Index Index – international free speech round up 15/02/13

At least 17 prisoners of conscience are on hunger strike in Oman. They began the strike on 9 February at Muscat’s Samayel prison, and other detainees have since joined them, making the total number of hunger strikers 23. Six who were reported to be in a critical condition were taken to hospitals around the capital on 13 February. Yaqoob Al-Harith, a lawyer to seven of the original 17 refusing to eat said they are protesting against the time it is taking to transfer their cases to the supreme court to appeal their jail sentences. The have all been imprisoned for between six and 18 months. The free speech defenders, political activists and civil society representatives were jailed under charges of cyber crimes, illegal assembly, violating communications regulations and insulting ruler Sultan Qaboos on online social networks. Relatives of those imprisoned wrote to the National Human Rights Commission on 10 February and have appealed to the Omani authorities to have the detained released.

anonymousiran - Demotix

 Iranian opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi has been under house arrest for two years

Two daughters of a former presidential candidate held under house arrest for nearly two years have been arrested in Iran. Zahra and Narges Mousavi, daughters of Mirhossein Mousavi, Iranian prime minister in the 1980s, were arrested by security forces on February 11. Along with Mousavi’s third daughter, they had written in a statement that authorities had denied Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard access to their children for weeks. Mousavi and Rahnavard were placed under house arrest along with opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi and his wife Fatemeh, after they called for demonstrations to support the Arab uprisings across the region in February 2011. The Islamic Republic is facing a presidential vote in June, and hardliners have accused opposition leaders of plotting a second sedition after the last protests were crushed by security forces. They have also called for the execution of both men, but the government are choosing to keep them in solitary confinement.

Saudia Arabia’s minister for media and culture has confirmed that a range of government bodies have been censoring Twitter, reports on 13 February said. Abdel Aziz Khoga called on Saudi citizens to “raise their awareness” and monitor their social media activity more carefully, as it was proving increasingly difficult to monitor the three million Twitter subscribers around the kingdom. Under the Sunni monarchy, writer Turki Al-Hamad is one of many journalists in prison under blasphemy charges. He was arrested for insulting Islam in January, after he accused radical Islamists of corrupting Prophet Mohammad’s “message of love” in a Tweet in December 2o12. Online activist Raif Badawi was arrested in June 2012 and was charged with apostasy for his tweet, a sentence which carries the death penalty.

On 14 February, two Nigerian journalists appeared in court for criticising the government’s polio campaign. Yakubu Fagge and Mubarak Sani were charged with criminal conspiracy, abetment, defamation of character, obstruction of a public officer carrying out his duty, intentional insult, and incitement to violence. They plead guilty before judge Ibrahim Bello during their appearance before a senior magistrate court in Gyadi Gyadi, Kano. The pair were arrested after hosting a radio show on Wazobia FM on 6 February, where they alleged the government had forced parents to immunise their children against polio, claiming officials were abusing their power. Fagge and Sani have been granted bail with two sureties each at NGN 100, 000, on the condition the surities are community leaders or heads of department of government organisations. The case was adjourned until 13 March.

Index Index – International free speech round up 14/02/13

A Bahraini teenager has been killed by security forces today (14 February) during demonstrations to mark the second anniversary of the Bahrain revolution. Al Jazeeera reported the 16-year-old boy’s name as Ali Ahmed Ibrahim al-Jazeeri. He allegedly died from internationally banned exploding bullets after Bahraini authorities opened fire on the mounting crowds in Al DAih, near the capital Manama. The interior ministry announced a death on its Twitter this morning, but didn’t disclose any further details.

bahrain14feb bilad - Demotix

  — A child painted with the national colours of Bahrain during the uprisings second anniversary protests, in which a teenager was killed

Evidence given by Jeremy Paxman and a senior BBC official to the BBC internal inquiry into its handling of the Jimmy Savile affair will be removed from public transcripts detailing the investigations evidence. Lawyers examining the soon to be published transcripts said that evidence from the Newsnight presenter and global news director Peter Horrocks was potentially defamatory, and was particularly critical of how BBC management handled the criticism arising from the Savile scandal in Autumn last year. The findings of the inquiry, overseen by former head of Sky News Nick Pollard, were published by the BBC in December. The report examined the corporation’s handling of Newsnight’s dropped investigation into the case in 2011, and its later response after Savile was allegedly outed as a paedophile in October 2012. At the time the transcript was produced, those giving evidence reportedly didn’t know the report was to be made public. Overall, less than 10 per cent of the Pollard review transcripts will be redacted before publication.

A powerful new firewall used to censor online activity could be established in Pakistan within the next month. The Pakistani government has allegedly been working with the same technology companies that helped Iran, China and Libya curb online dissent, to allow authorities to block pornographic or blasphemous online content. Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik confirmed the reports on Twitter, saying The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) were in their final negotiations for obtaining the software. The PTA originally tried to introduce a similar $10million measure in 2012, which was quashed after being met with fierce public opposition. Whilst Pakistan claims to use the firewall to protect the country’s internet users from blasphemous and pornographic content, it has already blocked a number of unrelated sites, such as the US-based Buzzfeed.

An NHS whistleblower under investigation for high mortality rates has voiced concerns over patient safety despite a legal gag preventing him from speaking out. Gary Walker warned civil servants that he had been given the same choices that had resulted in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust scandal. He was fired from his job as chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust in 2010 for gross professional misconduct, allegedly because he swore during a meeting. Walker claims he was fired for refusing to meet Whitehall targets for non-emergency patients and then gagged as part of a reported £500,000 settlement emerging from an unfair work dismissal tribunal. He said he was instructed by the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority to meet the 18-week non-emergency target “whatever the demand” and was told to resign when he refused to do so. East Midlands Strategic Health Authority refuted the claims. The Francis report published last week recommended that gagging orders on NHS staff be lifted, orders which Walker said were due to a “culture of fear” within the service. His case has been raised in the commons.

The Israeli government has admitted that “Prisoner X”, the mystery detainee who later committed suicide in solitary confinement, was in fact a spy for Israel. Ben Zygier, as he is now known from reports, was part of Israel’s external intelligence forces known as the Mossad and was arrested in 2010 for charges which still remain unspecified, though they were revealed to be serious. The detention of Australian-Israeli Zygier was reportedly enshrouded in such secrecy that even the prison guards didn’t know his true identity or alleged offence. The information was revealed after a gagging order which forbade the media in Israel from reporting on the case was partially lifted by the Israeli government on 13 February.

Index Index – International free speech round up 13/02/13

YouTube filed lawsuit against the Russian government on 11 February, to contest its latest cybercrime law to censor websites deemed harmful to children. The case was filed after Russian regulators decided to block a joke YouTube video entitled “Video lesson on how to cut your veins =D,” which showed viewers how to fake slitting their wrists. Rospotrebnadzor, the federal service for consumer rights, said the video glorified suicide and was therefore illegal under the law enacted in November, which has been criticised for being vague and overtly broad. YouTube owners Google proceeded to restrict access to the video in Russia before the lawsuit was filed. In the first legal challenge made against the law, YouTube objected to the ruling in a statement released on 12 February, saying that the law should not extend to limiting access on videos uploaded for entertainment purposes.

Faisal Khan - Demotix

An Indian soldier stands alert in Srinagar, Kashmir during a curfew to curb protest over the hanging of Afzal Guru

A politician in Azerbaijan has offered a cash reward to any person who finds and cuts of the ear of an author who wrote a book about the conciliation of Azeris and Armenians, it was reported on 12 February. Akram Aylisli’s book Stone Dreams has stirred up controversy for referencing Azerbaijan’s violence against Armenians during riots preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union. The party of Hafiz Haciyev, the head of a pro-government political group in Azerbaijan have offered 10,000 manat (£8,000) for the ear of the writer, as part of a sustained hate campaign against Haciyev. He has been expelled from the Union of Writers, had his presidential pension revoked and his wife and son have lost their jobs. Protestors around the country have burned books and effigies of Haciyev. As Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev approaches re-election later this year, the sustained negativity projected onto Haciyev is said to be a facade to hide the government’s internal issues amidst growing unrest.

Following protests in Kashmir over the execution of a man convicted of terrorism on 9 February, Kashmir’s internet and news outlets have been suppressed, and the entire Kashmir valley subjected to a strict curfew. Television channels and mobile internet were suspended immediately after Afzal Guru was hanged on 9 February. Local newspapers were forced to cease reporting the following day without warning — and have yet to be published since. Only the government, using state run service provider Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, has access to the internet. Some residential districts of Srinagar reported to receive some TV news channels on 10 February, but privately-owned channels had to suspend news services at the request of the government. Afzal Guru’s execution in a New Delhi prison on 9 February prompted protests in three areas of India administered Kashmir, surrounding claims the men accused were given an unfair trial. Guru was sentenced to death for helping to plot a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that left 14 people dead.

In Somalia, a journalist has been detained without charge for defending press freedom, after a woman who claimed she was raped and the journalist who interviewed her were imprisoned. Daud Abdi Daud remains in custody since 5 February, after he spoke out in a Mogadishu court against the one year jail sentence given to Abdiaziz Abdinuur and the alleged rape victim on 5 February. Daud Abdi said journalists should be able to interview who they wish, saying he would make attempts to interview the president’s wife, causing the police to arrest him. Daud Abdi was later transferred from police custody into Mogadishu Central Prison. On 6 February, the attorney general ordered his continued detention at the Police’s Central Investigation Department.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s decision to pursue a libel case using public funding has been criticised. The council’s chief executive Mark James appeared in London’s Royal Courts of Justice today (13 February) where he and blogger Jacqui Thompson are suing each other for defamation following a series of comments posted online. James’s costs were indemnified by the council after a controversial decision in 2008, allowing public money to be used to fund libel lawsuits. Carmarthenshire County Council is believed to be the only authority to allow this in the UK, and the Welsh Assembly has questioned its legality, after an order they made in 2006 forbade local authorities from offering indemnities in libel cases. Carmarthenshire County Council said they had relied upon section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, rather than the 2006 law. The case likely to cost a six or seven figure sum, according to reports.

Index Index – International free speech round up 12/02/13

David Cecil, the British theatre producer who faced a legal battle with Ugandan authorities for staging a play about homosexuality has been deported from Uganda. Cecil’s legal team had been hoping to appeal the Ugandan court’s deportation ruling, but he was flown from the country unexpectedly on Monday, leaving behind his partner and two children. Cecil was arrested in September last year for his play The River and the Mountain, which explored the difficulties of being gay in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal. He faced two years in prison before charges were dropped, due to a lack of evidence but was rearrested last week. Cecil’s legal team are planning to contest the decision.

Stephen Wandera - AP

Playwright David Cecil has been deported from Uganda for his homosexual themed play

Women and children in Saudi Arabia have been arrested for protesting the conviction of their relatives, who are political prisoners. At least 26 women and five children at demonstrations in the cities of Riyadh and Buraida were taken into custody on 9 February. They had been protesting against the imprisonment of relatives they say have been held for years without access to lawyers or a trial. According to reports three of the arrested women are the wife, daughter and granddaughter of political activist Suleiman al-Rashudi, who was imprisoned in December for saying that protests were permitted in Islam during a lecture. He had previously spent five years in detention before being charged with financing terrorism, attempting to seize power and incitement against the king.

Haiti’s government has denied claims that entertainers were banned from performing at its annual three-day carnival for being critical of the state. In a press release, the office of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe strongly refuted the claims, after at least three Haitian bands said on 9 February they were banned from performing at the city of Cap-Haitien carnival for having songs critical of the government. President Michel Martelly openly mocked authorities during his music career as “Sweet Micky”, by dressing in drag and mooning audiences as he lambasted the government during carnival performances. Amongst the rejected bands was Brothers Posse, who were included in the original line up before being removed by the carnival committee. Their song Aloral criticises the government for failing to implement improved policies on education, environment, law, employment and energy. Martelly said in a radio interview that the music didn’t promote a positive image of Haiti, saying “We’re organising a party, not a protest.”

A judge has condemned Salford University’s attempts to sue a former lecturer for libel after he compared managers to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Senior officials were accused of abusing the high courts by a judge after they lost the defamation lawsuit filed in March 2010 against Dr Gary Duke, it was reported today (12 February). They attempted to sue their former colleague over posts he had written on a university blog for anonymous users, acting as a forum for criticism of the university’s services. Duke compared Salford University managers to a “bureaucratic dictatorship” in a blog post, saying that Hezbollah was “more accountable and transparent” than the university’s administration. Mr Justice Eady dismissed the case last week, saying it was up to individuals to seek libel action. The case is thought to have cost at least £100,000 and enlisted US court action to force internet company WordPress to hand over details of its users. Duke was fired in 2009 after spoof newsletters criticising university policy were handed around campus, and later lost a wrongful dismissal suit against the university. Salford University said they were considering an appeal against the verdict.

A Russian figure skating star is planning to sue a television commentator after he expressed doubts that the skater underwent spinal surgery as he claimed. Evgeny Plushenko said Eurosport commentator Andrei Zhurankov libelled him by voicing his doubts that he had undergone surgery during a weekend broadcast of the Four Continents figure skating world championships. Zhurankov referenced reports by some Israeli media which said there were no records of his surgery at local hospitals. The 2006 Olympic champion had been forced to withdraw from January’s European Championships, and his coach Alexei Mishin later said he had disk-replacement surgery in Israel. Plushenko’s attorney, Tatyana Akimtseva filed a lawsuit on 11 February.