May 2006

Censorship envy

Asia House has been forced to cancel an exhibition featuring erotic paintings of Hindu deities by Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain. The gallery confirmed last week that it was withdrawing the exhibition for security reasons, following protests from the ludicrously named Hindu Human Rights Group - who were planning a demonstaration for the weekend - and the Hindu Forum of Britain.

According to IBNLive:

An official at Asia House, London, said the decision was taken because of threats to the paintings. The move followed demonstrations against the exhibition by several Hindu groups in Britain.

A local advocate Rajkumar Pande had filed a petition on March 3 alleging that an objectionable painting had hurt the sentiments of Indians.

Someone seems to be feeling left out.

The story was finally picked up in the mainstream press on Sunday by Nick Cohen, who points out that:

The apparently separate protests from different faiths are connected. What we are seeing is rival fundamentalists egging each other on in a politics of competitive grievance. Every time one secures a victory, the others realise they cant be left behind. If satirists are frightened of having a go at Islam because they believe they may be killed - and they are - why shouldnt Christian fundamentalists decide to become more menacing?

A comedian who takes a pop at the Pope sends the subliminal message: We can deride your religion as despicable because we know you are not so despicable you will resort to violence. There is a limit to how long the ultras for any religion will put up with that before they change the ground rules.

After abusive Sikh men closed Behzti, Gurpreet Kaur Bhattis play about the abuse of Sikh women by Sikh men, Christian Voice upped the ante against Jerry Springer: The Opera. It had previously run at the National Theatre for months without attracting protest. But when BBC2 came to broadcast it, London Christians imitated Birmingham Sikhs and BBC executives suddenly needed the protection of private security guards.

It is also a serious cause for concern that an art exhibition can be threatened into closure and no-one apart from a few bloggers feels the need to say anything.

(Thanks to The Melon Farmers, MediaWatchWatch and Pickled Politics)


You may have noticed that another badge has appeared on the right hand side of this blog - this time for

On Sunday, The Observer and Amnesty International launched the campaign to highlight repression of internet users around the world and to push for the release of those jailed for speaking out online. People like Shi Tao, for example, who is currently serving a ten year jail sentence for sending an email from his Yahoo! account.

The Pledge

I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference.

I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet – and on companies to stop helping them do it.

45 years ago two students were arrested in Portugal for raising a toast to freedom. Recently, three young Vietnamese people were arrested after taking part in an online chatroom debate about democracy.

In her article launching the campaign, UK director of Amnesty International, Kate Allen points out:

Governments still fear dissenting opinion and try to shut it down. While the internet has brought freedom of information to millions, for some it has led to imprisonment by a government seeking to curtail that freedom. They have closed or censored websites and blogs; created firewalls to prevent access to information; and restricted and filtered search engines to keep information from their citizens.

China is perhaps the clearest example. Its internet censorship and clampdown on dissent online is sophisticated and widespread. But Amnesty has documented internet repression in countries as diverse as Iran, Turkmenistan, Tunisia, Israel, the Maldives and Vietnam.

Another massive change since 1961 has been the rising power of multinationals, but some companies have been complicit in these abuses. So Amnesty is increasingly lobbying not just governments but powerful firms to respect the rights of ordinary people.

The internet is big business, but in the search for profits some companies have encroached on their own principles and those on which the internet was founded: free access to information. The results of searches using China-based search engines run by Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and local firms are censored, limiting the information users can access. Microsoft pulled down the work of one of Chinas most popular bloggers who had made politically sensitive comments. Yahoo gave information to the authorities that led to people being jailed for sending emails with political content. We do not accept these firms arguments that it is better to have a censored Google, Yahoo or Microsoft in China than none at all.

Now is a good time to take a stand, and there are three things you can do:

Be Irrepressible.

Summer Palace faces snip

The only Asian film in the running for the Palme dOr at this years Cannes Film Festival, Lou Yes Summer Palace is causing a fair bit of trouble for the director with the international relationship department of Chinas government certification board.

This has cuminated in the director suggesting that he may cut the film to comply with the censors demands. I would do just about anything to ensure the film can be seen in China. That is very important, Lou told reporters on Thursday.

Summer Palace, set against the backdrop of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, has caused a stir in China where government censors refused to approve it before its premiere on Thursday at the festival.

They cited flaws technical with film print that was submitted to them, according to the producers.

Approval by Chinas State Administration of Radio, Film and Television is pivotal for Chinese filmmakers because, if a movie is shown outside the country before it has their approval, the board may try to block its release in China.

(Thanks to The Melon Farmers for the heads up)

Da Vinci 2: Sony Strikes Back

As mentioned earlier, after coming under pressure from the bizarrely named Catholic Secular Forum, Indian censors did clear The Da Vinci Code for release in the country, but demanded disclaimers at the start and end of the film so that confused Catholics could be sure its all fiction.

Sony has refused, maintaining that the standard disclaimer at the end of the film that the characters and incidents portrayed in the film are fictitious is sufficient.

Way to go Sony!

No comedy in Burma

Burma’s best-known comedian, Zargana, has been banned again from giving public performances or promoting his latest film.

The ban, issued by the Motion Picture and Video Censor Board, follows an interview Zargana did with the BBC during the recent water festival in which he criticized the military regime’s arch-conservative rules on culture.

The ban also blocks all public screening of the actor-director’s new film “We Can’t Stand Any More,” a satire on Rangoon’s social life.

Zargana - a dentist-turned-comedian - came to prominence in the 1980s for poking fun at the then socialist regime. This ban, which was issued on Sunday is not the first time he has found himself or his work banned.

The comedian has also been jailed twice for his social and political activism, first as a political dissident in 1988, then again in 1990 while helping his mother in her campaign for the May general elections that year.

Zargana—whose name means tweezers—won the Lillian Hellman and Dashiel Award in 1991 after being nominated by the Fund for Free Expression, a committee of Human Rights Watch.

(via The Melon Farmers)

More Muslims join the Da Vinci Bandwagon

Following the lead of an umbrella organisation of Indian Islamic clerics in seeking to ban The Da Vinci Code, Muslims in Russia and Azerbaijan have leapt onto the bandwagon.

In Russia, the Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (CSDM) has called the film blasphemous and called for it to be banned.

We equal this film with the recent Prophet Muhammad extremist cartoons as the novel and the film desecrate the Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ) worshipped by the Muslims, the CSDM statement received by Interfax on Thursday reads.

They go on to demonstrate a complete lack of any sense of proportion by claiming that Russian Muslims regard public and mass provocative showing of such hack work to be an highly sophisticated form of spiritual genocide against the peoples of Russia.

Admittedly, I wouldnt disagree with the description of Dan Brown as a hack, but the rest is bonkers. Which leads us nicely to Azerbaijan where Gadzhiaga Nuriyev, head of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan has called for not only the film, but also the book, to be banned.

Lack of respect for the feelings of believers, whether they are Muslims, Christians or representatives of other world religions, is inadmissable.

Sorry mate, but if you can get this worked up about a very bad film based on a not very good book then any respect I may have had for your beliefs goes straight out of the window.

(via MediaWatchWatch)

Were not censors and well burn anything that suggests we are

Kaiju Shakedown (via) is reporting that the Chinese authorities were so unhappy at being compared to the triads in Johnny Tos Election 2 - which is currently screening out of competition at Cannes - that they have seized and burned promotional brochures that had been prepared for Cannes.

You can find the brochure here and the offending remarks by Johnny To quoted here.

Subversive democrats

China has sentenced a veteran dissident writer to 12 years in jail for subversion yesterday, after he posted essays on the internet supporting a movement by exiles to hold free elections.

The sentence on Yang Tianshui, 45, is one of the harshest to be handed down to a political dissident since the trials that came after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on students demanding greater democracy. It underscores the determination of the ruling Communist Party to brook no opposition and to maintain a tight grip on the internet.

Yang is one of several writers and dissidents to be tried over the content of internet postings. He has no plans to appeal because he regards his trial as illegal. Li Jianqiang, his lawyer, said: “He is most dissatisfied but he had expected such a sentence. He refused to answer questions because he does not recognise the legality of the court.”

This is the latest in a string of charges against journalists and writers which reflects the determination of President Hu to track down those who broadcast dissenting views to a wider audience.

Regulations on internet content are regularly tightened and websites closed. More journalists are in jail in China than in any other country, with the number behind bars estimated at more than 40 — most sentenced on security or subversion charges.

(via The Melon Farmers)

Unlucky losers

The producer of Thai football comedy Mak Te Lok Talueng (Lucky Loser), has cancelled the opening of the film after complaints from Laos.

We will not release the film on May 18 as scheduled in order to show good faith, said Wisut Pulworaluck, chief executive officer of GMM Tai Hub. We dont want to create any problems that may lead to conflicts between the two countries.

Lao officials complained the movies jokes belittled Lao people and the film, about a Thai coach taking the Lao football team to the World Cup, contained inappropriate scenes. The film shows Lao footballers dyeing their hair and underarms to get a Western look, while the team practised in refrigerated containers to get used to the cold weather.

According to Mr Wisut, the Lao ambassador, Hiem Phommachanh, made several points that prompted the company to cancel the release. There are currently no plans to edit the film to make it more palatable to Laos.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon has advised Thai film producers to be more considerate and respectful of other nations.

He said Thai films have high potential in the international arena but the industry needs to be more sensitive about other peoples feelings.

This is the second Thai film in less than a month to offend a neighbouring country. Horror ilm La-Tha-Pii (Ghost Game) brought protests from Cambodia over resemblances between the film’s settung and the infamous Khmer Rouge Toul Sleng torture centre.

See no evil

A couple of films that explore the reality of the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and the state of the ongoing war in Iraq have run into trouble with US censors.

The Motion Pictures Association of America has censored a poster advertising a film about the Tipton three, called The Road to Guantanamo, that showed a hooded and blindfolded man hanging by his shackled wrists. Also, the makers of Baghdad ER, a documentary about a US military combat hospital, told the Guardian yesterday that Francis Harvey, the secretary of the army, had demanded last-minute changes to the film.

The Road to Guantanamo ran into trouble over the poster (pictured) which the MPAA demanded be toned down. According to Howard Cohen, president of Roadside Attractions which is distributing the film in the US: It was the head in the burlap sack that pushed it over the edge for them. Its outrageous that they are objecting to this image They are saying children in the US should not be allowed to see what it is we are doing to people in Guantanamo

The film will now be promoted with a poster which shows only a pair of shackled hands and arms.

In the case of Baghdad ER, the senior leadership of the Pentagon has turned against the film, despite cooperation during its making in Baghdad and a positive reception at screenings at military bases.

Somebody wearing a tie and not a uniform seems to have a political agenda and is trying to influence this film, said the director, Jon Alpert.

An army spokeswoman said that the military was happy with the portrayal.