Index on Censorship the voice of free expression Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:30:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship 3 May: Free As A Bird – Artistic Freedom Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:30:07 +0000 Like many other musicians in Mali, Tinawiren were forced into exile by a blanket ban on all music (including mobile ringtones) introduced when hard line Islamists took control of the country in 2012. Tensions continue and award-winning Johanna Schwartz has been capturing this tale in her latest documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’. Join […]

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Like many other musicians in Mali, Tinawiren were forced into exile by a blanket ban on all music (including mobile ringtones) introduced when hard line Islamists took control of the country in 2012. Tensions continue and award-winning Johanna Schwartz has been capturing this tale in her latest documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’.

Join us for a preview of this documentary and schedules permitting, a live link up with Manny Ansar - director of the Festival au Desert and central in making the situation for musicians in Mali known to the world.

Subsequently, we’ll explore artistic freedom from a global and local standpoint with renowned writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik, Belfast based international artist Sinead O’Donnell (just back from China) and academic and artist John Johnston who has studied and worked with street artists in Egypt, Belfast and around the world. Chaired by Julia Farrington of Index.

When: Saturday 3rd may, 15:30-17:00
Where:  Belfast Exposed, Donegall St - part of Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
Tickets: Free – Reserve Your Place Here 

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Filtering in the UK: The hinterland of legality, where secrecy trumps court rulings Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:55:21 +0000 A slip during an interview revealed the sneaking suspicion of free thinkers. The UK government was no longer restricting itself to censoring web content which was illegal. It was going to start censoring content which it simply didn't like, Ian Dunt writes

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James Brokenshire was giving an interview to the Financial Times last month about his role in the government’s online counter-extremism programme. Ministers are trying to figure out how to block content that’s illegal in the UK but hosted overseas. For a while the interview stayed on course. There was “more work to do” negotiating with internet service providers (ISPs), he said. And then, quite  suddenly, he let the cat out the bag. The internet firms would have to deal with “material that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury”, he said.

And there it was. The sneaking suspicion of free thinkers was confirmed. The government was no longer restricting itself to censoring web content which was illegal. It was going to start censoring content which it simply didn’t like.

If you call the Home Office they will not tell you what Brokenshire meant. Does it mean “unsavoury” material will be forced onto ISP’s filtering software? They won’t say. Very probably they do not know.

There is a lack of understanding at the Home Office of what they are trying to achieve, of how one might do so, and, more fundamentally, of whether one should be trying at all.

This confusion – more of a catastrophe of muddled thinking than a conspiracy – is concealed behind a double-locked system preventing any information getting out about the censorship programme.

It is a mixture of intellectual inadequacy, populist hysteria, technological ignorance and plain old state secrets. And it could become a significant threat to free speech online.

The Home Office’s current over-excitement stems from its victory over the ISPs last year.

Ministers, from New Labour onward, have always tried to bully ISPs with legislation if they refuse to sign up to ‘voluntary agreements’. It rarely worked.

But David Cameron positioned himself differently, by starting up an anti-porn crusade. It was an extremely effective manouvre. ISPs now suddenly faced the prospect of being made to look like apologists for the sexualisation of childhood.

Or at least, that’s how it was sold. By the time Cameron had done a couple of breakfast shows, the precise subject of discussion was becoming difficult to establish. Was this about child abuse content? Or rape porn? Or ‘normal’ porn? It was increasingly hard to tell.

His technological understanding was little better. Experts warned that the filtering software was simply not at the level needed for it fulfill politicians’ requirements.

It’s an old problem, which goes back to the early days of computing: how do you get a machine to think like a person? A human can tell the difference between images of child abuse and the website of child support group Childline. But it has proved impossible, thus far, to teach a machine about context. To filters, they are identical.

MPs like filtering software because it seems like a simple solution to a complex problem. It is simple. So simple it does not exist. Once the filters went live at the start of the year, an entirely predictable series of disasters took place.

The filters went well beyond what Cameron had been talking about. Suddenly, sexual health sites had been blocked, as had domestic violence support sites, gay and lesbian sites, eating disorder sites, alcohol and smoking sites, ‘web forums’ and, most baffling of all, ‘esoteric material’.  Childline, Refuge, Stonewall and the Samaritans were blocked, as was the site of Claire Perry, the Tory MP who led the call for the opt-in filtering. The software was unable to distinguish between her description of what children should be protected from and the things themselves.

At the same time, the filtering software was failing to get at the sites it was supposed to be targeting. Under-blocking was at somewhere between 5% and 35%.

Children who were supposed to be protected from pornography were now being denied advice about sexual health. People trying to escape abuse were prevented from accessing websites which could offer support.

And something else curious was happening too: A reactionary view of human sexuality was taking over. Websites which dealt with breast feeding or fine art were being blocked. The male eye was winning: impressing the sense that the only function for the naked female body was sexual.

It was a staggering failure. But Downing Street was pleased with itself, it had won. The ISPs had surrendered. The Washington Post described it as  “some of the strictest curbs on pornography in the Western world” -  music to Cameron’s ears. Suddenly the terms of the debate started shifting. Dido Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk, was saying the internet needed a “social and moral framework”.

So instead of proving the death knell for government-mandated internet censorship, the opt-in system became a precursor for a more extensive ambition: banning extremism.

If targeting porn without also blocking sexual health websites was hard, countering terrorism was even more difficult. After all, the line between legitimate political debate and inciting terrorism is blurred and subjective. And that’s not even to address other pieces of problematic legislation, such as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, which bans incitement to hatred against religions.

Even trying to block what everyone agrees is extremist content is highly controversial. Anti-extremism group Quilliam and security experts at the Royal United Services Institute have warned that closing websites were people are liable to being radicalised actually hinders intelligence services.

A lot of what we know about Brits going off to fight in Syria or elsewhere comes from the fact they write it on message boards. Blocking them just reduces your ‘intelligence take’. Groups like Quilliam also use those sites to go in and engage with people, offering them a ‘counter-narrative’. Blocking the sites prevents them doing their work.

The Home Office mulled whether to add extremism – and Brokenshire’s “unsavoury content” – to something called the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) list.

The list was supposed to be a collection of child abuse sites, which were automatically blocked via a system called Cleanfeed. But soon, criminally obscene material was added to it – a famously difficult benchmark to demonstrate in law. Then, in 2011, the Motion Picture Association started court proceedings to add a site indexing downloads of copyrighted material.

There are no safeguards to stop the list being extended to include other types of sites.

This is not an ideal system. For a start, it involves blocking material which has not been found illegal in a court of law. The Crown Prosecution Service is tasked with saying whether a site reaches the criminal threshold. This is like coming to a ruling before the start of a trial. The CPS is not an arbiter of whether something is illegal. It is an arbiter, and not always a very good one, of whether there is a realistic chance of conviction.

As the IWF admits on its website, it is looking for potentially criminal activity – content can only be confirmed to be criminal by a court of law. This is the hinterland of legality, the grey area where momentum and secrecy count for more than a judge’s ruling.

There may have been court supervision in putting in place the blocking process itself but it is not present for individual cases. Record companies are requesting sites be taken down and it is happening. The sites are only being notified afterwards, are only able to make representations afterwards. The tradional course of justice has been turned on its head.

The possibilities for mission creep are extensive. In 2008, the IWF’s director of communications claimed the organisation is opposed to censorship of legal content, but just days earlier it had blacklisting a Wikipedia article covering the Scorpions’ 1976 album Virgin Killer and an image of its original LP cover art.

Sources close to the ISPs say they were asked to take the IWF list wholesale – including pages banned due to extremism – and block them for all their customers, whether they had signed into the filtering option or not.

They’ve proved commendably reluctant, although their reticence is as much about legal challenges as a principled stance on free speech. Regardless, they seem to be insisting that universal blocking can only be carried out with a court order. Brokenshire is then left trying to get them to include it in their optional, opt-in filter.

We don’t know if he’s succeeded in that. The Home Office are resistant to giving out any information. They direct inquiries to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport or ISPs themselves, who really have no idea what’s going on. They refuse to answer any questions on Cleanfeed, saying it is a privately owned service – a fact which is technically true and entirely misleading.

It is not conspiracy. It is plain old cock up, combined with an inadequate understanding of the proper limit of their powers.

The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Even inside departments of the Home Office they do not know what they are trying to achieve.

The policy formation is weak and closed. The industry is not in the loop. Media inquiries are being dismissed. The technological understanding is startlingly naive.

The prospect of a clamp down on dissent is real. It would come slowly, incrementally – a cack-handed government response to technological change it does not understand.

We must be grateful for James Brokenshire. His slip ups are the best source of information we have.

This article was originally posted on 17 April 2014 at

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Uzbekistan: Dissident photographer “ruining the constitution” Thu, 17 Apr 2014 09:58:27 +0000 Renowned photographer and documentary filmmaker Umida Akhmedova tells Milana Knezevic about her latest run-in with Uzbekistan's repressive authorities

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The protest in Tashkent

Umida Akhmedova took part in a small protest in Tashkent, in solidarity with the Euromaidan movement.

On 27 January, internationally renowned photographer Umida Akhmedova, her son Timur Karpov and seven other people took to the streets of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Armed with Ukrainian flags, cameras and a petition, they staged a peaceful protest in solidarity with the Euromaidan movement.

Knowing they might attract unwanted attention, the group, which included one journalist reporting, posed for a few photos outside the Ukrainian embassy, handed over the petition, and quickly wrapped up the demonstration. However, their worries soon proved valid. Three days later, the protesters were hauled in one by one by police for a “short talk”. They would be held incommunicado for one day, first in a central Tashkent police station and later at a more remote location.

Karpov, a photographer based in Russia, told Index about unprofessional and aggressive officers, who called the protesters “dissidents” who were “ruining the constitution”. Passports and phones were taken away, but Karpov managed to keep one concealed to alert the outside world to their detention. It was eventually discovered and confiscated. When he got it back, it had been completely wiped. Without access to lawyers, the protesters were questioned by the SNB — the KGB’s successor — before being put through a quickie court session and ordered to pay fines of some £1,200. Three of them have been sentenced to 15 days in prison. Justice, as understood by Uzbekistan’s notoriously repressive regime.

This is not the first time Akhmedova has run into trouble with the regime of former Communist Party official Islam Karimov. In 2009, the photographer and documentary film maker, whose work has been published in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, was charged with ”damaging the country’s image” over a series of photographs depicting life in rural Uzbekistan. Similar charges were later levelled at her over a film about challenges facing Uzbek women, and in 2010, over a book about Uzbek traditions. It’s worth noting that she never intended to make a political statement with her work — the authorities’ reaction is what has politicised it. The cases have made Akhmedova a credible voice of opposition, and while her high profile provides some protection, it also means her every move is noted — as the latest case shows.

Umida Akhmedova (Image: Uznewsnet/YouTube)

Umida Akhmedova (Image: Uznewsnet/YouTube)

“We live in a strict, archaic society, where all unregulated acts, especially those that can cause some kind of a response in the society, are nipped in the bud,” she told Index. “In the case of our Maidan project, the authorities did not have to be clairvoyants to see the similarities between the situation in Ukraine and the one in Uzbekistan. The government has started scaring children and adults with the word Maidan and did not like it when we showed support for Maidan.”

“As for our previous case,” she adds “we were charged with slander and insult of Uzbek nation, because the government wanted to teach us a lesson that without the approval from above, we were not allowed to film anything or publish books, or generally, do anything artistic without a superior permission.”

While Akhmedova’s latest arrest hit headlines across Central Asia, the story made little impact in the west. This is not surprising. Earlier this year the soap opera-like falling out between first daughter Gulnara Karimova — businesswoman, sometimes pop star, and until recently tipped to follow in her father’s presidential footsteps — and, seemingly, the rest of the family was covered by media outside the country. But on the whole, Uzbekistan rarely commands international attention. Like many other countries in the region, it is able to carry out its repressive rule away from the global spotlight.

President Karimov, by taking a number of liberties with the country’s constitution and term limits, has been in power since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Reports of torture and other power abuses are widespread, the darkest days of the regime coming with the Andijan massacre, where security forces killed hundreds of people in the aftermath of a peaceful protest. The country is also one of the most corrupt in the world and despite its gas resources — part of the reason for many western sanctions quietly being dropped — suffers “recurring energy crises“. But Karimov has been careful to remove nearly all institutions that might use this information to challenge his power. Uzbekistan has no official opposition parties and no press freedom to speak of. Opposition news sites that operate outside of the country are blocked. Karpov puts it simply:  ”There is no freedom of expression in Uzbekistan. Absolutely none.”

One aspect of the widespread press censorship, is that developments in Ukraine have been met with near media blackout in Uzbekistan — the same way authorities dealt with the Arab spring and other incidents of popular unrest outside the country’s borders.

“From my point of view, they’re afraid. Extremely afraid of any sort of freedom,” says Karpov. “ That’s why they made the case with us. To frighten us. To show to other people that if you do this, you will be sentenced.”

Mother and son have accepted their punishment — partly because refusal to do so would lead to further blacklisting, and partly because they weren’t alerted to their appeal until after it had taken place. Unsurprisingly, the sentences were not overturned.

Despite this latest setback, and the possibility of being handed down a travel ban, Akhmedova remains undeterred. “Nothing has changed for me. I will carry on ‘slandering’ as I have done,” she says. “The state cannot help or stop me.”

This article was originally posted on 17 April 2014 at

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Twitter as a game has real-life consequences Thu, 17 Apr 2014 08:32:32 +0000 The description of Twitter as a game has one problem: Twitter can have real-life consequences, Padraig Reidy writes

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I was retweeted by Caitlin Moran on Wednesday evening (#humblebrag). It was a curious glimpse into the world of internet fame. Suddenly my replies were full of retweets and favourites – hundreds of them.

The tweet itself was fairly innocuous; in fact, it was a bit of a cheat. I’d copied someone else’s tweet, adding my own disbelief. And that tweet by someone else was a retweet of a three-year old tweet by well-hard actor Danny Dyer, who had been tricked, quite amusingly, by someone asking for a shout out to his grandad who had helped beat the Nazis, accompanied by a picture of a young Stalin. I’d missed it at the time.

Danny Dyer Stalin

Anyway, on it came throughout the evening, retweets, favourites, questions, statements of the obvious, snark…. It was weird, and unexpected, and kind of exciting. It was like I’d done something really good, rather than just stealing someone else’s old joke. And I was able to track exactly how good it was. I had pulled some kind of killer move and was getting my reward. I was winning the game.

In his 2013 documentary on video games that changed the world, Charlie Brooker, who knows so much about these things, caused a small stir when he suggested that Twitter was in essence, an online multiplayer game. Considering how high-mindedly people like me talk about social media as platforms for change, tools of democratisation and so on, it’s a provocative view to take. But Brooker is right. Twitter users are engaged in a massive game, possibly without end. We measure the success of individual moves (tweets) with retweets and favourites: keep pulling off these successful moves, and we can see our scores go up, in terms of followers accumulated. Not counting the uber famous, who will get a million retweets for the most grudgingly given “I HEART MY FANS; here’s the merchandise page” tweet, most of us are in this game to some extent.

But the description of Twitter as a game has one problem: Twitter can have real-life consequences.

Periodically (well, every time Grand Theft Auto comes out), Keith Vaz or Susan Greenfield or someone will get terribly upset about the ruination caused to young minds or young morals by all this mindless violence. This game lets you steal cars! Run down old ladies! All sorts of unspeakable things! But GTA and other games let you do nothing of the sort: at best, they let you pretend you’re doing these things. In fact, it’s not even that: it lets you control a character, whose character is already somewhat predetermined, in doing some of these things. You’re essentially engaged in a technologically advanced form of improv theatre. Except far more entertaining.

And this is where the Twitter-as-game thing falters: if I threaten to blow up a plane while playing a normal video game, nothing will happen to me. If I do it on Twitter, well…

Last Sunday a 14-year-old Dutch girl called Sarah got in trouble for tweeting that she was a member of Al Qaeda and was about to do “something big” to an American Airlines flight.

According to Dutch news agency BNO, the exchange went as follows:

“Hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye,” the girl, identifying herself only as Sarah, said in Sunday’s tweet. Soon after, American Airlines responded in their own tweet: “Sarah, we take these threats very seriously. Your IP address and details will be forwarded to security and the FBI.”

“omfg I was kidding. … I’m so sorry I’m scared now … I was joking and it was my friend not me, take her IP address not mine. … I was kidding pls don’t I’m just a girl pls … and I’m not from Afghanistan,” the girl said in subsequent tweets, later adding: “I’m just a fangirl pls I don’t have evil thoughts and plus I’m a white girl.”

It’s a stupid thing to do, obviously. But Sarah was playing by the rules of the game. She was being provocative, and, in her mind at least, funny. These are things that get you RTs and followers.

But sadly for Sarah, and the rest of us, there comes a point where social media stops being a game and starts being serious business.

We’ve seen this in the UK, of course, with Paul Chambers and the infamous Twitter Joke Trial.

That entire case was a travesty, because no one at any point believed Chambers even meant to behave threateningly. It’s unlikely anyone really believes Sarah meant anything by her tweet either, but in the order of things so far established, directing a comment at an account (at-ing someone, for want of a better phrase), as the Dutch girl did, is worse than simply referring to them, as Chambers did in his tweet about blowing Doncaster’s Robin Hood airport “sky high”.

Where is all this going to end up? I really don’t know. But I can only reiterate the point made many times before that, intriguingly, with the increasing ease of free speech, we’re seeing the rise of an increasing urge to censor; not just in authorities, but in everyday people.

It’s an urge we have to resist.

This article was originally published on 17 April 2014 at

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Senegalese artists under pressure for performing for Gambia’s dictator Thu, 17 Apr 2014 08:00:39 +0000 Activists write open letter to award-winning singer set to stage a three-day concert in Gambia's capital Banjul, writes Buya Jammeh

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The campaign against Senegalese artists and celebrities who are often paid thousands of pounds for praise singing Gambia’s authoritarian government, has in recent months intensified.

Awarding winning singer and music producer Youssou N’Dour in late March signed a controversial deal with the Gambia Social Security and Housing Finance Cooperation worth 3 million dalasi (£45118.82) to stage a three day concert in the capital Banjul beginning on 18 April. In response, the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA) has written an open letter to N’Dour and the artists he produces, imploring them to be sensitive to “the plight and suffering of Gambians, especially journalists” in their dealings with the regime of President Yahya Jammeh.

N’Dour responded to the letter by saying he did not want to deprive his Gambian brothers and sisters of the cultural exchanges. However, DUGA pointed out that in 2003, the singer boycotted the United States in protest of the invasion of Iraq, depriving his music from his brothers and sisters living in the USA. ”In your own words you said ‘I believe that coming to America at this time would be perceived in many parts of the world rightly or wrongly as support of this policy’,” the group quoted N’Dour as saying in the open letter posted on Facebook.

DUGA said the artist’s work with Human Rights Now, Amnesty International, Band Aid and numerous other causes has made him a giant on the world stage in the fight against injustice and poverty around the globe, adding that the entire world listened to his inspirational song in support of Nelson Mandela.

The activists urged the singer not to forget Gambians in his humanitarian activities: “In 2012 your principle fight against a third term of the former president of Senegal, you did not hesitate to say No!, and demanded that democracy must be the rule of the continent. On numerous occasions, you have persistently denounced what is seen as flagrant violation of the fundamental human rights. Mr N’Dour’s song New Africa has been a source of inspiration and strength for many Gambians in the struggle to free our country from one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world today.”

DUGA pointed out that while “Gambia may not have declared war on another nation and the streets may not be littered with bodies”, Gambians are not living in peace. They cited human rights violations against journalists, opposition politicians and regular people, including judicial harassment, torture, violence and extended detention without trial, and also mentioned the many Gambians forced into exile out of fear for their lives.

The letter added that “not participating in shows initiated for or by Jammeh will be a show of support for numerous Gambians in their fight against tyranny, while equally paying homage to Senegalese who have died under inhumane conditions in the Gambia, notably, Tabara Samb, Gibril Ba, Ousmane Sembene; and the countless and nameless others in Cassamance who have died as a direct consequence of the rebellion perpetuated by President Jammeh.”

Ibou N’Dour, Youssou N’Dour’s brother, told Jollofnews in response to the DUGA letter that they are not politicians, and will play for any politician provided that they sign a contract. “We will play a paid concert for Yahya Jammeh, you cannot wait for musicians to solve political problems”, he stressed.

In February the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists and Senegal’s “Fed Up” (Y’en a Marre)  movement launched a campaign in Dakar targeting musicians including Ousman Diallo alias Ouza, Kumba Gawlo Seck, Thione Seck and Assan Ndiaye, and Senegalese wrestler Oumar Saho alias Bala Gaye, for praise singing and carrying out promotional activities for Jammeh.

Ouza Diallo, a Senegalese artist seen as a revolutionary due to the significant role he played in effecting democratic change in Senegal during the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections, has denied being a praise singer for the regime in Banjul. He has accused the rights activist of being manipulated by the west, and recently described the Gambian dictator as a true Pan-African.

But while some support the campaign against Senegalese artists, an observer who wished to remain anonymous denounced it, adding that musicians have a right sing for anyone that can pay them money. She said that the activists should support the Gambian people by implementing projects to create employment and empower them rather than “abusing the rights of musicians, who are only doing their job as entertainers”.

This article was posted on 17 April 2014 at

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Pakistan: Draft computer crimes law violates human rights Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:59:06 +0000 Pakistan's draft computer crimes law is the latest example of vaguely worded legal frameworks that have severe implications for freedom of expression in the country, Nighat Dad writes

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(Image: Aleksandar Mijatovic/Shutterstock)

(Image: Aleksandar Mijatovic/Shutterstock)

As states have been revealed to be snooping on citizens and other governments, and we are confronted by data breaches and security issues like the latest Heartbleed crisis, more people are becoming aware of their internet rights. Voters and civil society around the world are pushing their governments to provide secure and private online spaces for internet users. It is quite refreshing to see Pakistan’s government working for internet laws. However, though some provisions of the proposed Computer Crimes Law (CCL) are copied from other countries’ legislation, several parts of the draft version violate international human rights, including the freedom of expression.

In an attempt to offer support to the government of Pakistan, Article 19 and Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan dissected the draft legislation to point out the provisions that need to be amended, and to help the government conform to international human rights norms. It is mandatory at this point to pressure the government to put in place better internet legislation in order to avoid future misuse of the legal framework, as has happened with other laws.

A leading example of how such poorly devised laws help authorities abuse power is the Monitoring and Reconciliation of International Telephone Traffic Regulations (MRITT), also known as the Grey Traffic legislation. Passed in 2010 to help the government ban anonymous communication and VPN usage, MRITT mandates the monitoring and blocking of any encrypted and unencrypted traffic that originates or terminates in Pakistan, including phone calls and data.

MRITT legitimised blocking and internet monitoring on a massive scale — allowing a ban on VPN and VoIP services like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and SpotFlux among others. The implementation of this legislation raises several concerns especially among the business community of Pakistan. The first official notification citing the MRITT to block VPN was issued in July 2011, targeting “all mechanisms which conceal communication to the extent that prohibits monitoring”.

The global reliance on the internet for communications and the, at times, complete blackouts of certain services by the government of Pakistan pose serious economic challenges. Not only business, but educational activities are hampered by the implications of MRITT. It also affects the privacy rights of Pakistani citizens. License deploying monitoring systems are expected to provide data — including a complete list of Pakistani consumers and their details — to the authorities when required under sub clause 6(d) of Part II of the regulation.

The Pakistan Protection Amendment Bill 2014 is another scary example of a woolly worded law. It was recently passed by Pakistan’s national assembly and is awaiting approval by the senate. Human Rights Watch stated that: “The vague definition of terrorist acts, which could be used to prosecute a very wide range of conduct — far beyond the limits of what can reasonably be considered terrorist activity. Besides ‘killing, kidnapping, extortion,’ the law classifies highly ambiguous acts including ‘Internet offences’ and ‘disrupting mass transport systems,’ as prosecutable crimes without providing specific definitions for such offences.”

The latest version of the Computer Crimes Law has been drafted by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoITT). The proposed law establishes various computer crimes and sets out rules for investigation, prosecution and trial of these offences. Acts such as illegal access to and interference with programs, data or information systems; cyber terrorism; electronic forgery and fraud; making of devices for use in these types of offences; and unauthorised interception of communication are included. Like MRITT, it is feared that the Computer Crimes Law in its current draft form, if passed, would include several violations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan acceded in 2010.

The concerns over the Computer Crimes legislation mentioned by Article 19 and Digital Rights Foundation, include lack of proper definitions of terms like content, data, information system or program. Their recommendations also highlight concerns about broader cyber-terrorism offences under Section 7 (a) and (b), and more importantly, the lack of procedural safeguards against unchecked surveillance activities carried out by the country’s intelligence agencies.

At this stage of the process, it is important for regional and international civil society and internet privacy rights groups to put pressure on the government of Pakistan to make the right amendments to the law before passing it. This law is extremely important for providing safety and security to Pakistani internet users and cannot be abolished or delayed. It is only right, then, that it introduces correct and clearly defined provisions to make it effective, and not vulnerable to abuse by authorities.

This article was published on 17 April 2014 at

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Greece: Stifling free expression to sell bonds Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:24:45 +0000 In a televised address last Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras thanked the Greek people for the sacrifices they endured during the past four years as the country underwent the harshest austerity measures since emerging from World War II. Christos Syllas reports on the fallout for free expression

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Greek protesters voiced their opposition to further austerity measures as Greece returned to international finance markets last week. (Photo: Christos Syllas for Index on Censorship)
Greek protesters voiced their opposition to further austerity measures on Wednesday 9 April as Greece returned to international finance markets. (Photo: Christos Syllas for Index on Censorship)
In a televised address last Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras thanked the Greek people for the sacrifices they endured during the past four years as the country underwent the harshest austerity measures since emerging from World War II.  While hailing the country’s return to the international finance markets after a four-year absence, the prime minister and the coalition government glossed over policies that have resulted in a negative environment for free expression — whether through protests or the press.

Along with the “world of labor” being constantly undervalued, the policies put in place are having a huge impact on the freedom of speech. In a more precise manner, the non-dominant anti-state and anti-government political discourse produced by certain political spaces such as the radical left and anarchists poses a serious threat to the government propaganda. Political dissidents are being targeted, arrested and systematically abused for protesting against the government. At the same time, press freedom is under attack when attempting to speak about the costly agreements with the troika. Also, recent struggles for education came face to face with police interference and student profiling.

The economic implications of the Greek austerity drive are falling mostly on the working class, who are losing hard won benefits without their unions taking a clear stand against the rollbacks. The government is currently legislating a new round of liberalization measures.

On 9 April, an anti-austerity strike was held in Athens with thousands of people rallying against government policies. Although the strike lacked the mass participation and intensity of past rallies, as in 2012, demonstrators managed to manifest their dissent against sweeping socio-econonic measures.

According to the latest data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, Greece’s unemployment in January 2014 was 26.7%, up from 26.5% a year ago and down from 27.2% in December. The same figure back in January 2009 was at 8.9%. The economic downfall can be clearly seen at the unemployment rate among 15-24 years old and 25-34 years old: 56.8%  and 35.5% respectively.

Workfare policies through voucher programmes, initially introduced as a government solution to unemployment, exploit the large reserve of unemployed while undermining the ability to collectively bargain working conditions and pay.

“It is a dead end. If you take a closer look today -a day of strike-, you will see that many coffee shops and sales shops are open. Austerity measures, up to now, seem to be effective in dividing working class people and overturn any social struggle. There’s still a long way to fight properly…”, a 29 year-old protester, who has been unemployed for two years, told Index on Censorship.

Human rights abuses against immigrant workers — the most undervalued part of workforce in Greece — confirm the agenda of a police state flirting with racism and xenophobia.

The dramatic escalation of refugee and migrants’ mistreatment, both by the state and the banned neo fascist party Golden Dawn is indicative. In a recent provocation some Golden Dawn followers organized an intimidating gathering outside the offices of Medecins du Monde, an NGO that provides medication and healthcare services to immigrants as well as Greeks.

However, mainstream media outlets have failed to report on the contradictions that arise from Golden Dawn’s background and relationships. Index on Censorship has thoroughly reported on the affinities of the right and the far-right political spectrum and has identified some key actors that connected ruling party New Democracy with Golden Dawn. One of them, was the former cabinet secretary Panayiotis Baltakos.

Baltakos was recently forced to resign over a leaked video, which showed him having a conversation with the spokesman of Golden Dawn Ilias Kasidiaris. In the video, Baltakos admitted that the government had to press judges to prosecute Golden Dawn’s former members of parliament.

It is worth noting that a year ago, Baltakos had allegedly said that cooperation between New Democracy and  Golden Dawn in upcoming elections is “undesirable but not an unlikely possibility”.

The continuous flirting between the ruling New Deomocracy and the now-banned Golden Dawn either takes the form of a “relationship” or of a “conflict”. It is shaping the news agenda and it sets the tone ahead of the European and local elections in May.

In an e-mail interview that took place in January, Index asked Cas Mudde, assistant professor in the Department of International Relations at the University of Georgia, in whose interest is the threat of the far-right is working.

“I would expect that the far right today wins mostly from mainstream right-wing parties – in many countries they won over the left-wing voters in the late-1980s/early-1990s. At the same time, they often attract many new and former non-voters, who would probably traditionally have gone to the center-left”.

Mudde also claims, among other things, “that European politicians use the alleged threat of a far right resurgence, backed by the economic crisis thesis, to push through illiberal policies”.

In this context, on 11 April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens. Aside from the mainstream media’s enthusiasm for the return to financial markets, few read between the lines. Merkel’s visit was a sign of support for the Greek government’s austerity measures – despite what the Greek public thinks

Experts warn that even now that “the mood has changed”, the debt crisis and the consequent austerity measures do not necessarily come to an end.

This article was published on 16 April 2014 at

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Hindu supremacists stall play in India Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:40:07 +0000 Religious bigotry and the government's abdication of responsibility jointly endanger free speech, writes Saurav Datta

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(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Image: GeorgeMPhotography/Shutterstock)

The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti’s (HJS) unmistakable glee knew no bounds. It had scored a hat trick of getting Ali J, a play centred around the partition of India and communal riots, and seeking to demolish every argument advanced by Hindu fundamentalists, off the stage.

First it was Mumbai, when on 6 February the organisers of the prestigious Kala Ghoda Festival, fearing violence from HJS and political party Shiv Sena, were cowed into calling it off. On March 9, the Chennai Police, citing “law and order problems” asked the troupe to cancel the show. And on 12 March, an hour before the play was about to start, Bangalore cops barged into the theatre and told the performers to clear off from the premises.

The memorandum submitted by the HJS, a revanchist organisation dedicated to “rekindling righteousness” and reawakening (Janajagruti means “mass awakening” in Sanskrit) Indians’ pride in their ancient culture, reads like a study in jingoism laced with vicious communalism. Evam, the Chennai-based theatre group producing the play, is accused of hurting religious sentiments and assaulting nationalistic pride because, among other things it shows an inter-faith love affair, depicts the persecution of Muslims, advocates jihad, depicts Jinnah as being a taller personality than Gandhi, and overall militates “against the established moral principles of Indian society”. These bellicose claims must be greeted with incredulity because as Karthik Kumar, the director and lead actor asserts in an interview to a national daily, none of these purveyors of “Indian morality” had even watched the play. Moreover, as Kumar categorically says, the crux of Ali J’s message was to recall the horrors of partition and caution against the purveyors of hate who indulge in polarising people on the grounds of religion.

This spate of censorious incidents leads one to a number of questions. What is the provenance of organisations like the HJS and the Shiv Sena? What motivates them to claim a sole monopoly on the interpretation of history? And, does the state bear no responsibility in thwarting their efforts?

The systematic rewriting of history and imposing myths upon established facts is a critical component of the Hindu nationalist ideology, for, the doctrine of Hindutva mandates not an India of cultural and ethnic syncretism, but a “Hindustan” in which rabid Islamophobia runs riot. It isn’t the first time that the depiction of partition — the goriest and most viciously communal episode in South Asian history — has been attacked by Hindu supremacists.

In April 1974, M.S. Sathyu’s film Garam Hawa (Hot Wind) — the heartrending tale of the “scorching, simmering and debilitating winds of communalism, political bigotry and intolerance” incurred the Shiv Sena’s wrath. Salim Mirza, the protagonist, was a study in resilience and religious tolerance. Even when everything around him is charred in the communal inferno, he refused to leave India. Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo, was so enraged at this humanistic portrayal of a Muslim that he threatened to raze to ashes every single theatre and screen which showed the film. The premiere at Bombay’s Regal Cinema was stalled because the police played mute bystanders. Only after a special screening was hastily arranged for Thackeray and he was satisfied that a Muslim had to stay back and join the Indian (read “Hindu”) mainstream was the film allowed to go on.

Tamas, a television serial carrying pretty much the same message as Garam Hawa, encountered similar opposition in 1988. It didn’t help that the government of Maharashtra, citing possible law and order problems, effectively played tango with the champions of censorship. It could go on air only after the Supreme Court rejected the government’s apprehensions as unfounded.

It would indeed be short-sighted to reserve trenchant criticism only for the bullies who squelch freedom of expression, for more often than not, the government is equally complicit. This is because India’s constitution is unequivocal — that restrictions on speech can be imposed only if “public order” and not the “law and order situation” is in jeopardy. Last year, the Tamil Nadu government took this specious and patently illegal plea while stalling Vishwaroopam, a film which some Muslim organisations found offensive. The courts have clearly stated that “law and order” was narrower in scope than “public order”, and these two should not be interpreted interchangeably, and it is incumbent upon the state to protect the fundamental right to speech in the face of onslaughts.

As long as the government pussyfoots or plays a charade for purposes of political expediency, the HJS and others of its ilk will be thirsting for more glory.

This article was published on April 16, 2014 at

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Australia: Prime minister’s department cracks down on civil servant criticism Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:47:22 +0000 Under new guidelines, Australian civil servants working for the prime ministers's office caught criticising the government can be sanctioned for illicit social media use, Helen Clark reports

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Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being unAustralian.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott

In weeks where Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia has publicly praised the importance of freedom of speech in relation to the repeal of a section of the Racial Discrimination Act (18C) it might seem strange that civil servants caught criticising the government, or PM, can be sanctioned for illicit social media use. But to look at the two and suggest it implies gross, implicit hypocrisy, as some have, is not the most nuanced interpretation; however, the new policy code, which actually only applies to one government department bears looking at.

The new guidelines, Social Media Policy of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, outline what can and cannot be done on social media by employees and seem at pains to cover all bases while also being remarkably intrusive compared with other similar government documents.

The guidelines state they are aimed at ensuring the public believes in the impartiality of those in the Department of the PM&C. They govern social media use, including anonymous comments, during office hours and outside of work, on private devices. What has been noted by the media however is that anonymous speech may be sanctioned and employees are requested to “dob” — that is, report — on colleagues if they see them contravening the new policy. Staff can be reported for being “critical or highly critical of the Department, the Minister or the Prime Minister’’ or “so harsh or extreme in their criticism of the government, government policies, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies, that they could raise questions about the employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially”.

Despite the leaked document now available online, the department maintains, according to the Canberra Times, that its policy on public social media use is a strictly internal document and will not comment. The department also states that no person should speak directly with the media but rather refer all queries to the media department, where the scribe can address queries in writing. This bureaucratic attempt at transparency or a “timely response” is neither limited to this department or government. Under the previous Labor government certain departments, such as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, took much the same stance at times. Of course, now even refugee or boat arrival numbers are kept secret and weekly press conferences have been scrapped.

The policy has been defended by Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson, who also defends the repeal of 18C in the name of freedom of speech. He told the Canberra Times: “As I read it, the current policy allows public servants to be critical of government policy, but requires that they do so in a way that does not compromise their capacity, or perception, that they will exercise their role as a public servant in an impartial way.” Wilson believes in the civilising power of codes of conduct and that such “voluntary” agreements do not undermine essential freedom of speech.

The document has rather broad-ranging edicts which could be open to interpretation. It is understood people may “participate robustly” in debate, but robustness may not trump impartiality or professionalism. It is useful then that Abbott’s daughter does not now work for the prime minister’s department. After publicly calling him a “lame, gay, churchy loser” in 2009 her impartiality could be questionable.

This article was published on April 16, 2014 at

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Irresistible: Espionage, dissent and NGOs Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:13:42 +0000 Edward Snowden’s revelations on the voracious appetite of spying on all and sundry by the National Security Agency and allied agencies should not give pause for too much comment, other than to affirm a general premise: Activists and non-government groups are to be feared.

The post Irresistible: Espionage, dissent and NGOs appeared first on Index on Censorship.

(Photo: David von Blohn / Demotix)

(Photo: David von Blohn / Demotix)

Edward Snowden’s revelations on the voracious appetite of spying on all and sundry by the National Security Agency and allied agencies should not give pause for too much comment, other than to affirm a general premise: Activists and non-government groups are to be feared.  Non-profits are seen as potential threats, though what to is sometimes unclear.  Any government worth its salt should be afraid of its citizens – the latter must make the former accountable; the former must hold to the contractual bargain with citizens. 

Last week, Snowden revealed to members of the Council of Europe via videolink from Moscow that such groups as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were high on the list of surveillance targets.  “The NSA has specifically targeted either leaders or staff members in a number of civil and non-governmental organisations… including domestically within the borders of the United States.”  He also delved further into such data mining programs as XKeyscore, a technology representing “the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times.”  Analysts, using the program, can select the metadata of an individual, and find content, “without judicial approval or prior review.”

Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch, responded that, if true, it was “indicative of the overreach that US law allows to security agencies.”  Such conduct “would again show why the US needs to overhaul its system of indiscriminate surveillance.” Indeed, it would fly in the face of a long held, if somewhat erroneous belief, that the US State Department actually treasures its human rights defenders, seeing them as the vanguard of reform rather than a cabal of troublesome dissent.  Human rights defenders in allied countries, for instance, pose a different set of problems.

A cursory glance at the guidelines of the US State Department on supporting human rights reveals how, “Protecting and supporting human rights defenders is a key priority of US foreign policy…. The Department’s objective is to enable human rights defenders to promote and defend human rights without hindrance or undue restriction and free from fear of retribution against them or their families.”  Stirring stuff.  There is even a reference to US support for the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by consensus of the General Assembly in 1998.  Various strategies and techniques of encouragement are then discussed.

The guidelines even set out who human rights defenders are – those who “working alone or in groups, who non-violently advocate for the promotion and protection of universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Evidently, these guidelines did not quite cross the tables of those involved in the surveillance complex.  This may well be partly due to bureaucratic bungling – the irresistible growth of the espionage complex, but it may just as well be seen as consistent: after all, the NSA watches, and the State Department disposes.  The two occasionally seem to meet in fumbling circumstances.

The NSA is far from the only organisation engaged in the business of spying on activist groups and NGOs. A November 2013 report by Centre for Corporate Policy, a Washington, D.C. think tank, titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations, shows that such a process is addictive and systematic across centres of power.  Aversion to dissent is endemic, and it attracts birds of a feather in both government and corporate circles.  According to the report, the precondition for such espionage is that the non-profit organisation in question “impairs or at least threatens a company’s assets or image sufficiently.”  The targets are varied, including “environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.”

The report looks at the antics of numerous entities hungry for data on their threatening quarry.  It might be the Society of Toxicology and Information Associates against animal rights activists.  It might be Stratfor and Coca-Cola against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  Or BAE against Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

The gold target here seems to be Greenpeace, object of keen interest by the private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI), retained by Dow Chemical, the world’s largest chlorine producer.  The world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, Électricité de France, has also hired a set of private intelligence firms to keep an eye on the activities of the organisation, be it through good old hacking or conventional spying.  In November 2011, EDF was actually fined €1.5 million for “industrial espionage”, and two of its executives jailed.

Activities include infiltration, cultivation, deception.  Trash bins are searched.  Offices are cased, phone records of activists collected, confidential meetings breached.  Names are blackened; the severity of disasters – environmental, notably – are minimised.  According to Russell Corn, the managing director of Diligence, a corporate intelligence agency, anywhere up to 25 per cent of an activist camp will be “taking the corporate shilling” (New Statesman, Aug 7, 2008).  An inflated figure, perhaps, but worth keeping in mind.

Such behaviour illustrates all too well that there is a conflict of an international, global dimension between established centres of corporate and government power against those who would reform, or at the very least challenge, them.  When convenient, corporate and government interests will collude and find accord. There is even an argument to be made that their functions and interests have become, at points, indistinguishable.

Nothing illustrates this better than the privatisation phenomenon of intelligence activities, where traditional espionage is outsourced and redeployed with contracting agencies and their employees.  The private investigative firm Hackluyt, retained by BP and Shell, has a direct line to MI6.  Some irony, then, that Snowden was working for one such agency when he acquired his invaluable treasure trove of surveillance activities.

This article was posted on 16 April 2014 at

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