Index Index – International free speech round up – 11/02/13

A boy has died today (11 February) after being shot by security forces in Kashmir during protests against the execution of a separatist. Ubaid Mushtaq, said to be 12 or 13 years old by doctors, died in a Srinagar hospital from bullet wounds following the 10 February protests in the village of Watergam, in which paramilitary forces opened fire on demonstrators.

The news of Mohammed Afzal Guru’s death in a New Delhi prison on 9 February ignited fierce objection and protests in three areas of India administered Kashmir, surrounding claims the men accused had not been given a fair trial.  The Kashmiri man was from a village close to Watergam, and had been convicted of helping to plot an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 that left 14 people dead. Police said an inquiry has been launched into Mushtaq’s shooting.

Baden Roth - Demotix

Chinese authorities said Elton John dedicating his Beijing concert to Ai Weiwei was “disrespectful”

China has tightened its restrictions on foreign singers performing in the country after Elton John dedicated his Beijing concert to Ai Weiwei in November. Chinese police questioned John after his Beijing performance last year, which he had dedicated “to the spirit and talent of Ai Weiwei”. Authorities then allegedly asked John to sign a statement saying that he had been inspired by Ai’s artistic achievements exclusively, rather than for his efforts to defend free speech. John was permitted to go ahead with his Guangzhou show in early December, but an editorial letter in the state-run Global Times said that the singer was “disrespectful” to include political sentiment in his performance, adding that authorities would think more carefully before inviting foreign artists to perform in future. Culture minister Cai Wu is now allegedly requesting degree certificates from international performers since John’s appearance, only allowing them entry into the country if they can prove they have been university-educated. Classical musicians have reportedly been required to submit proof of degrees when performing in the country since the start of the year.

A Hong Kong activist has been sentenced to nine months in prison on 7 February after burning a Chinese flag. Koo Sze-yiu was also discovered to have burned a Hong Kong flag, during two separate demonstrations against the government. In June 2012, Koo burned a Chinese flag outside the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, in protest against the staged suicide of Chinese activist Li Wangyang, and on 1 January he was seen waving a Chinese and Hong kong flag with holes in both. He was charged with four counts of flag desecration. The maximum punishment for flag desecration is three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 HK dollars (approximately £4,000). Shortly after his arrest, a Chinese netizen was arrested for posting a picture of a defaced flag on to a social networking site.

A UK journalist is fighting a court application submitted by the police requiring him to hand over video footage of the English Defence League (EDL), it was reported today (11 February). Jason Parkinson has refused to hand over his footage, saying that journalists are “not evidence gatherers for the police”. He fought a similar case in 2011, where police attempted to seize his footage of the Dale Farm eviction of travellers in Essex. Greater Manchester police applied for a production order hearing on 18 February to view all published and unpublished footage obtained during an EDL and counter protest march by Unite Against Fascism in Bolton 20 March 2010. The National Union of Journalists intends to contest the application. Parkinson said that handing over the evidence “could overturn the incredibly important victory for press freedom” that was achieved during the Dale Farm eviction.

In Bangalore, India an artist was forced to remove his pantings from an art gallery on 5 February because they depicted Hindu deities in the nude. Anirudh Sainath Krishnamani was told by police that they received a complaint from a member of Hindu nationalist political group the Bharatiya Janata Party, claiming the paintings “hurt the sentiments of society”. Police threatened to shut down Krishnamani’s exhibition at Chitrakala Parishath gallery if he refused to remove the offending pieces, which police said were a potential law and order threat and could cause protests or an attack. The paintings removed included a picture of a nude goddess Kali as well as Shiva and Sati hugging each other. MN Krishnamani, Anirudh’s father and a senior supreme court advocate will contest the decision.

Index Index – International free speech round up 06/02/13

On 5 February, three former opposition MPs were sentenced to three years in jail by a Kuwaiti court for insulting the Emir. Falah Al Sawwagh, Bader Al Dahoum and Khaled Al Tahous were imprisoned under charges of causing offence to Kuwait’s leader and will appeal the court’s decision.  Opposition leaders, who denounced the decision as “political”, urged protestors to gather outside Al Sawwagh’s home on the evening of the verdict. The politicians are alleged to have made comments about Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah at a social event in October. They had warned that changes to Kuwait’s electoral system could lead to protests throughout the country. Opposition members boycotted Kuwait’s elections last month, claiming that the Emir unjustly favoured pro-government candidates. Mussallam Al Barrak, another former MP is facing similar charges.

Brittany Somerset - Demotix

Opposing Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah’s views can land you in jail — as three former MPs found out this week

An activist in Algeria has been jailed for participating in a protest against unemployment. Tahar Belabes, coordinator for the National Committee for the Rights of the Unemployed, was sentenced to one month in prison and fined 50,000 Algerian dinars on 3 February. Two other demonstrators — Khaled Daoui and Ali Khebchi — were each handed a two-month suspended jail sentence, as well as a 50,000 dinar fine. Two other participants were acquitted. Belabes was arrested with four others on 2 January in Ouargla during a demonstration for unemployed people protesting their right to work. Prosecutors had originally ordered a one year jail sentence for the men, which was later reduced. Belabes said he will appeal the verdict.

A female rock band in Kashmir has broken up after a Muslim cleric denounced their efforts as “un-Islamic”. Pragaash announced their early retirement on 5 February following complaints and intimidating comments on their Facebook page, which police are investigating. Teenagers Aneeqa Khalid, Noma Nazir and Farah Deeba made their first appearance at Srinagar’s national “Battle of the Bands” music festival in December and have faced threats ever since. They were the only female group at the concert. In an interview on Tuesday, one of Pragaash’s members said she couldn’t understand why they had been deemed un-Islamic when male groups were allowed to perform. Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad said on 3 February that their behaviour was indecent and could lead to the country’s destruction. Other groups in Kashmir have also disbanded in support of the girls.

Saga (Social Amenities for the Golden Age) will close its social networking site dedicated to over 50s because of racist, homophobic and anti-semitic comments. Reports today (6 February) said that spokesperson Paul Green blamed the closure on some “particularly vicious exchanges” between users over the Middle East, as well as trolling posts. Saga Zone, as the site is known, will be removed on 26 February, making the comments read-only and preventing users from contributing further posts. A statement on the Saga Zone page said the decision was taken to protect company interests, and avoid having negativity attached to the brand. Saga provides services for people over 50 in the UK.

The Sun newspaper has been banned from the University of Sheffield student’s union. The University’s Students’ Union Council decided to stop the sale of the paper at its union, it was reported on 5 February. Women’s Councillor Lucy Pedrick proposed the rule as part of the take page three out of The Sun campaign — a movement attempting to persuade editors to remove topless models from its papers. Council members voted on whether to take the motion to referendum, which fell after Pedrick said a “referendum would not be a fair debate.” London School of Economics Students’ Union banned The Sun in November last year following a vote.

Index Index – International free speech round up 05/02/13

An unknown gunman in Denmark has shot at a prominent writer and historian who is a critic of Islam. Reports said that Lars Hedegaard was not injured. The perpetrator arrived at Hedegaard’s Copenhagen home today (5 February) pretending to deliver a package, instead firing shots at the Danish writer, missing the intended target. Hedegaard is head of the International Free Press Society, a group claiming that Islam threatens press freedom. He was fined 5,000 Kroner (approximately £575) in 2011 for insulting Muslims in a series of statements.

A woman who claimed she was raped by Somalian authorities and the journalist who interviewed her have today (5 February) been jailed in Mogadishu. Judge Ahmed Adan found the woman guilty of offending the state, who will serve one year in prison after she finishes breastfeeding her baby. Freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinuur was charged with offending state institutions through false interviewing and entering a woman’s home without the husband present and is to start his one year sentence immediately. Three other defendants, including the woman’s husband and two others who helped introduce her to Abdinuur were found not guilty and freed. The journalist was detained on 10 January for interviewing the woman who had claimed she was raped by soldiers at a displaced person’s camp where she was living in Mogadishu.

A Singaporean photographer was arrested on 4 February in Tokyo for selling books containing pictures of male genitalia. Leslie Kee was arrested along with two members of staff at a publishing firm on suspicion of obscenity and could be jailed for up to two years and / or fined up to 2.5 million yen if found guilty. The trio were detained for selling seven copies of the book to two customers at Kee’s Tokyo gallery — prompting the fashion community in Japan to jump to their defence. The 41 year-old photographer is well known in Japan and has photographed the likes of Naomi Campbell and Beyonce. Japanese domestic law rules that pictures of genitals must be obscured, a method usually practiced through pixelation.

Debby Wong -

Donald Trump has filed a legal suit against a comedian after proving he is not the spawn of orangutans

The Eritrean government has blocked access to Al Jazeera inside the country. The Qatari TV news network has been unaccessible since 1 February, after the information ministry issued a decree preventing anyone from providing access to its news service. Restaurants, hotels and cafés were particularly targeted and Al Jazeera’s English-language channels were blocked. Eritrean authorities allegedly ordered the ban after Al Jazeera ran stories on demonstrations by Eritrea’s exiles outside Eritrean diplomatic missions in London, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Rome and Cairo in opposition of the government and support of soldiers who staged a mutiny after they stormed the information ministry in Asmara on 21 January. Eritrea holds the highest number of imprisoned journalists in Africa.

Andrew Mitchell, the cabinet minister who resigned following the “plebgate” scandal is to sue The Sun for libel for its reporting of the case. The former government chief whip swore at police officers after they refused him to exit his office through Downing Street’s main gates on 19 September 2012, allegedly saying: “you’re all plebs”. The Conservative MP stepped down from his role a month later. It wasn’t until December that evidence was taken into doubt after CCTV seemed to question the police log and witness reliability. Scotland Yard arrested three police officers in connection with the affair. Mitchell admitted to swearing at the officers but denied using the term “plebs”. He is seeking damages, costs, an apology and an undertaking that the words are not repeated in future.

Donald Trump is suing a comedian after he failed to honour a $5million (£3.1m) lost bet that Trump was the descendent of orangutans. Bill Maher had joked on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show that, if Trump presented him with proof that he was not the product of a tryst between his mother and a primate, he would pay $5million to charity. The business tycoon then proceeded to send a copy of his birth certificate to Maher, along with a note saying “cough up”. Trump said that there was no evidence that the comedian had offered the money as a joke, citing his “pathetic delivery”. Trump then released his birth certificate publicly along with a letter from his lawyer, confirming that he was in fact, entirely human. Maher has failed to offer the cash, prompting Trump to file legal documents in the Superior Court of California on 4 February. Trump has been a prominent voice in the “birther” movement, which claims that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and hence is not eligible to be president.

Index Index – International free speech round up 04/02/13

Chinese communist party newspaper The People’s Daily has today denied allegations that China hacked into the computer systems of various US media outlets. The state-run newspaper denied that officials had hacked The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, also refuting claims from The Washington Post that it had been targeted. The People’s Daily said that the national security allegations from the US were a cover-up for imposing economic sanctions on China. The Obama administration will reportedly address the attacks as an economic threat in a National Intelligence Estimate report, meaning the US can impose sanctions in China in response. Concern has been mounting in America that China has been responsible for a series of sustained cyber attacks on government agencies, US companies and media outlets — a US congressional report last year named China “the most threatening actor in cyberspace”.

A french journalist researching prostitution and human trafficking in Cambodia has had a seven year jail sentence in absentia upheld under prostitution charges. Daniel Lainé was charged by Phnom Penh City Court on 29 January for soliciting prostitutes and issued with a “red notice” by Interpol following a request from the court, banning him from reporting anywhere outside of France. Lainé had originally been sentenced in 2010 after being caught secretly filming a prostitute without permission, a charge the journalist denies. The charges are thought to be linked to Lainé’s 2003 documentary exposing sex tourism in Cambodia and are allegedly supported by a written witness statement from someone who never appeared in court during the case. Lainé is a filmmaker for Tony Comiti Productions and was winner of a World Press Photo award in 1991.

These crisps have caused offence amongst the Catholic community

On 1 February, a film maker accused the Italian government of censorship for calling off the screening of his film for being too political. Bill Emmott, former editor of the Economist, was due to show his documentary Girlfriend in a Coma on 13 February at the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, but the organisers were contacted on 1 February to say that the ministry of culture had ordered the event to be postponed ahead of the parliamentary elections on 24 February. Emmott, who’s film takes a critical look at Italy and the problems it faces, said there is a culture of denial in the country. The film has already been screened in several European countries and the US and is expected to remain postponed until the elections are over.

An appeals court in the Philippines has upheld a decision to pursue a libel case and issue of arrest warrants against a minor and five other people for online defamation charges made on 13 March 2012. A teenage blogger was accused of posting defamatory comments on Celine Quanico’s blog on 6 April 2008, along with Justine Dimaano, Francesa Vanessa Fugen, Anthony Jay Foronda, Roberto Armando Hidalgo and Danielle Vicaldo. Quanico said that Dimaano had posted a Yahoo messenger conversation titled “meet my backstabber friend”, but had changed the alleged victim’s name — who was 16 at the time of the alleged offence. Other insults posted on the site included “bitch”, “ugly”, “loser” and “liar”. The Cyber Crime Prevention Act went into effect on 3 October in the Philippines, after it was suspended following calls to remove the law from constitution.

Chain sandwich store Pret A Manger has withdrawn a new “Virgin Mary” brand of crisps from shelves following religious complaints. The bloody mary cocktail flavoured crisps had been introduced last week, but prompted complaints, including from Catholic groups that the brand was offensive to Jesus’ mother. The company said it removed the product to avoid further offence after noting the “strength of feeling” behind the few complaints they received. The unsold crisps will be donated to homeless charities across the country. Among the complainants was The Reverend Nick Donnelly, deacon of the Diocese of Lancaster, who said after Pret removed the product that the incident taught the Catholic community how to defend their faith in the future.