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.

Brazil creates press freedom forum

Brazil’s Judiciary has approved the creation of a permanent forum about freedom of the press, with the goal of debating court rulings on the subject and preparing judges to making more well-founded decisions.

The Judiciary’s National Forum on Freedom of the Press was created last November through a resolution issued by the National Justice Council (CNJ), a body responsible for supervising Justice’s activities in Brazil and ensuring its independence.

Although the resolution that creates the Forum on Freedom of the Press goes as far back as November, the group has not yet been fully formed. It is hoped it will be ready to convene in early February.

Brazil’s ranking for press freedom went down from 58 last year to 99th in the world this year, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The Forum will follow all cases related to freedom of the press, analysing judges’ actions and aiding with information that could affect court rulings in all jurisdictions. In addition to monitoring cases, they will investigate how similar cases are dealt with in other countries. The plan also involves working with law schools across the country to build a deeper understanding of press freedom.

The idea of creating the Forum came through former President of CNJ and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Carlos Ayres Britto, who retired last December.

The Forum will be formed of nine members, including CNJ counselors, state judges and representatives from different bodies such as the Order of Attorneys of Brazil, the National Newspapers Association, the Brazilian Radio and Television Broadcasters Association and the National Press Association.

Although CNJ has among its duties conducting disciplinary proceedings and applying sanctions against judges and members of the Judiciary, the Forum will not have the power to overturn court rulings concerning the freedom of the press.

“We want to stimulate the discussion about the freedom of the press, by bringing some visions from outside the Judiciary and increasing Justice’s flexibility on this subject”, says the coordinator of the Forum, federal prosecutor Wellington Cabral Saraiva.

He says the Forum was created because CNJ was concerned with some controversial court rulings, which were considered to be a result of a lack of knowledge from judges about how freedom of the press should be regarded in Brazil.

Saraiva exemplifies this by citing court rulings that set enormously expensive reparations against journalists or media companies for defamation or slander, or that obstruct the publishing of specific news — or even books, including biographies.

One high-profile legal case this concerns O Estado de S.Paulo, one of Brazil’s biggest daily newspapers. A court ruling from 2009 prevents Estado of publishing news about a police operation that could incriminate a media mogul from the northeastern state of Maranhão. The newspaper sees this as a clear-cut case of censorship, and is still waiting for a final verdict.

“We do not see this as a general trend in Justice. Some controversial decisions can the taken, but this is normal within the Judiciary. Some legal issues are complex, being open to different rulings”, Saraiva says.

The Forum’s coordinator sees a specific “political culture” as the main threat to press freedom in Brazil, through which some politicians and public agents don’t acknowledge the importance of a free press.

Because of that, Saraiva says, there are so many cases of violence and even murder against journalists and bloggers in Brazil, mainly in areas far from the country’s big cities.

He thinks this “political culture” also reflects on judges’ rulings: “When we consolidate a true democratic culture among politicians and magistrates, we’ll also have a reduction of court rulings that are excessively restrictive.”