Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up, 16 July 2010


United Kingdom: ‘Libel law reform to protect free expression’, 10 July 2010

The UK government has signalled that there will be reform to the libel laws of England and Wales.  The new measures will include steps to stem the flow of libel tourism, and give greater protection to investigative journalists and academics who cannot publish their work for fear of litigation.  Justice Minister Lord McNally said that freedom of speech would be protected as well as protecting people from press intrusion.


Russia: ‘Russia convicts art experts over exhibition’, 12 July 2010

An art expert and former museum director were each fined up to US$6,500 for committing actions “aimed at exciting hatred”, after organising the provocative ‘Forbidden Art’ exhibition in Moscow in 2007, aimed at exploring the limits of freedom of expression.  Ultra-nationalist Orthodox group, the Council of the People, complained that the exhibition insulted religious believers, and after the trial stated that the punishment should have been harsher.  Many Russian artists and the Russian Culture Minister have defended the exhibition, and Amnesty International condemned the verdicts as shameful and a further blow to freedom of expression in Russia.

Israel: ‘Flag-burning yeshiva student claims freedom of expression’, 12 July 2010


An ultra-orthodox Yeshiva student indicted for burning the Israeli national flag in Jerusalem has asked for the charges to be dropped on the basis of protected freedom of expression.  The student’s attorney stated that although flag-burning is a hurtful, insulting and provocative act, the offence to public sensibilities was not sufficiently grave as to permit an infringement of freedom of expression.

Italy: ‘UN Expert Recommends Italy ‘Abolish or Revise’ Wiretap Bill’, 13 July 2010

A UN human rights expert has called on the Italian government to abolish or revise the Wiretap Bill, which would limit news coverage of criminal investigations which involve police wiretaps.  Journalists would risk imprisonment and fines of up to €465,000 for reporting such cases.  Most of the Italian media went on strike on 9 July in protest against the Bill, with virtually no newspapers published that day.


Cuba: ‘First of 52 Cuban political prisoners leave Cuba’, 13 July 2010


The first six of fifty two political prisoners, imprisoned in 2003 under Cuban laws aimed at restricting opposition to the government, were released following a deal with the Catholic Church.  The prisoners were flown to Madrid to begin a life as Cuban exiles in Spain, after the Spanish Foreign Minister helped broker the deal the week before.  One released prisoner said this was the result of a very long struggle, which involved the sacrifice of one man’s life and the near-martyrdom of others.

United Kingdom: ‘Jon Gaunt loses high court case over ‘gratuitous’ interview’, 13 July 2010

A British radio presenter lost his challenge against the media regulator Ofcom, after it upheld complaints made against him for calling a local councillor a ‘nazi’ which lead to his dismissal.  Together with the civil rights group Liberty, Gaunt challenged Ofcom’s decision as a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as an unlawful interference with his freedom of expression.  The proceedings were dismissed on the basis that “the offensive and abusive nature of the broadcast was gratuitous, having no factual content or justification”, and the presenter was denied leave to appeal.

France: ‘French MPs vote to ban Islamic full veil in public’, 13 July 2010


The French parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill banning the wearing of the Islamic full-face veil in public.  Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said it was a victory for democracy and for French “values of freedom” against oppression.  The Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, has waned that the ban might be unconstitutional, and the bill may also be challenged before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.


United Kingdom: ‘Raoul Moat: Prime minister criticises public sympathy’, 14 July 2010

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said there should be no sympathy for gunman Raoul Moat, after messages of sympathy were left at the scene of his death and on the social networking site Facebook.  The Prime Minister, following a request by a Conservative MP, also asked that a page dedicated to Moat on Facebook which had attracted 30,000 members be taken down, but a spokeswoman from Facebook said that the site encourages public debate about issues in the media, and the page would not be removed.

Kashmir: ‘Journalists barred from reporting on demonstrations; journalist slain’, 14 July 2010

A week of protests in India-controlled Kashmir, which has lead to 15 deaths, has seen a complete lock-down on local coverage of the events.  Journalists, photographers and cameramen from local, national and international media organisations have been beaten by police and assaulted by security forces trying to prevent them covering the demonstrations.

United States: ‘US Senate committee moves to curb libel tourism’, 14 July 2010


The US Senate is getting closer to passing a law which would make it harder for plaintiffs to bring libel cases against Americans in overseas courts, in a bid to discourage libel tourism in countries with stricter libel laws, such as the UK, Australia, Singapore and Brazil.  Some human rights campaigners and legal experts have said that libel tourism is used by the powerful to stifle dissent and criticism.  The ‘Speech’ Act will now progress to a full Senate hearing.

Venezuela: ‘Head of Venezuela’s Globovision Considering Asylum in US’, 15 July 2010

Guillermo Zuloaga, head of pro-opposition television channel Globovision, says he cannot return to Venezuela, and has been advised by American Government officials and attorneys to seek asylum in the US.  Venezuelan Prime Minister Hugo Chavez ordered the arrest of Zuloga and his son on criminal charges last month, which Zuloaga criticised as being ‘trumped up charges’.  Chavez has rejected the criticism and may request Zuloaga’s extradition from the US.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed concerns that Chavez has placed serious constraints on freedom of expression and human rights in Venezuela.

Syria, ‘Syrian human rights record unchanged under Assad, report says’, 16 July 2010

A Human Rights Watch report has said that Syria’s record on freedom and human rights has failed to improve in the decade since President Bashar al-Assad came to power.  Assad had promised greater transparency and democracy when he took over from his father in July 2000.  Human rights abuses are less severe than in the 1980s, but a state of emergency introduced in 1962 remains in force, permitting security forces to make arrests without warrants, and carry out torture with impunity.  Media censorship is enforced, and journalists and bloggers are arrested and tried in state security courts for exercising their right to freedom of expression.


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