Bitcoin firm considers mobile operator deal

Bitpesa, a Bitcoin-based remittance provider, is looking for potential partners, including mobile operators, ahead of the forthcoming beta of its service in Kenya, according to Bloomberg.

The company is in talks with two of the country’s banks and is considering a partnership with at least one operator and one-money transfer agent, according to CEO Elizabeth Rossiello.

Kenya has four operators including Safaricom, the market leader and the provider of the dominant M-Pesa mobile money service. The country’s other operators are Airtel, Orange and Yu.

M-Pesa offers remittances only domestically, leaving a market opportunity for an equivalent service internationally.

Bitpesa’s service envisages a customer in a foreign country using an internet-based service to send funds, which the company will then trade into Bitcoins. In Kenya, Bitpesa converts the Bitcoins back into local currency so that the recipient can collect via their mobile phone or a bank account.

Kenya is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest market for international remittances behind Nigeria and Senegal.


Atheist group erects “Good without God” billboards in California

As the Christmas season approaches in the United States, a group of non-believers in the California capital are planning to erect billboards explaining why they are atheists in hopes of bringing broader visibility to their lack of religious faith.

The 55 billboards that will soon dot the Sacramento landscape will feature pictures of local residents and slogans such as “Good without God,” and follow similar campaigns in other major U.S. cities in recent years.

“Those of us who are free from religion, who work to keep dogma out of government, science, medicine and education, have a lot to offer society,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, which sponsored the ads.

The billboards set to go up in Sacramento on the day after Thanksgiving are part of the increasingly loud arguments between many deeply religious Christians whose faith has informed U.S. conservative politics for a generation, and a vocal cohort of secular, often younger voters who want to keep religion out of public life.

The foundation also plans to place a large version of the letter “A,” for atheism, in Chicago’s Daley Plaza, the site of an annual Christmas display.

The aim of the campaign is to show people who are not religious that they don’t have to hide their views in a polarized nation where atheists and agnostics often feel isolated, Gaylor said.

The Sacramento billboards show smiling capital-area residents against softly colored backgrounds, listing their names and the communities in which they live.

“Doing good is my religion,” says a sign featuring Mashariki Lawson, who identifies herself on the billboard as a “humanist.”

“Believe in yourself,” says another sign, featuring Sacramento resident Julia Verdugo.

Monsigneur James Murphy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento said he found it ironic that the billboards were planned to go up the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday he said showed that U.S. culture was deeply rooted in religion.

Murphy said he agreed that people can do good without being religious, and said that atheists have a right to express their opinions – on billboards and elsewhere.

“I wish they weren’t up there … but I’m not going to fight their rights,” Murphy said.

—–Adopted from Reuters—–


New churches damage fight against HIV in Liberia

An upsurge in ‘new generation’ churches that claim to be able to heal or perform miracles is having a damaging effect on Liberia’s progress in fighting HIV/AIDS.
Speaking in the week before World AIDS Day, Health Ministry official David Logan said there had been a dramatic increase in new generation churches that link their preaching to prevailing local beliefs in healing or miracle cures, with the result that people with HIV were not seeking proper medical treatment.
“Unlike traditional Catholic, Lutheran or Episcopalian churches, the new churches claim to be able to give spiritual deliverance, provide healing or perform miracles. This is an attractive option for many people living in an impoverished, post-conflict Liberia,” Logan told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Monrovia.
“Transport and opportunity costs as well as the stigma associated with coming out with HIV has meant that patients from outlying communities are more likely to seek help in these nearby local new churches rather than medical centres based in the capital,” Logan said.


Brunei introduces stoning

We are in 2013 but women still risk death by stoning in 15 countries. That number is now set to rise as the Southeast Asian kingdom of Brunei prepares to introduce this brutal punishment. Last month, the Sultan of Brunei announced a harsh new penal code based on an interpretation of sharia law. Along with flogging and amputation for certain crimes, the code introduces death by stoning as a punishment for adultery.
Stoning is a heinous and protracted form of torture, and one of the cruelest kinds of violence perpetrated against women to control and punish them for the exercise of their basic freedoms and control over their own bodies. This punishment is not prescribed in the Qur’an, nor is stoning legal in most Muslim countries. Yet unfortunately today the practice is on the rise.
This past July, local sources reported that Arifa Bibi, a young mother of two in Pakistan, was stoned to death upon the order of a tribal court for possession of a mobile phone. According to media reports, her uncle, cousins and others hurled stones and bricks at her until she died.
In 2008, 13-year-old Aisha was buried up to her neck and stoned to death by 50 men in front of 1,000 spectators at a stadium in Somalia. Her father told Amnesty International that she had been raped by three men, but was accused of adultery when she tried to report the rape to the militia in control of the city.
In several countries, such as the UAE, women and girls who report sexual assault may be charged with adultery if rape charges are unsuccessful.
Like many other forms of culturally-justified violence, stoning disproportionately targets women and their conduct. In practice, women are more often found guilty of adultery due to systematic and often legally codified gender discrimination, as well as higher rates of poverty and illiteracy. And if they are sentenced to death by stoning, women traditionally have fewer avenues of escape open to them. The practice contravenes a host of U.N. treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that no one should be subjected to torture, or cruel or inhuman punishment.
In neighbouring Malaysia, the numbers of women sentenced to whipping has substantially risen in the past three years, and U.N. experts have called on Sudan to stop threatening women with flogging. Amnesty recently highlighted the case of two women who remain at risk of flogging on charges of “indecent behaviour”.
In Brunei, where elections were last held in 1962, open dissent is rare but criticism of the new law exists. Attempting to ease public fears about the code, the government has promised to apply a high burden of proof and said that judges would have wide discretion in applying the law. Yet in Iran, where stoning is legal, activists argue that judicial discretion has greatly increased the number of deaths by stoning.


Adulterers may be stoned under new Afghan law, official says

Death by stoning for convicted adulterers is being written into Afghan law, a senior official said on Monday, the latest sign that human rights won at great cost since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 are rolling back as foreign troops withdraw. Rohullah Qarizada, who is part of the sharia Islamic law committee working on the draft and head of the Afghan Independent Bar Association, said they were working on the draft of a sharia penal code where the punishment for adultery, if there are four eyewitnesses, is stoning.
During the Taliban’s 1996-2001, time in power, convicted adulterers were routinely shot or stoned in executions held mostly on Fridays. Women were not permitted to go out on their own, girls were barred from schools and men were obliged to grow long beards.
Providing fresh evidence popular support for the brutal punishment has endured, two lovers narrowly escaped being stoned in Baghlan province north of Kabul, but were publicly shot over the weekend instead, officials said. “While they were fleeing, suddenly their car crashed and locals arrested them. People wanted to stone them on the spot but some elders disagreed,” the provincial head of women’s affairs, Khadija Yaqeen, told Reuters on Monday. “The next day they decided and shot both of them dead in public. Our findings show that the woman’s father had ordered to shoot both man and woman.” The public execution was confirmed by the provincial police chief’s spokesman, who said the killings were unlawful.


U.S. says may pull out all troops as Afghan leader holds up deal

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, and Washington may have to resort to the “zero option” of withdrawing all American troops from the strife-torn country next year, as it did in Iraq.
Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said.
The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and “indicated he is not prepared to sign the (bilateral security agreement) promptly.”
“Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.
On Sunday, an assembly of Afghan elders endorsed the security pact, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring. The impasse strengthens questions about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency waged by Taliban militants and is still training its own military. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since leading multinational forces in ousting the Taliban regime in late 2001.
In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes. The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances – when an American life is directly under threat – but it would not take effect until 2015. This issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war between Afghan and foreign forces and Taliban militants.
“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said. Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga, the assembly of elders and leaders that convened last week to debate the deal, had endorsed the pact with this condition. Faizi said Karzai also asked the U.S. officials to guarantee that the United States would refrain from endorsing any candidate in national elections next year.
Karzai blamed the United States for meddling in the 2009 presidential election, while his opponents accuse the president of using the pact to ensure his influence in next year’s polls.


Bitcoin Payment Processor BIPS Attacked, Over $1m Stolen

Europe’s primary bitcoin payment processor for merchants and free online wallet service, BIPS, was the target of a major DDoS attack and subsequent theft in the past few days that saw 1,295 BTC (just over $1m on CoinDesk’s BPI) stolen.
The Copenhagen, Denmark-based Company was targeted on 15th November by a massive DDoS attack. Then on 17th November, it was followed up by a subsequent attack that disabled the site and “overloaded our managed switches and disconnected the iSCSI connection to the SAN on BIPS servers”. “Regrettably, despite several layers of protection, the attack caused vulnerability to the system, which has then enabled the attacker/s to gain access and compromise several wallets,” the company said in a written statement. BIPS believes the two attacks were connected, and at least the initial DDoS attack was “found to originate from Russia and neighboring countries”. The company moved fast to restore full merchant payment and transfer services by 19th November, but disabled all wallet functions in order to complete a full forensic analysis. Its help desk also went down for a few days, but was restored on 22nd November.
Kris Henriksen, BIPS’ CEO, said most of the missing funds were “from the company’s own holdings”. BIPS uses an algorithm, based on supply and demand, to work out the amount of bitcoins it needs to keep it in a ‘hot wallet’. The heist, however, was apparently not due to any vulnerability in the code itself. He also said merchants who had chosen to instantly convert their bitcoin to fiat currency bank accounts were not affected.