Week in Review: April 6, 2016

by Muira McCammon

Google: Company Removes Pashto Afghan News App from Store

Google pulled the Pashto Afghan News app from its store. The app allowed users to access part of the Taliban’s Pashto website and represented part of the group’s effort to reach out to the Afghan diaspora. It is not altogether clear how this application in particular made its way onto the online store. Earlier this year a spokesperson from Google had confirmed that the company had started to vet applications in advance in order to “catch policy offenders earlier in the process." In a telephone interview a Taliban affiliate by the name of Zabihullah Mujahed hailed the application as “part of our advanced technological efforts to make [a] more global audience.” On April 1, the national security experts of SITE, an organization devoted to studying extremist groups in the Middle East, pointed out that the Pashto Afghan News app was not a secular news program. In a statement Jawid Kohistani, a Kabul-based security analyst, noted, “The app will help Taliban to further psychologically weaken Afghanistan by their propaganda reports.” Google removed the application from its site and declined to comment further on the issue. The Taliban claims that its application was taken down due to “technical issues."

Thailand: Facebook User Arrested for Posting Photo of Red Bowl

57-year-old Theerawan Charoensuk, a Thai Facebook user, was arrested for posting a picture of a red bowl. This red bowl was special; it had been given to her as a gift by the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The item has symbolic weight; it was distributed by Thaksin’s supporters to use during traditional ceremonies during the Thai New Year. Charoensuk has been charged with sedition under article 116 of Thailand’s Criminal Code. A Chiang Mai military court released her on a bail of approximately $2800. Charoensuk could face up to seven years in prison. Human Rights Watch spokesman Brad Adams weighed in on the charges: “The Thai junta’s fears of a red plastic bowl show its intolerance of dissent has reached the point of absolute absurdity. When military courts try people for sedition for posting photos with holiday gifts from deposed leaders, it’s clear that the end of repression is nowhere in sight." Shortly after Charoensuk’s arrest, Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan defended her arrest and remarked, “The charge [against Theerawan] is not arbitrary or groundless. She violated the law. Tell me if you think what she did was not provocative or led to division in the society. We don’t want to arrest anyone. But those people should listen to our warning not to undertake political activities.”

United States: Romanian Hacker Faces Charges in Court

Marcel Lehel Lazar allegedly accessed personal emails belonging to relatives of Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush. He was recently extradited to the United States from Romania, where he was serving a sentence in a maximum security prison for cyber crimes against two public officials. He is now facing charges in a U.S. federal district court for cyber-stalking, aggravated identity theft, and several other types of misconduct. U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a statement released after the appearance: “Mr. Lazar violated the privacy of his victims and thought he could hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. No matter where they are in the world, those who commit crimes against U.S. citizens will be held accountable for their actions, pursued by our investigators and prosecutors, and brought to justice." In an interview in 2015, Lazar talked about his work: “I had memos Hillary Clinton got as a State Secretary, with CIA briefings. These were being read by her, two other people from the US Government, and Guccifer. I used to read her memos for six-seven hours and then I’d get up and do the gardening in the yard.” (Guccifer, for the record, is what Lazar’s online alias.) Lazar told a journalist from The Smoking Gun that he did not fight the extradition request from the United States. His original indictment is available here.