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.

Letter: White House guilty of censorship by stealth in seeking YouTube removal

This letter appeared in the Financial Times

Sir, Your editorial (“Obama’s realist foreign policy”, September 27) claims that free speech purists were offended by Barack Obama’s comments on Innocence of Muslims. As an organisation that defends free expression around the world, Index on Censorship would certainly include itself in the free speech purist camp. Even the president of the US is entitled to say what he likes under the first amendment, as long as he upholds that vital part of the US constitution for all.

In his address this week to world leaders at the UN General Assembly, President Obama defended “the right of all people to express their views — even views that we disagree with”.

However, in reality, the White House is guilty of “reaching out” to Google to look into taking the video off YouTube on the grounds that it breached Google’s terms of service, justifying its removal. This intervention by the US government suggests censorship by stealth, whereby governments can claim to protect free speech while putting pressure on “middle men” such as internet service providers to censor for them. All of which raises the question: “Who should control the internet?”

Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship, London EC1, UK

US Congress pushes ahead with Muslim hearings

On Thursday, conservative New York Congressman Peter King held the first of what he’s vowed will be a series of congressional inquiries into the “radicalization of the American Muslim community,” a topic that has alarmed religious and civil liberties organisations in America for its narrow focus on one minority group and its inherent indictment of the entire “community”.

By the time King called the hearing to order, he’d already successfully wound up much of the country’s punditry. Muslim groups held a protest in New York’s Times Square on Sunday. Obama Administration officials were already trying to distance themselves from the suggestion that the US government – any arm of it – views Muslims with particular suspicion. And dozens of social-justice organisations had circulated petitions and press releases condemning what they likened to a political witch-hunt – as bad as anything Washington has seen since McCarthyism.

King, for his part, tried to sound bemused by all of the reaction on Thursday morning, as if he hadn’t worked so intentionally to provoke it. He was an easy target for the press leading up to the hearing, as a one-time vehement supporter of the IRA, it left him open to accusations of hypocrisy.

Some of King’s opposition was thoughtful, he conceded. But the rest of it – “both from special interest groups and the media – has ranged from disbelief to paroxysms of rage and hysteria,” he said in his opening statement. He appeared to relish ploughing ahead anyway.

“Let me make it clear today,” he continued, “that I remain convinced that these hearings must go forward. And they will. To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee – to protect America from a terrorist attack.”

But his critics weren’t calling for political correctness; they wanted facts, which were in short supply on Thursday. King and his witnesses offered scant statistics, and no objective testimony suggesting Muslim radicalization is on the rise or Muslim cooperation in decline.

The hearing also failed to acknowledge that while every Muslim American is not engaged in terrorism, every terrorist act in America is also not perpetrated by a Muslim (consider, within the past two years, the gunman who tried to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords, the disgruntled software consultant who flew a plane into an IRS office, and the extremist who gunned down an abortion doctor in a church – all white US citizens whom many commentators have been loathe to label as “terrorists”). A true hearing on the problem of homegrown radicalization, King’s critics argued, would examine the threat in all its forms.

Such a broad-based hearing, undoubtedly, wouldn’t have inflamed people so. But King scoffed at that idea.

“This Committee cannot live in denial, which is what some would have us do when they suggest that this hearing dilute its focus by investigating threats unrelated to Al Qaeda” he said. “The Department of Homeland Security and this committee were formed in response to the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11. There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation.”

The biggest fear, though, was that in antagonizing the Muslim community, King might actually achieve the opposite of his intended effect, making America less safe.

“I cannot help but wonder how propaganda on this hearing’s focus on the American Muslim community will be used by those who seek to inspire a new generation of suicide bombers,” warned Representative Bennie Thompson, the first in a string of Democrats to take the microphone during the hearing to denounce it. The event, in fact, had an odd partisan pallor, with Republicans uniformly lining up to praise the investigation and Democrats clutching their pocket-sized constitutions in fury across the aisle.

Keith Ellison, one of two Muslims in Congress and a Democrat, even began to cry during his testimony, as he recounted the story of a 23-year-old Muslim first-responder who was killed on September 11.

Muslims, “they are our neighbours,” Ellison said, delivering one of the most tweetable lines of the day. “In short, they are us.”

If King did sincerely want to unearth solutions to domestic Muslim radicalization – however disproportionate the real problem may be to his outsized congressional theatre – the hearing never yielded much in the way of thoughtful strategy. Only one law enforcement officer was called to testify. And some questioners wanted to know more about how uncooperative he found Muslims in his community, rather than what his officers did to work successfully with them.

King also spent much of the time asking the Muslim representatives he had hand-picked to speak to explain why they agreed that his hearing was so necessary. He had clearly sought cover for an investigation targeting Muslims by putting a few agreeable ones at the microphone.

Sheila Jackson Lee, a fiery Texas Democrat, called out the irony in this stagecraft.

“Muslims are here cooperating!” she exclaimed. “They are doing what this hearing is suggesting they do not do!”