Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 15-21 October 2011

Canada: Former homosexual’s freedom a high court issue

A controversial case has come before Canada’s Supreme Court involving a formerly homosexual man who is now an anti-“gay” activist. When he was younger, he was gay, but then he became religious and renounced a homosexual lifestyle. Now he is known in his community for “distributing pro-family materials in people’s mailboxes, urging them to keep homosexuality out of the public schools. […] He also distributes leaflets, and has placed a newspaper ad, that quotes the Bible on homosexual conduct.” Naturally, people have complained and the Human Rights Commission of Saskatchewan has ordered him to cease this activity and pay a fine of $17,500. Now that the case is before the Supreme Court, interestingly enough, he has gained a lot of support from the homosexual community. Though they find his comments offensive, they feel that his right to freedom of speech is more important. The case is set to be decided within the year.

Sudan: Sudan’s parliament witnesses heated discussions over press censorship

The Sudanese Parliament organised a seminar this Monday to discuss proposed amendments to the country’s Press and Publication Act (2009). An intense debate took place between parties. The Sudanese constitution guarantees freedom of expression, however in practice, ‘[Sudanese] security authorities routinely censor and confiscate newspapers to prevent publication of information deemed sensitive’ and ‘the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) still contact newspapers by phone prior to printing and conveys a list of issues that should not be covered.’ Much to everyone’s surprise, the leading member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Fathi Shilah, made statements in favor of freedom of press, ‘he described press censorship as an act of backwardness regardless of the authority that implements it.’ The Sudanese Journalists Union (SJN) was adamant that amendments must be made to the press law to ‘accommodate “the forthcoming era of freedom and democratic transformation,” in Sudan,’ but some say it will take more than that; some believe the real problem lies with the National Security Act that grants NISS the power to censor the press.,40458 

UK: A crucial week for the cause of free expression

This week, the UK Supreme Court will hear the Times’ appeals concerning the outcome in the libel case brought against them by Metropolitan Police Officer Gary Flood. Allegations that Flood had taken bribes was found to be untrue; “Flood was found to have done no wrong, he alleged that the continuing presence of the report of allegations on the Times’ website impugned his reputation, and sued”.

Saudi Arabia: Ongoing stifling of freedom of expression

In a press release 18 October 2011, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has condemned the “ongoing suppression of freedom of expression and harassment of activists by the Saudi authorities.” Most recently, they have arrested the team of a show broadcast on YouTube. On 10 October, the team broadcast a show on poverty in Saudia Arabia. Within 5 days, the video had 500,000 views, the team was summoned and detained by police for investigations. “ANHRI condemns the silence of the Arab and international community on these violations, and calls both for rapid measures pressuring the Saudi authorities to respect and protect the rights of the citizens, release Mal3ob 3lena’s team and all those who were arbitrarily detained within the kingdom, and to cease the politicized trial of Aboul-Khair.”

Venezuela: United Nations review: Venezuela excels in Human Rights

 ‘On Tuesday the Venezuelan government welcomed the results of what it called “an open and extensive” human rights assessment carried out this week by the United Nations Human Rights Council’. Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a review process of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. ‘While most recommendations were favourable, including a suggestion by Nicaragua that “the revolutionary policies of the Venezuelan government be strengthened so that all Venezuelans can fully enjoy their fundamental rights”, other countries such as the United States, France, and Israel criticized what they said were limitations of ‘freedom of expression’ and a lack of ‘an independent judiciary’. In response to the overall assessment, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister affirmed that “positive suggestions” would be taken back to his country for consideration by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, but that recommendations made “with an aggressive spirit and absolute cynicism” would be rejected as such. Of the 148 recommendations made, Venezuela accepted 95, rejected 38, and left 15 for further discussion in a follow-up session scheduled for March 2012. According to the Deputy Foreign Minister, 75 of the 95 recommendations accepted are already being implemented in the Bolivarian Republic’.

Iran, US:  Entertainment Industry Organizations Unite in Support of Imprisoned Iranian Filmmakers

‘In September 2011, the Iranian government arrested six independent filmmakers for allegedly working with the BBC, on charges including espionage and treason. Directors and actors were put on house arrest, imprisoned, and cut off from their families and lawyers. […] The arrests sparked outrage from filmmaking communities within Iran and around the world.’ Eight entertainment industry organisations in America released statements speaking out against the Iranian government’s actions and demanding the release of the detained individuals, and removing the suppression of freedom of expression.

South Korea: Citizen receives first guilty sentence for mentioning election on Twitter

 ‘A court of law has pronounced an [sic] 41-year-old company worker guilty of advance election campaigning for tweeting a list of names of individuals to be voted out at next year’s general election. The ruling is causing confusion among voters regarding the standards for limiting and clamping down on the expression of political opinions using social network services (SNSs) such as Twitter and Facebook. On Oct. 14, the National Election Commission (NEC) published guidelines on what could and could not be done during election campaigns using SNSs, while the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has also stated that it will crack down on illegal election activity using SNSs. Netizens, opposition parties and civic organizations, however, are protesting, claiming that the standards for crackdowns are vague, and therefore restrict voters’ freedom of political expression.’

Tunis: Muslims Rage Against Offending Filmmakers

 ‘The television airing of a “blasphemous” film in Tunisia sent hundreds of offended Tunisians on a rampage. “Three hundred people attacked our offices and tried to set fire to them,” said [the] chairman of Tunisian television station Nessma, after the station received death threats in the wake of Friday night’s broadcast of the film Persepolis. “There were messages posted on Facebook calling for Nessma to be torched and our journalists to be killed.” Persepolis [is a film] about growing up during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, [it] is critical of the fundamentalist regime and contains a scene showing a character representing Allah, which is […] blasphemous in Islam. […] Worshippers poured out of al-Fatah mosque in downtown Tunis in the afternoon and began protesting after the imam preached against Persepolis, calling it a “serious attack on the religious beliefs of Muslims.” Tunisian police had to resort to tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters; fifty demonstrators who tried to attack the station were arrested.’

Pakistan: MCP holds conference on freedom of media

‘The Media Commission Pakistan held its second conference on October 15 in Islamabad on “Attacks on Journalists and Media Freedom”. About 150 editors and leading journalists attended the conference and elected […] members of the commission to monitor attacks on journalists and audit media content to keep up the professional standards and observance of ethics. The conference declared that they resolved to defend the freedom of expression and safeguard journalists from increasing threats to their lives and intimidations and obstructions they faced while performing their professional duties in an environment of overwhelming intolerance, terrorism and extremism. They said that they were concerned over the increasing threats to the right to life and practicing certain professions, journalism, performing arts, humanities, research, advocacy of rights and the rule of law. They took serious exception to the brutal killing of six journalists in this year alone and a lack of progress in bringing the culprits responsible for these, and 70 other killings of journalists, to justice.’

Bahrain: Bahrain regime continues to target freedom of expression by taking journalists and photographers to trials

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern for the continuation of the Bahraini authorities in its campaign against media professionals, journalists, photographers and practitioners of freedom of expression, after months of being subjected to campaigns of arrest, dismissal from work, and torture in detention centers since February and March, as many of them started, during these days, receiving summons to appear before the judiciary in the criminal courts in a move aimed directly to criminalize their exercise of a fundamental right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by charters of human rights, and threatened by these trials to undergo imprisonment if convicted.”


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