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The Financial Freedom Report is a newsletter focusing on the role currency and banking play in the civil liberties and human rights struggles of those living under authoritarian regimes. We also spotlight new tools and applications that can help individuals protect their financial freedom.


Good morning readers,

After five failed currencies in the last ten years, Zimbabwe is launching yet another currency. This time, one ostensibly backed by foreign reserves and precious metals. Observers, however, remain skeptical, questioning whether the regime will provide sufficient reserves to back up the new currency.

In Yemen, financial controls have left citizens nationwide unable to receive money transfers from abroad, while in Indonesia, the savings of some customers at the Bank Rakyat Indonesia (RBI) simply vanished, apparently due to financial cybercrimes.

On the open-source software side, one highlight is that Mutiny has launched new updates to its wallet, merging decentralized technologies such as Bitcoin, Nostr, and Fedimint, to strengthen the financial freedom and free speech capabilities of its users. Meanwhile, America’s largest cryptocurrency exchange announced a plan to add compatibility for the Lightning Network.

We end today’s newsletter with a new interview with HRF’s chief strategy officer, Alex Gladstein, who extensively details a range of global Bitcoin use cases, mostly centering around the struggle for human rights.

Now, let’s jump right in!

Global News

Zimbabwe | New “Gold-Backed” Currency

The government of Zimbabwe replaced its failing Zimbabwean dollar (Z$) with a new currency,  Zimbabwe Gold (ZiG), apparently backed by a mix of foreign currency reserves and precious metals. Observers doubt whether there are enough reserves to support the new currency. Zimbabweans have less than a month (until April 26) to convert old notes and coins to the new ZiG currency. Central bank governor John Mushayavanhu acknowledged that excessive money printing contributed to the collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar and the recent 55.3% inflation rate. In addition to high inflation, Zimbabweans have also had to contend with five currency changes in the past decade. Millions lost their trust in the banking system and sought US dollars. When authoritarian regimes debase currencies and repeatedly introduce new ones, they create a perpetual state of financial disaster for citizens from which it is nearly impossible to recover, leaving citizens with no other options than to seek alternative stores of value.

Yemen | A Currency Conflict

Yemenis, no strangers to financial isolation, face new challenges in accessing money transfers from abroad. Remittances — which amount to $3.77 billion annually for a population of 34 million — are a vital financial lifeline for Yemenis. Now, to try and comply with international financial controls, some money transfer services and exchanges have ceased operating in the country. Compounding this issue is the monetary divide within the country. One economic zone is controlled by the Yemeni government in Aden and another by rebel-Houthi militia in Sanaa. While Aden’s rial in the south has been depreciating, the Houthi-controlled rial in the north has appreciated, leading to simultaneous inflation and deflation in Yemen. Half of Yemen’s population suffers from food insecurity, and 80% suffer from poverty.

Belarus | Journalist Jailed on “Extremism” Charges

Belarusian journalist Ihar Karnei has been labeled an “extremist” and imprisoned by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Officials accused Karnei of publishing “materials insulting the head of state and representatives of the government.” In response, the country’s leading human rights group argued that imprisonment is “part of a deliberate policy by the authorities to limit the dissemination of uncensored information in the country and an attack on freedom of expression.” Karnei — who is a writer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the country’s top independent journalist group that advocates freedom of speech — is yet another case of Lukashenko’s large-scale suppression of dissent. Journalists like Karnei provide citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions about financial policies that impact their lives while also holding political leaders accountable. By imprisoning them, Lukashenko is keeping citizens in the dark about his financial and economic moves, such as the confiscation of dissident bank accounts and efforts to build a central bank digital currency.

Indonesia | Bank Customer Savings Vanish

Recent cyberattacks targeting Bank Rakyat Indonesia (RBI) have been blamed for vanishing customer savings. One such victim is Nih Lu Putu Rustini, a Balinese woman who was discovered her account was emptied while attempting to withdraw cash from an ATM. Her savings of 37 million Indonesian rupiahs ($2,340) had all vanished. “BRI Bank is notorious for cyberattacks. I have heard of many passing cases where their customers lost everything, and we need to do something about it,” Ni Luh Arie Ratna Sukasari, a partner with Malekat Hukum, said. Despite the backlash, RBI refused any accountability. These incidents underscore the vulnerability of traditional banks and help explain the rise of Bitcoin in South East Asia, where adoption was on display a few months ago at the Indonesia Bitcoin Conference.

China | Guide to the Digital Yuan

A recent article by author and journalist Roger Huang sheds light on the progress of China’s central bank digital currency (CBDC) — the Digital Yuan. According to Huang’s insights, the Digital Yuan has entered its launch phase and is now available in 29 cities nationwide through a mobile app. By establishing a direct link between citizens and the People’s Bank of China, the regime aims to modernize payment methods while also enhancing monetary control and bolstering the international standing of the Chinese Yuan. Despite a concerted push for CBDC adoption by both the central bank and state media, current adoption levels (measured in transaction volume and the amount of currency held in digital wallets) remain low. This suggests possible disinterest among the Chinese population in adopting such a centralized currency, particularly over privacy concerns and fears of further human rights abuses.

Nicaragua | Report on the Silencing of Democracy

The UK parliament released a report titled “The Silencing of Democracy in Nicaragua,” which exposes the suppression of opposition voices under Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian rule. “Our report makes it very clear that anyone critical of the Ortega regime ends up as a target,” British politician David Alton said. Ortega’s government froze the Catholic church bank accounts over accusations of money laundering when they spoke out against the regime’s inhumane practices (Ortega’s regime has broken world records for shutting down bank accounts). The regime also closed down more than 3,800 NGOs and 26 universities, citing law violations and lack of financial transparency. Shutdowns and de-platforming of financial services have forced activists and political oppositions into exile and silenced NGOs. One in five Nicaraguans flee the country out of fear of political persecution.

The Latest in Bitcoin Development and Education

HRF | Launches Webinar to Help Nonprofits Integrate Bitcoin

Last week, HRF announced a free quarterly webinar — led by Bitcoin educator Ben Perrin, a.k.a. BTC Sessions — to help nonprofits and human rights organizations learn how to integrate Bitcoin into their work and to protect themselves against financial censorship and confiscation. The course — taking place from April 22-26 — is designed for individuals without previous knowledge of Bitcoin. It will cover fundamental aspects of Bitcoin, including wallet setup, security best practices, receiving donations, and making payroll. It will be helpful for nonprofits interested in expanding their organization’s capabilities in this area and for independent media outlets, anti-corruption investors, and advocates. If interested, register for the webinar series here.

Coinbase | To Integrate Lightning Network

In a long-awaited move, Coinbase, the leading US cryptocurrency exchange with tens of millions of customers, partnered with Lightspark, a Lightning company, to integrate the Lightning Network into its platform. The partnership will leverage Lightspark’s “remote key signing implementation.” This means Coinbase will hold the Lightning signing keys and Lightspark will host the Lightning node, which should enable Coinbase to prioritize the user experience and Lightspark to handle the complexities of Lightning. The integration also comes at a pivotal time as rising fees on the Bitcoin base layer have sparked interest in alternative solutions that claim to prioritize transactional efficiency. Whenever the integration hits, Coinbase users will be able to withdraw and deposit Bitcoin over Lightning, saving time and money and increasing their privacy.

Mutiny Wallet | Update Includes New Social Layer

Mutiny, a self-custodial Bitcoin Lightning wallet, rolled out an update adding social capabilities to its app. Users can now integrate their Nostr profiles into the Munity app, allowing users to chat, send, and request money with anyone on Nostr, all in one place. Users also have the option to explore and join federations, a community-based Bitcoin custody solution powered by Fedimint. Additionally, Mutiny+ users benefit from the feature of Federated Lightning Addresses, which enables users to send and receive Lightning payments using personalized addresses backed by Fedimint. After a Brazilian court forced X to “block certain popular accounts in Brazil,” it’s easy to see why a decentralized solution that merges free speech and open-source money might be popular moving forward.

Cashu | Ongoing Protocol Updates

Bitcoin-backed Ecash protocol, Cashu, has several updates underway aimed at improving the overall functionality and reliability of the protocol. The updates in progress include “multinuteral payments” that enable paying a single Lightning invoice from Ecash balances on multiple Cashu mints. Additionally, Cashu developers are building an optional authentication protocol that uses bearer tokens to control access to specific endpoints on the protocol, such as minting and melting operations. Calle, the developer behind Cashu, further unveiled the inaugural test version of their latest project, which facilitates USD Ecash backed by Bitcoin. This enhancement to the Cashu protocol enables anyone to run a mint, create a wallet, and spend USD anywhere Lightning payments are accepted. Cashu provides a private and efficient way to transact, which can be helpful for activists and vulnerable populations and is a project that HRF has been happy to support.

Africa | Annual Bitcoin Conference

The third annual Africa Bitcoin Conference is scheduled for Dec. 9–11, moving from Accra, Ghana, to Nairobi, Kenya. The conference will gather experts, innovators, and enthusiasts from across Africa to explore the transformative potential of Bitcoin and work towards widespread adoption across the continent. The conference’s manifesto states: “Faced with a modern world leaning towards more surveillance and totalitarianism, Bitcoin represents for us a crucial tool for preserving our freedoms and privacy. We advocate for the justice, equality, and neutrality that Bitcoin provides to peoples and individuals.” HRF is honored to support this event and help advance Bitcoin adoption and awareness in Africa. If you are interested in attending, you can learn more about the conference here.

HRF | CISA Research Fellowship

HRF announced the launch of its Cross-Input Signature Aggregation (CISA) Research Fellowship. CISA holds the potential to be implemented as a soft fork to Bitcoin, offering the prospect of enhanced privacy and reduced transaction fees. This development could significantly lower the cost for activists to employ privacy-preserving techniques (an important attribute to protecting them against surveillance). The fellowship, therefore, presents a unique opportunity to explore the current state and future implications of CISA over a four-month period. The selected fellow will conduct in-depth research to address key questions surrounding CISA and receive 50 million satoshis (0.5 BTC) for their research and writing efforts. If you are interested in this opportunity, please submit your background, research plan, and current understanding of CISA’s impact on Bitcoin to [email protected] by May 15.

Recommended Content

Podcast | The Ultimate Guide to Bitcoin Use Cases
HRF’s chief strategy officer, Alex Gladstein, joins the industry-leading What Bitcoin Did Podcast to challenge the notion that Bitcoin has no utility and discuss its many powerful use cases. In the episode, Gladstein recounts his journey to understanding Bitcoin as a tool for human rights activists and delves into the four powerful use cases for Bitcoin: from its utility as a savings technology to facilitating global commerce, a means of achieving freedom, and catalyzing access to electricity for underserved regions. Plus, he says Bitcoin “is a disaster for dictators because it empowers people who oppose them.” This discussion sheds light on the implications of Bitcoin beyond an investment and explores how it often is a force for freedom worldwide.

Article | Money is Not a Public Good, by Nick Anthony

In a recent speech advocating for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), Cecilia Skingsley, the head of the Bank of International Settlements, asserted that “money is a public good and a very fundamental one.” This claim helps justify central banks providing CBDCs to the public. In contrast, Nick Anthony, a policy analyst for the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, argues that money does not meet the criteria of a public good, which necessitates being both non-excludable and non-rivalrous. While Skinglsey perceives CBDCs as a necessity based on the conception of money being a public good, Anthony sheds light on the negative consequences of this seemingly innocent attribution. You can learn more about the negative implications of CBDCs on human rights here.

Oslo Freedom Forum | Reserve Your Spot

Human rights advocates from around the globe will take the Oslo Konserthus stage on June 3-5, 2024, to share their efforts to defy repression and speak out against injustice. This year’s theme, Reclaim Democracy, emphasizes the pivotal role every individual plays within the global movement for democracy. The Financial Freedom team is looking forward to creating a program track exploring the role open-source money plays in preserving our human rights and civil liberties. Use the code 2024OFF to get an early bird discount on your ticket.


Until next time,

Ayelen Osorio 

Financial Freedom Specialist

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