From Rio to Catalonia, people are capturing human rights abuses and life-changing events, and they’re doing it with their cell phones.  Our Last Month In Video series covers video news each month, highlighting the impact of video to shift narratives or document human rights abuse. We will also help you stay up to date with security and technology news that relates to video.

If you have a tip for a story, we want to hear from you! Please feel free to reach out to us at feedback@witness.org.  In the meantime, check out January’s post. There were many developments stemming from late 2017 and we will continue to provide coverage on the impact of these events.

January 2018 in human rights video:

  • January 11: Facebook announces algorithm change
  • January 11: NYC council members among those arrested at rally for detained immigration activist Ravi Ragbir of New Sanctuary Coalition
  • January 15: Residents of Rio de Janeiro favela used mobile phones to capture footage of an armored police helicopter opening fire at random
  • January 27: Community activists transmit live commentary on the inauguration day of contested Honduran President
  • January 30: Deposed Catalan President Skyped in from Brussels to address his constituency regarding a parliamentary vote

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January 11: Facebook announces algorithm change 

The WITNESS Take: Facebook’s announcement came close to a month after admitting that passive social media use may be an unhealthy practice. While this may be guided at increasing meaningful personal interaction and decreasing exposure to ads, we cannot ignore the fact that, from the Arab Spring to the 2017 Women’s March, online spaces such as Facebook have become public spaces where nonprofits and coalitions share videos and engage with people seeking to spark social change—and despite the security concerns regarding activist use of platforms like Facebook, it continues to dominate political and organizing exchanges. Facebook had already tried a similar tactic in select countries before, resulting in massive drops in engagement for business accounts, but we have yet to see what the true ramifications of January’s algorithm change may be for social organizing. WITNESS will continue to monitor these changes in collaboration with other organizations; in the meantime, to continue viewing WITNESS and other public accounts, be sure to click on “see first” in the follow options.

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January 11: NYC council members among those arrested at rally for detained immigration activist Ravi Ragbir of New Sanctuary Coalition

The WITNESS Take: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officials continue to spread fear in immigrant communities and undermine the legal system by arresting people at their scheduled check ins, in restaurants, courthouses, and schools; Ravi’s detainment was no different. Despite being married to a U.S. citizen and actively challenging a non-violent conviction from 20 years ago, ICE marked Ravi as an “aggravated felon”, moving quickly to attempt to deport him. While a U.S. district judge has since ordered ICE to free Ravi, citing that his detention by ICE was “unnecessarily cruel”, Ravi’s release does not change the reality for thousands of other immigrants facing targeted surveillance and detainment. Filming encounters with ICE is one way that immigrants and their allies can help counter ICE’s cruel tactics, but we urge anyone thinking of filming to take precautions. The footage from these counters can expose human rights abuses, deter violence, substantiate reports and serve as evidence. But if the footage isn’t captured safely and ethically, it can put people filming as well as immigrant families at risk. Learn more and stay safe with our checklist for filming ICE encounters.

 

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January 14: Residents of Rio de Janeiro favela used mobile phones to capture footage of an armored police helicopter opening fire at random

The WITNESS Take: Favela residents in Brazil continue to face illegal and barbaric military police actions—in Rio’s Complexo do Alemão community last year, the military police took over rooftops of residents’ homes to create makeshift bases of operation. It is precisely the video footage and documentation of eyewitnesses and residents that helped the community, in conjunction with public defenders and organizations such as Coletivo Papo Reto, successfully launch a campaign to hold police accountable; this campaign led to a pivotal decision to indict two high-ranking commanders of the military police on charges of illegal home invasions. Mobile phone footage like the video below from Jacarezinho favela, also in Rio, serve to counteract the dominant police-led narrative, and can continue to help hold perpetrators of illegal actions accountable. If you are filming, be sure to stay safe and film effectively by following these tips

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January 27: Community activists transmit live commentary on the inauguration day of contested Honduran President

The WITNESS Take: We promote the safe, ethical and effective use of video for human rights. Sometimes, that means putting the camera down. Amidst the brutal threats to land defenders, indigenous groups, and political opposition, the highly-contested November 2017 presidential election and a general strike, Honduras remains one of the most hostile countries to activists, journalists, and human rights defenders. Voces de Mesoamerica—an independent collective of media activists—teamed up to produce a live audio stream providing contextual background on the election and reporting in solidarity with the massive protests taking place during President Juan Orlando Hernández’s inauguration. By transmitting from Mexico via internet audio and retransmit from local radio stations in Honduras, Mexico and Chile, the group was not only able to broadcast safely but also reach and hear from thousands of people in at-risk communities across Latin America who do not have high bandwidth internet access. Read more here on how WITNESS joined the Voces de Mesoamerica Caravan to train Latin American activists on how to stay safe and protect human rights using video.

 

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January 30: Deposed Catalan President Skyped in from Brussels to address his constituency regarding a  parliamentary vote.

The WITNESS Take: With Carles Puigdemont and his government in (digital) exile or prison, and the independence movement scrambling for clear leadership, the Spanish government stepped up surveillance in order to prevent Mr. Puigdemont from secretly entering the country, and has announced an investigation of sedition into the Catalan regional force for providing protection to referendum organizers.  This is in addition to the devastating orders in late 2017 demanding that internet service providers (ISPs) filter websites hosting referendum and voting content, that web domain registries both turn over information on its customers and  take down sites that help people vote, and that even a Google voting app to be taken down. We believe that a free and open internet is pivotal to a functioning democracy—especially in moments when at-risk communities are looking to make their voices heard. But as we have also seen, in today’s age the curtailing of rights in digital spaces is often a first step to curtailing rights in physical spaces as well; another key precedent set in Catalonia in light of the referendum was the number of shared eyewitness videos depicting state-sanctioned violence against protesters. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and grassroots organizers alike have denounced the unprecedented digital repression of Catalan residents and political dissidents, and WITNESS stands in solidarity with those who seek to protect internet freedom across the globe.

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