Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:11:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=193 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Free_Speech_Bites_Logo.jpg http://www.indexoncensorship.org From drones to floating smartphones: how technology is helping African journalists investigate http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/african-investigative-journalists-technology-raymond-joseph-ioc/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/african-investigative-journalists-technology-raymond-joseph-ioc/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:10:09 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59875 Data journalist Raymond Joseph reports on how low-cost technology is helping African newsrooms get hold of information that they couldn't previously track

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Quadcopters, like this one flown by Ben Kreimer of the University of Nebraska’s Drone Journalism Lab, are being used by African SkyCam to collect images. Credit: AfricanSkyCAM/University of Nebraska

Quadcopters, like this one flown by Ben Kreimer of the University of Nebraska’s Drone Journalism Lab, are being used by African SkyCam to collect images. (Photo: AfricanSkyCAM/University of Nebraska)

Putting old smartphones in plastic bottles in rivers to check water pollution is just one of the ways easy-to-use technology is helping investigative journalists across Africa carry out research, even on small budgets. Raymond Joseph’s feature, below, is taken from the special report on the future of journalism in the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine. You can hear him speak on Index’s expert panel at the Frontline Club on Wednesday 22 October; the event is now sold out but will be live-streamed on indexconensorship.org.  

Deep in Mpumalanga province, in the far north-east of South Africa, a poorly resourced newspaper is using a combination of high and low tech solutions to make a difference in the lives of the communities it serves.

It is also pioneering a new and innovative form of journalism that not only places its readers at the centre of its coverage, but also involves them directly in the newsgathering operation.

What this small newspaper does is a lesson for bigger, more established media outlets, which are searching for new non-traditional revenue streams and which, in the age of online and digital journalism, struggle to survive and remain relevant.

The Ziwaphi community-based newspaper is distributed to communities in the Nkomazi district, situated at the epicentre of the South Africa AIDS pandemic, where there is very little access to news reporting. One of the biggest problems in the area is water contaminated with sewage. Women and young girls spend hours every day collecting water from rivers for drinking, cooking and washing, but these same rivers are also often used to dispose of human waste. As a result the E.coli count sometimes spikes, causing diarrhoea. And every few years, there is an outbreak of cholera.

Using a grant, and technology assistance from the African Media Initiative (AMI), which is spearheading the drive to embed data-driven journalism in African newsrooms, Ziwaphi is placing old smartphones submerged in clear plastic bottles in rivers in the area. Functioning as simple electron microscopes, the phones use their cameras to take regular flash-lit pictures. These photographs are then magnified and compared against images from an existing database to detect dangerous levels of E.coli. The results are delivered via SMS to residents, informing them where it’s safe to collect water.

Completing the circle, the newspaper analyses the real-time data to detect trends, and hopefully even triangulates the sources of contamination.

Once a month, Ziwaphi publishes an in-depth story based on the results, which is shared with other community papers and local radio stations in the area. The hope is the information can then empower ordinary people in the region to force the government to deliver clean water and sanitation. Ziwaphi’s readers also help gather information themselves using a mobile-based citizen reporting app which supplements the smartphone data with eyewitness stories about the impacts of the pollution, and possible sources of contamination.

“The total project only cost $20 000, including a modest salary for a year for a full-time health reporter,” says Justin ­Arenstein, a strategist for AMI. “But the important thing, from a media sustainability perspective, is that Ziwaphi is using the water project to build the digital backbone it will need to survive in the near future.”

Until recently Africa lagged behind the rest of the world where the internet was concerned, because of the high cost of access. But now the deployment of new undersea cables is helping bring down the cost of connectivity, especially in east and southern Africa. This has sparked an exciting new era for journalism, with an explosion of ideas and innovations that are producing “news you can use” tools. Established media is increasingly reaching out to citizens to involve them in their news-gathering and content production processes. The phone-in-a-bottle project is an example of what can be done with limited resources.

In Kenya, the Radio Group, the third largest media house, has set up Star Health, the first in a set of toolkits to help readers do easy background checks on doctors and learn whether they have ever been found guilty of malpractice. In one case a man working as a doctor turned out to be a vet.

The site, which has proved to be a big hit in a country where dodgy doctors are a major problem, also helps users locate medical specialists and their nearest health facility. It can also be used to check whether medicines are covered by the national health scheme. Importantly, the results of queries on Star Health are delivered via a premium SMS service that generates an income stream, crucial in an age when media needs to diversify revenue models away from reliance on advertising and, in some case, copy sales.

“These tools don’t replace traditional journalism, rather they augment journalistic reportage by, for example, helping readers to find out how a national story on dodgy doctors personally affects them,” says Arenstein. News must be personal and actionable and should become an important part of the media’s digital transformation strategies, he stresses.

The reality of journalism today is that, even though outlets may not have the large audiences of conventional media, anyone with a smartphone or basic digital skills has the ability to be a “publisher”.

In Nigeria, for example, the Sahara online community has over a million followers on social media, far more than many media houses. The challenge in the future will be for newsrooms to tap into these grassroots networks, but still keep citizens’ voices at their centre.

A pioneering project in Nigeria’s isolated Delta region has seen the mainstream media working with an existing citizen-reporting network, Naija Voices, to adopt remote-controlled drones fitted with cameras to monitor for environmentally destructive oil spills. The plan is to syndicate the footage to mainstream TV and newspaper partners in Lagos and Abuja. This would allow the newspapers unprecedented reach into parts of the country that had previously been largely inaccessible.

The fixed-wing drones are relatively cheap and simple to fly, but they crash from time to time. “Getting new parts, like the wings or pieces of the fuselage, would be costly and time consuming, so we’re experimenting with 3D printers to create parts onsite and on demand,” says Arenstein.

This citizen-reporting experiment builds on the work of AfricaSkyCam which for the past year has been experimenting with drones in Kenya as part of “Africa’s first newsroom-based eye-in-the-sky”. SkyCam uses drones and camera-equipped balloons to help media that cannot afford news helicopters to cover breaking news in dangerous situations or difficult to reach locations.

In South Africa, Oxpeckers Center for Investigative Environmental Reporting is using “geo journalism” and other mapping techniques to amplify its reporting and to analyse stories such as rhino poaching and canned lion ­hunting – breeding tame lions for wealthy trophy-hunters to shoot. Investigations help uncover trends or links to criminal syndicates and the Oxpeckers Center’s reportage is credited with promoting a recent ban on canned hunting in Botswana, and helping to shape laws on trade in rhino and other wildlife products in China and in Mozambique.

But the reality is that poorly resourced African newsrooms seldom have the in-house technology or digital skills to build new online tools.

So, AMI’s digital innovation programme and similar initiatives at Google, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and at smaller donors including the Indigo Trust are all building external support systems to help newsrooms leapfrog into a digital future.

Donors are also focusing on embedding data journalism approaches into mainstream media. They are helping journalists use publicly available digital information from sources such as censuses or government budgets to build decision-making tools to help ordinary citizens make better informed decisions on bread and butter issues affecting their lives.

Helping drive the new-tech approach is Code for Africa, a network of civic technology labs planned for countries across the continent to help drive innovation and to work with media and citizen journalist networks, to help them bridge the digital divide.

Code for South Africa (C4SA) is helping everyone, from the township-based Ziwaphi and its cholera alert project, to national media outlets, such as the Mail & Guardian and City Press.

“The media know they’re in crisis, with their advertising-based business model under threat as audiences shift online, but digital innovation is still a hard sell,” says C4SA director Adi Eyal. “Progress is painstakingly slow because many African media owners are hesitant to invest before they know how these new models will generate revenue. The result is that much of what South African newsrooms are calling home-grown data journalism is just visualisation. They’re creating very little actionable information and virtually no news tools that people can use to make decisions. The investment in a one-off project is high, so it is important that the tools that are built live on, so that newsrooms can use them to report on issues and people can act.”

Progress is painstakingly slow, but nevertheless the building blocks are slowly being put in place as the “root stock” — datasets from across Africa — is collected and collated on the African Open Data portal for both newsroom journalists and civic coders to use. The data means they can create applications and tools which will help them build communities and generate income.

C4SA is also building an “invisible” back-end infrastructure that newsrooms can help build news tools quickly and cheaply. This includes support for initiatives such as OpenAfrica that helps newsrooms digitise and extract data from source documents. C4SA has also built a series of open, machine-readable, data rich application programming interfaces (APIs) that newsrooms can easily plug into their mobile apps or websites. The APIs drive tools like WaziMap, which uses censuses, elections and other data to help journalists to dig into the make up of communities, right down to local ward level. Each of these resources is a tool not only for the media, but also for civic activists and public watchdogs, says Arenstein.

In a recent column on the future of newspapers, Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, a national South African Sunday newspaper that is struggling to reinvent itself in the digital age, wrote: “Nothing is as it was. Nor are most things what they seem. We have a future, and it is tantalising.”

And you just need to look at the smartphones in a bottle and 3D-printed drones to know that this future is slowly, newsroom by newsroom, project by project, becoming a reality.

Read more about the future of journalism in Index on Censorship’s latest magazine. Read more here and find out how to subscribe either in print, digital replica or app. 

This article was posted on 21 October at indexoncensorship.org

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Bahrain: Rights activist jailed over tweet is denied bail http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/bahrain-rights-activist-jailed-tweet-denied-bail/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/bahrain-rights-activist-jailed-tweet-denied-bail/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:08:04 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61097 The trial of Index award winner Nabeel Rajab has been adjourned until 29 November

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Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Jailed Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab has been denied bail and his hearing has been adjourned until 29 November. The decision came on 19 October, the opening day of his trial. Rajab, a well-known activist who has played a prominent part in Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement, is facing charges of insulting government institutions through the following tweet:

According to his Twitter account, which has been run by an associate since Rajab’s arrest on 1 October, Sunday’s court session was “monitored” by representatives from “at least nine embassies“, including the US, UK and France. Family members were denied entry to the courtroom. Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), a 2012 Index Freedom of Expression Award winner, and director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), was released in May after two years in prison on charges including sending offensive tweets and taking part in illegal protests.

While in London in September, Rajab told Index about the human rights and free speech situation in Bahrain, saying that “at least 50,000 people” had been in and out of jail in the past three months alone, “just for practising their right to freedom of assembly, freedom of gathering, freedom of expression”.

Index has joined eight other organisations in asking the UK to speak out on the imprisonment of Rajab and other activists in Bahrain. The Norwegian government has called on Bahraini authorities to close the case against Rajab, while US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has also called for his release.

This article was originally posted on 20 October at indexoncensorship.org

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Grayling’s plans for tougher sentencing are unlikely to act as a deterrent to trolls http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/graylings-plans-tougher-sentencing-unlikely-act-deterrent-trolls/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/graylings-plans-tougher-sentencing-unlikely-act-deterrent-trolls/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:55:14 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61093 The UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced plans to increase the maximum prison sentence for online abuse, or trolling, to two years. Laws already exist for dealing with harassment and threats of violence, and the Crown Prosecution Service last year issued clear and strict guidelines on what kind of online speech constituted a crime. […]

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The UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced plans to increase the maximum prison sentence for online abuse, or trolling, to two years. Laws already exist for dealing with harassment and threats of violence, and the Crown Prosecution Service last year issued clear and strict guidelines on what kind of online speech constituted a crime. Calls for tougher sentencing are unlikely to act as a deterrent to trolls and could have a far more insidious effect — encouraging more arrests and prosecution for free speech that is neither threatening nor harassment, but which simply offends.

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Foreign Secretary: Use UK influence on Bahrain to free Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/foreign-secretary-use-influence-bahrain-free-nabeel-rajab-zainab-al-khawaja-ghada-jamsheer/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/foreign-secretary-use-influence-bahrain-free-nabeel-rajab-zainab-al-khawaja-ghada-jamsheer/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:14:38 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61072 Dear Mr. Hammond, We are writing to you in light of your current tour of Gulf Cooperation Council countries regarding the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression. Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Director […]

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Dear Mr. Hammond,

We are writing to you in light of your current tour of Gulf Cooperation Council countries regarding the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression.

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), remains in prison following his arrest for a tweet in which he expressed his view about the role Bahrain security institutions play as “incubators of ISIS ideology”.  Mr. Rajab had travelled to Bahrain from the United Kingdom following a European advocacy tour that included a panel at the House of Lords.

His detention has been criticised internationally. The United Nations has warned that it sends a “chilling message”. The Norwegian government has recently advised that the arrest of Mr. Rajab sends a negative message and has called for his immediate release. The European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights has voiced serious concerns over his arrest and detention and the United States State Department has called on Bahrain to drop the charges against him.

We urge the United Kingdom to add its voice to these universal calls. As a close ally to Bahrain, the UK has influence that could result in steps to release human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain. You will recall that the UK signed a joint statement during the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which urged the government of Bahrain “to release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders some of whom have been identified as arbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention”. We ask you to follow up on this statement by calling for the immediate and unconditional release of both Mr. Rajab and Ms. Al-Khawaja who have been detained solely for exercising their human right to free expression.

Zainab Al-Khawaja is a prominent activist in Bahrain, who is facing serious charges of “publicly insulting the King” after ripping a photo of him during a court hearing. The case, which runs contrary to Bahrain’s international human rights obligations, was immediately transferred to the Higher Criminal Court in Bahrain meaning that she now faces up to seven years in prison for a peaceful act of expression. It is important to note that Ms. Al-Khawaja is eight months pregnant, and faces the possibility of going into labour in arbitrary detention.

Amnesty International has criticised the decision and called for her immediate release arguing”laws that prohibit insults or the disrespect of heads of state or other public figures are contrary to international human rights law and standards”.

Her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, Co-Director of the GCHR, is also facing prison on charges of assault brought against her after she arrived in Bahrain on 30 August to try to visit her father, jailed human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, founder of BCHR and GCHR. She was released after two weeks but is due in court on 5 November.

In addition to these cases, women’s rights defender Ghada Jamsheer was arrested and imprisoned on 15 September, on charges of defamation on Twitter. She remains in detention and will face court prosecution on charges related to her freedom of expression on 22 October.

The arrest and ongoing detention of both Mr. Rajab and Ms. Al-Khawaja threaten to destabilise further an already unstable country.  It is imperative that human rights advocates are not targeted for exercising their human rights peacefully. The work of human rights defenders often requires criticising governments as noted by the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which call for this role to be “recognised and supported”.

We urge the British government to demand the immediate release of all detained human rights defenders and activists in Bahrain.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

English PEN

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

Index on Censorship

Pen International

Redress

Reprieve

 

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Rights groups call on UK to press Bahrain to release human rights defenders http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/rights-groups-call-uk-press-bahrain-release-human-rights-defenders/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/rights-groups-call-uk-press-bahrain-release-human-rights-defenders/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:14:30 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61076 Nine human rights organisations called on the British government on Friday to speak out publicly in the case of activists currently being detained in Bahrain. Prominent human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer have all been arrested and face lengthy prison sentences in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression. Nabeel Rajab, the […]

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BIRD-Logos

Nine human rights organisations called on the British government on Friday to speak out publicly in the case of activists currently being detained in Bahrain. Prominent human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer have all been arrested and face lengthy prison sentences in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression.

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), was arrested for a tweet in which he expressed his view about the role Bahrain security institutions play as “incubators of ISIS ideology”.  Mr. Rajab had travelled to Bahrain from the United Kingdom following a European advocacy tour that included a panel at the UK House of Lords. In an open letter to UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, rights groups Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, English PEN, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Index on Censorship and Reprieve urged the United Kingdom to add its voice to these universal calls.

“As a close ally to Bahrain, the UK has influence that could result in steps to release human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain,” the groups said in the letter. “As a close ally to Bahrain, the UK has influence that could result in steps to release human rights defenders and political prisoners in Bahrain”.

Last month, the UK signed a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council, which urged the government of Bahrain “to release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders some of whom have been identified as arbitrarily detained.”

 The open letter to Philip Hammond can be read here.

More information about Nabeel Rajab and  Zainab Al-Khawaja

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Bahrain: Maryam Al-Khawaja urges UK to speak out on human rights violations http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/bahrain-maryam-al-khawaja-nabeel-rajab-human-rights/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/bahrain-maryam-al-khawaja-nabeel-rajab-human-rights/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:00:49 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=60970

TAKE ACTION: Tell your MP to put pressure on Bahrain to release Nabeel Rajab and Zainab Al-Khawaja

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Nine human rights organisations called on the British government on Friday to speak out publicly in the case of activists currently being detained in Bahrain. Prominent human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja and Ghada Jamsheer have all been arrested and face lengthy prison sentences in Bahrain for cases of peaceful expression.

This echoes the message from Maryam Al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini activist and co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, earlier this week.

You can imprison a human rights defender, but you can’t stop the human rights cause, Al-Khawaja told a packed press conference in London on Wednesday, organised by Index on Censorship and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

She urged UK authorities to speak out about rights abuses in her country, which she said is being run like a business by the ruling Al-Khalifa family. This comes after the arrest of her colleague, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) president Nabeel Rajab. He is facing charges of insulting government institutions on Twitter. His trail opens on 19 October.

Also on Wednesday, her sister Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is 8 months pregnant, was sentenced to seven days’ detention for publicly insulting King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa by ripping up a picture of him in court. She was in court over charges connected to her previous human rights campaigning.

Al-Khawaja, a dual Danish and Bahraini citizen, was herself recently released on bail after being arrested at Bahrain International Airport when trying to enter the country to see her father.  She said: “I was stopped at the airport where I was told falsely that my citizenship had been revoked.”

She was then assaulted by police at the airport, and is still recovering from a torn muscle in her shoulder as a result. The police officer who assaulted her later filled charges against Al-Khawaja, presenting a scratched finger as medical evidence.

Al-Khawaja spoke of her time in Isa Town women’s prison, where she spent 19 days; she described poor sanitation and said there were no nurses or doctors available at night and it took 45 minutes for ambulances to reach the facility.

Al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the founder of 2012 Index award winner BCHR, is serving a life sentence after playing a prominent role in the country’s 2011 pro-democracy protests.

Al Khawaja described how changes could be implemented in Bahrain, saying there is a need for pressure from countries such as the UK and US, who have the capability to make sure the government respect human rights.

“Reform can be implemented and enforced by accountability,” she said.

Nominations are now open for the Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2015. Put forward your free expression heroes here.


Nabeel Rajab Arbitrarily Detained

Please ask your MP to support the campaign by writing to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. (This web app will take you to the website of the Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy)







Maryam Al-Khawaja spoke about her arrest, Nabeel Rajab’s case and more in her opening statement

She also described conditions inside Isa Town Prison, where she was held for 19 days

Videos via Truthloader

This article was originally posted on 15 October 2014 and updated on 17 October 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Lebanon: Censorship Bureau approves critical play http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/lucien-bourjeily-lebanon-play-censorship-bureau/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/lucien-bourjeily-lebanon-play-censorship-bureau/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 07:18:55 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61058 Censorship body gives green light to latest play from Index award nominee Lucien Bourjeily, despite being featured heavily in the work

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Awards Lucien

A play about censorship in Lebanon has unexpectedly been approved by the country’s Censorship Bureau — the body featuring heavily in the work.

La 3younak Sidna is the latest play by renowned Lebanese playwright and director Lucien Bourjeily and free expression organisation MARCH. Last year, his play Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3 (Will It Pass Or Not?), which deals with the restriction of free expression at the hands of the bureau, was banned. The new play tells this story and includes large parts of the script of the original piece. On Thursday, it was announced that it has been given the green light by authorities.

“After a long battle with the censorship authorities, we are excited to announce that the sequel of the censored play “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3″, “La 3younak Sidna” produced by MARCH and directed by Lucien Bourjeily was approved by General Security!” read a Facebook statement from MARCH, which is producing the play.

“Here’s to hoping this is the first of many victories in the anti-censorship struggle in Lebanon, and that the General Security’s Censorship Bureau continues with this open-minded approach to the issue of freedom of expression,” the group added.

The ordeal surrounding Will It Pass Or Not saw Bourjeily nominated for an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award in 2014. An extract from the play was published in last year’s winter edition of Index on Censorship magazine.

In May, he again ran into trouble with the General Security Directorate, the agency under which the Censorship Bureau operates. When trying to renew his passport ahead of a trip to London, it was confiscated with the message “You know what you did”. It was returned following huge media attention and an intervention by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk.

Bourjeily yesterday posted a jubilant statement through his Facebook profile: “This resounding Public Pressure success proves one thing: is that many times in Lebanon we’ve given up on our homeland just moments before we reach a better country… just moments before we succeed in breaking the chains of oppression and corruption… this time we won’t & we shouldn’t!! … THANK YOU… each & everyone of you for standing up against censorship & supporting freedom of speech! One small strategic battle WON: hopefully many others will follow!!”

Nominations for the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards are open. Nominate your free expression heroes.

This article was originally posted on 17 October 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Azerbaijan: Stop harassment against investigative journalist http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/azerbaijan-khadija-ismayilova-travel-ban/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/azerbaijan-khadija-ismayilova-travel-ban/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:01:21 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61029 The Azerbaijani authorities should immediately lift the travel ban imposed on Khadija Ismayilova and cease all legal proceedings against her. Against the backdrop of the unprecedented crackdown on civil society, Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest on criminal defamation charges seems imminent and would confirm the authorities’ intent to silence all critical voices in the country. As part of […]

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khadija

The Azerbaijani authorities should immediately lift the travel ban imposed on Khadija Ismayilova and cease all legal proceedings against her. Against the backdrop of the unprecedented crackdown on civil society, Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest on criminal defamation charges seems imminent and would confirm the authorities’ intent to silence all critical voices in the country.

As part of the International Partnership Group on Azerbaijan (IPGA), APC, ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, the European Federation of Journalists, Freedom House, Freedom Now, the Human Rights House Foundation, International Media Support, the Media Diversity Institute, PEN International and Reporters without Borders, call on the international community, and in particular Council of Europe member states to immediately and publicly condemn the ongoing harassment and politically motivated criminal charges against Khadija Ismayilova. With the next court hearing taking place on Friday 17 October, at 11.30 in Binagadi district court in Baku, Council of Europe member states should publicly request to attend and send a representative to monitor the hearing.

IPGA members believe that Khadija Ismayilova’s attendance at the most recent session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg triggered the latest string of harassment, including a five hour search upon arrival at the airport following her trip, the criminal defamation charges and the imposition of a travel ban.

“Those who raise concern about the existence of political prisoners in Azerbaijan at the Council of Europe are themselves specifically targeted by the authorities, and such reprisals are incompatible with international human rights standards the Azerbaijani authorities claim to adhere to,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes of ARTICLE 19.

“The ongoing harassment of one of Azerbaijan’s most outspoken critics follows an unprecedented wave of arrests of human rights defenders, civic activists and journalists in Azerbaijan who have dared to publicly criticise the authorities. Those who have spoken about the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan at PACE have been particularly targeted.” said Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy and Geneva Office at the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF).

“We are deeply concerned by the increasing persecution of human rights defenders in Azerbaijan and, in particular, continued attempts to stifle free expression through intimidation and harassment of journalists like Khadija Ismayilova and Arzu Geybulla. The international community – and especially the Council of Europe of which Azerbaijan is part – needs to speak out loudly and firmly against the crackdown in Azerbaijan,” stated Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship.

“Khadija Ismayilova is one of the most recognized investigation journalists in Azerbaijan. Harassing her is sending a clear signal of intimidation to the entire media profession,” Reporters Without Borders deputy programme director Virginie Dangles said.

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These six human rights defenders, pictured above from left to right here are:

Zohrab Ismayil: forced to leave Azerbaijan, his NGO, Public Association for Assistance to Free Economy, paralysed
Emin Huseynov: unable to work in Azerbaijan, due to legal action against his NGO, Institute for Reporters Freedom of Safety, subject to travel ban
Gulnara Akhundova: forced to leave Azerbaijan, no longer able to represent her NGO, International Media Support from within the country
Rasul Jafarov: in pre-trial detention on politically motivated charges
Intigam Aliyev: in pre-trial detention on politically motivated charges, unable to take his cases at the European Court for Human Rights forward
Rashid Hajili: forced to stop working as human rights defender, his NGO, Media Rights Institute seized operating

The IPGA calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to cease its harassment of Khadija Ismayilova and stop the silencing of its critics through imprisonment and politically motivated legal actions. Member states of the Council of Europe, the main human rights institution in Europe, need to speak up and hold Azerbaijan to account for failing to implement its human rights obligations. With Azerbaijan as chair of its Committee of Ministers until 14 November, the integrity and accountability of the institution is at stake.

For further information about Khadija Ismayilova, also see the recent IPGA report Azerbaijan – when the truth becomes a lie.

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#IndexDrawtheLine: Do laws restrict or protect free speech? http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/draw-line-laws-restrict-protect-free-speech/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/draw-line-laws-restrict-protect-free-speech/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:52:11 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=60936 This month the Index Youth Advisory Board is discussing legal regimes and how they nurture or stifle the free expression of ideas. Examples of draconian laws abound: from Russia’s law banning “homosexual propaganda” to the UK’s use of RIPA legislation to violate the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. When it comes to free speech: laws, what […]

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This month the Index Youth Advisory Board is discussing legal regimes and how they nurture or stifle the free expression of ideas. Examples of draconian laws abound: from Russia’s law banning “homosexual propaganda” to the UK’s use of RIPA legislation to violate the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

When it comes to free speech: laws, what are they good for?

Legal frameworks protect speech and broader free expression. Take for instance Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which tells us that we all have the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Most of us, I’m sure, would cherish this right – who wouldn’t want to be able to express themselves freely and say what they like without the interference of the state?

In the United Kingdom, Article 10 of the Human Rights Act grants citizens freedom of expression. Most countries have different forms of Article 10. It is these laws – the ones that promote and protect our right to free speech – that form the crucial pillars of any democracy.

But do all laws protect our right to free speech?

Article 10 does a good job of granting us the confidence to speak out and ensure our voices are heard, but do other laws do the same? Or are there laws that, in some way, serve to restrict free speech? The example from Russia underline the use of legislation to restrict the right to expression. The law also curtails the right to assembly, another important part of a democratic society.

When you look into Article 10 itself, you begin to learn about the restrictions of the law and begin to understand how, in many ways, the state still does have authority over our freedom of expression. For example, Article 10 can be restricted “in the interests of national security” and in order to “maintain the authority of the judiciary”.

And what about the countries that don’t have specific laws that promote freedom of expression as strongly as the UK’s Article 10? Many may find it easy to conclude that countries like Iran have more laws that serve to restrict free speech, rather than protect it. It’s interesting to look at blasphemy laws in this instance to examine whether it protects the rights of those who are religious or restricts the rights of those who wish to criticise religion.

This month on Draw the Line, we discuss the impact a country’s laws have on our freedom of expression. Join the discussion and let us know whether laws serve to protect or restrict your right to free speech.

This article was posted on 16 Oct, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Padraig Reidy: Collective outrage and imagined slights http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/padraig-reidy-hilary-mantel-salman-rushdie-margaret-thatcher/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/10/padraig-reidy-hilary-mantel-salman-rushdie-margaret-thatcher/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:09:20 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=60835 Padraig Reidy explores when writers are attacked for using their imaginations.

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Hilary Mantel in Bath, March 9, 2013 (Photo: T_Marjorie / Flickr)

Hilary Mantel in Bath, March 9, 2013 (Photo: T_Marjorie / Flickr)

Thirty years ago this week a bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, where the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and much of her cabinet were staying during Conservative party conference.

The bomb had been planted a month previously by IRA member Patrick Magee, with the intention of assassinating the prime minister. Thatcher escaped, but others did not. Five party members died. Others, including Margaret Tebbit, wife of Thatcher’s rottweiller Norman Tebbit, were left disabled.

The whereabouts of then-32-year old aspiring novelist Hilary Mantel at the time were not known, but we do now know that she herself was thinking about killing Thatcher as the IRA was planning the Grand bombing.

Last week, at the Royal Festival Hall, a solid concrete building that looks as if it could survive the combined explosive attentions of the IRA, Al Qaeda and a reanimated Fred Dibnah, Mantel discussed her own Thatcher assassination plot, which was published this year in the form of a short story that she had started over 3 decades ago.

“People have worked so hard to take offence at this story,” the Wolf Hall author pointed out, adding mischievously, “If only they would go through my extensive back catalogue it would keep them in fury for the rest of their lives.”

Mantel’s assassination fantasy is an enjoyable piece of suburban noir in which an IRA sniper attempts to use a Windsor woman’s window as a hide to take a shot at Thatcher. It’s interesting in that one finds the narrator and the gunman jockeying for position about their right to revile Thatcher as they do: who is more Irish? who is more Northern? Who is more affected by this terrible woman?

But ultimately it’s an almost Tales-Of-The-Unexpectedish story about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.

Mrs Thatcher’s friend Lord Bell was horrified by Mantel’s story and her subsequent interview in The Guardian, where Mantel described seeing Thatcher leaving the hospital in 1983, saying that “if I wasn’t me, if I was someone else, she’d be dead”. Lord Bell angrily announced: “If somebody admits they want to assassinate somebody, surely the police should investigate. This is in unquestionably bad taste.”

The Daily Mail’s Stephen Glover was equally apoplectic: “Mantel’s contribution is peculiarly damaging because, while she appears so mild-mannered, her message is interpretable as a deadly one. If you don’t like your democratically elected leaders, who operate within the rule of law, you can always think about assassinating them.”

What Bell and Glover both seem to have failed to grasp here is the difference between thinking about something and doing it, or even the difference between thinking about doing something and plotting to do it.

Thinking about doing things one would not normally do is often known as “imagining”, and is quite crucial to the creative process. It’s an essential part of humanity that we can think beyond ourselves. It’s what allows us to empathise and sympathise; we may not be familiar with a specific set of circumstances, but we can, at least in part, imagine what it would be like to be placed in certain circumstances. I have never been homeless, but I can imagine that I wouldn’t like it. I can even imagine what might go through the head of someone I profoundly disagree with.

It was by sheer coincidence that the night before Mantel spoke at the Royal Festival Hall, Salman Rushdie received the PEN Pinter prize at the British Library.

While Mrs Thatcher was still prime minister, Rushdie’s imagination got him into rare trouble when he published the allegedly “blasphemous” Satanic Verses. Whether the allegation of blasphemy was correct or not, is, by the way, irrelevant. That suggestion would not validate the non-publication of a book, and certainly would not justify the murder contract put out by the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, in February 1989.

Rushdie’s western critics then often couched their criticisms in terms that emphasised their empathy with the “Muslim anger” which gave rise to protests across the world and eventually the Ayatollah’s incitement to murder; they understood, they implied. They too, had been hurt. Mrs Thatcher herself (characterised as “Mrs Torture” in the book) said: “We have known in our religion people doing things which are deeply offensive to some of us and we have felt it very much.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, commented: “I well understand the devout Muslims’ reaction, wounded by what they hold most dear and would themselves die for.”

No mention of being able to well understand or even imagine what it might be like to be on the end of protests, to see your effigy burned in anger across the world.

In his speech at the British Library, Rushdie described one of the worst aspects of the onslaught against his imaginative work; the need to counteract the ignorant prescriptions of The Satanic Verses by those who wanted to have him censored and worse.

“Once the attack was fully underway,” said Rusdhie, “I felt obliged for a long time to fight back against the creation of that false version of The Satanic Verses by offering counter-explanations of my own. I loathed doing it, and often felt that by offering the almost line by line defence that seemed necessary I was damaging the kind of open, private reading of my novel for which, like every writer, I had hoped.”

After Rushdie spoke, a remarkable speech from International Writer of Courage winner Mazen Darwish was read out. Darwish, founder of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, is currently in a regime jail in Damascus, faced with charges of “publicicing terrorism”. He somehow managed to smuggle a letter to London.

Addressing Rushdie directly, he offered a startling apology for the inaction of many people in the Middle East at the time of the fatwa, saying their indifference was tantamount to collusion to murder.

Drawing a line between the censorship of 1989 and the rise of the Islamic State in Syria today, Darwish lamented: “What a shame this much blood has had to be spilled for us to realise, finally, that we are digging our own graves when we allow thought to be crushed by accusations of unbelief, calling people infidels, and when we allow opinion to be countered with violence.”

Not, bear in mind, the extrapolations of a north London liberal, but a man in prison who knows acutely the price of standing up for the individual, for empathy, and for free expression. Words to bear in mind the next time we’re tempted to embark on a collective outrage against words and thoughts and imagination itself.

This article was posted on 16 October 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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