January 2008

Pakistan to unban Bollywood?

Indian films have been banned in Pakistan since 1965 but, in recent years, the Pakistani authorities have started to make exceptions. In 2006, for example, all of three Indian films were allowed to be shown.

Now, the countrys parliamentary committee on culture has recommended that the ban on Indian films should be lifted completely. The details are unclear, but reports suggest that the import of a dozen Indian films will be allowed against the export of an equal number of Pakistani films to India.

The government still needs to approve the proposal, but according to Senator Zafar Iqbal Chaudhry, who headed the committee: We have devised a mechanism for allowing the import of Indian films for a period of one year, after which the arrangements can be reviewed.

Its also unclear as to whether the Indian government will agree to such a scheme.

Even with the ban in place, Indian films are hugely popular in Pakistan and illicit copies are easy to find. Cinema owners in Pakistan are keen to screen Bollywood films, but local filmmakers fear an influx would harm their industry.

Insulting liberty

A Turkish court is to hear the case against writer Atilla Yayla, charged with insulting the memory of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He is accused of flouting one of several laws that limits freedom of expression for intellectuals in Turkey.

Professor Yayla was charged with insulting Ataturk - the revered founder of modern Turkey - after appearing on a panel discussion in which he suggested the early Turkish Republic was not as progressive as its painted. The prosecutor in the case is asking for a five-year prison sentence.

The professor, who has been vilified by the Turkish press and suspended from work at an Ankara university, denies the charge of insult and argues that academics must be guaranteed freedom of expression in order to pursue their research.

This hearing comes as the Turkish parliament prepares to debate amending the notorious Article 301 which criminalises insulting Turkishness and which has been used to prosecute dozens of writers and intellectuals, including Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink. The law that criminalises insulting Ataturk, however, is not up for discussion.

Catholics call for Carnegie censorship

US catholics are calling for (via) the cancellation of Jerry Springer – The Opera in Concert scheduled for performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 29 and 30.

The calls for censorship are being organised by The American TFP and its America Needs Fatima campaign. “We’re hoping Carnegie Hall will just cancel the show and avoid becoming a center for the promotion of blasphemy and indecency,” said TFP spokesman Robert Ritchie.

Buy your tickets now, folks.

Online atheism banned in Turkey

OpEd News (via) reports that Ateizm.org, a prominent non-profit atheist web-site, based in Turkey, was closed down - for the second time - December 2007 on orders from a Turkish court. The site, which was founded in 2000 by three young Turkish atheists, hosts an online discussion board named Ateistforum which is one of the busier destinations for the countrys online community.

Over the years, the site has been the target of several hacking and denial of service attacks - all of which in managed to survive. However, things became more difficult in June 2007 when - without warning - the site was closed to its Turkish audience following a court order issued in response to legal action taken by a Turkish creationist named Adnan Oktar (now widely known by his pen name Harun Yahya). Adnan Oktar is the founder and honorary president of Bilim Araştırma Vakfı (BAV) through which he propogates much of his material. BAV is a frequent target for Ateizm.org which is critical of the creationist group, and which puts a deal of effort into debunkuing its claims.

Since the site is hosted in the US, it remained available internationally but could not be accessed by its Turkish target audience. So the people behind the site changed their domain name - to Ateizm1.org - and kept on going. Until December, when Ateizm.org (then called Ateizm1.org) was closed to Turkish audience for the second time following another court order.

Oktar has a history of turning to the judges to silence his critics. in April 2007 he filed a libel lawsuit against the virtual community Ek$i Sözlük. The court ordered the service provider to close the site to public access and temporarily suspended so that the entry on Oktar could be expunged and locked. In August of the same year, he managed to convince a Turkish court to block internet access to WordPress.com to all of Turkey. His lawyers argued that blogs on WordPress.com contained libelous material on Oktar and his colleague which WordPress.com staff was unwilling to remove.

Charlie Hebdo editor back in court

Cover from Charlie Hebdo Cartoon Special Phillipe Val, the editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo who was aquitted last year of offending Muslims is back in court (via), facing the same charges.

The magazine was sued last year by the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF). The judge ruled that two of the cartoons were absolutely not offensive to Muslims and that in the case of the third, the context of its publication made clear there was no intention to offend.

The Paris Grand Mosque accepted the ruling, but the UOIF decided to appeal. The Saudi-based World Muslim League (WML) also tried to get in on the act but the appeal court ruled that they were not admissible as a civil plaintiff, leaving the UOIF as the sole plaintiff.

A verdict is expected next month.

Capital censorship

The Pakistani government has issued (via) a new ordinance that imposes the death penalty or life in prison for cyber crimes. But the text of the law is so vague that sending a simple e-mail might be construed as a crime.

Media and civil society organisations have criticised the new legislation - which was adopted in secret and is retroactive to 31 December 2007 - calling it another attack on freedom of expression and on freedom of the press.

According to Pakistan’s National Journalists’ Forum, “this law will negatively affect the right of the people to have access to information and their freedom of expression. The fact that it was adopted by an illegitimate government a month before the elections makes it another tool of censorship.”

Absurd censorship

Burma’s Press Scrutiny Board ordered the temporary closure (via) of the weekly Myanmar Times after the newspaper published an article bout the government’s decision to raise satellite fees from 6,000 kyat (US$4.80) to 1 million kyat (US$800).

“That the government prohibits the media from reporting on its own pronouncements confirms the absurdity of Burma’s censorship regulations,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

All news publications in Burma publish as weekly editions because of a time-consuming pre-censorship process which systematically ensures that nearly no news critical of the government is published. According to the papers Editor-in-Chief, Ross Dunkley, an average of 20% of the articles his paper submits to the censorship board every week are rejected.

Shoo, little pig

I tend to be a little wary of Political Correctness Gone Mad type stories, largely because they often turn out to be untrue. However, it appears that an interactive retelling of the Three Little Pigs fairy tale has been rejected (via) by a government agencys awards panel as the subject matter could offend Muslims. and builders.

Becta, the governments educational technology agency, rejected the digtal books entry in the annual Bett Award for schools warning that the use of pigs raises cultural issues. And builders.

The Three Little Cowboy Builders has already been a prize winner at the recent Education Resource Award - but its Newcastle-based publishers, Shoo-fly, were turned down by the Bett Award panel.

The feedback from the judges explaining why they had rejected the CD-Rom highlighted that they could not recommend this product to the Muslim community.

They also warned that the story might alienate parts of the workforce (building trade).

According to the Daily Telegraph (via):

Muslims criticised Bectas response and insisted that a computer program based on the Three Little Pigs should be welcomed in state schools.

Tahir Alam, the head of education at the Muslim Council of Britain, said: We are not offended by that at all.

Which makes the whole affair look like a case of over-sensitivity on the part of Becta, who are standing by their verdict no matter what.

Turkey bans YouTube. Again

An Ankara court has blocked access (via) to YouTube because of clips deemed disrespectful to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkeys founder. Insulting Ataturk is still illegal in the country.

This is the second time Turkey has tried to ban the site. Back in March access to the site was suspended, also over clips of Ataturk. The ban was lifted after YouTube removed the offending videos.

In September, a court in the eastern city of Sivas also ordered a ban on the site, but this was never implemented.

Journalist sentanced to death for blasphemy

Afghan journalist, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, has been sentenced to death by a provincial court for distributing blasphemous material. He was arrested in 2007 after downloading material from the internet relating to the role of women in Islamic societies, which was deemed to be offensive to Islam.

A court in the Balkh province claimed that he had confessed and had to be punished. For good measure, the court also threatened to arrest any reporters who protested against Kambakhshs sentence.

Shamsur Rahman, the head of the court, told Reuters news agency: According to the Islamic law, Sayed Perwiz is sentenced to death at the first court. However, he will go through three more courts to declare his last punishment.

The sentence has been welcomed by conservative Islamic clerics in Afghanistan but criticised by pretty much everyone else. Reporters Without Borders said they were deeply shocked by this trial, carried out in haste and without any concern for the law or for free expression, which is protected by the constitution.” The human rights group has appealed to President Hamid Karzai to intervene before it is too late.

In Afghanistan itself, Agence France-Presse reported that journalists were gathering outside the home of the condemned reporter in defiance of Balkh provinces deputy attorney general, Hafizullah Khaliqyar, who warned that they would be arrested if they attempted to support Kambakhsh.