Index on Censorship https://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Mon, 29 Jun 2015 16:29:32 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=494 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 https://www.indexoncensorship.org Index joins new European Centre for Press and Media Freedom https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/index-joins-new-european-centre-for-press-and-media-freedom/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/index-joins-new-european-centre-for-press-and-media-freedom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:33:43 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67335 Index on Censorship is delighted to announce it has joined the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, launched this week in Leipzig, Germany, as a founder member

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Index on Censorship is delighted to announce it has joined the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, launched this week in Leipzig, Germany, as a founder member.

The centre’s aim is to unite Europe’s media freedom community and to address media freedom violations in EU member states and beyond. Among the other founding member organisations are the European Federation of Journalists (the regional branch of the International Federation of Journalists), and the Russian Mass Media Defence Centre, as well as academic institutions from Greece to Portugal.

The centre’s work will be based on activities that promote the spirit and the values of the European Charter for Press Freedom, signed in 2009 by 48 editors-in-chief and leading journalists from 19 countries.

“Index is thrilled to be part of this initiative because of its potential to increase the impact of all media freedom campaigns in the region,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “We monitor threats to journalists across Europe, and it’s a fabulous asset to be able to draw more attention to these threats via the centre, to analyse trends, and then take action to address them.”

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom was one of two projects financed by the European Commission in its latest round of funding for initiatives that address media freedom in Europe. The other was Index’s Mapping Media Freedom project, which launched as a pilot project in 2014.

Since its launch, more than 750 reports of threats to journalist and media organisations have been reported to the map.

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Our knowledge about the past shouldn’t be restricted, says former UN free speech rapporteur https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/our-knowledge-about-the-past-shouldnt-be-restricted-says-former-un-free-speech-rapporteur/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/our-knowledge-about-the-past-shouldnt-be-restricted-says-former-un-free-speech-rapporteur/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:31:18 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67289 I want to know the past, people shouldn't be able to alter records, said former UN free speech guru Frank La Rue

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Photo: Janwikifoto/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons)

Frank La Rue (above). Credit: Janwikifoto/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons)

Freedom of expression is more in danger today than in 2008 because of “the right to be forgotten”, the United Nation’s former free expression rapporteur Frank La Rue told an internet conference.

At the event La Rue told Index: “The emphasis on the ‘right to be forgotten’ in a way is a reduction of freedom of expression, which I think is a mistake. People get excited because they can correct the record on many things but the trend is towards limiting people’s access to information which I think is a bad trend in general.”

La Rue, who was the UN’s rapporteur between 2008 and 2014, addressed lawyers, academics and researchers at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London, in particular covering the May 2014 “right to be forgotten” ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union, and its impact on free speech following a Spanish case involving Mario Costeja Gonzalez.

The Google Spain vs. Mario Costeja Gonzalez case involved the Spanish citizen challenging Google and a Spanish newspaper in the courts to remove articles that appeared on the search engine relating to a foreclosure notice on his house. Gonzalez won the case against Google, but not the newspaper, which has now set a precedent for users to challenge search engines to de-list information.

Frank La Rue (right) spoke at a (Photo: Max Goldblart for Index on Censorship)

Frank La Rue (right) spoke at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London (Photo: Max Goldbart for Index on Censorship)

On the  ruling, La Rue said: “I would want to know the past. It is very relevant information. Everyone should be on the record and we have to question who is making these decisions anyway?” LaRue’s main issue with the “right to be forgotten” is the fact that a private company can have such a say on information being accessed by the public. “The state is accountable to the people of a nation so should be accountable here. Not private companies and especially not those with commercial interests,” he added.

While in London for the conference, he also told Index on Censorship there were “many reasons” for this reduction in freedom of expression: “One is because a breach of privacy has a chilling effect so people are more worried about that, but also there are more and more regulations being enacted in many countries which worry me. Politicians are getting scared of the power of the internet because the internet has made the world more knowledgeable so there is an increase in the way the authorities are trying to reduce criticisms.”

La Rue, now executive director of the charity Robert F. Kennedy  Human Rights Europe, felt that commercial organisations such as Google have been given too much power.

Ray Corrigan, senior lecturer in maths and computing at the Open University, said: “We carry the greatest tracking device around with us absolutely willingly, our phones. We don’t think about the costs.”

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

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“I feel strong”: Moroccan rapper El Haqed defiant after concert is shut down by police https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/i-feel-strong-moroccan-rapper-el-haqed-defiant-after-concert-is-shut-down-by-police/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/i-feel-strong-moroccan-rapper-el-haqed-defiant-after-concert-is-shut-down-by-police/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:36:41 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67274 A former Index Youth Advisory Board member travelled to Casablanca to see Moroccan rapper El Haqed's first concert in the country. This is her account of the police crackdown that silenced the performance

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Police blocked access to the concert venue by closing down the streets around it. (Photos: Mari Shibata for Index on Censorship)

Police blocked access to the concert venue by closing down the streets around it. (Photos: Mari Shibata for Index on Censorship)

A former Index Youth Advisory Board member travelled to Casablanca to see Moroccan rapper El Haqed’s first concert in the country. This is her account of the police crackdown that silenced the 19 June performance.

I had travelled nine hours for a concert that the Moroccan state did not want its people to see.

“This is going to be the first time I will have concert here, where I am from,” rapper Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat told me ahead of the scuttled 19 June show at The Uzine, a Casablanca concert venue and cultural centre supported by the Touria and Abdelaziz Tazi Foundation.

“I’ve been preparing for this moment for a week. There have been jam sessions every day to make this the very best show.”

Belghouat, who won the Index on Censorship Award for Arts in March, is known as El Haqed, roughly translated as The Enraged in English. His music, which describes Morocco’s corruption and social injustice, is driven by the Arab Spring that sparked Casablanca’s pro-democracy February 20 movement.

Having been imprisoned several times since 2011 – during which he went on hunger strike for what he calls “appalling conditions” – he has regularly been silenced by officials. El Haqed has been limited to distributing his music on YouTube and sharing updates on Facebook, where he has an avid fan base of over 43,000.

Winning the Index arts award led to opportunities for El Haqed to perform in other European countries. In May he performed in Oslo. Fans back in Morocco were eagerly awaiting the chance to see him live. His planned concert drew people from around the country.

“I have come all the way from the capital city of Rabat to see Mouad’s first concert in Morocco,” said Hamza, a 22-year old LGBT activist, who declined to provide a last name. “I made sure I got here early, and catch up with everyone I know who has been involved in the February 20 movement where Mouad’s songs were our anthems.”

Just moments after his band Oukacha Family began their sound check and testing the stage lights, word came from the front of house that police had gathered outside. Someone had also been arrested as they tried to enter the building to see the concert.

“My friends and fans outside are telling me the police are growing in numbers and are blocking the street,” El Haqed said as his phone continued to ring. “Those who organised this concert are also informing me that the police are threatening me to stop this from happening.”

As the band began its sound check, word came of the police presence outside.

As the band began its sound check, word came of the police presence outside.

The atmosphere suddenly became tense. The 20 or so people already inside the five-storey building were at risk of arrest. Most of them had been inside since the early afternoon to study whilst fasting for Ramadan, and to pursue their creative interests in the practice rooms and artistic spaces.

As the calls kept flooding in with updates, Mouad instructed everyone to wait in the back yard as a way of occupying the building without being identified by the police, who were able to see through the glass windows of the well-lit front entrance.

In the midst of the confusion, it was at times difficult to identify who could be trusted. Local journalists who arrived at the scene were blocked from entering the street and could not get near the building. As the only non-Moroccan inside, I was being asked with suspicion whether I was from media; getting out a visible video camera was now a definite no-go zone.

“When will officials stop interfering in what we want to do?” sighed Hamza. “This space is so special, it is the only place where young people can express themselves, with the support to explore their creative interests. It is the first space of its kind in Casablanca, where artists can host exhibitions and concerts freely.”

Once Mouad and a handful of key activists located a route around the building that avoided the light, we climbed several flights of stairs to the top floor, crawling along the floor towards a dark room where we could finally inspect what was going on outside. The sight was a shock for everyone, we felt trapped inside the building.

To get images without them spotting us meant flash was off, or hands over any light that was coming out of our phones.

Security officials crowded both the building and the street, ensuring the streets were empty by stopping vehicles coming through. This meant it was now easier for them to identify anybody who caught their eye.

Saja, another El Haqued fan, said she was excited to come and support his first concert in Morocco, but was turned away by police. “As I drove towards the venue, I was stopped by the gas station at the corner of the street and was just told to move. We had no chance to explain ourselves or ask questions, everyone was simply told that the street was closed and therefore weren’t allowed to enter.”

Then we saw officials arriving to cut electricity to the centre. We quickly took the lift downstairs, as Mouad figured that there would be no concert tonight. “This is it,” he said, “we can’t do anything without electricity – we have no power for the microphones, the speakers, or the lights on stage.”

Minutes before the electricity was cut, Mouad tried to upload some pictures to Facebook about what was happening, but failed. With the electricity cut, the wifi signal faded.

Despite the confusion, El Haqed tried to get the word out to his fans via Facebook.

Despite the confusion, El Haqed tried to get the word out to his fans via Facebook.

According to Moroccan press reports, police said that the building, which has hosted several concerts since it opened six months ago, was not up to safety codes, an allegation the centre’s management disputes. Contrary to the claims, the building is equipped with solar panels that provided the building with a small amount of light during emergency situations.

Once the police ordered the power to the centre cut, emergency power kept some of the lights on.

Once the police ordered the power to the centre cut, emergency power kept some of the lights on.

While waiting for news on what was going to happen next, Hamza had realised how lucky we were to have just missed the security officials arriving. “Imagine if they had arrived while we were out breaking fast eating!” he said. “That would have been really brutal, as we would also be left hungry and thirsty on top of all this stress.”

The decision was taken to leave the building at the instruction of the venue’s organisers. Once we managed to bypass the security without getting arrested, journalists who were barred from entering the street crowded around El Haqed to ask him what happened.

Once outside, El Haqed spoke to local media.

Once outside, El Haqed spoke to local media.

After we drove away from the area in a friend’s car, El Haqed told me that, “despite everything that happened, I feel strong”.

“I think that the government has a reason to bring police to the scene. Their action means my music is strong and is a threat to them. The incident makes me hurt and disappointed but I know I should keep going.”

And supporters like Saja have his back. “Mouad’s music speaks to the poor, those who are struggling and have nothing,” she says. “The cancellation of his first planned concert in Morocco is only going to fuel the desire to hear more from him.”

This article was posted on June 25 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Azerbaijan: Independent newspaper Azadliq faces imminent closure https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/azerbaijan-independent-newspaper-azadliq-faces-imminent-closure/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/azerbaijan-independent-newspaper-azadliq-faces-imminent-closure/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 14:42:11 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67277 The Index award-winning paper is widely recognised as one of the last remaining independent news outlets operating inside the country

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Rahim Haciyev, deputy editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Rahim Haciyev, editor of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq, holds up a copy at the 2014 Index awards (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Index award-winning newspaper Azadliq, widely recognised as one of the last remaining independent news outlets operating inside the country, is facing imminent closure. This comes amid an ongoing crackdown on critical journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan, and as the country is hosting the inaugural European Games in the capital Baku.

A statement from the paper, quoted Thursday on news site Contact, outlined its “difficult financial situation”.

“If the problems are not resolved in the shortest possible time, the publication of the newspaper will be impossible,” it read.

“The closure of an independent media outlet like Azadliq, which Azerbaijani officials have suffocated over the past two years, flies in the face of repeated assurances from President Ilham Aliyev that his government respects press freedom. The fact that this financial crisis is occurring during the Baku European Games just underlines the shameful disregard that the Azerbaijani government has for freedom of expression,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

Azadliq has long faced an uphill battle to stay in business. Thursday’s statement merely detailed the latest development in a serious financial crisis, brought about at the hands of Azerbaijani authorities.

In July 2014, Azadliq was forced to suspend print publication. Editor Rahim Haciyev told Index that the government-backed distributor had refused to pay out the some £52,000 it owed the paper, which meant it could not pay its printer.

The paper has also seen its finances squeezed through being banned from selling copies on tube stations and the streets of Baku, and being slapped with fines of some £52,000 following defamation suits in 2013. The paper was also evicted from its offices in 2006 and its journalists have been repeatedly targeted by authorities. Seymur Hezi, for instance, was in January sentenced to five years in prison for “aggravated hooliganism” — charges widely dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated.

Azadliq — meaning “freedom” in Azerbaijani — has appealed to the public for help to stay afloat, urging “those who defend the freedom of speech in Azerbaijan” to join in the campaign to save the paper.

This comes after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) condemned “the crackdown on human rights in Azerbaijan”. In a resolution adopted on Wednesday 24 June, PACE called on authorities to “put an end to systemic repression of human rights defenders, the media and those critical of the
government”.

This article was posted on 25 June, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Padraig Reidy: A disgraceful use of the Communications Act https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/padraig-reidy-disgraceful-use-of-the-communications-act/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/padraig-reidy-disgraceful-use-of-the-communications-act/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 10:30:39 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67253 The prosecution of Pastor James McConnell under the Communications Act is the action of a prosecution service more interested in appearing to be liberal than upholding justice and rights

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Is Islam “satanic”?

Personally, I don’t believe Satan, or God, exist, so it’s not a question I give a great deal of time to.

Salman Rushdie gave it some thought. The title of The Satanic Verses comes from an old idea that there may have been parts of the Sura that were false. Specifically, a concession to the polytheism of the pre-Islamic Meccans to whom Muhammad preached: “And see ye not Lat and Ozza, And Manat the third besides? These are exalted Females, And verily their intercession is to be hoped for.”

Muhammad was, the story goes, tricked into saying these lines by Satan. The Angel Gabriel later told Muhammad he had been deceived, and he recanted.

For Thought-For-The-Day types, it’s a nice little “don’t believe everything you read” lesson. For literary types, it may even be seen as an interesting early example of an unreliable narrator. Muhammad trusted the angel to tell him the truth: but at that moment, the angel was not who he seemed.

I sincerely doubt Northern Ireland’s Pastor James McConnell has much truck with the idea of unreliable narration. Or even fiction, for that matter. McConnell is the type of person who believes that if someone is going to go to the trouble of writing a thing down in a book, then that thing should be true.

A book? No. The Book. There is one book for the pastor. It’s called the Bible, and it’s got everything you need. You might read other books, but they’ll be books about the Book. Books explaining in great detail just how great the Book is. What there are not, cannot be, are other the Books.

So the Bible can be true, or the Quran can be true: but they can’t both be true. And if the Quran is false, but Islam claims it is true, then Islam must be wicked. Satanic, even.

In May last year, Pastor McConnell, like many of his ilk, was very exercised by the story of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who had reputedly been sentenced to death in Sudan after converting from Islam to Christianity. Here was further proof, septuagenarian McConnell preached to the congregation at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, that “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.” There may be good Muslims in the UK, he said, but he didn’t trust them. Enoch Powell was right, McConnell said, to predict “rivers of blood”.

McConnell seemed to know this was going to get him in trouble. “The time will come in this land and in this nation,” he preambled, “to say such things will be an offence to the law.”

Turns out, the pastor was half-right at least in this much. Last week, Northern Irish prosecutors announced that McConnell would face prosecution for his sermon. For inciting religious hatred? No, too obvious. McConnell, now retired and said to be in declining health, will be prosecuted under Section 127 of the Communications Act.

Section 127 is, free-speech nerds may recall, the piece of legislation that pertains to the sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

It’s the one that led to the Paul Chambers “Twitter Joke Trial” case, one of the great rallying points of online free speech in recent years. In January 2010 Chambers joked online that he would blow up Doncaster Robin Hood airport if his flight to Belfast (always Belfast!) to meet his girlfriend was cancelled. He was convicted, even though every single person involved in the case acknowledged that he had been joking, including the airport security, who did not for one second treat the tweet seriously, even as a hoax.

Chambers was convicted. Eventually, in June 2012, the conviction was quashed. Questions were raised about why then-Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer had persisted in pursuing the case. For his part, Starmer launched a consultation to draft guidelines on when the Communications Act provisions should and should not be used (this writer took part in the meetings and submitted written evidence).

During that process, Starmer was fond of pointing out (correctly) that the Communications Act had been designed to protect telephone operators from heavy breathers. It had nothing to do with stupid jokes on the internet.

And it certainly had nothing at all to do with the online streaming of sermons by fundamentalist preachers.

Let there be no doubt: the prosecution of James McConnell under the Communications Act is a disgrace and a travesty. It is the action of a prosecution service more interested in appearing to be liberal than upholding justice and rights. If McConnell is suspected of being guilty of incitement, then prosecute him under that law. But the deployment of the catch-all Communications Act, in a situation it was very obviously not designed for, suggests prosecutors were not confident of that case and have instead reached for the vaguest charge possible.

When one combines this latest prosecution with the recent “gay cake” case, in which a Christian bakery in County Antrim was fined for refusing to decorate a cake with a pro-equal marriage message, it’s hard not to think the people of Protestant Ulster may, on this occasion, have some real fuel for the siege mentality that’s kept them going for so very long. It feels as if an attempt is being made to force liberalisation on Christians through the courts. It’s hard to imagine any outcome besides resentment, and Lord knows the “wee province” has enough of that already.

This column was published on 25 June 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Poland: Journalist Lukasz Masiak fatally beaten https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/poland-journalist-lukasz-masiak-fatally-beaten/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/poland-journalist-lukasz-masiak-fatally-beaten/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:39:45 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67190 Lukasz Masiak, who had been subject to numerous threats believed to be connected to his work, died of traumatic brain injury after being assaulted in the Polish town of Mlawa

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Journalist Lukasz Masiak, founder of news site NaszaMlawa.pl, was murdered on 14 June 2015. (Photo: NaszaMlawa.pl)

Journalist Lukasz Masiak, founder of news site NaszaMlawa.pl, was murdered on 14 June 2015. (Photo: NaszaMlawa.pl)

Journalist Lukasz Masiak, founder of news site NaszaMlawa.pl, was attacked and killed in Poland on 14 June 2015. Masiak, who had been subject to numerous threats believed to be connected to his work, died of traumatic brain injury after being assaulted, according to TVN24.

Launched in 2010, NaszaMlawa.pl covers Mlawa, a town of about 30,000 in the north central part of Poland. Masiak’s site reported on several controversial issues, including the dealings of local businessmen, drug use involving participants of the local mixed martial arts league, incidents involving Roma citizens in the area and the botched investigation into the death of a young woman. He received death threats following the latter story.

The attack on 31-year-old Masiak took place in the bathroom of a local establishment at about 2am on 14 June. Police have issued an international arrest warrant for Bartosz Nowicki, a 29-year-old mixed martial arts fighter. Two people who were earlier detained have now been released. Police consider them witnesses to the incident.

Masiak had previously received threats over the phone and through the mail, local media reported. In December 2014, he was sent his own obituary. In January 2014, he was the victim of a physical assault in near his home, in which he said he had also been tear gassed.

“It certainly was not a robbery.” Masiak said at the time. “It was a person who was waiting for me. For sure it was about posting reports on the portal.”

Though the journalist had reported incidents to the police, there had been no arrests by the time of his murder.

Alicja Śledziona, police spokesperson for the region of Mazowieckie, said that the department had received two complaints from the journalist. Masiak had told the department that the January and December 2014 incidents could have been related to his reporting, including one about a traffic accident. She said both cases were treated very seriously, but investigators were unable to tie the incidents to individuals.

The killing has been met with widespread condemnation from press unions and media freedom organisations.

“Media workers in Europe are facing an increased level of violence as they do their jobs. We call on the European Union and governments across the continent to mount a concerted effort to protect press freedom and the lives of media workers by aggressively pursuing threats of violence against journalists,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

“Index has been tracking threats to journalists across Europe for more than a year, through our Mapping Media Freedom project, and have noted a worrying trend of violence towards the sector. Around the world, there have been 54 murders of journalists so far this year. It shouldn’t have to take another death to make protecting journalists a priority at the highest levels of government,” Ginsberg added.

The crime was condemned by the Press Freedom Monitoring Centre of the Association of Polish Journalists. The body wrote to Polish Interior Minister Teresy Piotrowskiej, criticising the failure of state authorities to provide him with “elementary security”.

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, president of the European Federation of Journalists, shared his organisation’s condolences with Masiak’s family and demanded an “effective investigation in order to find and prosecute the responsible perpetrators for this horrible crime”. EFJ, along with Reporters Without Borders, is partnered with Index on the Mapping Media Freedom project.

Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, strongly condemned the killing and expressed her condolences to Masiak’s family and colleagues. “This is a tragedy and a horrific reminder of the dangers journalists face around the world,” Mijatović said. “Journalists are increasingly targeted because of their profession and what they say and write, and this trend has to stop.”



Mapping Media Freedom



Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at https://mappingmediafreedom.org/


This was posted on 24 June 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Morocco: Police block concert by Index award-winning rapper El Haqed https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/morocco-police-block-concert-by-index-award-winning-rapper-el-haqed/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/morocco-police-block-concert-by-index-award-winning-rapper-el-haqed/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:03:23 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67142 Index calls on Moroccan authorities to respect freedom of expression by allowing Mouad "El Haqed" Belghouat and other artists to freely perform in the country

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Moroccan rapper El Haqed, who was named the Index Arts award winner in March 2015, performed in London at The Barbican (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Moroccan rapper El Haqed performed in London at the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards in March 2015 (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Moroccan police prevented a planned 19 June 2015 concert by rapper Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, who was named the Index on Censorship Arts award winner in March 2015.

“The continued harassment of Mouad Belghouat, aka El Haqed, by Moroccan authorities must end. This latest silencing of Belghouat is another black mark for Morocco. We call on the government to allow Belghouat and other artists to be allowed to perform freely in the country,” Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said.

On the evening of the concert, security officials blocked streets around The Uzine, a concert venue and cultural centre supported by the Touria and Abdelaziz Tazi Foundation. At the same time, officials cut electricity to the centre. According to Moroccan press reports, police said that the building, which has hosted several concerts since it opened six months ago, was not up to safety codes, an allegation the centre’s management disputes.

Belghouat releases music under the moniker El Haqed, roughly translated as The Enraged. His lyrics describe widespread poverty and endemic government corruption in Morocco. His song Stop the Silence became popular as Moroccans took to the streets in 2011 to protest against their government. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges three times in as many years, most recently for four months in 2014.

Related

El Haqed: I will fight for freedom, equality and human rights for ever
#IndexAwards2015: Arts nominee Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat

This was posted on 22 June 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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23 July: Unsilencing Pakistan — a tribute to Sabeen Mahmud https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/23-july-unsilencing-pakistan-a-tribute-to-sabeen-mahmud-partner-event/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/23-july-unsilencing-pakistan-a-tribute-to-sabeen-mahmud-partner-event/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 16:50:47 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67136 Join in commemorating and celebrating an extraordinary woman who lost her life working fearlessly for free expression, human rights and social change

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Poster: David Bernie

In May 2007 Sabeen Mahmud founded The Second Floor (now known as T2F), a coffee house and “community space for open dialogue” in Karachi, Pakistan.

In April 2015, Mahmud was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Travelling home after hosting a panel discussion on the missing people of Balochistan, a poor but resource rich province of Pakistan, armed motorcyclists surrounded her car and opened fire.

Three months after this brutal act of censorship, some of Britain’s Pakistani community are working together with Index on Censorship to commemorate and celebrate an extraordinary woman.

Featuring prominent speakers, live art, music, poetry and Pakistani food.

Hosted by British-Pakistani stand-up comedian and TV presenter Aatif Nawaz. With:

  • Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistani human rights activist
  • Annie Zaman, Bytes for All
  • Declan Walsh, New York Times
  • Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, University of Oxford
  • Jodie Ginsberg, Index on Censorship
  • Kali Chandrasegaram, classical dancer
  • Hyder Cheema, musician
  • Kamila Shamsie, novelist
  • Omer Tariq, DJ
  • Sara Khan, Inspire
  • Shaan Taseer, Pakistan for All (and son of late Salman Taseer)
  • Sonia Metha, singer
  • Students from City And Islington Sixth Form College
  • Tehmina Kazi, British Muslims for Secular Democracy
  • Ustad Roshan Abbas Khan, musician
  • Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, playwright
  • Ziad Zafar, Sabeen Mahmud Foundation

When: Thursday 23 July, 7:00pm
Where: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (Map/directions)
Tickets: Free, book here

Presented in partnership with Conway Hall Ethical Society and the Sabeen Mahmud Foundation

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Day of action for Raif Badawi https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/day-of-action-for-raif-badawi/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/day-of-action-for-raif-badawi/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:35:24 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67068 To mark three years since the arrest of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, staffers at Index on Censorship headed to Downing Street to deliver an open letter to the UK Prime Minister and join others in protest

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Along with Melody Patry, delegates delivering the open letter included political campaigner Peter Tatchell

Along with Melody Patry, delegates delivering the open letter included political campaigner Peter Tatchell

On 17 June 2015, delegates including Melody Patry from Index on Censorship delivered an open letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron asking for his help in pressuring the Saudi government to release blogger Raif Badawi. Badawi is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence and facing 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam through electronic channels. His sentence was imposed because he expressed an opinion. The date marked the third anniversary of his arrest.

This article was posted on 22 June 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

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Fear of terror and offence pushing critical voices out of UK universities https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/magazine-fear-terror-offence-pushing-criticial-voices-out-uk-universities/ https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/06/magazine-fear-terror-offence-pushing-criticial-voices-out-uk-universities/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:07:43 +0000 https://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=67071 From a government crackdown on extremism to marketing departments' concerns over branding, lecturer Thomas Docherty looks at the threats to the tradition of free discussion on campus

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Students at a protest in Manchester. Credit: Alamy/ M Itani

Students at a protest in Manchester. Photo: Alamy/ M Itani

The realisation of academic freedom typically depends on controversy: it voices dissent. Linked to free speech, it is marked primarily by critique, speaking against – even offending against – prevailing or accepted norms. If it is to be heard, to make a substantial difference, such speech cannot be entirely divorced from rules or law. Yet legitimate rule – law – is itself established through talk, discussion and debate. Academic freedom seeks a new linguistic bond by engaging with or even producing a free assembly of mutually linked speakers. To curb such freedom, you delegitimise certain speakers or forms of speech; and the easiest way to do this is to isolate a speaker from an audience and to isolate members of an audience from each other. Silence the speaker; divide and rule the audience. When that seems extreme, work surreptitiously: attack not what is said but its potentially upsetting or offensive “tone”. Such inhibitions on speech increasingly chill conditions on campus.

Academic freedom is typically enshrined in university statutes, a typical formulation being that “academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges” – as the statutes of the University of Warwick, where I work, have it. Yet academic freedom is now being fundamentally weakened and qualified by legislation, with which universities must comply.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in Munich on 5 February 2011, said: “We must stop these groups [terrorists] from reaching people in publicly funded institutions like universities.” This was followed by a UK government report on tackling extremism, released ahead of the recent election, which said: “Universities must take seriously their responsibility to deny extremist speakers a platform.” It was suggested that “Prevent co-ordinators” could “give universities access to the information they need to make informed decisions” about who they allowed to speak on campuses. Ahead of May’s UK election university events had already been changed or cancelled. And immediately after the election, the government signalled its intention to focus further on the extremism agenda. In endorsing this approach, university vice-chancellors have acquiesced in a too-intimate identification of the interests of the search for better argument with whatever is stated as government policy. The expectation is that academics will in turn give up the autonomy required to criticise that policy or those who now manage it on government’s behalf in our institutions.


Summer 2015: Is academic freedom being eroded?

Editorial: Shades of McCarthyism as global academic freedom challenged
Open letter: Academic freedom is under threat and needs urgent protection
Fear of terror and offence pushing criticial voices out of UK universities
Table of contents
Subscriptions


Governments worldwide increasingly assert the legal power to curtail the free speech and freedom of assembly that is axiomatic to the existence of academic freedom. This endangers democracy itself, what John Stuart Mill called “governance by discussion”. The economist Amartya Sen, for example, has recently resigned from his position as chancellor of Nalanda University in India because of what he saw as “political interference in academic matters” whereby “academic governance in India remains … deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government”. (See our report from India in our academic freedom special issue.) This is notable because it is one extremely rare instance of a university leader taking a stand against government interference in the autonomous governance of universities, autonomy that is crucial to the exercise of speaking freely without jeopardy.

Academic freedom, and the possibilities it offers for democratic assembly in society at large, now operates under the sign of terror. This has empowered governments to proscribe not just terrorist acts but also talk about terror; and governments have identified universities as a primary location for such talk. Clearly closing down a university would be a step too far; but just as effective is to inhibit its operation as the free assembly of dissenting voices. We have recently wit- nessed a tendency to quarantine individuals whose voices don’t comply with governance/ government norms. Psychology professor Ian Parker was suspended by Manchester Metropolitan University and isolated from his students in 2012, charged with “serious misconduct” for sending an email that questioned management. In 2014, I myself was suspended by the University of Warwick, barred from having any contact with colleagues and students, barred from campus, prevented from attending and speaking at a conference on E P Thompson, and more. Why? I was accused of undermining a colleague and asking critical questions of my superiors, the answers to which threatened their supposedly unquestionable authority. None of these charges were later upheld at a university tribunal.

More insidious is the recourse to “courtesy” as a means of preventing some speech from enjoying legitimacy and an audience. Several UK institutions have recently issued “tone of voice” guidelines governing publications. The University of Manchester, for example, says that “tone of voice is the way we express our brand personality in writing”; Plymouth University argues that “by putting the message in the hands of the communicator, it establishes a democracy of words, and opens up new creative possibilities”. These statements should be read in conjunction with the advice given by employment lawyer David Browne, of SGH Martineau (a UK law firm with many university clients). In a blogpost written in July 2014, he argued that high-performing academics with “outspoken opinions”, might damage their university’s brand and in it made comparisons between having strong opinions and the behaviour of footballer Luis Suárez in biting another player during the 2014 World Cup. The blog was later updated to add that its critique only applied to opinions that “fall outside the lawful exercise of academic freedom or freedom of speech more widely”, according to the THES (formerly the Times Higher Education Supplement). Conformity to the brand is now also conformity to a specific tone of voice; and the tone in question is one of supine compliance with ideological norms.

This is increasingly how controversial opinion is managed. If one speaks in a tone that stands out from the brand – if one is independent of government at all – then, by definition, one is in danger of bringing the branded university into disrepute. Worse, such criticism is treated as if it were akin to terrorism-by-voice.

Nothing is more important now than the reassertion of academic freedom as a celebration of diversity of tone, and the attendant possibility of giving offence; otherwise, we become bland magnolia wallpaper blending in with whatever the vested interests in our institutions and our governments call truth.

This vested interest – especially that of the privileged or those in power – now parades as victim, hurt by criticism, which it calls of- fensive disloyalty. What is at issue, however, is not courtesy; rather what is required of us is courtship. As in feudal times, we are legitimised through the patronage of the obsequium that is owed to the overlords in traditional societies.

Academic freedom must reassert itself in the face of this. The real test is not whether we can all agree that some acts, like terrorism, are “barbaric” in their violence; rather, it is whether we can entertain and be hospitable to the voice of the foreigner, of she who thinks – and speaks – differently, and who, in that difference, offers the possibility of making a new audience, new knowledge and, indeed, a new and democratic society, governed by free discussion.

© Thomas Docherty 

Thomas Docherty is professor of English and of comparative literature at the University of Warwick in the UK. 

This article is part of a special issue of Index on Censorship magazine on academic freedom, featuring contributions from the US, Ukraine, Belarus, Mexico, India, Turkey and Ireland. Subscribe to read the full report, or buy a single issue. Every purchase helps fund Index on Censorship’s work around the world. For reproduction rights, please contact Index on Censorship directly, via vicky@indexoncensorship.org

 

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