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[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

Hop over to Technorati right now and you’ll see that six out of the top fifteen videos being linked to by bloggers show the same incident – University of California police officers using a taser gun on an Iranian-American student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, in the Powell Library at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Here’s one of those videos, from UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, which explains the story (which contains some graphic imagery and abusive language):

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4_s4Un0TkI]

For more background and reaction, take a look at Iranian group blog Iranian Truth‘s coverage of this story. There may be more coverage in the Persian-language blogosphere – Los Angeles has such a significant Iranian population that it’s sometime humorously called Tehrangeles

The UCLA incident is one of three videos of different incidents showing police in Los Angeles appearing to use excessive force when arresting suspects. All three videos were shot by ordinary citizens. The first video of the three emerged on YouTube, and showed an LAPD officer punching a handcuffed suspect repeatedly in the face after a foot chase. The second video, which has not appeared online yet, but was shown as evidence to the L.A. Times by the victim’s lawyer on Monday 13th November, involved a homeless, handcuffed suspect being doused in pepper spray by the arresting officer. The officer has since been cleared of wrongdoing, citing the officer’s restraint in the face of the victim’s “belligerent, threatening and combative behavior”.

Emily at PicturePhoning.com provides links to other incidents involving police captured on video by citizens both in the USA and elsewhere. This seems to testify to a trend that can only grow as more and more people get access to videophones. Some groups are encouraging citizens to use their phones and cameras to record abuses by the police and to upload the clips to video-sharing sites. Sherman Austin, a founder of Cop Watch L.A., a police watchdog website, told a Yahoo! reporter that:

We urge everyone to have a camera on them at all times so if anything happens it can be documented. The concept of patrolling the police is something we are trying to push as a form of direct action.

Do you think this could be an effective form of scrutiny of the police?

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[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

This video reached me late last night via Ethan Zuckerman. At nearly ten minutes, it’s longer than the other videos we’ve put up, but I strongly recommend you watch this.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI1l7jmabBA]

It includes footage of the Zimbabwean police and security intelligence services breaking up a peaceful demonstration by members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions (ZCTU) on September 13th. The police repeatedly beat the demonstrators, who are calling for the provision of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for the treatment of HIV, a minimum wage, and stabilisation in the prices of certain basic commodities. The bulk of the video involves interviews with the ZCTU members describing the events of the day, and the actions of the police. Ethan and Rachel Rawlins have kindly provided a transcript.

When news of the beatings originally leaked out, trades unions in other countries strongly condemned Robert Mugabe’s hardline approach with legitimate and peaceful demonstrations. Last week a court dismissed the police report on the incident, and postponed the trial of the ZCTU protestors until October 17th, to give the Criminal Investigation Department time to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations of police torture. When footage of the protests was smuggled out of Zimbabwe on DVD to South Africa this week, it prompted the head of one of South Africa’s labour unions to say that she would give President Thabo Mbeki a copy of the DVD of the beatings in a meeting with him on Friday.

More as and when it emerges…

[Originally published here as part of WITNESS‘s collaboration with Global Voices Online]

The latest twist in the long-running saga of anti-gay violence and state oppression took place yesterday in Moscow, as an appeals court upheld the earlier lower court ruling to ban Moscow’s Gay Pride March in May 2006. The gay rights activists who brought the case will now attempt to challenge the rulling in the European Court of Human Rights, and they say they expect to win.

As GVO’s Eastern and Central Europe Editor Veronica Khokhlova reported in May 2006, Moscow’s Mayor, Yuri Luzhov, banned the Moscow Gay Pride march from taking place. The religious leaders of Moscow met – on the one issue they could agree – to back his decision and called for violence against anyone who tried to marcha call that was unfortunately heeded. The video below – apparently uploaded to YouTube from a Russian anarchist site – doesn’t directly show the violence that took place, but does give a very immediate sense of the atmosphere in Moscow that day, and of who was involved:

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXHzoONni-k]

Just as sites like YouTube can be used as a dissemination tool for less savoury content, they can also be used as a tool for solidarity and support, and potentially as evidence. In the case of anti-gay violence, users have tried to upload their own footage (as with the videos in this post), and, where first-hand footage is not available, they have uploaded clips from their local TV news (here’s a clip from Serbian TV’s coverage of the 2001 Gay Pride in Belgrade).

And that solidarity and support may well be needed. Human Rights First, a US-based organisation, released a report earlier this year citing an increase both in rhetoric and in hate-crimes of a homophobic or racist nature in Russia (PDF) over the past year. But it’s not just Russia where this is a trend. Since the accession of 8 Eastern European countries to the EU in May 2004, the spotlight has come to rest increasingly on the rise in official, or state, homophobia across Eastern Europe.

The most high-profile manifestation of this is how governments handle Gay Pride marches – which are now held all over the world – in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT organisations march to commemorate LGBT rights, and to celebrate LGBT pride.

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