11 countries where you should think twice about insulting someone

(Image: Bplanet/Shutterstock)

(Image: Bplanet/Shutterstock)

Croatia’s new criminal code has introduced “humiliation” as an offence — and it is already being put to use. Slavica Lukić, a journalist with newspaper Jutarnji list is likely to end up in court for writing that the Dean of the Faculty of Law in Osijek accepted a bribe. As Index reported earlier this week, via its censorship mapping tool mediafreedom.ushahidi.com: “For the court, it is of little importance that the information is correct – it is enough for the principal to state that he felt humbled by the publication of the news.”

These kinds of laws exist across the world, especially under the guise of protecting against insult. The problem, however, is that such laws often exist for the benefit of leaders and politicians. And even when they are more general, they can be very easily manipulated by those in positions of power to shut down and punish criticism. Below are some recent cases where just this has happened.


On 4 June this year, security forces in Tajikistan detained a 30-year-old man on charges of “insulting” the country’s president. According to local press, he was arrested after posting “slanderous” images and texts on Facebook.


Eight people were jailed in Iran in May, on charges including blasphemy and insulting the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Facebook. They also were variously found guilty of propaganda against the ruling system and spreading lies.


Also in May this year, Goa man Devu Chodankar was investigated by police for posting criticism of new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook. The incident was reported the police someone close to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under several different pieces of legislation. One makes it s “a punishable offence to send messages that are offensive, false or created for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience”.


Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and journalist and editor Bheki Makhubu were arrested in March this year, and face charges of “scandalising the judiciary” and “contempt of court”. The charges are based on two articles, written by Maseko and Makhubu and published in the independent magazine the Nation, which strongly criticised Swaziland’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi, levels of corruption and the lack of impartiality in the country’s judicial system.


In February this year, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was arrested on charges of inciting violence in the country’s ongoing anti-government protests. Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco said at the time that the government of President Nicholas Maduro had made no valid case against Lopez and merely justified his imprisonment through “insults and conspiracy theories.”


Student Honest Makasi was in November 2013 charged with insulting President Robert Mugabe. He allegedly called the president “a dog” and accused him of “failing to do what he promised during campaigns” and lying to the people. He appeared in court around the same time the country’s constitutional court criticised continued use of insult laws. And Makasi is not the only one to find himself in this position — since 2010, over 70 Zimbabweans have been charged for “undermining” the authority of the president.


In March 2013, Egypt’s public prosecutor, appointed by former President Mohamed Morsi, issued an arrest warrant for famous TV host and comedian Bassem Youssef, among others. The charges included “insulting Islam” and “belittling” the later ousted Morsi. The country’s regime might have changed since this incident, but Egyptian authorities’ chilling effect on free expression remains — Youssef recently announced the end of his wildly popular satire show.


A recent defamation law imposes hefty fines and prison sentences for anyone convicted of online slander or insults in Azerbaijan. In August 2013, a court prosecuted a former bank employee who had criticised the bank on Facebook. He was found guilty of libel and sentenced to 1-year public work, with 20% of his monthly salary also withheld.


In July 2013, a man was convicted and ordered to pay a fine or face nine month in prison, for calling Malawi’s President Joyce Banda “stupid” and a “failure”. Angry that his request for a new passport was denied by the department of immigration, Japhet Chirwa “blamed the government’s bureaucratic red tape on the ‘stupidity and failure’ of President Banda”. He was arrested shortly after. 


While the penalties were softened somewhat in a 2009 amendment to the criminal code, libel remains a criminal offence in Poland. In September 2012, the creator of Antykomor.pl, a website satirising President Bronisław Komorowski, was “sentenced to 15 months of restricted liberty and 600 hours of community service for defaming the president”.

This article was published on June 6, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

National Poetry Day: Jack Mapanje

Jack-MapanjeBorn in Malawi in 1944, Jack Mapanje, one of Africa’s most distinguished poets, studied in England before returning to teach at the University of

His first collection of poems, Of Chameleons and Gods, published in the UK in 1981, was banned in Malawi in June 1985 due to its being ‘full of … coded attacks’ on the ruling dictatorship of Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Two years later, in September 1987, he was imprisoned without trial or charge by the Malawian government.

Many writers, linguists and human rights activists campaigned for his release, including Harold Pinter and Wole Soyinka, and in 1990 he was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Despite this international pressure, Mapanje served almost four years in Mikuyu prison, where he composed his second collection of poetry, The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison, and most of his third collection, Skipping without Ropes. He was finally released in May 1991.

On His Royal Blindness Paramount Chief Kwangala
by Jack Mapanje

I admire the quixotic display of your paramountcy
How you brandish our ancestral shields and spears
Among your warriors dazzled by your loftiness
But I fear the way you spend your golden breath
Those impromptu, long-winded tirades of your might
In the heat, do they suit your brittle constitution?

I know I too must sing to such royal happiness
And I am not arguing. Wasn’t I too tucked away in my
Loin-cloth infested by jiggers and fleas before
Your bright eminence showed up? How could I quibble
Over your having changed all that? How dare I when
We have scribbled our praises all over our graves?

Why should I quarrel when I too have known mask
Dancers making troubled journeys to the gold mines
On bare feet and bringing back fake European gadgets
The broken pipes, torn coats, crumpled bowler hats,
Dangling mirrors and rusty tincans to make their
Mask dancing strange? Didn’t my brothers die there?

No, your grace, I am no alarmist nor banterer
I am only a child surprised how you broadly disparage
Me shocked by the tedium of your continuous palaver. I
Adore your majesty. But paramountcy is like a raindrop
On a vast sea. Why should we wait for the children to
Tell us about our toothless gums or our showing flies?

Malawi repeals news censorship law

A vote in the Malawi Parliament has led to the repeal of an amendment to the country’s penal code which banned any news “not in the public interest”. Though amendment to Article 46 of the penal code was introduced in 2010, and was passed last year, it was never implemented after challenges from press freedom groups. The sweeping amendment would have allowed the government to ban anything deemed not to be in the public interest for an unspecified amount of time. Only one member of parliament voted against the repeal.

Malawi: Journalist arrested for article on same-sex marriage

A journalist has been arrested in Malawi for writing an article on a same-sex engagement ceremony. Clement Chinoko, who works for Blantyre Newspapers Limited, was arrested on 26 May after an article appeared in the Malawi’s Sunday Times on 20 May detailing the engagement of two women in the southern city of Blantyre. The journalist has been charged with “conduct likely to cause breach of peace” and police spokesman Nicholas Gondwa has claimed the article is a fake. Chinoko has not yet been taken to court or been released on bail. Earlier this month, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda announced plans to repeal the country’s laws against homosexuality.