November 18, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Chaos Theory

CENTRAL ASIA

The former Soviet republics of Central Asia are following in the footsteps of Russia in exerting control over social media. Users of Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and other apps know that officials sometimes throttle the services in order to silence debates about the future of their countries.

And in the latest front to open against the tech giants and their users, Kazakh legislators are proposing a law compelling social media companies to open offices in the country or else face restrictions, reported Nikkei Asia. Kyrgyzstan has already enacted a law that requires internet service providers and website owners to list their users. The measure aims to curb misinformation. Critics say these proposals stifle free speech.

The internet in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is “not free,” according to pro-democracy think tank Freedom House. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are unranked but have used internet blackouts to suppress activism and government criticism. Kyrgyzstan’s internet is considered “partly free.”

These policies are part of a digital-repression playbook developed in Russia.

“The rules of the game are largely set by Moscow,” political analyst Arkady Dubnov, a Central Asia expert, told the Washington Post. “The goals are also common: to prevent the existing vertical of power from being shaken, which, as the Russian leadership believes, can be achieved mainly among young people through the extremely popular social networks and messengers.”

Russia, for example, forces telecommunications companies to allow “government-approved technicians” to install surveillance devices on their systems and services, the New York Times reported. Russian authorities slowed Twitter to a crawl this past spring and have blocked users from accessing websites associated with Alexei Navalny, a critic of President Vladimir Putin who is now in jail for violating probation for money laundering charges that he says are bogus.

American companies like Apple and Google have not stood up to the Russian government, either, argued an Al Jazeera op-ed.

Kyrgyzstan-based journalist and educator Inga Sikorskaya told the Institute of War & Peace Reporting that the crackdown in Central Asia is ironic because it comes as more people depend on the internet for communicating and entertainment during the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, she said, they don’t want to give up their freedom of digital expression.

In Uzbekistan, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has sought to reduce limitations on media freedom, resulting in new media outlets and blogs appearing, wrote Euronews. But he has not allowed any opposition press to flourish as he lays a foundation for one day assuming power, noted Agence France-Presse.

However, as some analysts note, once people have tasted free speech, it’s difficult to take it away, especially when the unstructured nature of the internet works against restrictions – and those who impose them.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Cold Winter

GERMANY

Germany’s energy regulator suspended the approval process of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring Russian natural gas to the country, a move that received praise from Ukraine but raised fears amid rising gas prices in Europe, the BBC reported.

The regulator said that the pipeline’s operating company must comply with German law before being certified, citing an ownership technicality. But because of the time needed to resolve the matter, the pipeline will not be able to deliver gas to the country “before the end of the winter,” according to the Associated Press.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was finished in September but hasn’t become operational yet. The ambitious project – which cost more than $11 billion – will double Russian gas exports to Germany even as it circumvents Ukraine, which relies on transit fees from existing pipelines for revenue.

However, critics – including the United States, Ukraine and many Germans – said the pipeline will increase Europe’s reliance on Russia for gas.

Ukraine has called the 760-mile pipeline a “dangerous geopolitical weapon.” Meanwhile, Polish gas company PGNiG responded to the move by calling for energy solidarity in the European Union.

The decision comes as gas prices are surging across Europe, which imports much of its natural gas from Russia.

Oops

NIGERIA

A government panel found that Nigerian security forces shot and killed 11 unarmed, peaceful protesters during a demonstration in Lagos’ suburbs last year, saying that the act “equated to a ‘massacre,’” the New York Times reported.

In a report leaked this week, the panel said that the army also wounded protesters, adding that four people disappeared and are now “presumed dead,” following the shooting at a tollgate in Lekki on Oct. 20, 2020.

The Lekki demonstrations were one of the many rallies against police brutality that gripped Nigeria last year. Many of the demonstrators focused their anger on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police unit that has been accused of corruption and brutality. The protests went viral in the #EndSARS movement.

Following the shooting, the government formed a panel to investigate the violence.

The Nigerian army maintained that it fired blanks to disperse protesters and “strictly followed” rules of engagement. But the panel said there was evidence that soldiers “actually shot blank and live bullets” at demonstrators “with the deliberate intention to assault, maim, and kill.”

It also noted that soldiers ordered ambulances that arrived at the scene to turn back.

On the anniversary of the event last month, the Nigerian government requested an apology from Amnesty International, CNN, and Nigerian songwriter DJ Switch “for misleading the world.” DJ Switch had live-streamed the demonstration on social media.

Problem Child

HUNGARY

The European Court of Justice ruled this week that Hungarian law aimed at criminalizing support for asylum seekers and limiting their right to asylum violated European Union rules, a verdict that marks another victory for the bloc against rebellious members, Politico reported.

The case is related to the 2018 “Stop Soros” law, which is named after liberal American-Hungarian businessman and philanthropist George Soros, a frequent target of the Hungarian government.

The government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party imposed the law to prevent people from applying for asylum in Hungary if they came from a country where their life and freedom were not at risk. The contentious legislation also outlawed individuals or organizations that tried to help illegal migrants claim asylum.

The court said the bill failed to fulfill its obligations” under EU law”: It noted that Hungary could not deny asylum applications based on its own criteria since the bloc already had an “exhaustive list” of reasons to reject such applications. The judges added that Hungary couldn’t criminalize assistance for asylum seekers because the move would restrict EU-enshrined rights of individuals to communicate with asylum seekers and for migrants to seek legal counsel.

The court’s decision comes amid an ongoing dispute between the bloc and Hungary over a variety of issues, including judicial independence, media freedom and LGBTQ+ rights.

Following the verdict, Hungary said it would acknowledge the ruling but would keep its tough stance on immigration.

DISCOVERIES

Coral and Legos

Singapore is home to almost a third of the world’s diversity of coral species but decades of land reclamation and pollution have caused the reefs to decline.

Now, scientists at the National University of Singapore are trying to reverse depleting coral levels using Lego blocks, the BBC reported.

Researcher Jani Tanzil and her colleagues said that their method is possibly the first use of Lego for reef restoration: For their process, the research team first takes loose bits of coral from the reefs and then breaks them up. They then attach the broken parts to Lego blocks, which later grow into larger colonies in underwater “vertical farms.”

Tanzil explained that they chose the toy blocks because of their practicality.

“It was modular, it was scalable,” she noted. “So if we wanted to work with larger pieces of coral we just need to stick on more Lego or more building blocks.”

She added that this method of vertical farming also saves space.

“So it’s a bit like Singapore where we don’t have enough space, we all have to live in high-rise apartment blocks,” she remarked.

At the moment, the Lego corals are only used for research purposes but scientists hope to transplant them back to their natural habitat in the future.

Coral reefs are integral to protecting the world’s coastlines and house thousands of marine life species that are a vital part of underwater ecosystems.

A Note to our Subscribers on COVID-19 Global Update

We’ve been preparing our COVID Update each weekday since March 19 at the very beginning of the pandemic when China was the country with the most coronavirus cases – 81,000. The US was No. 8 on our top 10 list with 3,774 cases. It’s been beyond astounding to see the explosion of the virus across the entire planet and to see the changes in the roster of most impacted countries. COVID is not yet defeated, and it may never entirely be, yet the Update in its current form may no longer serve a useful purpose. Before we end it, we’re asking our readers to let us know what they think. Please share your thoughts via email to [email protected]

Thank you, DailyChatter Staff 

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 255,054,826

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,125,033

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,565,309,378

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 47,420,139 (+0.23%)
  2. India: 34,478,517 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 21,977,661 (+0.05%)
  4. UK: 9,725,331 (+0.40%)
  5. Russia: 9,027,163 (+0.39%)
  6. Turkey: 8,482,956 (+0.28%)
  7. France: 7,433,545 (+0.27%)
  8. Iran: 6,057,893 (+0.10%)
  9. Argentina: 5,310,334 (+0.03%)
  10. Germany: 5,213,197 (+1.33%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours