Index Index – International free speech roundup 22/01/13

The European Commission released its report of final recommendations on media freedom on 21 January. The report from the High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism outlined its desire to impose EU input into state libel laws, as well as suggesting countries should retain online data to identify trolls. It offered its concern that some members of parliament had rejected elements of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, advising the need for press regulatory bodies that have the abilities to act against the media. The report advocated giving media councils the ability to strip journalists of their titles and, in the event of an apology being required following a court case, order a correction of equal size and positioning as the original claim made.

A radio talk show host in Uganda has been suspended for featuring politicians critical of the government on a programme. Kasiriivu James, who works for Endigito FM radio in Western Uganda was suspended on 10 January by the Uganda Communications Commission and has yet to be able to return to work. The current affairs show Ekitandaro was also replaced with music by the radio station following pressure from the government. James hosts the news and political analysis shows, World Express and News Hour. Endigito FM is owned by politician Nuru Byamukama, who also owns Ugandan station Hits FM, which was also subject to censorship after it suspended its political programmes off of the air due to government pressure.

J Gerard Seguia - Demotix

   – A man protests against the Cybercrime    Prevention Act in the Philippines 

Cyber crime laws in the Philippines are being discussed by the Supreme Court today (22 January). Government lawyers will present evidence to the court to discuss the legalities of passing the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which has had its constitutionality questioned by campaigners, and also has been criticised for being too broad and vague. Topics for discussion will include internet libel, cybersex and the authority of officials to remove data seen to violate the proposed legislation. Implementation of the cyber crime law was stopped for 120 days on 9 October 2012, but it is due to lapse on 5 February. Campaigners requesting that suspension of the bill be continued.

A Russian human rights defender has been subject to a series of death threats for his work. Vitalii Ponomarev, head Central Asia expert at Memorial Human Rights Center, was initially sent anonymous threatening emails against him and his family on 12 January. The emails, written in Uzbek and Russian and sent from a single IP address in Tashkent, threatened to decapitate Ponomarev should he go southern Kyrgyzstan. After writing a press release about the incident on 18 January, he received further threats via email. He has filed a complaint to the Federal Security Service and Moscow prosecutor’s office, requesting for an investigation to be held.

Journalists in Swaziland were insulted and threatened by Senate president Gelane Zwane on 17 January, after they turned up to a meeting they had been invited to attend. During the meeting to prepare for the opening of parliament, Zwane allegedly swore at the press in attendance. He then threatened to ban them from covering the State Opening of Parliament — due to be held in February — should they print anything that was discussed in the meeting. The threats came after the clerk of parliament, Ndvuna Dlamini, said that he could not make an announcement during the meeting because of the presence of the media.


Index Index – International free speech roundup 15/01/13

The European Court of Human Rights deemed today (15 January) that a woman working for British Airways was unfairly discriminated against for her religion. Nadia Eweida was fired by BA in 2006 for refusing to stop wearing her crucifix visibly. Judges ruled that Eweida’s rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated. Three other Christians who had taken their employees to court lost their cases. Shirley Chaplin, whose employer also stopped her wearing crucifix necklaces, Lillian Ladele, disciplined after refusing to conduct same-sex civil partner ceremonies — and Gary McFarlane, a marriage councillor fired for saying he might object to offering sex advice to gay couples.

 Elizabeth Brossa - Creative commons Flickr

Aaron Swartz’s suicide prompted calls for cyber law reform

The suicide of US activist Aaron Swartz on 11 January has prompted calls to reform computer crime laws in America. The 26 year old was awaiting trial, charged with 13 felony counts of wire fraud and hacking two years ago. Swartz had downloaded millions of academic papers from online archive JSTOR and was due to face trial in April, for which he could have been jailed for decades and faced massive fines. Calls for amendments to The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act have been widespread, with critics alleging that certain internet hacking laws are too vague and broad, and impose overly harsh penalties.

On 9 JanuaryIran’s Supreme Court ratified the death penalty of five Ahwazi (Arab-Iranian) human rights defenders. Hadi Rachedi, Hashim Shabani Nejad, Mohammad Ali Amuri Nejad, Jaber Al-Bushoke and his brother Mokhtar Al-Bushoke were arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security in the spring of 2011. They were charged with spawning mischief, threatening national security and inciting propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The activists had been protesting for their right to speak Arabic, rather than the national language of Persian – a right that is written into Iranian constitution. They were allegedly tortured into giving false confessions in detention.

App developers Tencent have apologised to users of social media app WeChat, after the programme appeared to be censoring controversial terms globally. Tencent, China’s most widely used internet portal, blamed a “technical glitch” after it had blocked terms such as Southern Weekend and Falun Gong, a banned group in China often referred to as a sect. Activists have voiced concern that authorities are hacking the app, in order to increase surveillance on some of its 200million users. WeChat has subscribers in the UK and America, and will soon be launched across Asia.

US Vice President Joe Biden met with the president of the Entertainment Software Association on Friday, to discuss the gaming industry’s influence over violence, following a school shooting in Connecticut that prompted calls for reforms on gun policy. Biden’s White House meeting aimed to establish whether America was undergoing a “coarsening of our culture”, discussing how to eliminate the culture of violence, a happening the gaming industry is frequently blamed for. The National Rifle Association (NRA) had accounted the rate of gun crime in America to media and video game violence, which the gaming industry refuted, expressing fears that they could become a scapegoat in the Connecticut debate.