Saturday, 7 March 2015

A Close Shave

Although I'm going off topic again, I hope I'm not the only one that can see the connection with a momentous event that happened in the US about a fortnight ago. An absolutely vital decision on the future of the entire internet was made by just one vote by a bureaucrat in the Federal Communication Commission. Had that vote gone the other way, it's no exaggeration to say that mankind could have been forced back into the dark ages where knowledge could be censored, history sanitised, democracy compromised and campaigning restricted. 

The rapid development of the World Wide Web and internet has been as important to mankind as the invention of movable type and we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Tim Berners-Lee who resolutely fought for it to remain open access. We all know knowledge is power and this truism hasn't been lost on politicians who have made attempts at restricting its power, for example by the Lobbying Act here in the UK. But big business and the capitalist Corporate Giants had noticed as well and they had a cunning plan to gain control. I was alerted to this by the campaigning group is a new world-wide movement for a better global economy.

Here’s what we stand for:
  • Governments that answer to citizens – not corporations
  • Fair treatment of workers and the right of every human being to make a living, safely and ethically, for themselves and their family;
  • The right of ordinary consumers to products that are produced and marketed ethically, sustainably and transparently;
  • The right of communities to manage and protect their own environment and natural resources;
  • Business models that put people and the planet first instead of being driven by shortsighted greed.    

The future of the Internet is being decided in the next two weeks, and big corporations are determined to kill it. The US Government is about to establish new rules on how the Internet is protected, with huge global ramifications. Big corporations are spending millions to wrest control of the Internet from the public. They want to decide which websites we can access at fast speeds, putting anyone they don’t like (or who won’t pay them millions) into new Internet slow lanes.

With so many websites based in the US, the future of the Internet itself is at stake. This decision will have a lasting impact on the fate of free speech and social movements across the globe. SumOfUs members in the US are already organizing to defeat this corporate attack on the Internet and save “Net Neutrality”. But around the world, we need to stand up and be counted too.

When hundreds of thousands of people have risen up in the name of democracy in recent years, like during the Arab Spring, a free Internet has been crucial to their fight. But imagine that instead of people organizing using technology to confront corrupt government, and instead of people around the world clinging to the edge of their seats, we were silent, isolated, and indifferent.

This is what could happen if we lose Net Neutrality. Big US corporations could decide whether or not we could easily and quickly access the sites we needed to -- or whether we get stuck with the corporate media they control.

The Federal Communication Commission -- the US Government agency responsible for regulating the Internet -- and the US Congress are making their decision on Net Neutrality this month. Because many of the world’s largest telecom giants and websites operate out of the United States, these rules have the potential to directly affect access to the free and open Internet around the world.

The good news is, that with SumOfUs members in the US joining with millions of others, we’re winning this fight. But we need to keep up the pressure to get us over the line and save the Internet -- which is why it’s crucial to hear from people around the world.

The momentum for Net Neutrality is on our side, and we’ve never had a better chance at winning. After massive public pressure President Obama has come out in favor of “the strongest possible rules” under what’s called “Title II” Net Neutrality -- exactly what we are demanding.

These rules would protect the Internet we all know and love. They would stop big corporations from requiring websites to pay them huge sums of money in order to get access to fast Internet lanes. If sites didn’t pay, corporations could effectively shut them down by making their sites super slow -- like a YouTube video that just won’t load.

The fight for a free Internet is too important to lose. Groups like SumOfUs only exist because of the open Internet of today. Under these new rules, new innovations would find it much harder to take off, because their superior design would be hidden behind an intentionally broken and slow connection.

Valuable resources like Wikipedia could disappear from public view or start plastering themselves in ads to pony up the cash needed to pay big US corporations like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon for the privilege of allowing us to access them. Crucial international moments, like the uprising in Tahrir Square could be censored. History could be hidden from view.

That was a month ago, but then this from 26th February:-

Breaking news: in an historic victory of global importance, the US government just passed rock solid rules to ensure the Internet stays open and free for generations to come.

Big Cable TV and Internet companies have spent millions of dollars to push “Internet slow lanes” that would let them charge us more money to use the Internet, and control what we could access. But after millions of public comments, emails, phone calls, and demonstrations across the country -- loads of it driven by SumOfUs members -- the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has just said an emphatic “no” to a corporate-controlled Internet, and committed to protect Net Neutrality.

With so many websites based in the US, free and open Internet around the world was at stake. This victory will have a lasting impact towards protecting free speech and social movements across the globe. And that is worth celebrating.

Just six months ago, we were facing staggering odds. Big corporations like US cable TV giant Comcast had spent more than $750 million lobbying for a corporate-controlled Internet. Google, the biggest lobby in the industry, was refusing to speak up. The FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a former Big Cable lobbyist, was hostile to Net Neutrality.

But against all odds, we’ve pulled off one of the biggest victories in the history of the Internet, in what the New York Times called "the longest, most sustained campaign of Internet activism in history", won by "an army of Internet activists."

Together, here’s a snapshot of some of the amazing things we’ve done:
  • Submitted tens and tens of thousands of comments to the FCC in support of Net Neutrality, making sure the agency received more comments than ever before on a public consultation.
  • Flooded FCC offices with thousands of phone calls, to build internal pressure for the agency to do their job and protect the open Internet.
  • Tied FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to his past as a former Big Cable lobbyist on social media and his personal Twitter account, forcing him to publicly choose a side.
  • Helped turn out hundreds of people to emergency rallies and vigils across the country, including outside the White House.
  • Organized tens of thousands of people to speak up online and on the phone to demand Google publicly support real Net Neutrality.
  • Pulled off a creative protest to bring Internet slow lanes to life by literally putting private buses transporting Google employees to work in a SumOfUs-created “Slow Lane".
  • Worked together with a huge coalition of amazing groups like Demand Progress, Free Press, Fight for the Future, and too many others to count. 
And it worked! Following each piece of the campaign President Obama, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, and Google all came out in support of Net Neutrality -- and now the FCC has adopted an official decision to protect Net Neutrality.

But even though we’ve won this crucial fight, we must stay vigilant. Big telecom corporations like Verizon and Comcast are already working with conservatives in the US Congress to try and undermine our win. We need to be ready to put the pressure on again in the coming months to make sure we don’t lose an inch of our progress.

Up against corporate millions, this decision to protect Net Neutrality is a massive victory for citizen campaigning. Thanks to all of us, we can finally say 2015 was the year we won Net Neutrality. Let’s keep working together to make sure it stays that way.

This is how the BBC reported it:-

New rules on how the internet should be governed have been approved by the Federal Communications Commission. In what is seen as a victory for advocates of net neutrality, the commission voted in favour of changes proposed by chairman Tom Wheeler. Three commissioners voted in favour and two against.

The US Telecommunications Industry Association said that broadband providers would take "immediate" legal action over the rule changes.

The main changes for broadband providers are as follows:
  • Broadband access is being reclassified as a telecommunications service, meaning it will be subject to much heavier regulation
  • Broadband providers cannot block or speed up connections for a fee
  • Internet providers cannot strike deals with content firms, known as paid prioritisation, for smoother delivery of traffic to consumers
  • Interconnection deals, where content companies pay broadband providers to connect to their networks, will also be regulated
  • Firms which feel that unjust fees have been levied can complain to the FCC. Each one will be dealt with on a case by case basis
  • All of the rules will also apply to mobile providers as well as fixed line providers
  • The FCC won't apply some sections of the new rules, including price controls
Ahead of the vote, commissioners heard from a variety of net neutrality advocates, including the chief executive of online marketplace Etsy and a TV drama writer. Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee also contributed via video link. Columbia Law School Prof Tim Wu, who originally coined the phrase net neutrality, welcomed the ruling.

"It is a historic day in the history of the internet," Prof Wu said. "Net neutrality, long in existence as a principle, has been codified in a way that will likely survive court scrutiny. More generally, this marks the beginning of an entirely new era of how communications are regulated in the United States."

"I think both the Obama Administration and the Federal Communications Commission can consider the rule a legacy achievement." But broadband provider Verizon said that the rules being adopted by the FCC were "written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph".

"Today's decision by the FCC to encumber broadband internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors," it said in a statement. "History will judge today's actions as misguided".

Scott Belcher, chief executive of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said that the "onerous set of rules" was an "over-reaction from the FCC". He predicted a two-pronged response from the broadband providers. "They will take legal action right away and they will continue to work in Congress to get legislation to address these rules," he told the BBC.

US broadband providers are estimated to spend around $73bn (£47bn) a year on upgrading infrastructure. Net usage is expected to double over the next 10 years and data transmissions to increase eight-fold. "The internet is built on infrastructure. Even to keep at a steady state providers are going to have to invest in infrastructure but they need certainty that they can get a return on their investments," said Mr Belcher. He added that there were concerns that future administrations may use the rules to impose even more restrictions on broadband providers. "The next administration may want to introduce price controls or control infrastructure help where cables can be laid. They could drive the internet to a halt."

The need for new rules was a result of a legal action taken in January 2014 by broadband provider Verizon, which challenged existing net neutrality guidelines. The court found that the FCC had improperly regulated internet providers as if they were similar to a public utility when they were officially classified as information services. It spurred calls for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a utility, with content giant Netflix, one of the most vocal lobbyists.

Hints that the commission was planning on rewriting the rules to allow internet fast lanes was met with a volley of criticism. A record four million comments were sent to the regulator, campaigners protested outside its Washington headquarters and President Obama eventually intervened, urging the FCC to adopt the "strongest possible" rules.


  1. Most definitely on the side of net neutrality. And no doubt about the powerful potential for social media campaigns to influence and change policies in democratic states. But reading about the Arab Spring sadly highlights its limitation. Was social media really 'crucial' in the fight against corrupt governments? Maybe in mobilising and organising demonstrations, but it was ultimately ineffectual is achieving any lasting change. Prague and Arab Springs go much deeper than ephemeral tweets,

    With the exception of Tunisia all the rest are as tyrannical as ever, with human rights abuses commonplace.

  2. Its a shame that free speech and the right to decry TR for the train wreck it is has been eroded from offices up and down the country and now dissenting voices are only heard in corridors or lunch rooms and anything smacking of anti-TR is slapped down....

    1. Not in my area. Anti-TR all the way. Only last week 1 x NPS SPO, 1 x CRC SPO, 1 x Admin, 1 x Receptionist, 1 x Unpaid Work, 1 x TPO, 1 x Court Officer, 2 x POs. In fact, in typing this I'm trying to think of someone in the last week who has not openly voiced dissent about TR. Perhaps only the directors and even they allude to it.

  3. Thanks for this Jim - I hadn't heard a peep about this event until just now.

    Interesting how SumofUs suggest FCC Chair Tom Wheeler is aggressively anti-net neutrality, whilst BBC suggest (possibly due to lazy journalism by simply reprinting FCC press release) that Wheeler has saved the day by proposing net neutrality should win through.

    I'm glad you've brought this issue out into the light.

    1. Contd... Just skim read a few articles - it seems Wheeler has been persuaded to be pro net neutrality, so presumably this is in contrast to his historical position of being anti? There are numerous references to a "keynote speech" in Barcelona recently. Wheeler is said to have "hedged" his views on some aspects, but generally feels net neutrality is essential.

    2. I think its a conspiracy. If neutrality is voted for, you automatically assume that neutrality is what you had in the first place.

    3. As a curtain of censorship falls over the UK internet, this special investigation uncovers the deception and elite players behind the murky system of corporate web filters, which block far more than pornography.

      The UK’s sweeping internet censorship plans are ramping up, with the country’s main internet service providers (ISPs), who service 95% of UK households, rolling out ‘default’ web filters to meet the government’s call for an internet clampdown.

      State-sanctioned internet filtering on this scale, often condemned when carried out by authoritarian regimes, is unparalleled in “free” western countries and sets a dangerous precedent. The way this policy has been introduced, sold and now implemented has been misleading and deceptive all along. Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron led the public to believe this is all about blocking pornography to stop the “corruption of childhood”, but it’s apparent the well-worn “think of the children” argument was just Trojan horse propaganda to create a moral pretext for introducing extensive censorship infrastructure.

      While proponents point out people can still ask their ISPs to turn the filters off, the problem is the filters block more than people are led to believe and operate without transparency. They already target much more than pornography, and their reach will likely creep as time goes on. This is already happening. And who ultimately decides what these unaccountable, shadowy corporate web filters block is shrouded in mystery.

      There was a long, well-orchestrated campaign to put these filters in place. A moral panic about online pornography was carefully manufactured to pave the way years before this occurred. I hope to unravel how this happened, and who is involved. A look at the players and history leading up to the policy announcement reveals the influence of various elite powerbrokers in government, media, international business, and religious lobby groups.

      I am concerned that behind these machinations is a hidden agenda that could see swathes of alternative websites blacked-out in a so-called free country, and that “alternative thought” is bound to be targeted. I am also concerned that the UK may just be the beginning. At this juncture it is important to reflect on how this policy arose, and where it is headed, to understand the serious ramifications for Britain and potentially the world.

      So to get a full picture of what is going on here, let’s take a look at how this censorship system works, then we’ll examine the elite powerbrokers pushing these plans, and the far-reaching implications of their agenda.

      In July last year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron called for internet censorship in the UK under the guise of protecting children from accessing legal pornography (illegal child abuse material was already blocked). This happened after a moral panic about pornography had been running for some time, which I’ll explain further on.

      After the announcement, digital rights advocate Open Rights Group warned the filters would target multiple content categories in addition to pornography, including “esoteric material” and “web forums”. Many predicted the sweeping state-sanctioned web filters would wind up extending far beyond porn. And that’s exactly what happened. These are not merely “porn filters” despite being deceptively referred to as such.

      Now operational, the filters do indeed block a murky medley of content categories. Swathes of non-pornographic websites have already been caught in the dragnet, including charities and women’s rights websites. Those who warned over-blocking would happen – either by design or by accident – have been proven right. And since the filters have been announced, the government has suggested it will now seek to block “extremist websites” and “unsavoury content” without providing any clear explanation of how these terms will be applied. The Government’s use of vague and slippery catch-all terms have many concerned the filters will inevitably be used to suppress dissent.

    4. Unlike in countries like China, the UK has outsourced web censorship to the private sector, with the UK’s four main ISPs, Talk Talk, BT, Sky and Virgin all filtering their own networks.

      The UK Government pressured and coerced the ISPs to install the filters and now, publicly at least, it is standing back and letting the corporations iron out the details. Could this be a shrewd attempt to introduce an unprecedented level of censorship at arm’s length while avoiding liability or accountability for its implementation and overreach?

      There is a major lack of transparency in this setup. Astonishingly, there seems to be no legal oversight or clear regulatory framework for this massive outsourced censorship system. There is no clear and unified definition of blocked content categories or explanations as to why they warrant blocking, and no easy way to find out which sites are blocked or why. There is also no clear way to discover if your website is blocked by one or more of the ISPs (especially if you’re outside the UK), nor is there a single avenue of appeal if you’re even able to find out, because each ISP operates its own inscrutable filter. This leaves the public in the dark as to what is really happening – and perhaps that’s just how the government wants it.

      The opaque system is probably deliberate. Not only does it allow the Government to wash its hands and avoid being held accountable for the implementation of the creeping censorship it introduced, but it makes it possible for hidden players to influence things behind the scenes unseen, and for a range of content to be blocked without people even realising it. A system so unaccountable is ripe for misuse, abuse and overreach.

      The government has faced some hiccups however. Over-blocking concerns were highlighted after charity websites were blocked. In response the Government announced that it was covertly setting up a whitelist to protect the sites deemed off-limits from the filters. But just think of the implications of this. A backroom gathering of officials has now taken upon itself, behind closed doors, to unilaterally pick out the sites out of the millions on the World Wide Web that they think should not be censored by their filtering system, which they also instated through backroom meetings. Does this mean that any sites that don’t make it on the whitelist are fair game? And if the government has taken upon itself to setup a whitelist, has it also setup a blacklist? If so, how do you find out if you are on it?

    5. General examples of blocked content categories revealed by Open Rights Group, which is running a campaign against UK filtering

      Advocates are quick to point out people still have a choice and the filtering is not mandatory. The ISPs are pre-ticking their blocked content categories in the sign-up process for new customers. This means people can manually un-tick and “opt out” of any categories they don’t want blocked.

      But given that people tend to trust default settings given by their providers, could it be people are being nudged into selecting censorship by stealth? And if people don’t know how the filters really work and what they actually block, can they really make an informed choice?

      Proponents of the censorship also often completely ignore the rights of content creators in this system. People whose websites are arbitrarily blocked in the UK will have a hard time discovering it. What “active choice” do they have? How can private companies be given so much unaccountable power over what content is appropriate or not for the UK population?

      How did this happen? How did this extensive and insidious stealth censorship infrastructure get rolled out while people were hoodwinked into thinking it was all about saving children from porn?

      To understand how, let’s take a look at the way these plans unfolded and examine the elite powerbrokers linked to these developments, including those with connections to the Bilderberg Group.( Forthcoming on GR)
      General examples of blocked content categories revealed by Open Rights Group, which is running a campaign against UK filtering
      This article is part of a longer essay focusing on the role of the Bilderberg Group and the influence it has exerted in the formulation of the UK internet filtering project. GR will be publishing the second part of this essay.

    6. Pretty frightening stuff, and even more so the link given at the bottom of the above article.
      I personally think there us two threats to the internet. One is media led and can be seen as a source of vast revenue and wealth creation. The other political, and government need to quell any political or social views that don't express, or represent party doctrine.
      I think there can be no doubt that the might of media and the power of government will win the day, and leave us all with a 'learned' free speach that we will be both 'proud' to have and 'grateful' for.
      The internet is becoming Orwells 'telescreen', and pretty soon we'll all be called Winston Smith- regardless of what Ministry you're 'allocated' to.

    7. I am a cynic as much as the nexy guy but I cannot help wondering why, if there is a massive Government conspiracy to censor the net, why are articles informing everyone about that very conspiracy so readily accessible? A double bluff?

      Personally, when presented with the evidence that proves irrefutabley that Government ministries cannot organise a piss up in a brewery, cannot hold any of their contractors to account and cannot manage an IT system larger than a ipad, I struggle to believe that they can run to developing some international surveilance netweok capable of preventing me from slagging off Chris Grayling.

  4. Although it has 80,000 trainees in 36 cities, 18,000 graduate members and enormous power, Common Purpose is largely unknown to the general public.

    It recruits and trains "leaders" to be loyal to the directives of Common Purpose and the EU, instead of to their own departments, which they then undermine or subvert, the NHS being an example.

    Common Purpose is identifying leaders in all levels of our government to assume power when our nation is replaced by the European Union, in what they call “the post democratic society.” They are learning to rule without regard to democracy, and will bring the EU police state home to every one of us.

    Common Purpose is also the glue that enables fraud to be committed across these government departments to reward pro European local politicians. Corrupt deals are enabled that put property or cash into their pockets by embezzling public assets.

    It has members in the NHS, BBC, the police, the legal profession, the church, many of Britain’s 7,000 quangos, local councils, the Civil Service, government ministries, Parliament, and it controls many RDA's (Regional Development Agencies).

    Cressida Dick is the Common Purpose senior police officer who authorised the "Shoot to kill" policy without reference to Parliament, the law or the British Constitution. Jean de Menezes was one of the innocents who died as a result. Her shoot to kill policy still stands today.

    Common Purpose trained Janet Paraskeva, the Law Society's Chief Executive Officer. Surprising numbers of lawyers are CP members. It is no coincidence that justice is more expensive, more flawed and more corrupt. And no surprise the courts refused to uphold the law, when a challenge was made to the signing of the six EU treaties, which illegally abolish Britain's sovereignty.

    Common Purpose is backed by John Prescott's "Office of the Deputy Prime Minister" (ODPM), and its notional Chief Executive is Julia Middleton. The Head of the Civil Service Commission is a member

    1. I have seen some of the people on that list and the idea that they are part of a conspiracy to take over the world is laughable. The people I know who are on there are capable of tying their own showlaces but international coups are a little out of their league.

    2. To steal the words of would say that wouldn't you ..

    3. Yes but I am not in Common Porpoise so can be trusted ;)

    4. Grayling will be Emporer, it won't be long now.

    5. If you've got a minute or 2, google 'common purpose graduates' there were half a dozen in LRPT as was, all in senior positions. Like someone alludes to above, not exactly mental heavyweights though. Tony

    6. Just the mention of Tahrir square above begs the question; has anyone ever known a case of an aircraft crashing because of someone on the ground shining a laser pen?. The Egyptian Army Helicopter pilots didn't seem remotely troubled by the crowds shining thousands at them every night during the uprising!.

    7. Intelligent people are more difficult to control, why would they want other than the susceptible and self centered.. hence the recruitment strategy of MOJ and P Trusts from the 90's onwards

  5. Off topic, but relative to free speech.
    How can Grayling even consider selling MoJ contracts to the Saudis?
    He should be disciplined fkr even thinking about it!

    1. From The Economist 2014 (I love this free-flowing blog):

      "AS HEREDITARY rulers know all too well, monarchies make for juicier gossip than republics. And the more powerful, rich or secretive a royal family, the more tongues will wag. Such is the case with the Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Not only is the family prickly about privacy and immensely wealthy. They enjoy enviably absolute rule.

      The Al Sauds also happen to field an unwieldy number of princes and princess; as many as 15,000 living highnesses and royal highnesses are spread across six branches of a family tree whose roots reach back to the 18th century. Not surprisingly, some of them turn out to be black sheep. For all the efforts of sober family elders, teams of lawyers and PR firms, scandal erupts from time to time.

      Yet rarely have sordid tales touched the highest echelons of the family. So it is that Saudis have reacted warily to allegations, first revealed in France last October and lately amplified in the British press, implicating King Abdullah himself in misbehavior. According to the televised testimony of princess Anoud al Fayez, one of the 89-year-old-monarch’s 20-odd ex-wives, the couple’s four daughters have spent the past 13 years locked under virtual house arrest in the royal palace compound in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second city.

      Their mother, who was divorced from the then-crown-prince in the 1980s and left Saudi Arabia in 2003, claims that the royal princesses, now in their 30s and 40s (and pictured above as young children, with their father), were placed under the control of three half-brothers as punishment for racy lifestyles and sharp criticism of the family. King Abdullah, who is thought to have sired at least 35 children, is widely revered as a gruff but jovial patriarch. Others among his daughters have pursued successful careers and quietly championed women’s rights. Why four of their half-sisters have apparently been deprived of basic freedoms remains to be explained.

      The story is the latest in a long line of exotic tales from the royal court. Often the troubles have been political. Last year, for instance, a minor prince from a "cadet" branch (ie not remotely in line for the throne) declared his defection from the family, citing repressive laws and corruption in the kingdom. One of his distant cousins, Princess Basma bint Saud, the 115th and youngest child of modern Saudi Arabia’s second king, has also gone public with criticism of the way her country is run. Princess Sara bint Talal, another cousin and a niece of the reigning monarch, King Abdullah, applied for political asylum in Britain in 2012. Her father was himself briefly exiled from the kingdom in the 1960s, along with half a dozen other liberal princes, after calling for a constitutional monarchy.

      The gossip is sometimes of a darker kind. Better-known affairs include the mysterious death of one royal prince in Miami in 1959 (following a rumoured sex-change operation), the assassination of King Faisal in 1975 by his own nephew, and the notorious "Death of a Princess" incident in 1977, when a young royal and her commoner lover were beheaded for adultery following a hasty trial. In 2010, London tabloids revelled in the murder of a Saudi servant by his master and apparent lover, a junior prince. More quietly, Saudi newspapers in December announced that another unnamed prince would be executed, following the rejection of an offer of blood money from the family of a man he had killed.

      Compared with these scandals, the latest allegations are tame. But that is unlikely to put an end to speculation about the fate of the four princesses."

    2. And this recently from Human Rights Watch:

      "Despite Saudi Arabia’s dark human rights record, the death of King Abdullah drew immediate responses from foreign leaders who lauded him as a reformer and supporter of peaceful dialogue and humanitarian causes across the globe. President Barack Obama praised him as a leader who was “always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” while Secretary of State John Kerry called him “a man of wisdom and vision.” British Prime Minister David Cameron applauded him for his “commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”

      Indeed, King Abdullah deserves credit for changing the tone of Saudi Arabia’s hardline monarchy toward its citizens and the outside world. Early in Abdullah’s reign, the expansion of space for Saudi media and spread of internet and social media empowered Saudi citizens to speak openly about controversial social and political issues, creating a broader social awareness of Saudi Arabia’s human rights shortcomings.

      After the Arab uprisings began in 2011, however, this brief window slammed shut, and Saudi authorities sought to root out all domestic criticism.

      Abdullah’s ascension to power in 2005 ignited the prospects for advancements, including the modernization of Saudi Arabia’s state apparatus, public re-evaluation of the enforced subservient status of women and religious minorities, greater debate in the media, and promotion of some degree of judicial fairness.

      Perhaps Abdullah’s greatest achievement was creating momentum for women’s rights reforms through promotion of higher education opportunities for women, including scholarships to study abroad, facilitating the entry of women into the workforce, and announcing that women will be able to run and participate in municipal elections later in 2015. In a symbolically important step, in 2013 he appointed 30 women to Saudi Arabia’s Shura council, an advisory body that makes recommendations to the cabinet.

      These reforms, however, did not address the key underlying issues entrenching discrimination against women, such as the male guardianship system, under which ministerial policies and practices forbid women from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. Despite Abdullah’s rhetorical support in 2005 for the idea of women driving, at his death they remain forbidden from getting behind the wheel, and authorities arrested women who dared challenge the driving ban...

      ... Under Abdullah’s watch, authorities rounded up scores of peaceful dissidents and human rights activists who dared to criticize the government, subjecting them to unfair trials before Saudi Arabia’s terrorism court on vague charges such as “sowing discord” and “breaking allegiance with the ruler.” Some have received unthinkably harsh punishments, including the human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for peacefully criticizing the government’s human rights record in newspaper interviews and on Twitter. Another is Fadhil al-Manasif, who is serving a 14-year sentence largely for helping journalists cover 2011 protests by Saudi Shia citizens. Others, including reformists Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, are serving 10 and 11 year sentences on similar charges.

      Perhaps the most dramatic case of repression involves the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, whom security officers publicly flogged on January 9 as part of a judicial sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a liberal website and allegedly insulting religious authorities.

      For King Salman to improve on Abdullah’s legacy, he needs to reverse course and permit Saudi citizens to peacefully express themselves, reform the justice system, and speed up reforms on women’s rights and treatment of migrant workers."

      Adam Coogle is a Middle East and North Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch.

  6. Is anything happening in Probation these days? Or have the most of you gone and hidden back under your rocks with your heads in the sand?

  7. to Anon 01:14
    "C: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'E's dead, that's what's wrong with it!
    O: No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.
    C: Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now
    O: No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!
    C: The plumage don't enter into it. It's stone dead.
    O: Nononono, no, no! 'E's resting!
    C: All right then, if he's restin', I'll wake him up!"
    Well, you get the picture.......