Snapchat blocks Al Jazeera on its app in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has requested Snapchat to block access to Al Jazeera’s content within its country. Al Jazeera’s news articles and videos now cannot be viewed on the app’s Discover feature.

Saudi Arabia told Snap Incorporated, that the Al Jazeera Discover Publisher Channel violated local laws. Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel on Snapchat Discover had been available since May 2017.

On September 17, 2017 a Snapchat spokesperson in a statement said, “We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate.”

Saudi Arabia has one of the largest users for Snapchat nearing eight million. While Al Jazeera is a state funded media company of Qatar, which has been the subject of a boycott by many of the Gulf countries. The boycott was incidentally led by Saudi Arabia. One of the specific complaints against Qatar to justify the boycott was the use of Al Jazeera by the country.

Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the decision to remove the channel. According to Wall Street Journal, ‘the conflict is the latest example of a technology company being pinned in the crosshairs of geopolitics as it navigates censorship of content on its platforms.’

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNBC


Catalan mayors disobey Spanish courts ahead of Independence vote

On September 16, 2017 more than 700 mayors from Catalonia assembled in Barcelona on Saturday to state their support for a planned independence referendum which Madrid has declared to be illegal.

The Catalan government has plans to hold a referendum for self-rule for the affluent north-eastern region on October 1, 2017. These plans have a strong opposition from the government which has challenged the vote in the Constitutional Court.

Despite warnings by Spanish prosecutors, the Catalan mayors met with Catalonia’s regional head Carles Puigdemont to show their defiance. The prosecutors had warned in the previous week that officials engaging in any preparations for the vote could be charged with abuse of office, civil disobedience and misuse of public funds.

On September 13, 2017 the Spanish prosecutors had summoned more than 700 Catalan mayors for questioning after they said that they would permit municipal spaces to be used for voting. If the mayors did not respond to the order, the police could arrest them as per the order.

Assembling in Barcelona’s downtown, the mayors gave speeches in front of hundreds of protesters waving pro-Independence flags, assuring continued support for the referendum.

Sources: Reuters, Euronews

Fearing for cybersecurity, US Govt bans Kaspersky firm

On September 12, 2017 the Trump administration told the US government and its agencies to ban Kaspersky Lab products from its networks due to concerns of the Moscow based cyber security firm being vulnerable to Kremlin’s influence.

The Trump administration also stated that using Kaspersky’s anti-virus products and software could put national security in jeopardy. After the US intelligence agencies described Russia as a threat in the cyber space and after an election year flooded with allegations of Moscow using the internet to affect the outcome of the Presidential elections, the Trump administration’s decision comes as a sharp reaction.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a directive ordering federal agencies to identify Kaspersky products on their systems within 30 daysand start to end their use within 90 days. This directive applies only to civilian government agencies and not the Pentagon, but American intelligence leaders have stated that the products are not used for military networks.

In a statement, Kaspersky Lab has rejected the allegations stating that its critics were misinterpreting Russian data sharing laws which only applied to communications services.

Sources: Deccan ChronicleFortune 

Cassini’s swan song

At 7:55 am, Eastern Time in the United States, planet Earth received the final signal from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. After a twenty year mission, traveling two billion miles and having run out of fuel, Cassini took its final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. NASA dubbed the spacecraft’s free-fall as Cassini’s Grand Finale.

Cassini-Huygens’ remarkable journey over the years resulted in thrilling discoveries for the realm of space science especially of the planet Saturn itself, its moons, magnetosphere and its rings.

The spacecraft was named after two Italian astronomers – Giovanni Cassini who discovered Saturn and Christiaan Huygens who discovered Titan. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and ESA’s Huygens probe was the first unmanned mission sent to orbit the jewel of the solar system, Saturn and discover the planet closely. It was launched on October 15, 1997, and it took seven years to reach Saturn’s orbit. For the next thirteen years, Cassini sent fascinating information back to Earth about Saturn and its moons, which included the observation of the Great White Storm, Saturn’s hexagon, lakes on Titan and geysers on Enceladus.

The Cassini-Huygens mission did invite certain controversies. After all the arguments regarding contamination of other planets and the expenses incurred to send the probe, the fact remains that the spacecraft’s information helped scientists to understand the Saturnian system. It has collected and sent huge amounts of data that helped, still helps and will continue to help researchers and scientists to understand the Saturnian system and perhaps even other mysterious wonders of life outside Earth.

Not only did Cassini send information regarding Saturn having earth-like features, it also discovered seven new moons of the planet. It’s exploration of Titan resulted in scientists understanding how its atmosphere has a similar climate system and a water cycle. While exploring Enceladus, it detected water, carbon dioxide and various hydrocarbons that suggested the presence of a composition which could support life! It is Cassini’s observations and findings that have given scientists the chance to ponder over sustainable life outside Earth.

These are the reason why Cassini’s research matters. As Cassini plunges deep into Saturn’s atmosphere it carries more secrets that we may never know, but it has sent a treasure of information for scientists of today and tomorrow to study and understand other planetary systems. Even after the end of its primary mission, the little probe kept collecting and sending valuable information for many years that followed. Cassini’s descent may be its finale but its success is just the beginning for many more such space missions. The human spirit of adventure lives on, even if Cassini’s swan song is over.

Telegraph, NASA

Hundreds show support at the #IAmGauri Protests in Bangalore

Hundreds of supporters including activists, thinkers, writers and citizens came together in protest of the recent murder of senior journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore on Tuesday, September 12, 2017.

Prominent personalities participating in the protest included CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, well known social activist Medha Patkar, noted journalists P. Sainath and Sagarika Ghose, Swaraj India leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, documentary producers Anand Patwardhan and Rakesh Sharma, and civil rights activists Teesta Setalvad, Kavitha Krishnan and Jignesh Mevani and film producer Prakash Rai.

Wearing badges that said ‘#IAmGauri’, the protestors began a rally from Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station to the Central College grounds where a meeting was held. More than 300 policemen were deployed in and around the surrounding areas of Central College.

An emotional Indira Lankesh, mother of Gauri Lankesh said, “She [Gauri] fought with every fibre of her body. For me, all of you are my Gauris.”

Many protestors marching at the protest shouted slogans such as ‘Gauri Lankesh Amar Rahe’ and the demand of the protest was to book the assailants who committed the murder.

Sources: The Hindu, Firstpost

Another Sangh Parivar leader booked for hate speech in Kochi

Another leader, R V Babu, of the Sangh Parivar outfit, Hindu Aikyavedi has been booked on September 11, 2017 for allegedly making hate speech at a public event near Kochi on September 8, 2017.

While addressing a function that was organised by Hindu Aikyavedi at North Paravur, the party’s  Kerala president K P Sasikala had allegedly encouraged secular writers to conduct ‘Mritunjaya Homam’ at temples to be saved from being killed and avoid the same fate of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

According to Indian Express reports, the police said that R V Babu has also been booked for making provocative speech at the event. The case was registered on the basis of a complaint by Congress MLA V D Satheeshan. Sasikala’s speech which was telecast by the media was criticised by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other Congress leaders.

Supposedly referencing to the allegations seeking to connect the murder of Gauri Lankesh t the BJP or people following its ideology, Sasikala had said there was no need for them to indulge in such acts. She alleged that Congress was capitalising on such issued and it was also ‘facing continuous electoral defeats.’

Meanwhile, the BJP and the Hindu Aikyavedi claim that the media aired a distorted version of Sasikala’s speech.

Sources: The Hindu, Indian Express

BJP issues a legal notice to Ramchandra Guha over comments linking RSS to Gauri Lankesh murder

On Monday, September 11, 2017 Karnataka BJP Yuva Morcha issued a legal notice to noted historian Ramchandra Guha for alleging that RSS had a role in senior journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder.

In the legal notice, the Yuva Morcha has demanded Guha to issue an unconditional apology within the next three days and refrain from making such statements. The notice also stated that non-compliance will ensure a civil and a criminal prosecution against Guha.

After the murder of Gauri Lankesh, Guha had stated that RSS was behind the recent series of murders of activists and journalists and blamed the BJP government for encouraging intolerance in the country.

“It is very likely that her [Gauri Lankesh’s] murderers came from the same Sangh Parivar from which the murderers of [Govind] Pansare, [Narendra] Dabholkar and [MM] Kalburgi came,” Guha had said, referring to the murders of rationalists.

Karunakar Khasale, BJP Yuva Morcha’s state secretary in Karnataka said that Guha’s claims were baseless and are trying to undermine the organisation which he represents.

Guha, being a critic of the BJP-led NDA coalition, has often been at loggerheads with the party. Earlier Guha had alleged that he was receiving threats from the ruling party for his criticisms against RSS and the Modi government.

News Source: India Today, Financial Express

Image Source: Quint