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Friday, September 27, 2013

Russian News Sites Protest Detention of Journalists With Greenpeace Activists

A Russian court on Thursday ordered that 22 members of the Greenpeace team that protested Arctic drilling by trying to scale a state-run oil rig may spend up to two months in detention in a Murmansk jail, while investigators decide whether to charge them with committing an act of piracy.

Among the activists were two journalists: Kieron Bryan, a British videographer who formerly worked for The Times of London, and Denis Sinyakov, a well-known Moscow-based freelance photographer, whom their colleagues and international organizations say have been jailed for merely doing their jobs. Mr. Sinyakov is a former Reuters photojournalist who has been granted behind-the-scenes access by protest groups including Pussy Riot and Femen.

Reporters Without Borders called on the Russian government to release both photojournalists. And more than a dozen independent Russian media sites responded to the detention of Mr. Sinyakov with a literal blackout: covering all the images on their sites with black squares on Friday as a sign of protest.

The protest included Russia’s most popular radio station, Ekho Moskvy; popular magazines, including one of the country’s top photography weeklies; an Internet television station; the independent newspaper that published Anna Politkovskaya’s writings; and several of Russia’s most popular Internet sites.

For a short time even NTV, a conservative, pro-Kremlin television station that has shown vitriolic documentaries against Russian opposition leaders, joined the protest, to the surprise of many.

Critics have contended that the Russian government overreacted to the protest last week. Many pointed at video recorded by the Russian Coast Guard that showed two of the activists dangling precariously from the oil platform as pressurized water slammed against them from above and law enforcement members tugged on them from below.

Video of the Greenpeace action released by the Russian Coast Guard.

“I’m coming down! I’m coming down!” one of the activists, Sini Saarela from Finland, could be heard yelling above the roar of the waves in the video.

Ms. Saarela was one of eight members of the 30-person crew who still has not been formally arrested by a Russian court, though she remains in police custody.

The police opened an investigation into the protest on Tuesday, and a spokesman for the powerful state Investigative Committee said that all of the participants in the protest, regardless of nationality, would be investigated for what he called an “encroachment on the sovereignty” of Russia.

Mr. Sinyakov, pictured handcuffed in a cage for criminal defendants, argued that he had not participated in the demonstration or broken the law, according to Yulia Bragina of Sky News.

A judge decided that Mr. Sinyakov posed a flight risk, as he traveled regularly and did not have a place of residence in Murmansk. Mr. Sinyakov replied that he is an internationally published photographer with a wife and a child in Moscow. He offered to travel to Murmansk for the hearings. He also pointed out that his passport and equipment had been seized.

“My weapon is a camera,” he added. “I did not poke a hole in the boats, on the contrary, Greenpeace’s boats were punctured. I cannot answer for the actions of the captain of the icebreaker.”

Some journalists covering the hearing were struck by the sentence, the first of 30 decisions concerning the activists that were handed down. Some had traveled on the Greenpeace boat last year, when it carried out a similar demonstration at the same oil rig.

Other photographers began holding individual pickets outside the main office of the Investigative Committee, the only form of public protests that can be held in Russia without prior sanction. Among them was Mr. Sinyakov’s wife, Alina Zhiganova.

Ilya Varlamov, a photographer who is friends with Mr. Sinyakov and has one of Russia’s most popular photoblogs, said that photographers were usually released quickly by police when they were detained at protests.

“It seems like Denis just ended up in a dangerous spot; nobody was trying to figure out who was a journalist, who wasn’t,” Mr. Varlamov said by telephone. “This is the first time I remember something like this happening in Russia. Sure, there have been detentions of journalists, but they’d always release them.”

Mr. Varlamov said that Mr. Sinyakov had taken his place aboard the Arctic Sunrise at the last minute.

“The trip that he went on, that was supposed to be me,” Mr. Varlamov said. “Denis couldn’t go, he asked me if I could go and shoot. It didn’t work out for me, so Denis went, and this is what happened. It was probably supposed to be me in his place.”

Follow Andrew Roth on Twitter @ARothNYT.

Details of Conversation With Obama Deleted From Twitter Account in Rouhani’s Name

According to Robert Windrem of NBC News, an Iranian who witnessed Friday’s historic conversation between the presidents of the United States and Iran “was giddy” describing it a short time later.

Excitement about the diplomatic breakthrough among President Hassan Rouhani’s aides â€" perhaps followed by second thoughts about diplomatic etiquette or how it might play back home â€" could also explain why a rapid-fire series of updates divulging details of the conversation were posted on the @HassanRouhani Twitter account and then deleted a short time later.

A screenshot of an update to a Twitter account maintained in the name of Iran's president that was posted and then deleted on Friday afternoon. A screenshot of an update to a Twitter account maintained in the name of Iran’s president that was posted and then deleted on Friday afternoon.

Luckily for posterity, before those updates were removed, and replaced with more sober messages, several followers retweeted them and Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed captured part of the stream in a screenshot.

Before seven updates to a Twitter account run in the name of Iran's president were deleted Friday afternoon, a Buzzfeed journalist captured them in a screenshot. Before seven updates to a Twitter account run in the name of Iran’s president were deleted Friday afternoon, a Buzzfeed journalist captured them in a screenshot.

Another of the deleted updates, captured by The Lede, described the two presidents wishing each other farewell in their own languages. Mr. Rouhani offering the American blessing, “Have a nice day!” and Mr. Obama responding with the Persian word for goodbye, “Khodahafez” â€"literally, “May God protect you.”

While the brief updates that later replaced those initial messages were generally dry, a hint of the excitement inside the Iranian delegation did seem to infuse one tweet remaining in the @HassanRouhani feed, a photograph of a beaming Mr. Rouhani on board the plane that would take him back home.

The photograph, shot by someone standing directly in front of Mr. Rouhani and quickly posted online, also seemed to confirm that the account, which the Iranian president has not directly acknowledged as his own, is at least run by someone very close to him.

That echoes what the Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd reported earlier this month, after he helped set up an NBC News interview with Mr. Rouhani in Tehran.

As my colleague Thomas Erdbrink reports from Tehran, the flurry of activity on the social network following the phone call ended with the Iranian president’s account retweeting a message from the State Department. That update from Washington hailed the presidential-level dialogue and the meeting on Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Rouhani’s Twitter-fluent foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

A screenshot taken Friday evening of the @HassanRouhani Twitter account maintained in the name of Iran's president. A screenshot taken Friday evening of the @HassanRouhani Twitter account maintained in the name of Iran’s president.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Pakistan, Citing Religious and Social Values, Bans L.G.B.T. Web Site

The Queer Pakistan Web site was meant to be a virtual refuge for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in a religiously conservative country where homosexuality is illegal.

But this week the Web site, queerpk.com, said it was shut down by the Pakistani authorities, who reportedly said that the content was against Islam and the values of Pakistani society. The administrators of the Web site responded by taking measures to work around the ban, which they said drove up traffic to the site after they redirected it.

Since it was founded in July, Queer Pakistan has served as an online portal where gays, bisexuals, transgender individuals and lesbians could meet and get advice. A series of messages on the site’s online support group suggests both the risks and confusion of users reaching out for support, some of them anonymously, using only initials or apparently using pseudonyms.

“I am new to this group and I am a lost soul,” said one person who wrote in seeking advice from “professionals that can help me with my confusion.” Another person wrote asking for “treatment.” There were also questions about health issues, or whether there were lesbians in Lahore and Karachi.

The site featured an online television section of gay short films with subtitles in Urdu. But it also tracked homophobia in the media and in other public forums in Pakistan, like the remarks by a Pakistani television figure who said transgender people should be killed.

The banning of the Queer Pakistan Web site has renewed attention on Pakistan’s gay and lesbian citizens, just as its establishment in July did. Even though homosexuality is outlawed in Pakistan and is considered repugnant to the tenets of Islam, it is privately tolerated in some sections of society, and the law is rarely brought to bear against people for homosexual behavior.

In August, a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation, which Queer Pakistan linked to on its Facebook account, quoted Pakistani gays and lesbians describing what they must do to live in their society, including taking part in invitation-only online support groups and arranging marriages of convenience with members of the opposite gender. It quoted a researcher, Qasim Iqbal, as saying:

Gay men will make every effort to stop any investment in a same-sex relationship because they know that one day they will have to get married to a woman. After getting married they will treat their wives well but they will continue to have sex with other men.

A lesbian named Beena, in Lahore, said she and her partner were considering arranging a marriage with two gay men, and pooling their money to share a two-family house. She was quoted as saying:

Gay rights in America came after women had basic rights. You don’t see that in Pakistan. You are not allowed a difference of opinion here. My father is a gentleman but I wouldn’t put it past him to put a bullet through my head. I’m all for being ‘true to myself’ but I don’t want to die young.

While homosexuals in Pakistan already use dating Web sites and other forms of Internet communication, the Queer Pakistan site apparently distinguished itself by being a rare forum that openly addressed homosexual issues in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokesman was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that the authorities had halted access to the site after complaints from Internet users. “We blocked the Web site under the law because its content was against Islam and norms of Pakistani society,” said the spokesman, Kamran Ali, according to the news service.

On Friday, Queer Pakistan said on its Twitter feed @queerpk that the ban had driven up interest in the redirected site.

While the site was still accessible outside Pakistan, the BBC journalist Iram Abbasi said in a report about the ban that the site displayed a message saying that because of forbidden content, access inside Pakistan had been denied.

This week the head of the BBC’s Urdu service in London, Aamer Ahmed Khan, drew attention to the ban on his Twitter account, @AakO, and to the report in Urdu by Ms. Abbasi.

Last month the site published a blog post with the headline “The Coming Out for a Pakistani” to address the difficulties.

For a regular Pakistani youngster the internet is the major source of all kinds of knowledge and happenings around the world. Same goes when a young gay Pakistani approaches the internet with his major life problem about being a homosexual. As the internet is dominated by content from western countries almost all the websites about being gay encourage you to ‘come out of the closet’ and tell the whole world you are gay and be yourself. This is great advice but only if you are living in a free country where laws and legislation are strict and there aren’t any religious fanatics going around running their own rule.

In Pakistan things are different. We are not going to be appreciated even by the most educated people if we be who we are in public. Moreover we also run a great risk of being harmed. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl. The risk is almost the same.

The site also linked to an article carried by SAPA, the South African press agency, and the German Press Agency, profiling the site and quoting one of its founders, who was partly identified as Fakhir Q. The agency reported:

“The main motivation is our own life stories,” said Fakhir Q, one of the people behind the pioneering Queer Pakistan website. “We have been through a lot and we know how it is growing up in a society like Pakistan with practically no support whatsoever.”

“So we want to provide a platform for people like us to show them they are not alone,” Fakhir said, giving only his first name.

He said the response to Queer Pakistan has been “remarkable,” with interest from all parts of Pakistani society.

The membership is from both the genders, with some 44 percent identifying themselves as female and 56 as males.

“It’s pretty diverse, goes from lower-middle to elite-protected class. The age group is 19-35,” Fakhir added.

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has previously tried to shut down chat rooms in a move it sees as protecting moral values, according to reports in the Pakistani press this month.

Late last year it also tried to block access to YouTube to prevent people from seeing the film “Innocence of Muslims,” a low-budget film mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.