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Happy New Year!
I think we can all agree, regardless of where we live, that 2022 was a tumultuous year. There was seemingly a new crisis every day. Totalitarian regimes moving against their populations became increasingly normal, from Iran to China. The ongoing rise (and occasional fall) of populist politics. The Russian invasion of Ukraine. The rise of energy and food costs and the impact on some of the world’s poorest. The attempted murder of Sir Salman Rushdie. And to be parochial just for a moment, complete political insanity in the UK.
I really hoped that 2023 would mark the end, or at least a pause, of that wonderful Chinese saying – we live in interesting times. Even for just a few months I had dreamed of a period of calm, of quiet, of dullness. Or at least a few weeks so we could all catch up on life and enjoy the world we live in, rather than being anxious at turning on the news.
It is only the sixth day of the year and my wish for calm has already been broken. This week we have seen political dysfunction in the USA; Belarus has commenced trials against many of their high-profile detainees who were arrested during the demonstrations against Lukashenka; there have been deadly riots in Mexico and the news is filled with the gloom of Covid (and China’s censoring of news on it), flu and inflation. It’s day six…
We knew that this year would see significant world events, as the impact of the war in Ukraine continues to be felt. But China is also likely to seek to exploit this global diplomatic distraction for their own nefarious wants. And of course the protests in Iran, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Mexico continue apace – even as they evolve.
Index will remain busy in the months ahead as we seek to shine a spotlight on the actions of totalitarian regimes and make sure that you hear from the people behind the headlines. From the women now banned from attending university in Afghanistan, from the democracy activists imprisoned in Belarus, from the Rohingya mothers held in camps as they flee Myanmar, from the journalists who fight to be heard and stay alive in Mexico. Index will keep providing a platform for the persecuted, so they can tell their stories and you can hear them.
Happy New Year in these interesting times.
Facebook has received much criticism recently around the removal of content and its lack of transparency as to the reasons why. Although it maintains their right as a private company to remove content that violates community guidelines, many critics claim this disproportionately targets marginalised people and groups. A report by ProPublica in June 2017 found that Facebook’s secret censorship policies “tend to favour elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities”.
The company claims in their community standards that they don’t censor posts that are newsworthy or raise awareness, but this clearly isn’t always the case.
Most recently, almost a year after the human rights groups’ letter, Facebook has continuously censored content related to the Rohingya people, a stateless minority who mostly reside in Burma. Rohingya have repeatedly been banned from Facebook for posting about atrocities committed against them. The story resurfaced amid claims that Rohingya people will be offered sterilisation in refugee camps.
Refugees have used Facebook as a tool to document the accounts of ethnic cleansing against their communities in refugee camps and Burma’s conflict zone, the Rakhine State. These areas range from difficult to impossible to be reached by reporters, making first-hand accounts so important.
Rohingya activists told the Daily Beast that their accounts are frequently taken down or suspended when they post about their persecution by the Burmese military.
In September 2016 Facebook admitted removing a live video posted by anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activists in the USA. The video showed police arresting around two dozen protesters, although after the link was shared access was denied to viewers.
Facebook blamed their automated spam filter for censoring the video, a feature that is often criticised for being vague and secretive.
In the same month as the Dakota Access Pipeline video, Facebook suspended the accounts of editors from two Palestinian news publications based in the occupied West Bank without providing a reason. There are no reports of the journalists violating the networking site’s community standards, but the editors allege their pages may have been censored because of a recent agreement between the US social media giant and the Israeli government aimed at tackling posts inciting violence.
Facebook later released a statement which stated: “Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong.”
In July 2016 a Facebook live video was censored for showing the aftermath of a black man shot by US police in his car. Philando Castile was asked to provide his license and registration but was shot when attempting to do so, according to Lavish Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend who posted the video.
The video does not appear to violate Facebook’s community standards. According to these rules, videos depicting violence should only be removed if they are “shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence”.
“Facebook has long been a place where people share their experiences and raise awareness about important issues,” the policy states. “Sometimes, those experiences and issues involve violence and graphic images of public interest or concern, such as human rights abuses or acts of terrorism.”
Reynold’s video was to condemn wrongful violence and therefore was appropriate to be shown on the website.
Facebook blamed the removal of the video on a glitch.
In October 2016, Facebook removed a Swedish breast cancer awareness campaign that had depictions of cartoon breasts. The breasts were abstract circles in different shades of pinks. The purpose of the video was to raise awareness and to educate, meaning that by Facebook’s standards, it should not have been censored.
The video was reposted and Facebook apologised, claiming once again that the removal was a mistake.
The Autumn issue of Index on Censorship magazine explored the censorship of the female nipple, which occurs offline and on in many areas around the world. In October 2017 a Facebook post by Index’s Hannah Machlin on the censoring of female nipples was removed for violating community standards.
A month earlier, in a serious blow to media freedom, Facebook removed an iconic photo from the Vietnam War. The photo is widespread and famous for revealing the atrocities of the war, especially on innocent people like children.
In a statement made following the removal of the photograph, Index on Censorship said: “Facebook should be a platform for … open debate, including the viewing of images and stories that some people may find offensive, is vital for democracy. Platforms such as Facebook can play an essential role in ensuring this.”
The newspaper whose post was censored posted a front-page open letter to Mark Zuckerberg stating that the CEO was abusing his power. After public outrage and the open letter, Facebook released a statement claiming they are “always looking to improve our policies to make sure they both promote free expression and keep our community safe”.
Facebook’s community standards claim they remove photos of sexual assault against minors but don’t mention historical photos or those which do not contain sexual assault.
The young woman shown in the photo, who now lives in Canada, released her own statement saying: “I’m saddened by those who would focus on the nudity in the historic picture rather than the powerful message it conveys. I fully support the documentary image taken by Nick Ut as a moment of truth that capture the horror of war and its effects on innocent victims.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1509981254255-452e74e2-3762-2″ taxonomies=”1721″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
After the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent organisation created by the US Congress to evaluate religious freedom conditions around the world, released its 2015 report, it became clear that an insufficient amount of progress had been made since Index on Censorship last reported on the issue.
Here’s a roundup of some the most appalling religious freedom violations from across the globe.
Bigotry and intolerance continue to scorch the lives of religious and ethnic minorities in Burma, particularly Rohingya Muslims. The Burmese government demonstrated little effort toward intervening or properly investigating claims of abuse, including those carried out by religious figures in the Buddhist community. As internet availability spread throughout the country, social media played a role in promoting a platform of hate and proposed violence against minority populations. Rohingya Muslims in the country face a unique level of discrimination and persecution. The government denies them citizenship and the right to identify as Rohingya. Additionally, four discriminatory race and religion bills could further the prejudices affecting religious minorities.
North Korea is a nation where genuine freedom of religion or belief is non-existent; it remains one of the most oppressive regimes and worst violators of human rights. Punishment comes to those who pose difficult questions while the government maintains its control through a constant threat of imprisonment, torture and even death for those who break the law regarding religion. Estimates suggest up to 200,000 North Koreans are currently suffering in labor camps, tens of thousands of whom are there for practicing heir faith. In February 2014, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea released its report documenting the systematic, severe violations of human rights in the country. It found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience”.
Officially an Islamic state with eight to ten million expatriate workers of different faiths, Saudi Arabia continues to restrict most forms of public religious expression inconsistent with its interpretation of Sunni Islam. The government continues to use criminal charges of blasphemy to suppress any dialogue between dissenting viewpoints, with a new law helping drive home the goal of silence. The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing criminalises virtually all forms of peaceful dissent and free expression, including criticising the government’s view of Islam. Lastly, authorities continue to discriminate grossly against dissident clerics and members of the Shia community.
The Sudanese government continues to engage in massive violations of freedom of religion, due to president Omar al-Bashir’s policies of Islamisation and restrictive interpretation of sharia law. Despite 97% of the population being Muslim, there is a wide range of other religions practiced. The country’s turmoil from religious persecution rests on the 1991 Criminal Code, the 1991 Personal Status Law of Muslims, and state-level “public order” laws, which have restricted freedom for all Sudanese. The laws – which contradict the country’s constitutional and international commitments to human rights and freedom of religion – allow death sentences for apostasy, stoning for adultery, cross-amputations for theft, prison sentences for blasphemy and floggings for undefined “offences of honor, reputation and public morality”. Since 2011, more than 170 people have been arrested and charged with apostasy.
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In Uzbekistan, the government imprisons individuals for not conforming to officially prescribed practices or whom it claims are extremist, including as many as 12,000 Muslims. A highly restrictive religion law is imposed, the 1998 Law on Freedom of Consciences and Religious Organisations, which severely limits the rights of all religious groups and facilitates Uzbek government control over religious activity. Many who don’t fit into the framework of officially approved practices are regularly repressed. Additionally, the government has continued a campaign against independent Muslims, targeting those linked to the May 2005 protests in Andijan; 231 are still imprisoned in connection to the events, and ten have died. All the while, Uzbekistan has pressured countries to return Uzbek refugees who fled during the Andijan tragedy.
In an environment of nearly inescapable government information control, severe religion freedom breaches persist in Turkmenistan. Continuing police raids and harassment of registered and unregistered religious groups matched with laws and policies that violate international human rights norms has the nation as one of the year’s biggest offenders. With an estimated total population of 5.1 million, the US government projects that the country is 85% Sunni Muslim, 9% Russian Orthodox, and a 2% total that includes Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and evangelical Christians. Despite Turkmenistan’s constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom and separation of religion from the state, the 2003 religion law negates these provisions while setting intrusive registration criteria for individuals. It also requires that the government is informed of all foreign financial support, forbids worship in private homes and places discriminatory restrictions on religious education.
While the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, this idea really only applies to “normal religions”, better known as the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” associated with Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Even still, the government monitors religious activities unfairly, and there has been an increased religious persecution of Uighur Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism. All around repression in China worsened in 2014, including the governmental push for controlling Tibet, Xinjiang, and even Hong Kong, as well as controls on the internet, social media, human rights defenders, activists and journalists.
Ongoing religious freedom abuses have continued in Eritrea, including torture or ill-treatment of religious prisoners, random arrests without charges and banning’s on public religious activities. The situation is especially serious for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the government suppresses Muslim religious activities and those opposed to the government-appointed head of the community. In 2002, the government increased its control over religion by imposing a registration requirement on all religious groups other than the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea. The requirements mandated that the non-preferred religious communities provide detailed information about their finances, membership, activities, and benefit to the country. Additionally, released religious prisoners have reported to USCIRF that they were confined in crowded conditions, and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations. The government continued to arrest and detain followers of unregistered religious communities. Recent estimates suggest 1,200 to 3,000 people are imprisoned on religious grounds in Eritrea, the majority of whom are Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians.
Poor religious freedom in Iran continued to worsen in 2014, particularly for minority groups like Bahá’ís, Christian converts, and Sunni Muslims. The government is still engaging in systematic violations, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based on the religion of the accused. Despite Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians being recognised as protected minorities, the government has consistently discriminated against its citizens on the basis of religion. Killings, arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increased in recent years, including for religious minorities and Muslims who are perceived as threatening the government’s legitimacy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1493906845781-a7b9ac80-f77d-2″ taxonomies=”1742″][/vc_column][/vc_row]