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Facebook removes 211 accounts in UAE, Nigeria, Egypt

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Facebook Inc has announced it removed hundreds of pages, groups and accounts on its platforms for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” linked to three operations in Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Nigeria.

The operation in Indonesia involved a network of over 100 fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram posting content in English and Indonesian either in support or criticising the West Papua independence movement, which is active in the country’s restive easternmost region of Papua.

“This was a network of pages designed to appear like local media organisations and advocacy organisations,” said David Agranovitch, Facebook’s Global Lead for Threat Disruption.

He told Reuters that his team, which had been monitoring Indonesia in light of increasing tensions in Papua, had tracked the false accounts, which would disseminate content, buy ads, and drive people to other sites, to an Indonesian media firm called InsightID.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach the firm for comment.

There has been a spike in protests and unrest since late August in Papua, which suffered some of its worst bloodsheds in decades in September, with 33 people killed and scores injured.

Researchers had independently warned in September that there had been a rise of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts on Papua, with some of the fake accounts posting pro-government content.

Agranovitch said Facebook also removed fake accounts related to two other unconnected networks in the Middle East and Africa.

One, according to Facebook, was based out of Egypt but targeted the rest of the region by posting content in support of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, as well as criticism of Qatar, Iran, Turkey and Yemen’s separatist movement.

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The executive said this operation used fake accounts “to masquerade as local media organisations in a variety of those countries … and amplify the content they were posting”.

According to Agranovitch, Facebook found evidence some of the accounts had been purchased, with regular changing ownerships, as well as deep links to Egyptian newspaper El Fagr, “which is known for its sensationalistic content”.

As a result of the investigation, Facebook has also removed El Fagr’s official media pages from its platforms, he said.

Reuters was not able to immediately contact El Fagr.

Facebook said the third network, which it tracked to three marketing firms in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Nigeria, involved fake accounts which spread on content on topics like UAE’s activity in Yemen and the Iran nuclear deal.

The social media giant has recently been cracking down on such accounts after coming under fire in the last few years for its self-admitted sluggishness in developing tools to combat extremist content and propaganda operations.

Earlier this year, it removed accounts from Iraq, Ukraine, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Thailand, Honduras and Israel.

Facebook wrote,

We removed multiple Pages, Groups and accounts that were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. We found three separate operations: one of which originated in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Nigeria, and the other two in Indonesia and Egypt. These three campaigns we removed were unconnected, but both created networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing. We have shared information about our findings with industry partners.

We’re constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages, Groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.

We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge. We’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead. That means building better technology, hiring more people and working closer with law enforcement, security experts and other companies.

What We’ve Found So Far

We removed 211 Facebook accounts, 107 Pages, 43 Groups and 87 Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in the UAE, Egypt and Nigeria. There were multiple sets of activity, each localized for a specific country or region, primarily in the Middle East and Africa, and some in Europe, North and South America, South Asia and East Asia, and Australia. The people behind this network used fake accounts – some of which had already been disabled by our automated systems — to run Pages, post in Groups, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement. They managed Pages — some of which changed names over time — sharing local news in targeted countries and promoting content about UAE. The Page admins and account owners primarily posted videos, photos and web links related to local events and issues in a particular country, and some content on topics including elections and candidates; UAE’s activity in Yemen; the first Emirati astronaut; criticism of Qatar, Turkey, and Iran; the Iran nuclear deal, and criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to three marketing firms — Charles Communications in UAE, MintReach in Nigeria and Flexell in Egypt.

  • Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 211 Facebook accounts, 107 Pages, 43 Groups and 87 Instagram accounts.
  • Followers: Less than 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, less than 100 accounts joined one or more of the Groups and less than 70,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising: Less than $150,000 spent on Facebook ads paid for primarily in US dollars, Emirati dirham and Indian rupee.

We identified these accounts as part of our follow-on investigation into the coordinated inauthentic behavior in the region we had previously removed.

 

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COVID-19: Bauchi records two new deaths, discharges 37

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The Bauchi State Ministry of Health has announced the deaths of two people due to coronavirus [COVID-19]-related complications.

The ministry also said 37 people were discharged after treatment for the disease.

WuzupNigeria reports that the development was revealed in a statement on Tuesday night.

This brings the total number of deaths in Bauchi State to seven since March 24th when the first index case was recorded in the state.

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Meanwhile, 37 more patients who have recovered after testing negative twice for the coronavirus have been discharged.

So far, the total number of discharged patients in the state has risen to 201.

The total number of confirmed cases in the state so far stands at 232.

The statement reads:

“37 discharges have been made with zero cases for two consecutive days in the state but unfortunately we recorded 2 deaths.

“At the moment, only 24 patients are on the hospital’s admission as of today 26th May 2020. The only patient is in severe condition has recovered and is getting better, where the entire case fatality rate stood at 3.0%.”

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Military condoning torture, unlawful detention, sexual abuse of children escaping Boko Haram in Northeast 

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Nigeria must urgently address its failure to protect and provide education to an entire generation of children in the Northeast, a region devastated by years of Boko Haram atrocities and gross violations by the military, Amnesty International warned today in a chilling new report.

The 91-page report, ‘We dried our tears’: Addressing the toll on children of Northeast Nigeria’s conflict, examines how the military’s widespread unlawful detention and torture have compounded the suffering of children from Borno and Adamawa states who faced war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of Boko Haram.

It also reveals how international donors including the UK have bankrolled a flawed programme that claims to reintegrate former alleged fighters, but which overwhelmingly amounts to unlawful detention of children and adults.

Joanne Mariner, Acting Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International, said:

“The past decade of bitter conflict between Nigeria’s military and Boko Haram has been an assault on childhood itself in Northeast Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities risk creating a lost generation unless they urgently address how the war has targeted and traumatised thousands of children.

“Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked schools and abducted large numbers of children as soldiers or ‘wives’, among other atrocities.

“The Nigerian military’s treatment of those who escape such brutality has also been appalling. From mass, unlawful detention in inhumane conditions, to meting out beatings and torture and allowing sexual abuse by adult inmates – it defies belief that children anywhere would be so grievously harmed by the very authorities charged with their protection.”

Between November 2019 and April 2020, Amnesty interviewed more than 230 people affected by the conflict, including 119 who were children when they suffered serious crimes at the hands of Boko Haram, the Nigerian military, or both. This included 48 children held in military detention for months or years, as well as 22 adults who had been detained with children.

Boko Haram’s brutality

Children have been among those most impacted by Boko Haram’s string of atrocities carried out over large swathes of Northeast Nigeria for nearly a decade. The armed group’s classic tactics have included attacks on schools, widespread abductions, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and forced marriage of girls and young women, which all constitute crimes under international law.

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The scale of abductions has often been underestimated and appears to run into the thousands. Boko Haram continues to force parents to hand over boys and girls, under threat of death. It continues to forcibly “marry” girls and young women. And it continues to murder people who try to escape.

Children in areas under Boko Haram control have been subjected to torture, including floggings and other beatings, as well as forced to watch public executions and other brutal punishments.

A 17-year-old girl who escaped Boko Haram after being abducted and held in captivity for four years described life in the Sambisa forest: “[My] wicked ‘husband’ always beat me… My daily activities included praying, cooking if there was food, [and] going for Quranic lessons. No movement was allowed, and no visiting friends. It was a terrible experience, and I witnessed different punishments, from shooting to stoning to lashing.”

She, and most other former child “wives” interviewed — including some who returned with children born during captivity — had received little or no assistance in returning to school, starting livelihoods, or accessing psychosocial support.

Thousands, including children, held in military detention

Children who escape Boko Haram territory face a raft of violations by the Nigerian authorities, including crimes under international law. At best, they end up displaced, struggling for survival and with little or no access to education. At worst, they are arbitrarily detained for years in military barracks, in conditions amounting to torture or other ill-treatment.

The UN told Amnesty it has verified the release of 2,879 children from military detention since 2015, although it previously cited a higher figure of children detained between 2013 and 2019. These statistics are likely to be a vast underestimate, and the UN has said its access to military detention is restricted so it cannot provide the actual number of children detained in the context of the conflict.

Most of these detentions are unlawful; children are never charged or prosecuted for any crime and are denied the rights to access a lawyer, appear before a judge, or communicate with their families. The widespread unlawful detentions may amount to a crime against humanity.

Almost everyone fleeing Boko Haram territory, including children, is “screened” by the military and Civilian Joint Task Force – a process that, for many, involves torture until the person “confesses” to affiliation with Boko Haram. Alleged Boko Haram members and supporters are transferred and held – often for months or years – in squalid conditions in detention centres including Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri and the Kainji military base in Niger State.

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Conditions so severe they amount to torture

Every former detainee interviewed offered consistent descriptions of the conditions: extreme overcrowding; a lack of ventilation amid stifling heat; parasites everywhere; and urine and faeces on the floor, because of the lack of toilets. Although there have been some improvements in recent years, many former detainees, including children, also faced grossly inadequate access to water, food, and health care.

Tens of thousands of detainees have been held in these conditions, which are so extreme that they constitute the war crime of torture. Many children continue to be held in such conditions, even after mass releases in late 2019 and early 2020. Amnesty estimates that at least 10,000 people, including many children, have died in detention during the conflict.

A 14-year-old boy whom Boko Haram abducted as a young child before he fled and was placed in detention by the Nigerian military, said: “The conditions in Giwa are horrible. They could make you die. There’s no place to lie down… It’s hot, all your clothes were wet, like they put you in a river… Up to now, nobody has told me why I was taken there, what I did, why I was in detention. I wonder, why did I run from [Boko Haram]?”

UK support to the Nigerian military and unsafe detention centres

The UK Government is supporting the Nigerian armed forces to counter the threat from Boko Haram through British military training and by providing operational guidance and advice.

As part of this support, the UK is one the international donors (including the USA and EU), providing millions of dollars to Operation Safe Corridor – a military-run detention centre set up in 2016 with the aim of ‘de-radicalising and rehabilitating’ alleged Boko Haram fighters or supporters.

Whilst conditions are better at the Safe Corridor site than elsewhere in military detention, and former detainees spoke positively about the psychosocial support and adult education there, Amnesty has documented a number of human rights violations at the site, including:

  • Most of the men and boys there have not been informed of any legal basis for their detention and still lack access to lawyers or courts to contest it. Their promised six-month stay has in some cases extended to 19 months, during which time they are deprived of liberty and under constant armed guard.
  • Former detainees there told Amnesty that medical care was sorely lacking. At least seven detainees have died, many, if not all, after receiving inadequate medical care. The Nigerian authorities did not even notify their families – they were informed by released detainees instead.
  • A vocational training programme that is part of Safe Corridor may amount to forced labour, since most detainees, if not all, have never been convicted of any crime and make everything from shoes to soap to furniture for no pay.
  • The programme also subjects some detainees to unsafe work conditions. Some detainees suffered serious injuries to their hands after being made to work with caustic soda, a highly corrosive substance, without protective equipment. “The caustic soda is dangerous. If it touches your body, it will remove the flesh,” said a 61-year old former detainee.
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Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, said:

“Amnesty’s investigations show the brutal and inhumane treatment of many children by the Nigerian military.

“This must serve as an urgent warning to the UK Government and the British forces currently supporting a military abusing the very people it’s meant to be protecting.

“The UK’s support of a military-run detention centre that is unlawfully imprisoning people, including children, and subjecting them to unsafe conditions is particularly worrying – continued support for the programme must be conditioned on the Nigerian authorities undertaking a full investigation into deaths in the facility and taking steps to ensure the military respects children’s rights.

“The priority must be supporting victims of Boko Haram. The UK Government must work with the Nigerian authorities to ensure that the military is protecting the population, and that absolutely no UK support is contributing to the vile abuses taking place in the context of the conflict.”

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JUST IN: Nigeria’s COVID-19 cases now 8344

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Nigeria on Tuesday recorded 276 new cases of the COVID-19, bringing the total active cases to 8344.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on its official twitter handle, said that as of May 26, 2020, 14 deaths were recorded in the country.

The health agency said no new state reported a case in the last 24 hours.

“276 new cases of #COVID19; Lagos-161 Rivers-36 Edo-27 Kaduna-19 Nasarawa-10 Oyo-6 Kano-4 Delta-3 Ebonyi-3 Gombe-2 Ogun-1 Ondo-1 Borno-1 Abia-1 Bauchi-1

“8344 cases of #COVID19 in Nigeria

“Discharged: 2385 Deaths: 249”

Global Report:

Since 31 December 2019 and as of 26 May 2020, 5 459 528 cases of COVID-19 (in accordance with the applied case definitions and testing strategies in the affected countries) have been reported, including 345 994 deaths.

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Cases have been reported from:

Africa: 115 868 cases; the five countries reporting most cases are South Africa (23 615), Egypt (17 967), Algeria (8 503), Nigeria (8 068), and Morocco (7 532).

Asia: 971 938 cases; the five countries reporting most cases are Turkey (157 814), India (145 380), Iran (137 724), China (84 102), and Saudi Arabia (74 795).

America: 2 518 852 cases; the five countries reporting most cases are United States (1 662 302), Brazil (374 898), Peru (123 979), Canada (85 700), and Chile (73 997).

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Europe: 1 843 581 cases; the five countries reporting most cases are Russia (353 427), United Kingdom (261 184), Spain (235 400), Italy (230 158), and Germany (179 002).

Oceania: 8 593 cases; the five countries reporting most cases are Australia (7 118), New Zealand (1 154), Guam (166), French Polynesia (89), and Northern Mariana Islands (22).

Other: 696 cases have been reported from an international conveyance in Japan.

Deaths have been reported from:

Africa: 3 478 deaths; the five countries reporting most deaths are Egypt (783), Algeria (609), South Africa (481), Nigeria (233), and Morocco (200).

Asia: 27 680 deaths; the five countries reporting most deaths are Iran (7 451), China (4 638), Turkey (4 369), India (4 167), and Indonesia (1 391).

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America: 146 391 deaths; the five countries reporting most deaths are United States (98 220), Brazil (23 473), Mexico (7 633), Canada (6 545), and Peru (3 629).

Europe: 168 308 deaths; the five countries reporting most deaths are United Kingdom (36 914), Italy (32 877), France (28 432), Spain (26 834), and Belgium (9 312).

Oceania: 130 deaths; the four countries reporting deaths are Australia (102), New Zealand (21), Guam (5), and Northern Mariana Islands (2).

Other: 7 deaths have been reported from an international conveyance in Japan.

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