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Freedom of Expression in the News- Weekly Round Up: 13 – 19 August

Angola: Journalist arrested for reporting on ‘mass fainting’.

Angolan journalist Adão Tiago was detained following a report on Radio Ecclesia on the fainting of 20 students at the local school where he teaches English. Toajo questioned the national wave of ‘mass fainting’ since April 2011. Over 800 people, most of them teenagers, fainted after complaining of sore throats and eyes, shortness of breath and coughs. The media has been blamed for exacerbating the problem by creating mass hysteria. Tiago was released after 23 hours of questioning.

Northern Ireland: News organisations claim police are putting journalists at risk

Chief Constable Matt Baggott was warned by Northern Irish editors that demands from police for media riot footage could endanger journalists. This followed a court order that media companies, including the BBC, must hand over images of the recent riots in Belfast. Seven media groups were concerned that such an order impinged on their duty to be impartial and they feared reprisals from rioters.

Vietnam: Blogger jailed for attempted subversion

A French Vietnamese professor was found guilty of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was charged for being a member of a banned pro-democracy group – US based Viet Tan – and editing an anti-communist blog, where he posted 33 articles against the current one-party community government. Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News- Weekly Round Up: 13 – 19 August’

Apple and Net Neutrality – Relevant?

In recent months the legal and ethical debate over net neutrality and its implications for freedom of expression has drawn quite a bit of attention. Net neutrality is of utmost cultural, societal, and legal significance. Net neutrality regulation is one of the most important decisions the world’s lawmakers will have to make in the upcoming years. A prominent example can be found in Apple, the company famous for its computers, mp3 players, and most recently the iPhone. The quarrel over the submission and review policy for publishing an application on the Apple App Store has become highly controversial. Now, the actual review policy is too long to include in this blog but the gist is explained quite well in Apple’s official summary:

‘The app approval process is in place to ensure that applications are reliable, perform as expected, and are free of explicit and offensive material. We review every app on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria…’ Continue reading ‘Apple and Net Neutrality – Relevant?’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round Up, 29 July- 5 August

Dominican Republic: Critical Journalist Murder

Director of the magazine La Voz de la Verdad and host of Caña TV programme, José Agustín Silvestre, was brutally murdered after he accused members of the government and a priest of being involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. This follows a local prosecutor’s filing of a defamation complaint against the deceased, Silvestre, in May.


Saudi Arabia: Stop Trial of Journalist

Human Rights Watch has called for the head of the Saudi Judiciary to cease all criminal proceedings against a Saudi journalist who has been charged with defaming a local official. The journalist wrote an article about alleged attempts by an official health inspector to extort money from shopkeepers in Huta, a town south of Riyadh. Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch stated, “Silencing reporters who try to expose corruption sends the wrong message to Saudi officials and the public.”


Africa: Windhoek +20 Draft Declaration Released

The African Platform on Access to Information Working Group has released the second draft of its declaration. The declaration sets out minimum standards for access to information on a national scale and is part of an intercontinental initiative to promote access to information in Africa. It can be found online at


Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round Up, 29 July- 5 August’

Burma: Liberalisation to conceal repression?

Burma, also known as Myanmar, held its first elections in 20 years in November 2010, and the new ‘civilian’ government took office in March 2011. However, as many international observers have reported, the elections were fraudulent and undemocratic. A quarter of the seats on Parliament are reserved for the military, and a military-backed party controls 80% of the rest. According to reports, the government continues to imprison political opponents,  use convicts as human shields for the military, violently repress ethnic minorities, silence critics through censorship of the press, and limit access to information through surveillance of the internet, among other claims. The result is absolute military rule wearing the mask of democracy; a mask that the government thinks it can continue to wear as long as it controls the press and the internet. Continue reading ‘Burma: Liberalisation to conceal repression?’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round-up, 18 – 22 July

Georgia: Arrest of Photo-Journalists  

A group of 15 international and regional freedom of expression organisations have expressed serious concern over the arrest of a group of photo-journalists ‘spying on behalf of foreign intelligence services or organisations’ and are scheduled to stand trial in September.  The Independent Association of Georgian Journalists called on Georgian President Michael Saakashvili to intervene in this case to secure release on bail. The union says the arrests may be related to the photographers’ work, including photos taken of police using violence against anti-government protesters.  According to Beth Costa, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, ‘[t]his is a test case to prove [Georgia’s] genuine commitment to the rule of law and tolerance of criticism. The photojournalists are entitled to the presumption of innocence and should be released to defend themselves as free men in a public trial.’


UK: Expert Group for Freedom of Expression on the Internet meets for first time

UK Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne opened the first meeting of the Freedom of Expression on the Internet subgroup of the Advisory Group on Human Rights, on 20 July 2011.  The meeting was attended by experts from the legal, academic and media communities, NGOs and the business sector.  The Freedom of Expression on the Internet Expert Group is focusing specifically on internet freedom issues, to ensure the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the best possible information about recent developments and can benefit from outside advice on the conduct of our policy.


Saudi Arabia: Terror law ‘would strangle protest’

A secret new anti-terror law being drawn up by the Saudi authorities would ‘strangle peaceful protest’, Amnesty International has said.  According to the BBC, which has been shown a classified copy of the draft law, measures include lengthy detention without trial, restricted legal access and increased use of the death penalty.  Among the measures proposed is a broadening of the definition of a terrorist crime to include any action deemed to be ‘harming the reputation of the state’ or ‘endangering national unity’.  However, a Saudi Official has said that the legislation is directed at terrorists, not dissidents.  Amnesty has said that a number of provisions in the document contradict the kingdom’s international legal obligations, including the UN Convention against Torture.


Global: Human Rights Committee Continues Discussion of Draft General Comment on the Right to Freedom of Expression

The Human Rights Committee continued its review of a draft General Comment on States parties’ obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, setting out the rights to hold an opinion without interference and to freedom of expression.  The discussion addressed such issues as how to respect diverse cultures, while at the same time acknowledging the universality of the right to freedom of expression and whether freedom of expression also protected certain treatment of flags and symbols.  They also discussed at length freedom of expression in the context of new media and emerging technologies. Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round-up, 18 – 22 July’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up, 7-14 June 2011

United Kingdom:  Police investigate destruction of evidence by suspect in phone-hacking scandal

Millions of emails between News of the World editors, reporters, and private investigators may have been deleted by a News International executive currently under investigation.  If true, the acts would go directly against News International claims that they are fully cooperating with police in the investigation. 


Iraq:  Proposed law would curtail freedom of assembly

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW)a recent law drafted by the Iraqi Government would violate both international law as well as the Iraqi Constitution, due to ‘vague wording’.


China:  Shuts down 1.3 million websites in 2010

A state run think tank reports a 41% decrease in websites from 2009 to 2010.  The State argues that this has no impact on China’s protection of freedom of online speech, citing data that shows that while the total number of websites has decreased, the content remaining websites increased by 78%.  Civil rights groups continue to strongly argue that web content in China is heavily censored. 

Link: Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up, 7-14 June 2011’

Internet: A Fundamental Human Right?

The internet shutdown in Egypt in January 2011 sparked a lively debate on whether access to the internet is a fundamental human right or not? This discussion has re-emerged with the recent release of the report by Frank LaRue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of speech and expression. The report identifies the internet as the key means by which individuals exercise their right to freedom of expression. The report concludes that the same framework that safeguards the right to freedom of expression must govern the right to internet access.

While welcomed by many, the characterization of internet access as a fundamental right has not been unanimously embraced. Continue reading ‘Internet: A Fundamental Human Right?’

‘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’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round-up 18 June – 24 June 2011

Netherlands: “Netherlands Split as anti-Muslim MP is cleared of hate charge”

An anti-Muslim MP who compared the Koran to Mein Kampf has been acquitted of charges of inciting hatred. The judge ruled that the MP’s comments constituted criticisms of a religion and were therefore protected by freedom of speech. A lawyer announced he intends to take the case of the European Court.


Sri Lanka: “Crippling blow to freedom of expression”

The Right to Information Bill presented by the opposition United National Party was defeated by a government majority in the parliament.  The Bill set out the right to free access to official information, the establishment of a Freedom of Information Commission as well as the procedure to obtain said information.


USA: “Health Experts Welcome Graphic New Warnings on US Cigarette Packages”,

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires now requires that graphic photos and messages cover half of cigarette packages and constitute 20% of cigarette ads. The new health warnings are to be displayed by September 2012. Cigarette companies argue that the requirements violate freedom of speech.

Link:   Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round-up 18 June – 24 June 2011’

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