, refuse to censor cartoon satire ridiculing Viktor Orbán


Hungarian officials have learned not to mess with Mladina.

The 22 March cover of Mladina (left) featured a caricature of Slovenian far-right politicians surrounding Hungarian president Victor Orbán. The headline reads: “We would give up Europe, but we would never give up on Orbán.” On the right is a “repaired and friendly” version published online in response to Hungarian ambassador’s letter.  Images (c) 2019 Mladina, used with permission.

Slovenia may not be well known as a haven for free speech. But when Hungarian officials expressed outrage over a cartoon caricature of Hungarian president Viktor Orbán that appeared on the cover of Mladina, a national political magazine, Slovenian officials jumped to their defense.

On 22 March, Mladina published story chronicling Slovenian right wing politicians’ support for Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, under the mantle of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP). At a recent meeting, EPP suspended Fidesz’s membership within this largest and most powerful group of political parties within the European Union due to its authoritarian practices.

The Mladina headline read: “We would give up Europe, but never give up on Orbán.” The story criticized the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) for “siding with Hungarian autocracy rather than democratic Europe.”

The article also noted that the EPP had previously threatened Fidesz with an exclusion in April 2017, due to the Hungarian government’s various efforts to dismantle key institutions in Hungarian civil society, its drive to destroy the Central European University (CEU), and its use of anti-Semitic language in its Stop Brussels campaign.

Various other media have pointed that Orbán continues to exploit anti-Semitism for political gain.

The front page of the magazine featured a caricature of Viktor Orbán with his hand raised, in reference to the Empirial Roman salute in the style of Asterix comics, though a similar gesture with the palm level to the ground was used by fascists. Three SDS officials huddle around Orbán affectionately. One holds a flag with a design similar to the flag of Slovenia, whose colors had been replaced by Hungarian color scheme.

Juxtaposed national flags of Slovenia and Hungary.

National flag of Slovenia (left) and Hungary (right). Source: Wikipedia.

When the magazine appeared on newsstands, Hungarian Ambassador to Slovenia Edit Szilágyiné Bátorfi sent a letter to Mladina which the magazine published in full. She accused them of undermining the friendship between the two nations with their articles about Hungary. She said it was “unacceptable” to suggest that Orbán had some connection with “the dark forces of the past” and insisted that her government has never promoted anti-Semitism.

On 28 March Mladina published an article with a “repaired and friendly” cover. In a tongue-in-cheek response to the dust-up, editors claimed their “foolish cartoonist” Tomaž Lavrič had decided to apologize by drawing a new image of the ambassador’s “dear leader.”

“This time, it’s more beautiful and more friendly. Long live the love between Orbán and Janša!” the editorial quipped.

The new caricature shows Orbán holding an olive branch (symbol of peace) with a flower in his hair, hippie-style. The modified Slovenian flag in this version shows rainbow colors, referencing the LGBTQ flag, a symbol of tolerance.

In a note sent to the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 29 March, the Hungarian Embassy in Ljubljana protested the “politically irresponsible front page” of the weekly Mladina, and asked for help in “preventing similar incidents in the future.”

According to Politico.eu, the Slovenian ministry replied saying that “[we] strictly respect the freedom of speech and freedom of the press and would never interfere in any of the media’s editorial policy.”

On 1 April, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs attacked Mladina in a post on his blog calling it a “sad example of the intolerance of the Left.”

In a 5 April commentary titled “Hungary’s attempt to control Slovenian media”, Mladina noted that the diplomatic note shows how serious the situation is, and that the encroaching influence of illiberal Hungary is not only a problem for Slovenia, but for all of Europe.

“A country which dares to demand from another country’s government to act against journalists means a serious security threat to the entire region,” editors wrote.

Journalistic investigations in Slovenia and Macedonia have shown that Orbán’s regime has attempted to interfere with domestic politics and elections of these two countries by providing support to extreme right-wing forces. Corporate figures with proven ties to the Hungarian government have provided financial backing to alt-right media outlets in Slovenia and media partly owned by the far-right parties of both countries. And in Macedonia, Hungary facilitated former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s escape from criminal punishment, after he was convicted of corruption. After Hungarian diplomats transported him through three other Balkan countries, Gruevski was granted political asylum in Hungary.

In an opinion piece entitled “Endangered Sovereignty of Slovenia,” Mladina editor Grega Repovž wrote:

Pismo je bilo še en kamenček v mozaiku, ki tako jasno kaže, s kakšno politiko imamo opravka v sosednji državi in kaj se je zgodilo v državi Evropske unije, ki naj bi bila nekakšna zveza demokratičnosti. In pismo je bilo še en dokaz, kakšna sramota je, da Evropska ljudska stranka ni zbrala moči, da bi izključila Fidezs Victorja Orbána iz svojih vrst – o čemer je govorila naslovna tema, ki je razburila madžarsko politiko.

The [ambassador’s] letter was just another tile in the mosaic that shows the kind of politics we have to deal with in the neighboring state [of Hungary] and what is the state of affairs in this European Union member country, which once was a union of democracy. The letter just gives us another piece of proof that it was for shame that EPP didn’t muster the strength to exclude Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz from its ranks – the issue of the headline topic which upset Hungarian politics.

A legacy of 99 years of defiance

Following its launch in 1920 as a publication of the Youth Section of the Yugoslav Communist Party in Slovenia, Mladina (meaning “Youth”) built up a reputation of speaking truth to power. The magazine was banned by the dictatorship of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but re-surfaced in 1943 as part of anti-fascist resistance.

During the 1980s, it became the foremost dissident newspaper in socialist Yugoslavia, challenging the system, the personality cult of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, and the then all-powerful Yugoslav People’s Army. In 1988, the Army put four Mladina staff members on trial, for leaking alleged top secret documents, but this did not result in the magazine’s defeat. The trial became the focal point of Slovene resistance to abuses, inciting massive protests and fueling the drive for independence and demands for democracy.

After Slovenia declared independence, Mladina survived the transition to democracy, continuing to keep the political elite accountable. For instance, they have meticulously scrutinized the work of their former reporter Janez Janša (one of the four convicted in the famous trial), who became a politician in 1989. He was appointed a defense minister of Slovenia in 1990, and twice served as prime minister (2004-2008, 2012-2013). Today he is the leader of Slovenian Democratic Party, a member of European People’s Party and close ally of Orban’s Fidesz. As such, he was featured on the controversial front page.

Commentators from former Yugoslav region were surprised by the Hungarian governments’ lack of awareness of Mladina’s reputation, which may explain their failure to anticipate the backlash. Croatian news portal Express noted “Even Tito couldn’t stop them, and now Orbán is charging against them.”

Media in Hungary wrote about the scandal too, promoting the caricature even further. Hvg.hu wrote that Orbán was “depicted as a Nazi” surrounded by the “local leaders of the  extreme right” in Slovenia. Magyar Narancs weekly wrote that “Hungarization of the Slovenian flag in the caricature is a warning that the real danger for Slovenia is Orbánisation.”

Many cross-border social media reactions about the scandal were also in line with the demand for freedom of speech:

Hungarians have been writing on Mladina’s Facebook page all day, either apologizing for Orbán, or asking to purchase “the infamous” 12th issue, or proposing selling t-shirts with the image.

Global Voices


Categories
1. Russian, Former USSR and Global Voices

Global Voices: Iran faces backlash from its Azeri citizens over Armenia and the Karabakh question


The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict shadows relations between the three countries

A poster raised in Sahand stadium in Tabriz, Iran. Photo taken from Guney Azerbaycan Facebook page. Used with permission.

One might think that a Middle Eastern powerhouse like Iran has little connection to a conflict between two former Soviet republics in the South Caucasus that began before the communist bloc even broke up. That would be quite wrong, however.

Tensions over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region that fell under Armenian control following a war with Azerbaijan which began in the late 1980s are never far from the surface in relations between the two countries.

A March 29 meeting between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was billed as among the most positive in recent years, but it was overshadowed almost immediately by the aggressive rhetoric of subordinate officials on both sides.

In such a tense diplomatic atmosphere, powerful geopolitical neighbours have an important role to play. While the focus in this respect is often on traditional ex-Soviet power-broker Russia, Iran is also uniquely positioned to impact the conflict for better or worse.

Diasporas speak

Present-day Azerbaijan’s borders are a product of the Turkmanchay Treaty between Tsarist Russia and the Persian Empire that divided the country along the Arax River in 1928.

According to this treaty, Azerbaijan became part of the Russian Empire while the lands to the south of the country became part of what is now known as Iran.

As a result, the number of Azeris in Iran far outnumber those in the Republic of Azerbaijan that has a population of 10 million people. Presently there is no official data available on the number of this country’s Azeri population. But the Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations (2002) put the number of Azeris in Iran at 18,500,000 people, or over a quarter of Iran’s population.

In Azerbaijan, many criticise Iran for having friendly ties and cooperating with Armenia, while Tehran, in turn, is wary of Baku’s economic and military partnership with Israel. Although close religious and cultural ties bind Iranians and Azeris — they mostly share Shia Islam as a faith — Azerbaijan’s government is strongly secular and suspicious of Iran’s potential influence over conservatives in the Caucasus country.

Inside Iran, millions of Azeris are not allowed to receive education in their own language. This fact is in notable contrast to the position of diaspora Armenians in Iran, who according to various sources number between 70,000 and 150,000 and are able to receive Armenian-language schooling there.

As if these long-standing bones of contention were not enough, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh are also mirrored in discourse between the two communities.

Anger over the disputed territory was on full display during Pashinyan’s visit to Tehran at the end of February that culminated in a number of protests, mainly by fans of Tractor Sazi Tabriz  FC, a football club based in the Azeri-populated northern Iranian city of Tabriz that has become a hub for Azeri activism in recent years.

The protesters were particularly unhappy that Pashinyan had chosen to visit Iran on February 27, immediately after the anniversary of one of the bloodiest chapters in the six-year Karabakh war, known to Azeris as the Khojaly massacre of February 26, 1992.

Many Azeris perceived Pashinyan’s visit as a betrayal. Compounding this discontent was the fact that a poster that read “Karabakh is Armenia. Period” was raised during Pashinyan’s meeting with Armenian diaspora representatives.

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan shared a selfie with Armenians in Iran in his Instagram account. The poster in the background reads: “Karabakh is Armenia. Period”.

A total of twenty-eight supporters of Tractor Sazi were detained by Iranian police March 1, whilst leaving Sahand stadium following the Tractor-Sepahan game on that day.

The arrests followed some 50,000 fans chanting the slogan “Karabakh is ours and will remain so” in the stadium where the Armenian flag was set alight.

On March 3, protesters in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku picketed the Iranian embassy in a show of support with their Southern bretheren. Iran’s ambassador in the country Mahmoud Vaze’i insisted that relations between Iran and Azerbaijan were solid and resilient in an apparent response to the picket. Vaze’i said Iran “will not let any interior or exterior forces damage our good ties with Azerbaijan.”

The scandal over Pashinyan’s visit also reached Iran’s legislature where an ethnic Azeri MP from Iran’s Azeri-populated Urmia (Ormiyeh) region, Ruhulla Hazratopour, reiterated complaints over timing and called for Iran to clarify its position on Karabakh at a March 17 session.

MP Hazratopour said:

I am addressing the [Iranian] Foreign Affairs Ministry. What was the point of the Armenian Prime Minister’s visit to Iran on the anniversary of the massacre of Muslims in Khojaly, which caused a number of problems? As the leader has stated, and as the Azerbaijani people believe, Karabakh is the land of Islam. I am asking you now – what is the difference between Palestine and Karabakh? The Islamic Republic [of Iran] is an important Muslim country. We must play the role of a unifier in the region and protect all oppressed Muslims across the world.

The MP finished his speech with a poem in the Azeri language.

Fanning the flames 

Typically, opposition to the Pashinyan visit was amplified on Facebook. One Facebook page used by Iranian Azeri activists is Gunay Azerbaycan (Southern Azerbaijan), which has around 20,000 followers. On March 3 the page carried a photo from Pashinyan’s meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accompanied by graphic footage from the Khojaly massacre, where women and children were among more than 600 killed by Armenian troops, according to Azerbaijani authorities.

The same page also posted a doctored photo from the Armenian prime minister’s meeting that showed an illustrated corpse of a small child laying in front of the two officials — another reference to the victims of Khojaly massacre.

Of the dozens of Iranian Azeris that liked and shared this image, many were seemingly not born at the time of the Khojaly incident. But as Baku and Yerevan inch gingerly towards the negotiating table on Karabakh, the era of social media has lent fresh life to the conflict.

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Global Voices: Censored on WeChat: How a fatal bus accident in Chongqing symbolized China's ‘left turn’


Censors targeted disinformation– and political opinions — in bus accident aftermath.

Two drivers from the Chongqing bus accident. Image from Weibo.

This post was written by the team of WeChatscope, a research initiative led by Dr. King-wa Fu at The University of Hong Kong.

With more than 1.0825 billion individual users, along with more than 20 million registered public accounts, WeChat has the largest number of domestic users and the most extensive coverage of any social media service in China. As such, it has become a chief component of China’s rigorous censorship regime.

In 2017, our team at the University of Hong Kong built a technical web “scraping” system for studying censorship on WeChat’s publicly accessible pages. Throughout 2018, we tracked more than 4,000 public accounts covering daily news and preserved censored posts in a publicly accessible database, WeChatscope. This article is the third in a partnership series with Global Voices.

The Chinese government has long justified its censorship practices as necessary for keeping fake news and online rumors out of circulation, both in traditional and online media. But a 2018 bus accident in Chongqing marked one of few news events where government censors found themselves censoring news coverage by state-affiliated media outlets.

The bus accident took place in the Wanzhou District of Chongqing on 28 October 2018. On a two-way bridge, the vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic, collided with another car and then flew off the bridge, plunging into the Yangtze river. All told, 15 people were killed as a result of the accident.

State-affiliated newspaper Beijing News was the first media outlet to report the news on Weibo, with a story suggesting that the accident was caused by an oncoming car. The report emphasized the fact that the driver of the car was female, and alleged that she had been driving on the wrong side of the road.

Later, Xinhua news agency quoted the Beijing News story and the news was published on major news sites and media outlets. For example, Global Times’s headline was “The cause of bus plunge accident: a female driver drove in the wrong direction”.

Netizens blamed a female driver for the bus accident, attributing it to her wearing high heels. (viral screen capture image from Weibo)

The news went viral online, with a majority of netizens praying for the accident victims. A few made comments reflecting gender stereotypes, criticizing the female driver. Then on Weibo, a user posted an original photo from the scene of the accident, showing the driver, who incurred only minor injuries, had been wearing high heels. The photo went viral immediately, eliciting comments including “she deserves to die” and “murderer”.

A few hours later, Wanzhou District police reported that it was the bus driver, not the woman in the car, who had veered into oncoming traffic. The female driver had done nothing wrong.

The police clarification also went viral and public opinion reversed. Some criticized the original reports for misleading the public. But the media outlets involved simply removed their stories in silence, without making any public apology. Notably, Beijing News ran another report “Attacking the female driver was straying from the point”, as if it had played no role in misleading the public.

Five days later, surveillance footage taken from the bus again went viral online. It revealed that five minutes before the crash, a passenger had had a quarrel with the driver. The quarrel then escalated into a physical fight and the driver lost control of the vehicle.

As predicted, the footage caused another uproar online and attracted a huge number of comments. Many people saw the escalation of tension as an allegory of China’s political turn in recent years.

Media outlets take down factually inaccurate headlines

The Wechatscope database revealed that some official outlets removed the misleading news stories on WeChat soon after Wanzhou District police released the details of the bus accident. For example, Legal Daily published a post with the headline: “Chongqing bus plunged into the river to avoid crashing with the female driver who had taken the wrong lane. The bus has sunk 65 meters and is now at the bottom of the river. Two bodies have been found” (重庆公交车为躲避逆行女司机撞破护栏坠江 沉入65米深江底 已打捞出两具遗体). The post was published on 28 October 28 and then deleted just two days later, on 30 October.

With this and other stories, the removals were not enforced by an outside authority. Instead, media outlets themselves were self-censoring (or self-regulating) their own misinformed news content. The content removal notices issued by WeChat indicated that these posts were taken down by their own publishers.

At the time of this story’s writing, similar headlines about women driving in the wrong lane had been removed from all official news outlets and could not be found in search results.

Critical commentaries labelled as illegal

At a later stage, after the surveillance footage had been released, censorship authorities stepped in and labelled reflective and critical commentaries as “illegal”. The WeChatscope data set offers a glimpse at what authorities deemed to be “illegal” content — this proves that authorities’ interventions were not intended to stop the circulation of fake news or misinformation, but rather of opinions and views.

Below are three posts that circulated widely on the WeChat public domain, but were then deleted quickly.

This post was published and deleted on November 4. It was labelled as illegal content according to WeChat’s take down notice. The writer quoted social media discussions and used these to build an allegory, comparing the bus accident with China’s trajectory in recent years. One line of the piece read:

千万不要攻击掌舵人,否则他忽然左转,全车人都会完蛋!

Don’t attack the person who is in charge, or else he makes a sudden left turn, everyone in the vehicle will be doomed.

The post was published on November 3 and deleted on November 6. It was also labelled as illegal content. The writer criticized onlookers who have witnessed wrongdoings but chosen to remain silent, warning that when people tolerate barbaric behavior, all of society suffers.

Published on November 5 and deleted on November 7, this story also was labelled as illegal content. The post interprets the incident as a typical tragedy of an era in which good people cannot speak up and act out, lest they be buried alive with evil people.

In each of the above examples, we see that the censorship authorities were forced to step in and label related content as “illegal” only when interpretations of the news story had the potential to challenge the political status quo.

This case study shows that the spread of factually inaccurate information in mainland China could be dramatically reduced if state-run media conducted more self-regulation and employed higher reporting standards. And the second set of examples shows that in censorship authorities’ crackdown on rumors, the real target is independent political views.

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Global Voices: Rumors of Russia's first ‘fake news’ case against a media outlet might just be fake news


The false story claimed authorities had banned yoga in prisons.

By Bruce Mars via Pexels.com

Russia’s “fake news” law, which came into effect in late March, could see its first test case soon — but its definitions are vague and even Russia’s top lawmakers are still uncertain about the mechanics of its enforcement.

The seemingly fake news story in question broke in early April 2019, when Russian news media reported that yoga classes in Russian prisons might be banned:

The story was originally reported by Moskovsky Komsomolets, a popular tabloid. The story’s author, Eva Merkacheva, wrote that Russia’s penitentiary system had suspended yoga classes for inmates after the attorney general’s office received a letter of concern from conservative senator Yelena Mizulina.

Mizulina, the article claimed, cited previous communication the senator had received from Russian Orthodox theologian and Alexander Dvorkin, an anti-cult activist. His appeal to Mizulina, according to Komsomolets, spoke of the dangers of indoctrinating inmates into an “infamous pseudo-Hinduist cult” and “uncontrollable sexual arousal” triggered by yoga.

It is worth noting that Eva Merkacheva, the Komsomolets reporter, is not an impartial observer in this case: she herself campaigned for instituting yoga classes in Russia’s pretrial detention facilities and wrote a book on yoga for inmates which conveniently was published just as the story broke. This led to rumors that the whole story could be a PR stunt to promote her book.

Later, the deputy head of Russia’s penitentiary system said there were, in fact, no plans to ban yoga classes in Russia’s prisons and actually praised the experimental program for significantly improving the inmates’ overall health and general well-being in the selected detention facilities where yoga classes were introduced in 2018.

On April 8, Senator Mizulina struck back with a claim that the story about her attempts to ban yoga was fake.

Govorit Moskva, a Moscow-based radio station, tweeted:

Mizulina calls the story about her appeal to ban yoga in pretrial detention facilities fake. The senator plans to petition Roskomnadzor [Russia’s state media watchdog] soon.

Govorit Moskva attached to their tweet a copy of Mizulina’s letter to Russia’s attorney general Yuri Chaika. It does not, in fact, contain any demands to ban yoga — only a request to investigate the claim that inmates were involved in “kundalini-yoga” studies (quote marks are Mizulina’s) and to determine whether this was lawful. Kundalini is a legitimate school of yoga known for its physical intensity and heavy focus on the nervous system.

Mizulina’s press office then supplied the senator’s comment to Russian news agency TASS:

Это типичный пример распространения фейковых новостей. В моем письме в адрес генерального прокурора не содержалось никаких требований “запретить проведение занятий йогой в СИЗО и уж тем более “запретить йогу.”

This is a typical example of dissemination of fake news. My letter to the attorney general’s office contained no demands to ‘ban yoga in detention’, let alone ‘ban yoga altogether.’

Mizulina’s press office also noted that the senator is planning to report this case of fake news to Roskomnadzor.

The media jumped on the possibility that this might be the inaugural case for Russia’s recently passed “fake news” law, which has been the subject of much derision and public criticism. However, it quickly became clear that even the senator herself is in the dark about what the new law’s provisions are.

Under this law, individuals, officials or organizations accused of spreading fake news “disguised as genuine public announcements” which are found to promote public disorder or other serious disturbances could be fined for up to a million rubles (slightly above USD $15,000), unless they remove the violating content in a day’s time. The law also provides measures through which Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media watchdog, will order ISPs to block websites hosting the offending content.

But Mizulina has not filed a petition to Roskomnadzor, and even if she had, the agency’s press officer told Kommersant, it wouldn’t be Roskomnadzor’s job to deal with it. The law says that it is the responsibility of the attorney general office’s to flag fake news “disguised as genuine public announcements.” Only when the attorney general deems a message as potentially harmful to public order, they can command Roskomnadzor to block and censure the offending website — unless it agrees to remove the article in question. And it remains to be seen whether Merkacheva was  “knowingly and maliciously disseminating false information of public importance,” as the law defines it.

So it is unlikely that Mizulina’s grievances against Moskovsky Komsomolets and other media which have re-reported her claims will gain any traction. The first case of Russia applying its “fake news” law against a media outlet could itself be a case of fake news.

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Global Voices по-русски: #Добро пожаловать домой, Алаа: египетский активист-революционер спустя 5 лет вышел на свободу


Семья и сторонники радуются освобождению блогера.

 

Алаа Абдель Фаттах и Маналь Хассан. Фотография Лилиан Вагди с Викисклада (CC BY 2.0).

[Все ссылки в тексте — на английском языке, если не указано иное.]

Поздней ночью 28 марта власти выпустили на свободу египетского блогера и активиста Алаа Абдель Фаттаха, который отсидел 5 лет в тюрьме за нарушение запрета на несанкционированные митинги.

Новость всполошила Twitter, когда сестра активиста Мона Сейф просто написала короткую фразу: «Алаа вышел» [араб]. Впоследствии она порадовала друзей и сторонников брата, разместив фотографию известного египетского активиста-революционера во время игры с семейной собакой Тока, с которой он встретился впервые:

Первая встреча Алаа и Токи 💓

Сторонники по всему свету начали публиковать в Twitter фотографии, на которых они держат в руках плакаты с надписями «Добро пожаловать домой, Алаа».

От себя лично и от лица всех твоих друзей из Association for Progressive Communications: «Добро пожаловать домой, дорогой Алаа!»

Феминисткая организация Si Jeunesse Savait («Если б молодость знала») празднует возвращение Алаа домой.

После пятилетнего заключения египетский активист и защитник цифровых прав Алаа вышел на свободу. «Добро пожаловать домой, Алаа», – твоя семья из Global Voices и Advox.

В Каире Алаа был первым среди египетских блогеров и активистов в области технологий как до, так и во время египетской революции. Вместе с женой Маналь Хассан он помог разработать ряд проектов в сфере технологий и политического активизма, в стране и за её пределами работал не только с активистами и блогерами, но и со многими участниками Global Voices.

В ноябре 2013 года 37-летнего активиста арестовали [рус] в доме его семьи. Почти через год, в феврале 2015 года, его осудили и приговорили к пяти годам тюремного заключения за «организацию» протестного движения, ссылаясь на закон 2013 года, который запрещает несанкционированные митинги. Хотя активист действительно участвовал 26 ноября 2013 года в демонстрации против судебных процессов над гражданскими лицами в военных судах, Алаа не был её организатором. В ноябре 2017 года Кассационный суд Египта подтвердил вынесенный приговор.

На фотографиях, по часовой стрелке: Санаа (слева) и Мона; Алаа Абдель Фаттах с сыном Халедом и женой Маналь Хассан; Алаа и Санаа; Санаа и Мона. Источник: страница Моны Сейф в Facebook.

Он родился в семье известных правозащитников, его отцом был адвокат по делам о защите прав человека Ахмед Сейф эль-Ислам. При режиме Хосни Мубарака отца Алаа неоднократно сажали в тюрьму. Сёстры Алаа, Мона и Санаа Сейф – тоже правозащитницы, которые уже долгое время участвуют в кампаниях против судебных процессов над гражданскими лицами в военных судах в стране.

При каждом президенте Египта, который находился у власти при его жизни, Алаа попадал в тюрьму или под следствие. В 2006 году его арестовали за участие в мирном протесте. В 2011 году, пропустив рождение своего первенца, Халеда Алаа провел 2 месяца в тюрьме. В 2013 году он был задержан и находился в заключении 115 дней без какого-либо судебного разбирательства.

В течение последующих 5 лет после освобождения Алаа вынужден будет проводить каждую ночь в местном полицейском участке.

А пока семья, друзья и те, кто его поддерживает, с облегчением узнали о том, что его выпустили из тюрьмы. Сообщество Global Voices также не остаётся в стороне.

Старый друг Global Voices и Advox Алаа вышел на свободу из египетской тюрьмы после пяти долгих лет заключения.

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Global Voices: Four real-life locations that could have featured in Game of Thrones


Collage of illustrations of locales from the TV series “Game of Thrones” and “Fist of the First Men” collectible card by Franz Miklis/Fantasy Flight Games, paired with photos of real-life locations that might have inspired them (fair use/CC via Wikipedia).

The eighth and final season of HBO’s hit television series Game of Thrones will premiere in April 2019, so fans around the world will be gearing up for one last dose of dynastic squabbling, political intrigue and looming supernatural doom on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos.

George R. R. Martin, the author of the cycle of novels on which the TV series is based, took inspiration from actual historical events and locations, including the city of Venice, the likely model for Braavos, whose bay is guarded by a giant statue called the Titan of Braavos resembling the famed Colossus of Rhodes.

The lavish television production has filmed in many stunning locations throughout the world, and location scouts would no doubt have visited many more. A pity they didn’t consult with us here at Global Voices, as we have a few recommendations as well. Here they are below, better late than never.

1. Hall of Faces, Braavos (Skull Tower, Niš, Serbia)

A wall of the Skull Tower in Niš, Serbia. Photo by freesrpska.org uploaded to Wikipedia, CC BY-SA. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%C4%86ele_kula,_Ni%C5%A1,_Srbija.jpg

In Game of Thrones, the Hall of Faces houses skinned faces of the dead in a great hall within the House of Black and White, a temple in the city of Braavos that serves as headquarters for a sect of religious assassins known as the Faceless Men.

A real-life equivalent can be found in the Skull Tower in the Southern Serbian city of Niš. The structure, now located in the Serbian Orthodox Christian temple, was originally erected by the Ottomans in 1809 to display the severed heads of the rebels participating in the First Serbian Uprising.

The 4.5-meter (15 ft) tower originally contained 952 skulls embedded on four sides in 14 rows, but over time many fell off and were lost. Some were reclaimed by relatives and buried, or stolen by souvenir hunters. Instead of serving its intended function as a deterrent to future rebels, the Skull Tower became a symbol of resentment against the Ottomans, who were finally forced to leave the area in 1878.

The site has an official status of Monument of Culture of Extraordinary Importance and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Niš area, receiving tens of thousands of visitors per year.

In 2014 Mental Floss website featured the Skull Tower among the top “10 buildings made with bones” from around the world.

2. Lands of Always Winter (Oymyakon, Russia)

After sunset, near Oymyakon in Yakutia. Photo by Maarten Takens, CC BY-SA. https://www.flickr.com/photos/takens/8684784715/

In Game of Thrones, Lands of Always Winter is the northernmost part of the continent of Westeros, far beyond the Wall. It is permanently locked in winter and perpetually frozen.

Discussions within Global Voices community identified the Oymyakon village in Russia as a place where one can experience what it would be like in the land of the Free Folk.

One of the coldest permanently inhabited locales on earth, Oymyakon is situated in the part of Siberia known as Yakutia (officially Sakha Republic), a term familiar to players of another pop culture phenomenon, the strategy board game Risk.The region has been marketed to international tourists as “the Pole of Cold”.

In 2017, a local Yakutian broadcaster wrote to HBO suggesting that the series finale be filmed in the region, including at Oymyakon, because “there is no place more appropriate to show the real winter”. The suggestion was ignored, however, and Northern Ireland and Iceland remained the final season filming locations for scenes in the north of Westeros.

3. Blackwater Bay (The Golden Horn, Istanbul, Turkey)

In the world of Game of Thrones, Blackwater Bay is an inlet in the Narrow Sea on the shores of eastern Westeros. King’s Landing, the capital of the empire of the Seven Kingdoms, is located there.

A credible real-life stand-in for Blackwater Bay is the Golden Horn, the primary inlet of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey. In bygone days it was the primary waterway used to reach Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire. The bay served as the chief base for the Byzantine navy, and unlike its Game of Thrones lookalike, a long chain across its mouth prevented enemy ships from entering and getting close to the city.

The chain wasn’t enough to stop the most persistent of invaders, however. The Viking-Slav raiders of the Kievan Rus’ in the 10th century, and Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453 both went around the chain by dragging their (Viking and Ottoman) light ships overland, out of the Bosphorus and around Galata, the tower that anchored the chain on the far end of the bay. They then relaunched the ships into the closed bay. In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Venetian ships were able to break the chain with a ram.

Unlike the two later invaders, who managed to take the city, the defenders of Constantinople managed to defeat the Kievan Rus’ by the using Greek Fire, a combustible compound emitted by a flame-throwing weapon and used to set light to enemy ships.

Greek Fire, real-life historical equivalent to Game of Thrones' wildfire.

A Byzantine ship uses Greek fire against a ship of the rebel, Thomas the Slav, 821. 12th century illustration from the Madrid Skylitzes. Public Domain, via Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_fire#/media/File:Greekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg

The Game of Thrones equivalent of Greek Fire is wildfire, the volatile green liquid that was used by forces commanded by Tyrion Lannister to win the Battle of Blackwater. The composition of both the historical and fictional chemical weapons has remained a secret.

For the TV series, the ancient medieval city of Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast of the Adriatic Sea, was the filming location for many of the outdoor scenes in King’s Landing.

4. Fist of the First Men (Sigiriya, Sri Lanka)

Game of Thrones’ the Fist of the First Men is an “ancient ring fort” in the Lands of Always Winter, “located at the crown of a defensible round hill with an excellent view of the surrounding countryside.” It is used as a defensive position by the Night’s Watch in battles against the Free Folk and the Night Walkers’ zombies.

One earthly equivalent of this mountain is located far away from the icy polar regions in the tropics, near the equator, in an environment that Game of Thrones’ fans would consider more similar to the famed ‘Summer Islands’: central Sri Lanka.

The approach to ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. Photo by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY.

In its heyday, far from being a remote outpost in the wilderness, the ancient rock fortress Sigiriya (or the Lion Rock) served as the capital of a legendary fifth-century kingdom. The palace of the king, Kasyapa, sits at the top of a column of rock nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high that dominates the vast plain around it. It was abandoned after the king’s death and later used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

Still visible at the top of the rock are the remains of the king’s throne, which was made of stone within a larger structure.

The remains of the ancient Throne on top of Sigiriya fortress. Today it’s forbidden to sit on it. Photo by Filip Stojanovski, CC-BY. Click to enlarge.

UNESCO designated Sigiriya a World Heritage Site in 1982. In the same year it featured as a location of the music video for the song “Save a Prayer” by Duran Duran.

Are there any Game of Thrones-like locations in your country? Let us know in the comments below.

Global Voices