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A magazine editor in Thailand has been sentenced to 11 years in jail today (23 January) for insulting the monarchy. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was found guilty of violating Thailand’s lese majeste laws, after he printed two articles in his magazine Voice of Taksin featuring comments deemed insulting to the royal family by prosecutors. Prueksakasemsuk’s arrest on 30 April 2011 came five days after he launched a petition campaigning to reform article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, making it an offence to defame the monarchy — a sentence which imposes prison sentences between three to 15 years. The author of both articles, Jakrapob Penkair, former spokesperson for Thaksin, is living in exile in Cambodia and has not been charged.
Nine human rights lawyers have been jailed in Turkey. On 22 January, Istanbul court ordered the pre-trial detention of nine of 12 lawyers arrested on terrorism charges on 18 and 20 January. Güçlü Sevimli, Barkın Timtik, Şükriye Erden, Naciye Demir, Nazan Betül Vangölü Kozağaçlı, Taylan Tanay, Ebru Timtik, Günay Dağ, Selçuk Kozağaçlı have been jailed whilst a further three were freed. Prosecutors could decide to try the group as part of a wider investigation against people suspected of being involved with the armed and outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front. The group has carried out attacks on the military, politicians and the police in the past. The jailed lawyers had been particularly active in defending against police brutality in the past, as well as defending human rights activists in court. A secrecy order on the investigation means specific charges are unclear.
The Nigerian government has banned state officials from talking to the press. On 21 January, Lagos authorities issued a notice barring civil servants and political offices from granting interviews or speaking on the government’s behalf. The notice sent from Governor Babatunde Fashola was intended to curb the flow of information to the public, saying that policies that had not yet been formally approved were being discussed with the media. The notice ordered all government workers to request permission from the Ministry of Information and Strategy before giving interviews, so the information could be edited by the ministry prior to its release to the public. It also warned that in the event of officials offering public speeches, they must stick solely to their planned speech which would have to be approved by the ministry prior to the event.
Pakistan has imposed a ban on the sale of the video games Call of Duty and Medal of Honour. Saleem Memon, president of the All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association, released a statement calling for the boycott of the games after they received dozens of complaints, saying that they violate the country’s unity and sanctity. Memon said “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” and “Medal of Honor: Warfighter” depict Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISS), as pro-Al Qaeda and Pakistan as a broken state and a safe haven for terrorists. Shopkeepers have been warned of the “consequences” of being caught attempting to buy or sell either of the games.
Famed scenes of Fawlty Towers have been cut by the BBC, to protect racial sensitivities. The Germans, an episode of the popular 1970s TV series was repeated on 20 January on BBC2, with a scene from the bigoted Major Gowen edited. Racist language was removed from the clip, a move taken to keep in tune with a shift in public attitudes according to the BBC, but listener complaints were filed following the broadcast, with some remarking that it was an “airbrushing of history”. The episode satirises xenophobia in its different forms and features John Cleese’s famous “Hitler walk” — a scene considered to be one of the greatest moments on British television.
The European Court of Human Rights deemed today (15 January) that a woman working for British Airways was unfairly discriminated against for her religion. Nadia Eweida was fired by BA in 2006 for refusing to stop wearing her crucifix visibly. Judges ruled that Eweida’s rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated. Three other Christians who had taken their employees to court lost their cases. Shirley Chaplin, whose employer also stopped her wearing crucifix necklaces, Lillian Ladele, disciplined after refusing to conduct same-sex civil partner ceremonies — and Gary McFarlane, a marriage councillor fired for saying he might object to offering sex advice to gay couples.
The suicide of US activist Aaron Swartz on 11 January has prompted calls to reform computer crime laws in America. The 26 year old was awaiting trial, charged with 13 felony counts of wire fraud and hacking two years ago. Swartz had downloaded millions of academic papers from online archive JSTOR and was due to face trial in April, for which he could have been jailed for decades and faced massive fines. Calls for amendments to The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act have been widespread, with critics alleging that certain internet hacking laws are too vague and broad, and impose overly harsh penalties.
On 9 January, Iran’s Supreme Court ratified the death penalty of five Ahwazi (Arab-Iranian) human rights defenders. Hadi Rachedi, Hashim Shabani Nejad, Mohammad Ali Amuri Nejad, Jaber Al-Bushoke and his brother Mokhtar Al-Bushoke were arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security in the spring of 2011. They were charged with spawning mischief, threatening national security and inciting propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The activists had been protesting for their right to speak Arabic, rather than the national language of Persian – a right that is written into Iranian constitution. They were allegedly tortured into giving false confessions in detention.
App developers Tencent have apologised to users of social media app WeChat, after the programme appeared to be censoring controversial terms globally. Tencent, China’s most widely used internet portal, blamed a “technical glitch” after it had blocked terms such as Southern Weekend and Falun Gong, a banned group in China often referred to as a sect. Activists have voiced concern that authorities are hacking the app, in order to increase surveillance on some of its 200million users. WeChat has subscribers in the UK and America, and will soon be launched across Asia.
US Vice President Joe Biden met with the president of the Entertainment Software Association on Friday, to discuss the gaming industry’s influence over violence, following a school shooting in Connecticut that prompted calls for reforms on gun policy. Biden’s White House meeting aimed to establish whether America was undergoing a “coarsening of our culture”, discussing how to eliminate the culture of violence, a happening the gaming industry is frequently blamed for. The National Rifle Association (NRA) had accounted the rate of gun crime in America to media and video game violence, which the gaming industry refuted, expressing fears that they could become a scapegoat in the Connecticut debate.