Index Index – International free speech round up 07/02/13

A woman in Timbuktu says she was lashed by Islamist militants for talking to a man who wasn’t her husband. Salaka Djicke was caught talking to her lover on 31 December last year and was then sentenced to 95 lashings by a Islamic tribunal on 3 January. Djicke fell in love with the married man after he accidentally called when dialling a wrong number more than a year ago, and their relationship quickly blossomed. When Islamic extremists occupied Northern Mali in April 2012, Shariah law was quickly implemented, forbidding women from communicating with men. Her punishment was captured on film by local residents. The man — who Dijcke didn’t name in fear of rebel fighters returning — remains in Mali’s capital after fleeing the night they were discovered. Prior to France’s intervention in Northern Mali earlier this year, Islamist militants introduced strict Shariah law, issuing punishments such as flogging and stoning for perpetrators.

Hubert - Shutterstock

  — Is this how you remember Michelangelo’s David? A town in Japan want to preserve the statue’s modesty

On 6 February, a radio station owner was murdered in Paraguay. Marcelino Vázquez was shot by unknown assailants as he left work at Sin Fronteras 98.5 FM in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero. He was on his way from the radio station to a local night club he also owned, but was stopped by two men on a motorcycle and shot several times. While Sin Fronteras is predominately music-focused, it features a regular news show covering a variety of issues. A parliamentary coup in June 2012 and the subsequent removal of President Fernando Lugo has had a negative impact on freedom of information and expression in Paraguay.

Lawyers for three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot are appealing their convictions at the European Court of Human Rights. Representatives for Maria Alekhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Natalia Tolokonnikova are in Strasbourg today (7 February), after they filed a complaint on 6 February against their two year prison sentences. They said the convictions violated four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to free speech, fair trial, liberty and security and the prohibition of torture.The trio was first sentenced following their “punk-prayer” performed at Moscow’s main cathedral in February 2012 protesting Vladimir Putin’s return to power.

A radio journalist was shot on his way to work in Peru on 6 February. At the time of the attack, Juan Carlos Yaya Salcedo was driving to the Radio Max station where he worked, in the town of Imperial. He was shot in the leg by an unknown assailant and is expected to make a full recovery and return to work soon. Yaya, who hosts radio show Sin Escape (Without Escape), has never faced threats in the past but police said the attack was likely the result of his journalistic work, as the perpetrators didn’t attempt to steal anything. Yaya said the attack could have resulted from his reporting on the poor construction of a community building in the nearby town of Nuevo Imperial.

Residents of a town in Japan have complained about the erection of replica statues of Michelangelo’s David, requesting that he wear underpants. Okuizumo citizens told town officials that the 16-foot renaissance sculpture’s exposed penis could frighten their children, as some of the replicas, funded by a local business man, were installed in a local park where children often play. Most of the town’s 15,000 residents approved the Renaissance art tributes, and no plans have been made to clothe the statue. Japan has stringent laws regarding nudity. While watching and distributing porn is legal in the country, the country’s authorities request that genitalia be pixelated.

Index Index – International free speech round up 30/01/13

A former CIA officer was sentenced on 25 January to more than two years in prison for leaking official information to the media. John Kiriakou had released the name of a covert officer to a reporter in 2007 in media interviews which were among the first to confirm the waterboarding of detainees, including al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah. Defenders say the former officer acted as a whistleblower to the CIA’s use of torture to interrogate detained terrorists, whilst prosecutors said his intention was purely to gain fame and status. He pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 2012, the first conviction under the law in 27 years. Kiriakou was initially charged under the World War I-era Espionage Act but swapped charges in a plea deal. The deal meant US district judge Leonie Brinkema was restricted to imposing a two and a half year sentence — which she said she would have extended if she could.

Poster for the play Behzti – Gurpreet Bhatti has faced censorship of another play by the BBC

Human rights defender Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested in Egypt on 29 January for allegedly defaming a judge. The political activist and 2012 Index on Censorship awards nominee was released on bail by Judge Tharwat Hammad on Tuesday, as part of a wider investigation into allegations against private satellite channels. Charges have been filed by 1,164 judges, who complained that TV station workers had invited guests on air who had criticised the judiciary. Abdel Fattah was charged with incitement against the military in October 2011 during the Maspero demonstrations in which 27 protestors were killed.

Playwright Gurpreet Bhatti said that her play scheduled for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 1 February has had lines removed from the script.  During Index on Censorship’s arts conference Taking the Offensive at the Southbank Centre on 29 January, Bhatti told attendees that her play Heart of Darkness had been altered by broadcasters. The episode, due to be played on the Afternoon Drama slot, followed the investigation into the honour killing of a 16 year old Asian girl – a case investigators are told to handle sensitively because of her Muslim heritage. Bhatti’s play Behzti was axed from a Birmingham theatre in 2004 following protests from the Sikh community. The playwright denied the BBC’s compliance department accusations that lines were offensive in Heart of Darkness, saying “we live in a fear-ridden culture.”

Germany’s foreign minister said on 28 January that Russia’s draft bill banning “homosexual propaganda” could harm Russia’s ties with Europe. In a meeting on Monday evening, Guido Westerwelle told Russia’s ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Grinin, that the law violated the European human rights convention and will harm Russia’s image and relationships within Europe. The draft legislation was passed by the  State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, on 25 January and prompted protests by the gay community, including a kiss-in protest by activists which was broken up by police on Friday. The law will ban the promotion of homosexuality amongst children and is alleged to intend consolidation of public support for President Vladimir Putin.

On 28 January, Twitter began censoring porn related searches on its video sharing app Vine yesterday, after a six-second porn clip was accidentally made editor’s pick. Searching for terms such as #sex and #porn came up with no results, but users could still access pornographic content if it had been posted under a different hashtag. The social networking site apologised for circulating the video of a graphic sex act on the app launched last week, blaming the slip-up on a “human error”. Vine was introduced to Twitter as a video programme similar to Instagram, where users can upload six second video loops, some of which proving to appeal to a more adult audience. Last week, Apple banned 500px, a photography app with a section dedicated to nudity, from its app store.

Index Index – International free speech round up 28/01/13

On 24 January, thousands of priceless manuscripts were destroyed in a fire started by Islamist militants leaving Mali. The South African — funded library had been torched by the rebel fighters after French and Malian troops closed in on their escape from the Saharan city of Timbuktu, burning it to the ground. The newly constructed Ahmed Baba Institute housed more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts and contained fragile documents dating back to the 13th century. The city’s Mayor Halle Ousmane told the press today (28 January) that he was unable to share the extent of the damage to the building and that French and Malian troops were sealing the area today. A Tuareg-led rebellion captured the city from the government on 1 April, torching the home of a member of parliament and the office of the Mayor.

PanARMENIAN Photo - Demotix

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: State security forces have arrested several journalists in Iran ahead of June’s presidential election

The offices of five media publications were raided by Iran’s State Security Forces, it was reported on 27 January. At least ten arrests were made for “cooperating with anti-revolutionary media” after the offices of daily reformist newspapers Bahar, Arman, and Shargh were raided, as well as Aseman magazine headquarters and ILNA news agency offices. Staff were also filmed and documents were confiscated. The prosecutor’s office is expected to release a statement on the raids, alleged to have been a campaign of intimidation ahead of the June presidential elections. Journalists reported to have been arrested include Sassan Aghaei, Emili Amraee, Motahareh Shafiee, Pejman Mousavi, Nasrin Takhayori, Suleiman Mohammadi, Saba Azarpeik, Narges Joudaki, Pourya Alami, Akbar Montajebi and Milad Fadayi-Asl. The specific reason for arrest has yet to be made, but journalists are accused of cooperating with anti-revolutionary Persian language media forces outside of the country, many of whom are living in exile and facing threats from the government.

Twenty-two Nepalese journalists have fled their home in the western district of Dailekh following death threats from the government. The warning from the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) came following prime minister Baburam Bhattarai’s visit to Dailakh, where journalists assembled in protest against his decision to call off an investigation into the death of journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa. A colleague of the protestors, Thapa had been kidnapped and murdered four years ago, allegedly by five members of the UCPN. Authorities responded by warning the journalists they could face the same fate as Thapa if they did not disperse, and proceeded to raid the offices of newspaper Hamro Tesro Aankha. The daily publication was forced to cease printing indefinitely, along with weekly Sajha Pratibimba. The radio stations Dhruba Tara and Panchakoshi FM was also forced to stop broadcasting.

An Arabic language newspaper in Sudan was seized by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on 22 January. More than 14,000 copies of Al-Sudani were destroyed without a reason. The once independent newspaper was bought by a member of the ruling National Congress Party and now reports the political views of the owner. On 5 January, opposition leaders had met in Ugandan capital Kampala to discuss how to consolidate their power against the country’s government. Intelligence and security services then banned all media outlets from printing anything about the outcome of an agreement signed at the meeting. Last year saw the seizure of more than 20 newspapers, both pro-government and publications critical 0f authorities.

A tree-top anti-abortion protestor who describes himself as an “open-air preacher” has been banned from Washington DC after he attempted to shout down US President Barak Obama during his inauguration ceremony. Rives Grogan was arrested for disorderly conduct on 21 January by Washington police after he scaled a tree and shouted repeatedly over the president. Local judge Karen Howze ordered on 22 January that he be arrested should he step foot into the country’s capital before his court appearance on 25 February. Grogan, who said he has been arrested around 30 times in 19 years, said that he had never been banned from an entire city before, claiming the move violated his first amendment rights. Prosecutors said Grogan was arrested for breaking tree branches during his climb, endangering the lives of himself and others.

Index Index – International free speech roundup 23/01/13

A magazine editor in Thailand has been sentenced to 11 years in jail today (23 January) for insulting the monarchy. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was found guilty of violating Thailand’s lese majeste laws, after he printed two articles in his magazine Voice of Taksin featuring comments deemed insulting to the royal family by prosecutors. Prueksakasemsuk’s arrest on 30 April 2011 came five days after he launched a petition campaigning to reform article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, making it an offence to defame the monarchy — a sentence which imposes prison sentences between three to 15 years. The author of both articles, Jakrapob Penkair, former spokesperson for Thaksin, is living in exile in Cambodia and has not been charged.

Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers – Censored by the BBC for using racially sensitive terms

Nine human rights lawyers have been jailed in Turkey. On 22 January, Istanbul court ordered the pre-trial detention of nine of 12 lawyers arrested on terrorism charges on 18 and 20 January. Güçlü Sevimli, Barkın Timtik, Şükriye Erden, Naciye Demir, Nazan Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı, Taylan Tanay, Ebru Timtik, Günay Dağ, Selçuk Kozağaçlı have been jailed whilst a further three were freed. Prosecutors could decide to try the group as part of a wider investigation against people suspected of being involved with the armed and outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front. The group has carried out attacks on the military, politicians and the police in the past. The jailed lawyers had been particularly active in defending against police brutality in the past, as well as defending human rights activists in court. A secrecy order on the investigation means specific charges are unclear.

The Nigerian government has banned state officials from talking to the press. On 21 January, Lagos authorities issued a notice barring civil servants and political offices from granting interviews or speaking on the government’s behalf. The notice sent from Governor Babatunde Fashola was intended to curb the flow of information to the public, saying that policies that had not yet been formally approved were being discussed with the media. The notice ordered all government workers to request permission from the Ministry of Information and Strategy before giving interviews, so the information could be edited by the ministry prior to its release to the public. It also warned that in the event of officials offering public speeches, they must stick solely to their planned speech which would have to be approved by the ministry prior to the event.

Pakistan has imposed a ban on the sale of the video games Call of Duty and Medal of Honour. Saleem Memon, president of the All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association, released a statement calling for the boycott of the games after they received dozens of complaints, saying that they violate the country’s unity and sanctity. Memon said “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” and “Medal of Honor: Warfighter” depict Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISS), as pro-Al Qaeda and Pakistan as a broken state and a safe haven for terrorists. Shopkeepers have been warned of the “consequences” of being caught attempting to buy or sell either of the games.

Famed scenes of Fawlty Towers have been cut by the BBC, to protect racial sensitivities. The Germans, an episode of the popular 1970s TV series was repeated on 20 January on BBC2, with a scene from the bigoted Major Gowen edited. Racist language was removed from the clip, a move taken to keep in tune with a shift in public attitudes according to the BBC, but listener complaints were filed following the broadcast, with some remarking that it was an “airbrushing of history”. The episode satirises xenophobia in its different forms and features John Cleese’s famous “Hitler walk” — a scene considered to be one of the greatest moments on British television.