Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 3 – 9 March 2012

Tunisia: Marzouki Calls For Criminalising ‘Takfir’

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki called on the Constituent Assembly to adopt a law to incriminate accusations of apostasy, describing the practice as a “threat to peace among the citizens of one country.” The call comes after a number of attacks were levelled against journalists and intellectuals in Tunis.

For more information, see: http://www.eurasiareview.com/07032012-tunisia-marzouki-calls-for-criminalising-takfir/

Marine’s Obama criticism tests free speech rules

Marine Srgt. Gary Stein started a Facebook group declaring that he wouldn’t follow “unlawful orders” from Commander in Chief, President Obama. He claims his views were constitutionally protected. Law Professor and former Navy Officer David Glazier said that “it’s been pretty well established for a long time that freedom of speech is one area in which people do surrender some of their basic rights in entering the armed forces.” He continued, saying that good order, respect and discipline requires prohibiting speech critical of the senior officers in that chain of command — up to and including the commander in chief.” The Marine Corps said Stein is allowed to express his personal opinions as long as they do not give the impression he is speaking in his official capacity as a Marine.

For more information, see: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57393210/marines-obama-criticism-tests-free-speech-rules/

Pakistan advertises for massive Web censor system, worrying free speech activists

Pakistan is advertising for companies to install an internet filtering system that could block up to 50 million Web addresses, alarming free speech activists who fear current censorship could become much more widespread. Internet access for Pakistan’s some 20 million Web users is less restricted than in many countries in Asia and the Arab world, though some pornographic sites and those seen as insulting to Islam are blocked. Others related to separatist activities or army criticism have also been, or continue to be, censored. The plan to censor the Internet comes amid unease over a set of proposals by a media regulatory body aimed at bringing the country’s freewheeling television media under closer government control. With general elections later this year or earlier next, some critics have speculated the government might be trying to cut down on criticism. The media proposals call for television stations not to broadcast programs “against the national interest” or those that “undermine its integrity or solidarity as an independent and sovereign country” or “contain aspersions against or ridicule the organs of the State.” The telecommunication authority sent a statement that explained the blocking system was being installed because the Pakistani people wanted a “ban on blasphemous and objectionable contents that were being used to harass, deface and blackmail the innocent citizens of Pakistan.”

For more information, see: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/life/sci_tech/pakistan-advertises-for-massive-web-censor-system-worrying-free-speech-activists-141870733.html

Togolese police assault photojournalist

Photojournalist Koffi Djidonou Frédéric Attipou was covering a protest over government human rights violations. He was attacked by police after having turned his camera to police confiscating a demonstrator’s motorcycle. The UN Human Rights Committee urged Tongolese authorities to investigate properly and prosecute.

For more information, see: http://www.cpj.org/2012/03/togolese-police-assault-photojournalist.php

Criminalising Free Speech: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

Congress has overwhelmingly approved legislation that will keep the public not just at arms’ length distance but a football field away by making it a federal crime to protest or assemble in the vicinity of protected government officials. The Trespass Bill (the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011) creates a roving “bubble” zone or perimeter around select government officials and dignitaries (anyone protected by the Secret Service), as well as any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.” The bill’s language is so overly broad as to put an end to free speech, political protest and the right to peaceably assemble in all areas where government officials happen to be present. Specifically, the bill, which now awaits President Obama’s signature, levies a fine and up to a year in prison against anyone found in violation, and if the person violating the statute is carrying a “dangerous weapon,” the prison sentence is bumped up to no more than ten years. The author argues that bubble zones and free speech zones, in essence, destroy the very purpose of the First Amendment, which assures us of the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For more information, see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/tresspass-bill_b_1321224.html

Finkelstein report threatens to muzzle free speech

The Finkelstein report called for a statutory media regulatory body. It proposes a super regulator, a government-appointed and government-funded body, would have the power to impose an arbitrary “code of ethics”, and to remove opinion pieces it deems unsuitable. The author describes the report as misguided, based on flawed reasoning, and an unabashed attack on the fundamental human right of freedom of speech. It is a report that, at its core, recommends disempowering ordinary Australians and exacerbates the very “problem” it attempts to solve. The author argues that, rather than attempting to impose yet another layer of restrictive bureaucracy to take away our freedoms, policymakers ought to focus their attention on the empowerment of citizens, and allowing for personal responsibility by reducing controls over our lives. This is particularly important in so personal a realm as political expression.

For more information, see: http://afr.com/p/opinion/finkelstein_report_threatens_to_KuZ3KVqlRRBvxyUm4iEzbK

South Africa: Should Racist Thought Be Criminalised?

The South African Constitution says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media; freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.” Section 16 limits the freedom of expression, however: “The right in subsection (1) does not extend to propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.” The Kommandokorps are a paramilitary group that is, according to the Mail & Guardian, stoking an insane paranoia in young Afrikaans boys out in Mpumalanga. All the elements of right-wing extremism are there: anger, white superiority, intense paranoia and a hard-on for big guns. Not only are the camp attendees taught to hate the new South Africa (losing power is never an easy pill to swallow), they are also encouraged to treat all black people as inferior and extremely violent beings. The Democratic Alliance is scrambling to have the Kommandokorps paramilitary group closed and investigated by the police and the Human Rights Commission. The author asks whether we are drawing the line on hate speech too soon? Is the Kommandokorps not legitimate political expression, no matter how repugnant we find its views?

For more information, see: http://allafrica.com/stories/201203060631.html

Glitch in Google+ exposes China’s lack of free speech rights

Hundreds of Chinese participants of online communities flooded U.S. President Barak Obama’s Google+ page with human rights posts recently when the Chinese censorship system malfunctioned, granting them access to previously restricted pages. The Chinese netizens used the opportunity to advocate for the right of free speech. Many Chinese writers urged President Obama to liberate the Chinese people from the oppression of their own government. Some commented on the need to free human rights advocates. Others urged Obama to plan a strategy to change Chinese government and promote freedom and civil rights of the Chinese people. Last December, authorities tightened their control over information flows on websites. The Beijing city government announced a new regulation requiring users of social networking sites to use their real names. The regulation allows the government to identify commenters who criticize the authorities and monitor rising public rage or planned protests against the government. In practice, the government promotes the interests of the few who are in power. Many Chinese attempt to flee poverty and political oppression by Chinese authorities. The censored contents of websites in China expose public discontent with the current regime. 

For more information, see: http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/rights-so-divine/2012/mar/4/glitch-google-exposes-chinas-lack-free-speech-right.

Iranian human rights lawyer jailed for 18 years

Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by a Tehran revolutionary court, and has been banned from practicing for 20 years. He was charged with co-founding the Center for Human Rights Defenders spreading anti-government propaganda, endangering national security and accepting an illegal prize (a German human rights prize he was awarded in 2009.)

For more information, see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/04/iranian-human-rights-lawyer-jailed

Top Gurkha case lawyer attacks spate of complaints against councillors as threat to free speech

Martin Howe, a leading human rights lawyer, has condemned the system under which Welsh councillors can be barred from office for speaking their minds as a fundamental threat to freedom of speech. The Adjudication Panel for Wale’s role is to form tribunals to consider whether councillors, co-opted members of local authorities and members of police, fire and national park authorities in Wales have breached their authority’s code of conduct. In Howe’s words, “the right to express views in a political context is regarded by the European Court of Human Rights as the most important element of that. In my opinion the system in Wales has reached a point where councillors now have to look over their shoulder in case the Ombudsman does not like what they say.”

For more information, see: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/03/05/top-gurkha-case-lawyer-attacks-spate-of-complaints-against-councillors-as-threat-to-free-speech-91466-30460104/#ixzz1ocC7Q1wl

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