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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:

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:

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:

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


Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 25 February – 2 March 2012

USA: Tobacco health labels violate free speech, judge rules

A U.S. federal court judge has ruled that regulations requiring large graphic health warnings on cigarette packaging and advertising violate free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution. Cigarette companies successfully challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s rule requiring them to label cigarette products with images of rotting teeth, diseased lungs and other images that illustrate the dangers of smoking.  The government argued that the public interest in conveying the dangers of smoking outweighed the companies’ free speech rights.  The government is appealing the ruling. 

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Iran turns the screws on dissidents ahead of elections, report finds

Amnesty International published a report this week accusing Iran of using increasingly repressive measures to shut down dissent since February 2011, including arrests targeting lawyers, students, journalists, activists and their relatives. The report stated that the situation has worsened in the run-up to the March 2 parliamentary elections.  Electronic and social media have been increasingly targeted. 

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Ecuador President Correa pardons paper in libel case

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has pardoned the three owners and a journalist at El Universo newspaper, who each faced 3-year jail terms and $40m (£25m) total in damages for libelling him. President Correa brought the libel lawsuit against them after an article published in El Universo criticizing the decision to deploy an army squad to rescue him from a violent protest by striking police officers in September 2010.  Human rights groups had denounced the libel case and the severity of the sentences imposed on El Universo.  President Correa defended his battle against Ecuador’s private media, stating that it was a fight for justice against the “dictatorship of the media.”

Read more: Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 25 February – 2 March 2012’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 4 – 10 February 2012

US free speech faces Islamic blasphemy law pressure, analyst says

A religious liberty expert has said that attempts to “export” Islamic anti-blasphemy laws to the West could pose a threat to freedom of speech in the U.S. He urged the Obama administration to end the government’s partnership with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; an organisation that has been “aggressively lobbying to restrict free speech through legal controls.” Rather, the government should promote the idea that “in open, boisterous, free societies,” all religions will be likely to be subject to criticism.

For more information see:

IBA launches first global report examining the impact of online social networking on the legal profession

The International Bar Association (IBA) today published The Impact of Online Social Networking on the Legal Profession and Practice– the first comprehensive IBA report that examines the role of online social networking within the legal profession and legal practice, and also assesses whether there is a need to set principles regarding usage.

For more information see:

Armenian Journalist Freed Amid Media Uproar

Armenian law-enforcement authorities have released Hayk Gevorgian – a prominent pro-opposition journalist. He was initially detained for allegedly hitting and injuring another man with a car driven on 13 January, but these allegations have been discredited. Gevorgian claims to have been arrested by police in retaliation for his scathing articles about chief of national police Vladimir Gasparian, written in pro-opposition daily Haykakan Zhamanak.

For more information see:

Media interest in celebrities’ lives is legitimate, European court rules

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled – in cases concerning a German television actress and Princess Caroline of Monaco – that the private lives of celebrities are of legitimate interest to the media; tipping the balance in privacy cases back towards freedom of expression. The judges held that “as long as the media carried out a reasonable balancing exercise, considering privacy issues, they should be able to publish stories about and photographs of ‘well-known people.’” The Princess Caroline of Monaco decision showed that that the context in which the photo was published, rather than the photo itself, was crucial.

For more information see:

Russia: Government Shuts HIV-Prevention Group’s Website

The Russian government’s anti-drugs agency has ordered the blocking of the website of a public health organization, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, for discussing the addiction medicine methadone, human rights groups said today. The move is an assault on freedom of expression in the midst of pro-democracy protests, the groups said.

For more information see:’s-website


Abdel Aziz-Al-Jaridi face prison time for defaming Al-Jazeera anchor

Abdel Aziz Al-Jaridi, director of two daily newspapers, Al-Hadath and Kul-Anas, appealing a defamation conviction, following his four months jail sentence by the first instance court on 13 June 2011 for defaming Al-Jazeera news anchor Mohamed Krichen. Journalists in Tunisia can face up to six months in prison for defamation. Al-Jaridi, considered to be a supporter to the former regime, is known for his articles defaming opposition figures and dissident voices during the rule of Zeine El Abidin Ben Ali.

For more information see:


‘France turns freedom of expression into handicap of expression’

Turkey’s Minister of European Union Affairs Egemen Bağış said at a press conference that France “has turned freedom of expression into a handicap of expression,” in response to France’s adoption of a bill that criminalises the denial of Armenian genocide allegations. He continued, saying that “[w]hat France does is to carry Europe back to the Middle Ages. An EU that is afraid of talking and discussing does not have much to give to humanity. The EU, the most extensive peace project in the history of humanity, must be braver.”

For more information see:


Tunisian human rights minister: No free speech for gays

Tunisian Human Rights Minister Samir Dilou spoke out against an online gay magazine Gayday Magazine, saying that “freedom of expression has its limits” and that homosexuality was a “perversion” which “needed to be treated medically.” Gayday magazine, which claims to be the first online gay title in Tunisia, launched in March 2011, initially received little attention other than from LGBT Tunisians, but soon received homophobic attacks.

For more information see:

 The ‘Twitter joke trial’ appeal: a review of the High Court hearing

The hearing is important because of “the way it represents the law’s arguably problematic collision with social media” and “because of the freedom of expression issues is raises.”  Paul Chambers was convicted on the basis of a tweet that said “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” which was held to constitute illegally communicating a message of menacing character by means of public electronic communications network. One of the arguments employed in the appeal is that the law in question had to be interpreted in light of the Article 10 convention right to freedom of expression.  The proportionality argument that is being raised under section 6 of the Human Rights Act is an argument that might prove conclusive.

For more information see:

 UN declares defamation conviction a free expression violation

The UN Human Rights Committee for the first time has found that jailing a writer for libel represents a violation of freedom of expression, report the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in the Philippines and the International Press Institute (IPI). In response to the imprisonment of former radio journalist Alex Adonis in July 2008, the committee declared that the Philippines’s criminal libel provision in its penal code is “incompatible” with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a signatory. The Committee held that Manila was “under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in the future, including by reviewing the relevant libel legislation.”

For more information see:

 Editor’s detention exposes regime’s crushing of dissent in wake of December violence

Igor Vinyavsky, the editor-in-chief of one of the last remaining independent national newspapers in Kazakhstan has been detained by Kazakhstan’s security services; a detention that IFEX members are calling “politically motivated” in light of “a long history of being a thorn in the side of the Kazakh government.” Vinyavsky was indicted on criminal charges of “making public calls through mass media to violently overthrow Kazakhstan’s constitutional regime,” which he denies.

For more information see:

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 28 January – 3 February 2012

Global: Twitter gives itself added flexibility to censor

Twitter Inc., the micro blogging service, now has the power to impose restrictions and to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis.  

For more information see: / /

Rwanda:  Journalists jailed for genocide denial launch Supreme Court appeal

“Two Rwandan journalists imprisoned for insulting President Paul Kagame and denying genocide will appear before the country’s supreme court on Monday to argue for their freedom. The fates of Agnès Uwimana and Saïdati Mukakibibi, who are supported by an international team of lawyers and British human rights groups, have become test cases for free speech in the central African state. The ban on denial of the country’s 1994 genocide, which claimed as many as 800,000 lives, is being exploited as a legal weapon to silence political opponents, it is alleged. Rwanda insists the law is no different from those in Europe outlawing denial of the Holocaust.”

For more information see: 

UK: Sun editor – judges don’t have balance right on privacy

“The editor of the Sun has told MPs and peers that judges had ‘not got the balance right’ when it came to privacy cases involving celebrities and public figures.

Dominic Mohan, speaking before a joint parliamentary committee of examining reform of legislation relating to privacy and injunctions, said that he would ask judges to ‘balance it [their judgments] more in favour of freedom of expression’”.

For more information see: Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 28 January – 3 February 2012’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 23-27 January 2012

Populist Ecuadorian president restrains press

The Washington Post reports that the Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, “has filed a defamation lawsuit that might put the three directors of the country’s largest newspaper in jail and shutter their 90-year-old paper”. According to freedom of expression groups, the Ecuadorian Government has introduced new laws and constitutional amendments targeted at limiting the independence of press: “while building a media conglomerate to disparage critics and counter independent media reports.” The Committee to Protect Journalists says that the number of suits by Ecuadorian public officials, aimed at squelching the dissenting voices, has been increasing. For more information see:

French senate outlawed denial of Armenia genocide

On Monday 23 January, the French Senate approved, by 127 votes to 86, a bill outlawing the denial of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Turkish authorities criticized the measure as an example of irresponsibility and a lack of respect towards Turkey, “politicising the understanding of justice and history” and as a way of “damaging freedom of expression in a tactless manner.” For more information see:

Ugandan security forces fired at a photo journalist

On Tuesday 24 January Ugandan security forces, following an oppositionist motorcade, opened fire at one of the Daily Monitor’s photo journalists. Isaac Kasamani, employed by the independent newspaper, reported that eight or nine men in plain clothes were aiming at him from a blue police van. The incident happened while he was trying to take a picture of an exploding tear gas canister thrown by the security agents. The van drove off immediately after the shooting. It has been reported that Ugandan security forces have been trying to curtail the oppositionist movements. For more information see:


IFJ welcomes call for greater protection of media at major conference in Doha

“(IFJ/IFEX) – 25 January 2012 – The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the recommendations of an international conference on the protection of journalists which took place in Doha, Qatar on 22-23 January, saying they will boost the campaign to press governments on their responsibility to protect journalists.

The conference agreed to submit to the UN General Assembly a set of recommendations which emphasize the need to vigorously enforce existing legal instruments, binding national authorities to prevent and punish violence against journalists. (…)

The Doha conference, organised by the Qatari National Committee for Human Rights (QNCHR), brought together hundreds of delegates from press freedom organisations, including 13 IFJ unions from Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Spain, Brazil, Morocco, Sudan, Mauritania and Croatia, as well as two of its regional groups, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and the Federation of Latin American and Caribbean Journalists (FEPALC).” For more information see: Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 23-27 January 2012’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 16-20 January 2012

The United States

A number of prominent websites including Wikipedia and Google joined in a protest against two bills being debated before the United State Congress. The bills, Stop Piracy Online Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), would allow the Department of Justice to seek court orders to block websites associated with piracy from search engine results. Following the internet movement, members of Congress have begun to withdraw their support for the bills. For more information see:


The Centre for Law and Democracy published its analysis of a Kenyan draft bill on rights to information. The bill includes a number of reforms including increased procedural safeguards for policing this right, and ensuring all persons present in Kenya have equal rights to information. For more information, including the Centre for Law and Democracy’s analysis and the text of the draft bill, see:


A crowd of over 10,000 people marched through Istanbul on Thursday in remembrance of an Armenian journalist and freedom of speech proponent, Hrant Dink. Dink was murdered five years ago by a Turkish teenager described as “ultra nationalist.” Protestors expressed outrage at the decision to release some alleged accomplices to the murder, while other Turkish journalists are being detained as a result of the content of their writing. For more information, see:

Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 16-20 January 2012’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 7-13 January 2012

China: Online writer imprisoned

The Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) reports that China has sentenced an online writer to 10 years in prison for “inciting subversion against state power.”  The trial of Chen Xi took place four days after activist Chen Wei was sentenced to nine years on the same charge.  CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz stated that “penalties against government critics appear to be growing harsher,” an indication that the Chinese authorities are increasingly tightening their control of dissent.

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United Kingdom: BBC wins right to broadcast prisoner interview

The High Court has ruled that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke was wrong to restrict the BBC from filming a British terrorism suspect held for seven years without trial, finding that the refusal to allow an interview was un unjustified interference with the BBC reporter’s right to freedom of speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Justice Secretary had argued that an interview was not necessary to inform the public about Babar Ahmad’s story, but the court found that the exceptionality of the case gave rise to a public interest in seeing and hearing from the suspect.

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Thailand: Thai panel calls for overhaul of law forbidding royal insults

An independent commission has sent a letter urging the Thai Prime Minister to amend the country’s current “lese majeste” law, which imposes heavy penalties for defaming, insulting or threatening the monarchy.   The law has faced increased criticism from international human rights groups in recent months in the wake of several high-punishment convictions.

Read more: Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 7-13 January 2012’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 31 December 2011 – 6 January 2012

Panama: Panama president on warpath against independent media, opposition claims

5 January 2012

 “He is a prosperous businessman who made his fortune through a chain of supermarkets, proving himself to be ruthless with his competitors. Now President Ricardo Martinelli is showing the same cut-throat pattern with the press in Panama. Media owners and opposition politicians last week accused Martinelli of trying to curtail press freedoms in the isthmus nation by threatening to impose fines and taxes on radio stations and newspapers that have been reporting on a string of political scandals affecting his administration.

Martinelli ‘has a bad dermatology problem – he has thin skin when it comes to tolerating criticism and dissent,’ says Guillermo Adames, owner of Radio Omega Stereo in Panama City. ‘They sent the taxman to come see me after I questioned the government in a radio commentary and in the newspaper La Prensa. I think this was part of a campaign of intimidation so that there would be no such criticism from journalists or media owners.’

Panamanian Popular Party lawmaker Milton Henríquez accused the government of trying to “silence the voices of dissent.” “This is what a typical fascist would do to gain absolute power,” said the opposition lawmaker.”

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Rwanda: Proposed media law fails to safeguard free press

5 January 2012

“A revised media law promised by the Rwandan government prior to and during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 fails to safeguard the right to freedom of expression and a free media. ARTICLE 19 welcomes several improvements in the draft, but calls on the government to bring the law into full compliance with international legal standards on the right to freedom of expression.

The State retains its control over the media in the draft Law by determining rules for its operation and defining journalists’ professional standards. Media freedoms and the right to freedom of expression are not safeguarded and can be restricted in violation of international law due to overly broad definitions and the creation of vaguely defined prohibitions. The Minister in charge of information and communication technologies (ICT) is given unlimited powers to determine the requirements for establishing media outlets and conditions for accepting foreign audio-visual media to operate in Rwanda. ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that the proposed amendments leave untouched problematic provisions in the current Media Law that are not in compliance with international standards.”

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UK: The tabloids should not live in fear of the Leveson Inquiry

5 January 2012

“Before Christmas, Lord Justice Leveson told his inquiry that he was sure “there has been a lot of reflection” in the newspaper industry on the methods used to secure certain stories. As proof, he cited my suggestion that front-page scoops were going unpublished by the tabloids for fear of a public outcry or censure at the inquiry. “The real question,” he added, “is, will it last?”

I hope and pray it doesn’t. Right now, I’m either involved with or know of at least half a dozen stories that, pre-Leveson, would have dominated the front pages for days. But tabloid editors are on the back foot now, worried about upsetting their readers and causing more adverse comment at the inquiry, even if a story has been generated by legitimate means. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other: for years, virtually all that has mattered to these editors is whether a story is going to sell papers and not cost them heavy legal bills. But the Leveson accusations, be it from the Dowlers and McCanns or Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, have created an atmosphere of fear in which the tabloids are scared of breaking big scoops – and that’s not healthy in any democracy.”

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  Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 31 December 2011 – 6 January 2012’

‘Hactivism’ against Censorship: Civil Disobedience or Criminal Nuisance?

‘Hactivism’ – illegally tampering with websites as an act of protest – has gained unprecedented publicity, thanks to Anonymous, a scattered group of possibly thousands of activists who have collectively launched cyber-attacks on governments and private companies “to keep the internet open and free.” It first launched large-scale attacks in 2010 on the websites of Mastercard, Visa, and other companies who revoked services from WikiLeaks after the U.S. declared WikiLeaks illegal. Anonymous called any “anti-Wikileaks company” an enemy in a “war on data.”

In 2011, the group set its eyes on the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa, hacking into government websites to protest various internet censorship policies. In June, Anonymous launched “Operation Turkey,” disrupting Turkish government websites to protest its new mandate for all online users to sign up for one of four internet filtering settings, which according to Anonymous, not only restricted internet access but enabled the government to monitor individual internet activity. Anonymous launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS), in which numerous websites flooded the target websites with requests, rendering them too busy to function.  An unofficial Anonymous spokesman proclaimed the tactic a valid method of protest: “When truck drivers go on strike they block all the roads. It’s the same principle.” Anonymous also recently targeted Iran and United Arab Emirates, stealing and displaying ten thousand government user names and passwords. Reportedly, the attack on Iranian websites was conducted in view of the second anniversary of the controversial 2009 election.    Continue reading ‘‘Hactivism’ against Censorship: Civil Disobedience or Criminal Nuisance?’

Universal Standards and Parochial Concerns

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has proposed that the relationship between freedom of expression and privacy online be investigated by a special commission set up by the United Nations.  He deplored that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which should naturally be the body undertaking such activities, has not been more proactive on that front.

At the forefront of his concerns are state-lead clampdowns on free expression, like those recently seen in China. This is a serious worry of course, but it is questionable whether it should be UNESCO who takes the lead on this matter. As a body constituted of the representatives of its member states, UNESCO could be criticised as more political than principled. The General Conference and Executive Board, both of which are composed of state representatives, set and execute policy. If we look at other United Nations bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Committee and its replacement body the Human Rights Council, for example, it is easy to see how they have been criticised for letting politics dominate what should be institutions of principle. There is a risk that giving UNESCO the leading role in a drama with such controversial political implications could result in it suffering the same fate. Continue reading ‘Universal Standards and Parochial Concerns’

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