Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up, 2 August 2010

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka TV station firebombed, 30 July 2010

Two people were injured in a firebomg attack on a private TV and radio station Siyatha, in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Siyatha’s owner left the country some months ago after reports emerged that he had also funded the opposition presidential candidate, Sarath Fonseka.

The government temporarily prevented Siyatha from covering official events and withdrew advertising from its newspaper, which has now closed down.

However, its broadcasts have not been critical of the government.

Witnesses said that about 12 masked men, most of them armed, stormed Siyatha’s premises in the city centre and went on a rampage early on Friday.

They threw petrol-bombs and destroyed much of the broadcasting equipment, forcing staff to kneel at gunpoint and assaulting two of them. The fire destroyed much of the broadcasting equipment.

Borneo: Journalist who covered environmental issues found dead, 26 July 2010

Reporters Without Borders urges national police chief Gen. Babang Hendarso Danury to ensure that the police conduct an exhaustive and impartial investigation into the death of Muhammad Syaifullah, the Borneo bureau chief of the leading national daily Kompas, and do not prematurely rule out the possibility that he was murdered in connection with his work. Syaifullah was found dead today in his home in Balikpapan, on the island of Borneo. The cause of death is not yet known. The police said that his body was found in front of a TV set, that there was froth around his mouth and that the muscles of his face were contracted.,38029.html

Czech Republic: Coalition vows to soften “muzzle law”, 26 July 2010

The Czech coalition government will soften the “muzzle law” so that journalists can publish information on participants in criminal proceedings relating to politicians’ or other state officials’ corruption, Marek Benda, drafter of the legislation, told CTK Friday. Benda, a deputy for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), said the coalition of the ODS, TOP 09 and Public Affairs (VV) would probably also reduce punishment for individuals if they violate the law. However, the law banning the disclosure of identity of victims of some criminal acts and quotations from police wiretapping will be still valid, including the modifications, Benda said.

United Kingdom: Libel law must be changed to protect free speech, Supreme Court hears, 27 July 2010

Britain’s highest court is considering what should qualify as “fair comment” for the first time in 20 years after a Motown band brought a libel action against Jason Spiller, its former agent, for remarks made on his website. Mr. Spiller has appealed to the court to relax existing libel laws and strengthen the defence of “fair comment” to protect “ordinary people” from the threat of large libel pay-outs. David Price, his solicitor advocate, warned that debate will be stifled, internet users will be left vulnerable and journalism will become “legalistic and turgid” unless the balance is restored in favour of freedom of expression.

Iraq: Al Arabiya channel loses 15 employees since Iraq war began, 27 July 2010

Monday’s bombing of Al Arabiya’s Baghdad office brought the death toll of the channel’s employees to 15 since the start of the war in Iraq in 2003. Four people were killed and 15 were injured on Monday when a suicide bomber detonated a 120kg bomb in a van outside Al Arabiya’s Baghdad office at 9.25am Baghdad time. According to the Iraq-based Journalism Freedom Observatory, a total of 249 media workers have been killed since the US-led invasion of 2003.

Canada: Border guards stop hundreds of ‘obscene’ items, 27 July 2010

Canada’s border agency has seized anti-Semitic books, smutty DVDs and sexually explicit comics as it classes what material is welcome into the country and what is banned because it breaches the “community standard of tolerance.” Quarterly reports obtained from Canada Border Services Agency’s Prohibited Importations Unit from April 2009 to March 2010 reveal a flow of erotic material themed on incest, bestiality and violent sex trying to make its way into Canada. Of the 384 items stopped for review for suspected “obscenity,” 167 were deemed admissible to the country and 217 were barred from entry.

Armenia: Defending Genocide is Freedom of Speech, 27 July 2010

The Ministry of Justice did not issue permission for a further prosecution of Sarkis Seropyan, concessionaire of the Armenian Agos newspaper, and Arat Dink, editorial manager of the Armenian daily regarding a trial due to Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s recognizing the events in 1915 as genocide. The trial had initially been opened against Hrant Dink himself and was transferred to his son Arat and newspaper owner Seropyan after he had been shot in front of his Istanbul office in 2007.

United States: US libel tourism bill to be passed into law, 29 July 2010

The US Congress has given final approval by voice vote to a libel tourism bill, which will now be passed to President Obama to be signed into law. The Speech Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) aims to protect writers and journalists from ‘libel tourists’ who use courts in other jurisdictions with weaker freedom of expression laws, such as the UK, to bring defamation cases. Libel reform campaigners in the UK say this should now send a “clear message” to the government that its own law needs reform, or else see London remain the “libel capital of the world”.

Russia: Russian Court Blocks YouTube, 29 July 2010

The decision came after a video entitled “Russia for Russians,” a Russian extremist slogan, was allegedly posted on the video sharing site. The court, in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, also ordered the local internet services provider, to block four other websites. The other sites were blocked for containing excerpts of Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, which was banned by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office in March after it was found in violation of laws against extremism.

Lebanon: Man arrested for ‘insulting Lebanese president on Facebook’, 29 July 2010

Ahmad Shuman was detained shortly after he arrived in Beirut’s international airport on a flight from Kiev. According to prosecutors, Mr Shuman committed “libel, slander and defamation” when he and three friends set up a page on the social networking website to criticise President Sleiman. Although widely seen as the Arab world’s most democratic state, Lebanon has strict laws created to punish those who insult the president.

Mexico: Mexico Journalists Kidnapped as Drug Cartels Threaten Freedom of Speech, 30 July 2010

Mexican gang members took at least three journalists hostage this week in Durango state after the reporters investigated alleged links between prison officials and drug groups, the state attorney general’s office said.

The kidnappers haven’t yet demanded a monetary payoff, said Ruben Lopez, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, in a telephone interview. Officials are seeking to confirm whether a fourth missing reporter is among the group, he said.

The kidnappings show Mexico’s drug cartels are growing increasingly violent and forcing members of the media to practice self censorship for their own safety, according to Carlos Lauria, a spokesman for the Americas division of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Taiwan: How ECFA threatens Taiwan news freedom, 30 July 2010

Taiwan will face greater challenges in defending existing hard-won levels of news freedom in the wake of the signing of the controversial “Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement” with the authoritarian People’s Republic of China. In stark contrast to the pollyannaish attitude of President Ma Ying-jeou’s rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government, a new report by the Legal Research Bureau and the Budget Center of the Legislative Yuan on the impact of ECFA on Taiwan warned that Taiwan’s government and citizens cannot ignore the “contradictions” between the broadcasting and news media systems of Taiwan and the PRC especially since “news freedom is an important index in evaluating the degree of national democratization.” Moreover, full news freedom and freedom of expression and freedom of access to news and information is vitally critical to both the functioning of our democratic society and the global competitiveness of our knowledge and innovation based economy.

United States: Groups Condemn UCI Ban of Muslim Union, 30 July 2010

A coalition of civil rights groups and professional bar associations have condemned UCI’s recent decision to ban the Muslim Student Union after students disrupted an Israeli ambassador’s speech on campus earlier this year.

Fifteen groups throughout the country – including the Asian Law Caucus, Afghan-American Bar Association, Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, South Asian Bar Association – Northern California and National Lawyers Guild – are urging UCI officials to abandon all efforts to suspend the Muslim student organization.
“Taking the unprecedented step to ban this group will memorialize UCI as a campus that violates its students’ constitutional rights, and will have negative repercussions that will reverberate around the country,” according to a letter signed by the groups and sent to the chancellor’s office late last week.

United Kingdom: Human rights outcry as African journalist who fled to Glasgow faces deportation, 30 July 2010

“‘For me,” says Charles Atangana over the phone from the Immigration Detention Centre at Colnbrook near Heathrow, where he is being held, “going back to Cameroon is a death sentence.” Six years ago he fled the west African country, seeking asylum in Glasgow. Back in Cameroon, he’d been one of the country’s best investigative journalists and had been detained without trial and tortured for publishing articles critical of the government. As a business journalist he specialised in stories probing financial corruption. Atangana’s application for asylum has been turned down, and tomorrow his options run out. If a court hearing turns down his appeal, he’ll be put on a plane and deported from the UK as quickly as possible…”

Ireland: Use of words were a ‘gross intrusion’ to right to privacy, high court hears, 2 August 2010

Turlough O’Donnell SC, for Ruth Hickey, 36, said articles published by the Sunday World were a “gross intrusion” of the right to privacy of these two people and he asked the court to award aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages against the paper. High Court president, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said he hoped to give his judgment in the case at the start of the next law term in October after he heard legal submissions from both sides yesterday. Ms Hickey, of Archer’s Wood, Castaheany, Dublin, says she was defamed by the use of the word “whore” in the paper when it published details in 2006 of a voicemail message by the panto star Twink (Adele King) in which she used the word to describe Ms Hickey.

China: Chinese censors take notice of Twitter-style blogs, 2 August 2010

Chinese censors blocked access to Facebook and Twitter a year ago for fear the foreign sites could be used to sow political unrest. Now it appears they’re taking aim at the popular Chinese imitators that filled the void. Known as microblogs, or weibo accounts in Chinese, these personal sites function a lot like Twitter, giving users the ability to post messages and links in short, almost instantaneous bursts. Offered by China’s leading Web portals, microblogs have surged in popularity. The number of weibo users more than tripled this year to 100 million.,0,4392075.story

Italy: draft wiretapping law should be scrapped or revised, says UN expert on freedom of expression, 2 August 2010

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, urged the Italian Government to “either abolish or revise draft law 1415 on surveillance and eavesdropping for criminal investigations.” He warned that, “if adopted in its current form, it may undermine the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Italy.”According to the current draft, anyone who is not accredited as a professional journalist can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to four years for recording any communication or conversation without the consent of the person involved, and publicizing such information.


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