Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:35:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=246 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 United Arab Emirates: Stop the charade and release activists convicted at the mass UAE 94 trial http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/united-arab-emirates-stop-the-charade-and-release-activists-convicted-at-the-mass-uae-94-trial/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/united-arab-emirates-stop-the-charade-and-release-activists-convicted-at-the-mass-uae-94-trial/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:33:06 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64578 On the second anniversary of the start of the mass “UAE 94” trial that imprisoned dozens of government critics and reform activists in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including prominent human rights defenders, judges, academics, and student leaders, a coalition of 13 organizations calls on the UAE government to release immediately and unconditionally all those […]

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On the second anniversary of the start of the mass “UAE 94” trial that imprisoned dozens of government critics and reform activists in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including prominent human rights defenders, judges, academics, and student leaders, a coalition of 13 organizations calls on the UAE government to release immediately and unconditionally all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association following this grossly unfair trial, as well as those who remain detained or imprisoned for publicizing concerns about it. The organizations also call on the authorities to ensure that the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment that the individuals were subjected to prior to and following their trial are promptly, independently, impartially and thoroughly investigated, that those responsible are held to account, and that the victims have access to effective remedies and to reparation.

The organizations share the serious concerns raised since 2011 by several UN human rights bodies and human rights organizations regarding the UAE government’s continuing pattern of harassment, secret, arbitrary and prolonged incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and unfair trials targeting activists and those critical of the authorities, as well as its increasing use of national security as a pretext to clamp down on peaceful activism and to stifle calls for reform.

The space for dissent in the UAE is increasingly shrinking. The repression has been entrenched with the enactment in 2012 of the cybercrimes law, which the government has used to silence social media activists and others who support and defend freedom of expression online, and the enactment of the 2014 counter-terror law. The vague and overly broad definition of terrorism in the 2014 law, which treats a wide range of activities, including those protected by human rights standards, as amounting to terrorism, may be used to sentence human rights defenders or critics of the government to lengthy prison terms or even death.[1]

The organizations call on the UAE government, which currently is a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to adhere to its obligations to uphold human rights at home, including respecting the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

The anniversary of the mass trial, widely known as the “UAE 94” trial, coincides with the anniversary of the March 2011 petition from a group of 133 high-profile women and men addressed to the UAE President, which called for democratic reform. The petition elicited an uncompromisingly repressive response from the UAE authorities and many of its signatories, and their families, have been harassed, arbitrarily arrested, or imprisoned in the four years since they put their names to their call for reform.

The UAE 94 trial, which began on 4 March 2013 before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, saw a total of 94 defendants, including eight who were charged and tried in absentia, stand trial en masse on the charge of establishing an organization that aimed to overthrow the government, a charge which they all denied. The trial failed to meet international fair trial standards and was widely condemned by human rights organizations and UN bodies, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The court accepted prosecution evidence that consisted largely of “confessions” made by defendants while they were in pre-trial detention. The court failed to require, before the admission of such evidence, that the prosecution prove beyond reasonable doubt that the “confessions” were obtained by lawful means and voluntarily from the accused. The court also failed to take steps to investigate, or order a prompt, independent, impartial and thorough investigation of the defendants’ claims that State Security interrogators had forced them, under torture or other ill-treatment, to make false “confessions” incriminating themselves and others during months when they were held incommunicado in secret locations and without access to lawyers or the outside world. The defendants were also denied a right of appeal to a higher tribunal; under UAE law, Federal Supreme Court judgments are final and not subject to appeal.[2]

On 2 July 2013, the court convicted 69 of the 94 defendants, including the eight tried in absentia, and acquitted 25. The defendants included many people who had achieved prominence in the UAE in their respective fields in the law, education and academia, business, and as government advisers. The court sentenced to prison terms of between seven and 15 years many well-known figures including: prominent human rights lawyer and law professor Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, who has written a number of books and journal articles on human rights, freedom of expression, and counterterror laws; high profile lawyers Dr Mohammed Al-Mansoori and Salem Al-Shehhi; judge Mohammed Saeed Al-Abdouli; law professor and former judge Dr Ahmed Al-Zaabi; lawyer and university professor Dr Hadef Al-Owais; senior member of the Ras Al-Khaimah ruling family Sheikh Dr Sultan Kayed Mohammed Al-Qassimi; businessman Khalid Al-Shaiba Al-Nuaimi; Science teacher Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi; blogger and former teacher Saleh Mohammed Al-Dhufairi; student leader Abdulla Al-Hajri; and student and blogger Khalifa Al-Nuaimi who, before his arrest, had kept an active blog which he used to express criticism of the human rights situation in the UAE and the heavy-handed approach of the State Security apparatus.[3]

Others convicted at the trial include seven activists, known as the “UAE 7”, who had their citizenship arbitrarily withdrawn in 2011 and were told to leave the country. They are economist Ahmed Ghaith Al-Suwaidi; teacher Hussein Al-Jabri; former long-term employee of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs Hassan Al-Jabri; teacher Ibrahim Hassan Al-Marzouqi; former teacher Sheikh Mohammed Al-Sadeeq; Dr Shahin Abdullah Al-Hosni; and Dr Ali Hussain Al-Hammadi.

During the trial, the authorities took steps to prevent independent reporting of the proceedings. International media and independent trial observers were not permitted access to the court. Security authorities refused to allow an independent trial observer delegated by Amnesty International entry to the UAE immediately prior to the opening of the trial. Two independent observers sent by the International Commission of Jurists were turned away by plain-clothed security officials before they reached the Federal Supreme Court building.[4] Another international observer mandated by the International Federation for Human Rights, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, was also denied access to the final trial hearing on 2 July 2013, despite an earlier indication by the UAE authorities that she would be allowed to attend.[5]

In November 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an Opinion on the UAE 94 case, concluding that the UAE government had deprived the defendants of their right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the arrest and detention of the individuals had resulted from the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, guaranteed under articles 19 and 20 of the UDHR, stating that the restrictions on those rights could not be considered to be proportionate and justified. It declared the arrest and detention of the 61 defendants who were imprisoned following the mass trial to be arbitrary and called on the UAE authorities to release them and afford them appropriate reparation.[6]

Authorities also barred some of the defendants’ relatives from the courtroom; and others, who were permitted to attend, were harassed, detained or imprisoned after they criticized the proceedings and publicized torture allegations made by the defendants on the Twitter social media website.

In April 2013, a court sentenced Abdullah Al-Hadidi, the son of one of the UAE 94 who was convicted, Abdulrahman Al-Hadidi, to 10 months’ imprisonment on the charge of publishing details of the trial proceedings “without probity and in bad faith,” after he criticized the proceedings on Twitter. He was released in November 2013.

Blogger and netizen, Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi, brother of Dr Ahmed Al-Zaabi, was arrested in July 2013 and again in December 2013, and was prosecuted on several charges based on his Twitter posts about the trial, including spreading “slander concerning the rulers of the UAE using phrases that lower their status, and accusing them of oppression” and “disseminating ideas and news meant to mock and damage the reputation of a governmental institution.” In June 2014, Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi was acquitted of all charges but, despite this, the authorities continue to arbitrarily detain him, even though there is no legal basis for depriving him of his liberty. He remains in the prisoners’ ward of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Hospital in Abu Dhabi, as he continues to suffer from advanced arthritis and rheumatism and has difficulty walking.[7]

Osama Al-Najjar, netizen and son of Hussain Ali Al-Najjar Al-Hammadi, was arrested in March 2014 and prosecuted for charges based on messages he posted on Twitter defending his father, who is one of the UAE 94. In November 2014, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine for charges including “designing and running a website on social networks with the aim of publishing inaccurate, satirical and defaming ideas and information that are harmful to the structure of State institutions”; “offending the State”; “instigating hatred against the State”; and “contacting foreign organizations and presenting inaccurate information” about the UAE 94 trial and living conditions inside Al-Razeen Prison. He had no right to appeal the verdict and is imprisoned in Al-Wathba Prison, Abu Dhabi.[8]

The UAE 94 trial proved to be the centerpiece of the authorities’ broader crackdown targeting expression of dissent and advocacy of greater public participation in the governance of the UAE and other reform. At one stroke, the authorities removed from the public arena their most prominent critics and the country’s leading advocates of reform, while signaling to other potential dissenters that they will not tolerate open political debate in the UAE or any form of criticism of the government.[9]

The coalition is very concerned about the lack of space for rights organizations to do their legitimate work and about the repeated attempts by the UAE authorities or their supporters to eliminate freedom of expression for its residents, not only in the traditional media, but also on social media networks. On 28 October 2014, for example, high profile human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor’s Twitter account, in which he publishes his personal thoughts and views, was hacked. On 15 February 2015, three sisters, Asma Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, Maryam Khalifa Al-Suwaidi and Alyaziyah Khalifa Al-Suwaidi, were subject to enforced disappearance and there are serious concerns for their safety. The three sisters have campaigned peacefully online for the release of their brother, one of the UAE 94 prisoners, Dr Issa Al-Suwaidi, highlighting his unfair trial and the human rights violations to which he was subjected at the hands of UAE authorities. Dr Issa Al-Suwaidi is a respected academic and was the General Secretary of the Red Crescent in the UAE between 1996 and 1998.

On 16 February 2015, government-owned newspaper The National reported that the UAE government had adopted 36 recommendations made by the Human Rights Department of the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs after it carried out a study of international reports on the country’s human rights performance. The online newspaper said one of the recommendations was that an independent committee be established to review all allegations of torture, which the coalition endorses. However, the report disappeared from The National’s website the day after it was published, which is discouraging.[10]

The coalition urgently calls on the UAE authorities to implement recommendations by UN bodies and international human rights organizations to:

  • release immediately and unconditionally all those individuals detained or imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;
  • prohibit the practice of secret detention;
  • institute safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment, and ensure that all complaints or allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are promptly, independently and thoroughly investigated;
  • ensure that victims of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and other human rights violations have access to effective remedies;
  • ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty receive a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court in accordance with international human rights standards, including by having the right to appeal the judgment before a higher court or tribunal;
  • publish the 36 recommendations made by the Human Rights Department of the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and implement the recommendation that an independent committee be established to review all allegations of torture;
  • amend any legislation which impermissibly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, with a view to bringing all of these laws into full conformity with the UAE’s obligations under international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
  • ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols, and the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

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Amnesty International

For more information please call Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa press officer Sara Hashah on +44 20 7413 5566 / +44 7778 472 126, or email: press@amnesty.org

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

For more information, please email Rawda Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Legal Aid Unit, on rawdaahmed@anhri.net

ARTICLE 19

For more information, please contact David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, on diaz-jogeix@article19.org

Gulf Centre for Human Rights
For more information, please call Khalid Ibrahim on +961 70159552, or email: Khalid@gc4hr.org www.gc4hr.org

Freedom House

For media inquiries, please email Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs, on herman@freedomhouse.org

Front Line Defenders

For more information, please call Jim Loughran, Head of Media and Communications on +353 (0)1 212 3750, or email jim@frontlinedefenders.org

Index on Censorship

For more information, please contact Melody Patry, senior advocacy officer, on +44 207 260 2660 or melody@indexoncensorship.org

International Commission of Jurists

For more information, please contact Said Benarbia, Middle East and North Africa Programme, on + 41 22 979 38 17 or said.benarbia@icj.org

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

For more information, please contact Arthur Manet, Director of media relations, on +33 1 43 55 90 19 or amanet@fidh.org

Lawyers for Lawyers

For more information, please call Ms Adrie van de Streek, Executive Director on +31 (0)6 26 274 390 or email info@lawyersforlawyers.org

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

For more information, please call Gail Davidson, Executive Director, on +1 (604) 736 1175, or email lrwc@portal.ca

PEN International

For more information, please contact PEN’s Communications and Campaigns Manager Sahar Halaimzai on +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 or email sahar.halaimzai@pen-international.org

Reporters Without Borders

For more information, please call Lucie Morillon, Programme Director on +33 1 44 83 84 71, or email lucie.morillon@rsf.org

[1] Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, UAE: Fear that Anti-Terrorism Law will be used to curtail human rights and target human rights defenders, 13 December 2014, http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/850

[2] International Commission of Jurists, Mass Convictions Following an Unfair Trial: The UAE 94 Case, 4 October 2013, http://icj.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/UAE-report-4-Oct-2013smallpdf.com_.pdf

[3] A few days before his own arrest in July 2012, Khalifa al-Nuaimi wrote on his blog about the wave of mass arrests by the UAE’s State Security apparatus, saying “You do not have the right to take a son from his father…a father from his son…a teacher from his students…a preacher from his audience…and imprison them unlawfully.”

[4] International Commission of Jurists, United Arab Emirates: ICJ condemns blatant disregard of the right to a fair and public trial, 12 March 2013, http://www.icj.org/united-arab-emirates-icj-condemns-blatant-disregard-of-the-right-to-a-fair-and-public-trial/?_sm_au_=iVV7R4317ftBnjDP

[5] Doughty Street Chambers, UAE denies International Legal Observer access to verdict in show trial of UAE 94, 1 July 2013, http://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/news/article/uae-denies-international-legal-observer-access-to-verdict-in-show-trial-of-; The coalition released two judicial observation reports based on interviews conducted by British human rights lawyer Melanie Gingell with family members who attended the hearings, local human rights defenders and activists, as well as international and local media: International Federation for Human Rights, Gulf Center for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, United Arab Emirates: Criminalising Political Dissent, 27 August 2013, https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/north-africa-middle-east/united-arab-emirates/united-arab-emirates-criminalising-political-dissent-13879; Alkarama, Amnesty International, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, UAE: Unfair Trial, Unjust Sentences, 3 July 2013, https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/north-africa-middle-east/united-arab-emirates/uae-unfair-trial-unjust-sentences-13590

[6] United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary detention at its 68th Session (13-22 November 2013), UN Doc A/HRC/WGAD/2013/60.

[7] Amnesty International understands that during the first few weeks after his arrest, a senior State Security Prosecution official told Obaid Yousef Al-Zaabi that he would not be released even if he went to trial and a court found him innocent.

[8] Reporters Without Borders, Online activist gets three years for criticizing torture of detainees, 2 December 2014, http://en.rsf.org/emirats-arabes-unis-online-activist-gets-three-years-02-12-2014,47327.html;

[9] Amnesty International, There is no freedom here – Silencing dissent in the United Arab Emirates (MDE 25/018/2014), 18 November 2014 https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/MDE25/0018/2014/en/

[10] The National, “Government approval for 36 human rights ‘recommendations’, FNC hears”, 16 February 2015, http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government-approval-for-36-human-rights-recommendations-fnc-hears

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#IndexAwards2015: Campaigning nominee Amran Abdundi http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexawards2015-campaigning-nominee-amran-abdundi/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexawards2015-campaigning-nominee-amran-abdundi/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 09:55:26 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64274 Amran Abdundi is a women's rights activist based in northeastern Kenya. She runs the Frontier Indigenous Network, an organisation which mobilises female peace builders and rights activists to set up shelters along the dangerous border with Somalia.

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Campaigning nominee Amran Abdundi

Campaigning nominee Amran Abdundi

Amran Abdundi is a women’s rights activist based in northeastern Kenya. She runs the Frontier Indigenous Network, an organisation which mobilises female peace builders and rights activists to set up shelters along the dangerous border with Somalia. It offers first aid to the injured as well as to women and girls who have been raped, moving victims to a safer part of Kenya.

As well as protecting citizens endangered by the guerrilla activities of the Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabaab, Abdundi and her organisation also help those fleeing drought and failed harvests in Somalia. Abdundi is also behind radio-listening groups for women, which share information about access to tuberculosis treatment, among other things.

In a society that teaches women to leave decision-making to men and to look down when men pass, Abdundi’s Frontier Indigenous Network empowers, educates and mobilises rural women to challenge such outdated social codes.

The Al Qaeda-allied Islamist group Al Shabaab has sown terror in the Kenya-Somalia border region, one of the world’s most inhospitable areas. Women in the region are often the victims of violence, rape and murder. The northern region of Kenya is one of deeply conservative social customs, in which a man owns property on a woman’s behalf – even when the woman has bought the land. In the environment Abdundi operates in, a quarter of Kenyan girls and women have endured genital mutilation, despite legislation outlawing the practice.

Abdundi told Index: “I want to see them go to school. I don’t want to see them moving here and there without education – early marriage and female circumcision are also major issues.”

She said that some of the initial challenges the organisation faced have been overcome. In the beginning it was hard to talk to parents about their girls and “how the women have suffered”, she explained. “But now they understand us. They know how good we are and we want to change their lives.”

One of Frontier Indigenous Network’s biggest achievements in 2014 has been in mapping out conflict areas in northern Kenya. It focuses on the factors which fuel armed violence occurring after peace agreements are signed between warring parties. Aware that small arms and light weapons were one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the region, Abdundi and her group mapped many of the weapons used by the combatants. She then instigated a regional agreement to pursue arms traffickers, closing boltholes used by smugglers along the Somali border and developing a register of all recovered weapons. The agreement also targeted a network of groups running an illegal arms trade.

Abdundi has established radio-listening groups specifically for women, in which she encourages them to challenge the repressive cultural values preventing women from being permitted to own property or livestock. She uses the radio groups to reach women with tuberculosis, educating them about access to treatment and breaking cultural beliefs that tuberculosis is caused by curses and bad omens.

Abdundi has also mobilised women along the Kenya-Somalia border to rise against Al-Shabaab, a militant terrorist group, by educating them on the dangers of following the doctrine propagated by the terror organisation; she has received a number of death threats as a result of this work. She has also campaigned against the practice of female circumcision in northern Kenya.

She said: “My dream is to help women, girls and children. I just want to see them doing good. That’s my dream.”

This article was published on March 2, 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Comedian Shappi Khorsandi to host Index on Censorship awards http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/comedian-shappi-khorsandi-to-host-index-on-censorship-awards/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/comedian-shappi-khorsandi-to-host-index-on-censorship-awards/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 15:53:48 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64537 Comedian Shappi Khorsandi, the host of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, understands the effects of censorship first hand

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Shappi Khorsandi

Shappi Khorsandi

Comedian Shappi Khorsandi, the host of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, understands the effects of censorship first hand.

Her father, Iranian writer and comic Hadi Khorsandi, was forced to flee to Britain in 1979 with his family, including a young Shappi, following the Iranian revolution and his criticism of the new regime. Even in the UK, Khorsandi continued to receive death threats.

“During the 1979 revolution against the Shah, there were crowds calling for my father’s execution because of his satirical writings. The only way to stay in Iran was to toe the party line. He chose exile, a profound experience for a writer,” Khorsandi says.

Khorsandi speaks movingly of the effects of exile on writers, saying: “They have to leave their home country to be able to express themselves freely in their native language. Censorship was a huge thing in my family.”

Once in Britain, Hadi Khorsandi continued writing and also published a satirical newspaper: “Because of this there was a plot to assassinate him in 1984,” says his daughter.

Many of those shortlisted for this year’s freedom of expression awards have experienced similar attempts to silence them. Lirio Abbate, an Italian journalist who faces constant threat of attack because of his investigations into the mafia, has 24-hour police protection. Others, like Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, Moroccan rapper El Haqed, or Ecuadorian cartoonist Bonil, are repeatedly threatened with jail for challenging powerful government and business interests.

Index on Censorship magazine featured Hadi Khorsandi’s work in two of its 1986 issues, describing his humour as “aimed at the follies and absurdities of the present Iranian regime and giving the reader a vivid picture of life in a country where ideology and zeal have been allowed to reign unchecked.” The October issue in which Hadi Khorsandi’s work features also includes an essay by Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“I’ve known about Index on Censorship for years – there were always Index logos in our house because of my father’s work,” says Khorsandi. “It’s quite an honour to have been asked to host the awards, one I accept on my father’s behalf.”

The 15th Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards will be held on March 18 at The Barbican, London.

This article was posted on March 2, 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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#IndexAwards2015: Campaigning nominees Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexawards2015-campaigning-nominees-yaman-akdeniz-kerem-altiparmak/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/03/indexawards2015-campaigning-nominees-yaman-akdeniz-kerem-altiparmak/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 10:58:03 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64306 Professors Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak are cyber-law experts and internet rights activists who have campaigned vigorously against the Turkish government’s increasingly restrictive internet access laws

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Professors Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak are cyber-law experts and internet rights activists who have campaigned vigorously against the Turkish government’s increasingly restrictive internet access laws. Together, they have raised repeated objections to the controversial Internet Law No 5651, which ostensibly blocked access to child pornography and other harmful content but has also been used to censor politically sensitive content such as pro-Kurdish or left-wing websites. It has been used to block around 50,000 websites.

In February 2014, then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan increased the legislative reach of Law 5651, giving the country’s telecommunications authority (ICTA) more powers over Turkey’s internet users, such as storing user activity data for up to two years, or blocking URLs without court approval. Erdogan immediately made use of the latter opportunity by ordering the ICTA to block Twitter and YouTube in March 2014. Twitter had played a huge role in the escalation of Turkey’s Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013, during which many protesters were arrested and fined for posts to social media.

Social media channels were also being used to circulate damaging information about Erdogan and the AKP, his political party. Following revelations of widespread government corruption late in 2013, wiretapped phone conversations were leaked and spread via Twitter appearing to implicate Erdoğan and senior party members – one recording appears to include Erdogan telling his son to hide a large amount of cash.

He ordered the Twitter block in time to halt the spread of the injurious recordings before nationwide local elections at the end of March. Similarly, the YouTube block was instigated hours after a secret recording at Turkey’s foreign ministry, showing the government’s considerations for military involvement in Syria, was uploaded to the website.

In response to the blocks, Akdeniz and Altiparmak applied to the European Court of Human Rights to request an injunction against the ban. An administrative court in Ankara declared the ban illegal. After the government ignored this decision the pair applied to the highest court in Turkey, the Constitutional Court. Their case was successful, and Twitter was unblocked in April. Their advocacy efforts also helped lift the YouTube ban in June.

Despite their success, Akdeniz and Altiparmak say there is still a huge cause for concern. Even though Twitter and YouTube have now been unblocked, the legal framework for censorship has not been removed. In fact, as soon as Erdogan switched from prime minister to president in September 2014, he quietly slipped more amendments to 5651 through parliament, which allowed even more data logging and even quicker website blocking.

In protest against their country’s rapidly growing disregard for its citizens’ internet rights, Akdeniz and Altiparmak widely publicised their boycott of the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum, which was held in Istanbul in September 2014.

This article was posted on March 2 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Index on Censorship condemns brutal murder of blogger Avijit Roy http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/index-on-censorship-condemns-brutal-murder-of-blogger-avijit-roy/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/index-on-censorship-condemns-brutal-murder-of-blogger-avijit-roy/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:41:53 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64518 Index on Censorship condemns the brutal murder of US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy. Roy, an atheist who advocated secularism, was hacked to death by a knife-wielding mob in Dhaka as he walked back from a book fair. Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Avijit Roy. Roy was targeted simply for […]

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Index on Censorship condemns the brutal murder of US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy. Roy, an atheist who advocated secularism, was hacked to death by a knife-wielding mob in Dhaka as he walked back from a book fair.

Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Avijit Roy. Roy was targeted simply for expressing his own beliefs and we are appalled by his death and condemn all such killings.”

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#IndexAwards2015: Arts nominee Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/indexawards2015-arts-nominee-xavier-bonil-bonilla/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/indexawards2015-arts-nominee-xavier-bonil-bonilla/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 08:21:09 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64262 Bonil is the pen name for Xavier Bonilla, an Ecuador-based editorial cartoonist who draws for several national newspapers, particularly El Universo.

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Bonil is the pen name for Xavier Bonilla, an Ecuador-based editorial cartoonist who draws for several national newspapers, particularly El Universo. For 30 years he has critiqued, lampooned and ruffled the feathers of Ecuador’s political leaders, earning a reputation as one of the wittiest and most fearless cartoonists in South America.

More recently, Bonil has gained a new epithet – “the pursued cartoonist” is how Spanish newspaper El Pais recently styled him. Bonil’s work had regularly attracted the ire of incumbent president Rafael Correa. But in 2014 anger escalated to retribution, the president publicly denounced Bonil and threatened him with legal action on two separate occasions – the first was successful against Bonil, and the second is ongoing.

President Correa has been in constant battle with the domestic press since first being elected in 2007. He has reprimanded journalists critical of the state through a combination of crippling fines and smear campaigns on his weekly TV show. In response to a 2012 article in El Universo calling him a dictator, he charged the paper with criminal libel – leading editors were sentenced to three years each in prison, and the paper was fined $42 million.

On that occasion, international pressure led Correa to pardon the newspaper at the 11th hour. But in June 2013 he introduced a new communications law which, under the guise of promoting freedom of expression, codified the repression of political journalism. It ordained that “information of public interest received through the media should be verified, balanced, contextualized and opportune” – meaning the government had the ultimate say on whether a journalist’s work was appropriate.

Bonil was the first individual to be targeted by the legislation. In December 2013, police raided the apartment of Fernando Villavicencio, a journalist and adviser to an opposition party, and took his computers and files. Villavicencio had claimed to own documents revealing government corruption. Correa alleged that Villavicencio had illegally hacked into government emails.

Bonil’s depiction of the incident (see below), published in El Universo the following day, took Villavicencio’s side. Correa publicly denounced the cartoon, calling Bonil “sick”, “cowardly” and “an ink assassin”. He called for an investigation which led to Bonil and El Universo being dragged before a media regulatory agency, which fined El Universo $92,000 and ordered Bonil to draw a “retraction” cartoon (also below) within three days. In this version, dripping with sarcasm, comically polite officers give a bunch of flowers to Villavicencio, who in turn begs the police to take away his belongings.

Bonil attracted further government attention when, in August 2014, he drew a cartoon ridiculing star footballer-turned-statesman Agustín “El Tin” Delgado. A viral video had showed El Tin struggling to read through a speech in parliament. Bonil’s cartoon suggested that ridicule of El Tin was justified, given his sizeable government salary. President Correa has since repeatedly denounced Bonil as racist and called the cartoon a “hate crime” – a charge which can carry a three-year prison sentence. Bonil has responded that the cartoon had no racial element.

Bonil original cartoon

Bonil rectified cartoon

Video: Vicky Baker | Text: Will Haydon

This article was posted on February 27, 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Bahrainis are upset with John Legend — here’s why http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/bahrainis-are-upset-with-john-legend-heres-why/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/bahrainis-are-upset-with-john-legend-heres-why/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:55:20 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64468 People are taking to social media to express their disappointment at the award-winning singer performing in Bahrain despite the country's poor human rights record

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By Thatcher Hullerman Cook (https://www.flickr.com/photos/poptech/5107260975) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thatcher Hullerman Cook (https://www.flickr.com/photos/poptech/5107260975) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Grammy and Oscar-award winning American singer John Legend is set to perform in Bahrain on Monday 2 March, according to the organisers of Bahraini festival Spring Of Culture 2015.

“While sitting at his gleaming grand piano, accompanied by the subtle brilliance of four string instrumentalists and a guitarist, the 35-year-old crooner captivates his audience at the simply wonderfull (sic) intimate venue,” reads the promotional blurb on the festival’s website. And it looks to have been a popular booking, as tickets reportedly sold out in hours.

But many are unhappy with the concert going ahead, due to Bahrain’s poor human rights record. The Gulf monarchy has seen significant protests since 2011 calling for democracy and human rights, which have been cracked down on by authorities. “The government continued to stifle and punish dissent and to curtail freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” Amnesty International said of Bahrain in their recently released annual report.

Among those speaking out against the show, was prominent human rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja. Her father and sister are currently imprisoned in Bahrain on charges related to their campaigning work.

Nabeel Rajab, another famous human rights campaigner, also reached out to Legend on Twitter. Rajab was in January sentenced over a tweet where he allegedly “denigrated government institutions”. He was today again summoned by Bahraini police, and fears he can be arrested “at any time“.

Many expressed disappointment that Legend, who on numerous occasions in recent times has spoken out on racism and injustice in his native US, would perform in Bahrain given the country’s current political situation. 

Marc Lynch also expanded on his thoughts in an open letter to Legend:

You have emerged as a voice of conscience in today’s America. In your writing, performances and speeches you have proven yourself to be a principled champion of equality who is unafraid to speak out for what is right. Last year, you wrote that “As I watched the final version of Selma, I did so with the backdrop of the streets of many of our major cities filled with protesters, crying out for justice after yet another unarmed black person’s life was taken by the police with impunity.”Bahraini lives have been taken by the police with impunity as well, and Bahraini lives do matter. I hope that you will think deeply about the implications of performing in a country like today’s Bahrain, where the violence of an unaccountable police against peaceful protestors mirrors everything against which you have spoken out at home.

While some called for a cancellation of the show, others urged Legend to use his platform to speak out about human right abuses in Bahrain, as he has done in the US.

But not everybody agreed with the criticism.

This isn’t the first controversial celebrity visit to Bahrain. In 2012, reality star Kim Kardashian visited the country to launch a Millions of Milkshakes store. As Index’s Sara Yasin wrote at the time: “Bahrain is no stranger to using flashy events to attempt to whitewash its tarnished international reputation.”

Update 2 March 2015, 16:28pm

John Legend has responded to the criticism, saying that “the solution to every human rights concern is not always to boycott” and that he hopes “to meet the many people who are peacefully struggling for freedom, justice and accountability, regardless of what country they live in”. Full statement below, via The Independent:

Some have recently suggested that, due to documented human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain, I should cancel my upcoming concert there.  After consulting with human rights experts, I decided to keep my commitment to perform for the people of Bahrain, many of whom I am proud to call my fans, during their annual festival. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about human rights, civil rights and other issues of justice, both in the United States and abroad. The solution to every human rights concern is not always to boycott.  Most of the time I will choose to engage with the people of the country rather than ignore or abandon my commitments to perform for them. Often, the best way to drive progress is to show up and participate in the conversation. As we move this work forward, I hope to meet the many people who are peacefully struggling for freedom, justice and accountability, regardless of what country they live in, and tell them directly that I stand with them. Part of my mission in life is to spread love and joy to people all over the world.  I intend to do just that in Bahrain, regardless of my disagreements with some of their governments’ policies and actions.

Additional reporting by Danielle Quijada.

This article was posted on 26 February 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Padraig Reidy: There is not a limited amount of free speech to go round http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/padraig-reidy-there-is-not-a-limited-amount-of-free-speech-to-go-round/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/padraig-reidy-there-is-not-a-limited-amount-of-free-speech-to-go-round/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 14:15:07 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64461 There is, I am told, a war going on in feminism. A war between “intersectionalists” (I think) and TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, as far as I can tell).

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(Illustration: Shutterstock)

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

There is, I am told, a war going on in feminism. A war between “intersectionalists” (I think) and TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, as far as I can tell).

I am not about to stick my oar into this particular boating lake, for two reasons:

Reason 1. Self-awareness. I am a white middle class western European media professional, north-London dwelling male, born in a time when there is little chance of conscription. I am practically the most privileged thing that ever existed, and the last thing people struggling for equality need is me, turning up, cheerily shouting “Only me!!!” like Harry Enfield’s Mr-You-Don’t-want-to-do-it-like-that, and telling people how to do a real feminism. That is not to say I do not have a right to have an opinion, but…

Reason 2: lurking in that apparently placid boating lake are piranhas, reading to chew up and spit out any oarsman (or woman) who does not know every ebb and eddie of the lake.

It’s a horrible sight to see. Every so often some poor naive jumps in their little pleasure boat, having been assured by the man that it’s perfectly safe, and rows happily to the middle of the lake. You watch from the shore. They wave back. What’s that sound? They’re singing Sister Suffragette from Mary Poppins, their rowing keeping a brisk beat with the jaunty marching tune. “Shoulder-to-shoulder” and-stroke-and-stroke.

Unbeknownst to them, the piranhas have smelled blood. They row on. Gleefully, they reach the crescendo: “Our daughters’ daughters’ will adore us…”. They raise their hands to punch the air. An unattended oar slips into the water. The piranhas stir. Daughters? That sounds like determinism. The water begins to froth. The poor unsuspecting oarsman (or woman) is still singing. Eventually they catch the commotion in the corner of one eye: they hear it grow louder, under the boat, which now seems irresponsibly flimsy.

They sing still, but now in trepidation: “No more the meek and mild subservients we!”.

The frenzy grows stronger, at what was certainly a slight on members of the BDSM community (well, the Ms anyway). Stronger and stronger. Our rower tries to resist, we can see, but the boat is now falling apart, as if rotten, under their feet. Our previously carefree rower feels first a nip, and then a rush. They are simultaneously drowning and being eaten alive.

A final defiant shriek from a the near-eviscerated pleasure seeker, and then there is nothing. The waters are calm once more.

We tut, from the shore. Such a shame, such a loss. Did you see the cowbell dog?

That’s one version, but then try to see it from the fishes’ point of view. Fish have got to live. Piranhas have been, for years, maligned as a generality by the mainstream. The very word “piranha” is thrown around as an insult. Piranhas are irrational, illogical, even abominations against nature. And of course, there is more than one type of piranha, and not every piranha has the same experience of what it’s like being a piranha. Piranha identity is complex, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean piranhas shouldn’t bond together and work together. What outsiders view as a “feeding frenzy” is actually the best – only – way piranhas can continue to exist safely.

Besides, the piranhas grew up in this lake. They know it like the back of their fins – how to navigate, how to communicate. If anyone’s in a wrong place in the boating lake, it’s not the piranhas.

This is not an unreasonable case. The question then (and here’s where the horrendous tortured boating lake analogy comes to an end, you’ll be pleased to know) is: Was George Bush right? Can the human beings and the fish coexist peacefully?

The issue emerged again recently with a terse exchange of letters in the Observer newspaper, which followed the cancellation of a show by comic Kate Smurthwaite at Goldsmith’s college. Smurthwaite said she’d been banned because some university feminists who are pro sex work were threatening to protests against her anti sex work views, and the college security didn’t want the hassle.

A letter was put together, as letters are, decrying campus censorship and the narrowing of debate (with specific mention of the National Union of Students’ policy of “no-platforming” feminist Julie Bindel for statements on trans people). There was a response, disputing the facts of the first letter and suggesting that there are bigger campus free speech issues – around student protest for example – than whether certain already powerful people can take part in a panel debate or a comedy show.

The problem here is the commodification of free speech: who is allowed it and who isn’t, and, in hierarchical societies (i.e. pretty much every society we’ve come up with so far) who grabs it as theirs and who should be granted more in order to even things out, and who can “use” free speech against whom.

This is to treat free speech as a weapon rather than a space. There is not a limited amount of free speech to go round: rather, there is a (hopefully) ever-expanding free speech arena in which we can argue. The signatories of both letters have actually identified the same problem, the narrowing of the space, particularly in education. Perhaps it would be beneficial for them to defend the space in which to argue rather than trying to push the other side overboard.

This article was posted on 26 February 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab summoned by police and fears new arrest http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/bahrain-nabeel-rajab-summoned-police-fears-new-arrest/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/bahrain-nabeel-rajab-summoned-police-fears-new-arrest/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:20:52 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64450 The prominent human rights activist believes he will be handed down a new charge and could be jailed for years

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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)

Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights activists, says he has again been summoned by the police. He believes he will be handed down a new charge and that he could be arrested at any time.

“Just to inform you that I was summoned today morning to attend the police station at the same time – and I came to know that the new charge against me will incitement of hatred against the regime,” Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Board, said in an email to supporters this morning.

He said he is not planning to go to the station until after the weekend as he was informed so late, but added it is “very possible” that “they will come to arrest me at any time from home”.

“I do not know how many years I will be kept in jail this time but I am confident that people like you will always be beside me and my family,” he wrote.

Rajab has continuously been targeted by Bahraini authorities over his human rights campaigning work. On 20 January, he was sentenced to six months, suspended pending a fine, on charges stemming from a single tweet in which both the ministry of interior and the ministry of defence allege that he “denigrated government institutions”. Rajab was granted bail while he appealed the verdict in his case. Rajab was released last May after spending two years in prison on charges including writing offensive tweets and taking part in illegal protests.

An earlier version of this article stated that Rajab is the director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. He no longer holds this post. 

This article was posted on 26 February 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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#IndexAwards2015: Arts nominee Rory “Panti Bliss” O’Neill http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/indexawards2015-arts-nominee-rory-panti-bliss-oneill/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/02/indexawards2015-arts-nominee-rory-panti-bliss-oneill/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:52:50 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=64268 Rory O’Neill is a Dublin-based stand-up comedian and self-described accidental activist for gay rights, who sees his duty as “to say the unsayable”.

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Rory O’Neill is a Dublin-based stand-up comedian and self-described accidental activist for gay rights, who sees his duty as “to say the unsayable”.

O’Neill had been performing a comedy drag act under the name “Panti Bliss” for more than two decades when, over the course of one conversation in January 2014, he was thrust onto an international stage. While guest-starring on the Saturday night talk show of Ireland’s premier TV channel, he made reference to observable homophobia among certain Irish news figures. Pressed for names, he identified columnists John Waters and Breda O’Brien, as well as the Iona Institute, a socially conservative Catholic think tank campaigning against gay marriage, as examples of anti-gay attitudes.

RTÉ One and O’Neill were immediately threatened with legal action for alleged defamation. The TV company issued a full apology and paid six individuals €85,000 – with €40,000 allegedly going to Waters – of public money to settle the dispute. It also edited out the offending segment of the episode on its online player. The apology prompted almost a thousand complaints to the TV station and Pantigate, as the controversy came to be called, triggered countrywide debate.

The incident was brought up in both the Irish and European parliaments amid discussions of homophobia in Europe. Paul Murphy, a Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, used parliamentary privilege to denounce O’Neill’s detractors as homophobic, and to criticise RTÉ One’s attempts at appeasement.

The voices of columnists such as Waters, who called same-sex marriage a “satire of marriage”, and O’Brien, who has said that “equality must take second place to the common good”, have become more insistent as Ireland gears up for its referendum on gay marriage in May 2015. Early poll results suggest that the majority of voters will support the resolution for equal marriage rights.

Three weeks after the RTÉ One appearance, Panti appeared after a show at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to deliver an impassioned ten-minute speech about pervasive low-level homophobia in Ireland. The speech rapidly garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, and attracted the support of Stephen Fry and Madonna, among others. Columnist Fintan O’Toole called it “the most eloquent Irish speech since Daniel O’Connell [a 19th-century Irish political leader] was in his prime”.

O’Neill channelled the events of early 2014 into his new stand-up set High Heels in Low Places, which was highly praised in reviews for fusing incisive political commentary and down-to-earth, traditonal drag-act humour. During anecdote-based performances, O’Neill has spoken about the difficulties he faced coming out in the late ’80s in a country where homosexuality was still a criminal act, as well as the emotional turmoil of being diagnosed with HIV in the mid-90s.

O’Neill becomes Panti Bliss every Saturday night at his Dublin-based LGBT-friendly bar, PantiBar. This year he has published a memoir, called Woman in the Making, and has been named one of Rehab’s People of the Year. After a successful indiegogo campaign raised €50,000, director Conor Horgan has begun work on a film about Panti, The Queen of Ireland, to be released in 2015.

This article was posted on 26 February 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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