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OTF Announces Inaugural Digital Integrity Fellows

| By: Dan McDevitt

Fellows to Bolster Digital Security of Human Rights Organizations Worldwide

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is proud to announce the inaugural class of its Digital Integrity Fellowship Program (DIFP) fellows – a global group of civil rights defenders, technologists, and community advocates seeking to bolster the security of vulnerable human rights organizations worldwide and protect free expression online. Among the fellows are Azeenarh Mohammed, a lawyer and holistic security trainer working to secure LGBT organizations in Nigeria; Natasha Msonza, a Zimbabwean digital security trainer working at the intersection of technology, gender, and human rights; and Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist.

“We’re excited to kick off the DIFP program with such a diverse, experienced, and spirited group of individuals,” said Dan Meredith, OTF’s Principal Director. “Though the fellows will focus individually on specific at-risk communities and groups, collectively their work reverberates on a global scale.”

The six DIFP fellows will work with human rights organizations, NGOs, activists, journalists, and other civil society-oriented groups in-country to strengthen their digital security practices, addressing immediate threats while also emphasizing long-term sustainability. Specifically, DIFP fellows will help when human rights organizations’ websites are blocked, attacked, or shut down, while also assisting at-risk individuals when their digital security is compromised, such as by use of malware and illegal spyware. Fellows will also work to enhance the capacity of locally-based digital security professionals for long-term impact.

Additionally, a select group of mentors will provide expert guidance, knowledge, and capacity building to fellows on any challenges that they may experience through the duration of their fellowships. The mentors bring with them a broad range of experience working to improve the digital security of human rights organizations as well as supervising and leading other digital security professionals.

The new DIFP fellows are as follows:

  • Nighat Dad will focus on empowering Pakistani human rights activists, journalists, and LGBT groups to operate more safely and securely online. Such groups often face severe discrimination, harassment, and violence both online and off in Pakistan. A lawyer by training, Nighat was recently honored with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Freedom Award and is the founder of the Digital Rights Foundation;

  • Dhyta Caturani will equip Indonesian women, trans, and LGBT activists with the digital security savvy necessary to reduce the harassment they face on a regular basis, which includes imprisonment under Indonesia’s increasingly harsh anti-gay environment;

  • Azeenarh Mohammed will provide holistic security training for the LGBT community in Nigeria, which faces severe threats, repression, and the routine denial of basic human rights. Mohammed will be working with providers of health, counseling, legal, advocacy, and other services that inherently involve the collection and storage of sensitive personal data, thus necessitating strong digital security;

  • Natasha Msonza will undertake organizational security audits and implement a digital security roadmap to build the resilience of selected ‘at-risk’ human rights defender organisations in Zimbabwe, who are faced with increased digital threats and surveillance ahead of upcoming presidential elections;

  • A fellow based in Colombia will work with various Colombian indigenous people’s rights organizations to improve their capacity to safely operate and advocate for agricultural and environmental rights; and

  • A fellow based in Venezuela will work with various Venezuelan human rights organizations to conduct organizational security audits and implement improvements in their overall security practices.

“This highly motivated and skilled group of Digital Integrity fellows will be working to fill crucial gaps often left unaddressed by common digisec trainings and capacity building initiatives,” said Lindsay Beck, OTF’s Senior Program Manager overseeing the DIFP program. “They each bring the deep experience, passion, and local understanding that makes them capable of enacting effective and comprehensive solutions for the communities they serve.”

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The Open Technology Fund’s Digital Integrity Fellowship Program was established in 2016 to address both short-term and long-term threats to freedom of expression online by providing organizations and communities most affected by internet freedom violations with comprehensive internal digital security support. To learn more about the DIFP, click here.

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) advances human rights and free expression online by supporting the development of tools and research that enable open and secure internet access in some of the world’s most closed, repressive environments. OTF is a program of Radio Free Asia, a private, nonprofit multimedia corporation. It is sustained through an annual grant from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors.

To learn more about OTF, click here.