Protest around the world

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Elena Rostunova /

Beirut is currently witnessing a wave of protests triggered by a rubbish disposal crisis and, lacking a legal framework, the authorities are struggling to cope. The protest — dubbed You Stink by many, including former Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards nominee Lucien Bourjeily — comes as waste has been allowed to build up on the streets of the Lebanese capital. You Stink has very quickly morphed into a more general protest against the way public services in Lebanon are run and corruption levels within a weak government that has been without a president since May 2014.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets and social media channels to voice their frustration while the Lebanese authorities have struggled to respond. One short-term solution was to build a wall between the prime minister’s office and the streets below.

Lacking a legal framework for dealing with the protest has left the Lebanese authorities alternating between ignoring the rallies and violently cracking down but neither strategy has made an impact on demonstrations that began in July. Riot police were recently drafted in to clear an occupation at the office of Lebanon’s environment minister Mohammad Al Mashnouq. In that incident, Bourjeily was hospitalised with an injured arm after police cleared the sit-in.

A report by Freedom House in 2013 found that “Freedom of assembly has been generally unrestricted (in Lebanon) in the past, as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have rallied in favour of or in opposition to the government.” There is no precedent to arrest or disperse large numbers of people protesting against a government or rule of law. Though police have been using force to disperse largely peaceful protests, there is no fear of arrest so the movement continues.

The benign legal framework is coupled with Lebanon’s open media freedom environment. The country is one of the highest-ranked Middle Eastern states for press freedom.  Citizens can also vent their frustrations via the internet and social media with relative ease. Much of the activity that has surrounded the You Stink protests has been spawned online.

The chaos ensuing in Beirut contrasts with the largely peaceful mass demonstrations against the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who has been tainted by accusations of corruption.

The turnout for the protests has been large despite amendments to the country’s colonial-era sedition act made in April 2015 but the threat of arrest was very real as the rally organisers of the protest Bersih 3.0 (Malay for “clean”) recently found out. Websites spreading word of the demonstrations were banned and when groups of protesters attempted to break through the barriers they were fired at with tear gas and beaten and arrested by police, often under sedition laws.

The penalties for the vaguely worded “seditious activities” have recently been increased to 20 years, changes described by the UN and Razak’s opposition as a “black day” for freedom of expression. The sedition law was also used as a legal tool to investigate up to 50 protesters in the Taman Medan region peacefully protesting against the affixation of a cross on a local church’s premises. Initially, the inspector general of police in the region stated that the demonstrators would be cleared of any wrongdoing but this was vetoed by the Home Minister and Razak, who urged police to investigate the protest under sedition and said action could be taken under the law. The case was classified as sedition and serves as an example of a growing climate of fear being emphasised by its use in Malaysia.

Another colonial-era sedition law has been used in India to target groups of protesters on a number of occasions, including 2012 demonstrations against the building of a power station in Tamil Nadu. When told they couldn’t march, thousands of demonstrators stood still to register their concerns about the health impact that the plant would have. A report by local activists after the protest found that at least 3,500 of the participants were being investigated for sedition. South Asia Human Rights Watch denounced the charges and urged the Indian parliament to repeal the law.

In an even stranger case, a charge of sedition was issued in March 2014 against a crowd of Indian students cheering for Pakistan in a one-day cricket match between India and Pakistan. The charges were eventually dropped after outrage from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Western cities like London may not use sedition as a tool to halt protest but the authorities still find dealing with protest far easier when they are backed by a legal framework. The Public Order Act 1986 outlines the law relating to protest in the UK and makes a firm distinction between static assembly and a moving march. In order to hold a march, protesters are required to submit a permit to a police station at least six days before it takes place and the police can then impose sanctions. In this way, the authorities are able to curtail attempts by demonstrators to protest spontaneously en masse.

Even a static assembly can be sanctioned if the police believe it will cause serious public disorder, serious damage or intimidation. This was the case with the neo-Nazi protest moved from Golders Green to Whitehall in July.

An added piece of legislation, The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, came into force in 2011, mainly as a response to the actions of Brian Haw whose tent demonstration outside Whitehall lasted from 2001 until his death in 2011. This new act prohibits protesters from certain activities outside Parliament, preventing protesters from, among other things, operating amplified noise equipment and erecting tents or “sleeping structures”. The wording here is important. In the midst of protests resembling those currently taking place in Beirut, when British protesters “occupied” Whitehall in 2014, the phrase “sleeping structures” was used to cover all sorts of paraphernalia, with the images of protesters being forcibly removed from lying on tarpaulins and sleeping bags being etched into the minds of those observing the British press in the following few weeks. It even prompted a global hashtag, #tarpaulinrevolution.

The new act is coupled with regulations under City of Westminster bylaws stating that protesters must gain written permission before they protest in London’s Parliament Square. The UN General Assembly’s special rapporteur voiced grave concerns about these by-laws and restrictions in a report in 2013.

Protests such as those in London, Malaysia and Tamil Nadu can pictorially resemble those happening in Beirut but are far less of an issue for the authorities due to them being able to rely on a legal framework to disrupt them. In Malaysia, fear of sedition looms large over the heads of even the most peaceful of demonstrators.

For the time being, protest against the interim government in Beirut rumbles on, unabated.

Zunar: No government ban can stop my cartooning

Although the political situation in Malaysia has been very tense since 1998, now the majority of Malaysians are beginning to show defiance against the ruling party Barisan Nasional, which has ruled the country for 54 years. People cannot accept the widespread corruption and high inflation with people living in economic hardship anymore.

The current Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is involved in the corruption scandal of the purchasing of Scorpene submarine. This is further scandalised by the murder of a Mongolian model by the name of Altantuya who was also involved in the submarine deal.

She was killed in Malaysia by those close to the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the Barisan Nasional still stays in power from the bountiful of deceits throughout the election. Since all local newspapers, television and radio are controlled by the BN government, the people had to use alternative media such as the Facebook and Twitter to criticise and vent their frustrations.

As a political cartoonist, I use cartoons as a way to criticise the government. Not surprisingly, my cartoons are banned from being published in the government media. I produce cartoons for, my own website, and on Facebook and Twitter.

I also publish cartoon books, but my seven books are banned on the grounds that the contents were “detrimental to national security.” Printers who printed my books and stores that sold them are constantly threatened by the authorities.

In 2010, I was arrested under the Sedition Act when my then new book, Cartoon-O-Phobia, was about to be launched. I challenged the book-banning and the unlawful detention. For this, the Kuala Lumpur High Court will decide on the 27 June.

No matter, I continue to draw, with my work now being followed by a bunch of young cartoonists. As a result, the government-controlled Election Commission recently decided to ban the use of cartoons in the coming general election (to be called before the current term ends in March 2013).

The banning of cartoons during the election is comical and ludicrous. This is because cartooning is a legally-practised medium in Malaysia and therefore the Commission does not have the right to forbid its use. Moreover, this is contradicting the freedom of expression provided to all citizens in the Malaysian Constitution.

I call for the Commission to withdraw this rule or it will become another Malaysian product of jokes to the global community. Recently, Malaysia has become a laughing stock due to the action on cartoonists such as banning of comic books and the detention of cartoonists under the Criminal Act.

I would like to announce that I will be leading a group of cartoonists, the Kumpulan Kartunis Independen (KKI) and will be actively involved before and during the next election campaign.

We will be opening our own Cartoonist Operations Centre and will be moving as a group in a van while campaigning for the coming election.

Our focus is to expose fraud and corruption and misuse of public funds by the current government, such as Scorpene Scandal or the domineering of the PM’s wife. The message-laden cartoons will be distributed in various forms: brochures, posters, banners, videos, to name a few.

I am ready to face the consequences! And I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink!

Zunar is the foremost Malaysian political cartoonist.  Last year, he has been conferred “2011 Courage In Editorial  Cartoon” award by Cartoonist Rights Network International in Washington

Malaysia: Fourth newspaper forced to close

A fourth newspaper has been forced to close in Kuala Lumpur following the government’s crackdown on publishing licenses. The suspension of Hakhah’s printing office follows the closure of the newspapers Suara Keadilan, Kabar Era Pakatan and Rocket on 30 June. Suara Keadilan, a leading critical voice in Malaysia, is reported to have been shut down for “publishing false news that could incite public unrest”. Local activists claim that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government is attempting to silence critical publications ahead of national elections. Media regulators state they are applying broadcasting law uniformly.