June 2008

Enforcing censorship is not a human right

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has dismissed (via) a Muslim groups complaint against Macleans magazine.

The Canadian Islamic Congress had objected to an article published in October 2006 claiming that it would expose Muslims to hatred and contempt. The article, entitled The Future Belongs to Islam, by Mark Steyn claimed that Muslims are on the verge of dominating Europe and the West because of a demographic shift.

On its website, Macleans released a statement noting satisfaction with the CHRC decision.

Though gratified by the decision, Macleans continues to assert that no human rights commission, whether at the federal or provincial level, has the mandate or the expertise to monitor, inquire into, or assess the editorial decisions of the nations media, said the statement.

And we continue to have grave concerns about a system of complaint and adjudication that allows a media outlet to be pursued in multiple jurisdictions on the same complaint, brought by the same complainants.

Steyn and others including editors at Macleans have said the issue is not the articles merits or its viewpoint. They are concerned that such human rights tribunals could suppress free speech.

A Spanish sense of humour failure

Two Basque newspapers are on trial (via) for poking fun at King Juan Carlos I after an incident during an official visit to Russia in 2006. The Spanish King, an avid hunter, reportedly killed a circus bear named Mitrofan that had been plied with vodka to make it an easy target.

“He was cooked!” read the headline in the satirical supplement of a Basque newspaper,Deia. A photo-montage on the cover showed a drooling King wearing a Russian hat, brandishing a rifle over a dead bear and a barrel of booze. Deia and Gara, another Basque newspaper, are also on trial for publishing an article entitled “The Tribulations of Yogi Bear”.

A Spanish judge shelved the case back in April on the basis that the the cartoonists had the right to free speech. Last week, however, Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska was overruled by the Spanish National Court, which insisted that the cartoon and article constituted an “attack on the monarch’s self-esteem”.

“The King of Spain is perhaps the most overprotected person in Europe,” said José Antonio RodrÍguez, one of the two people who created Deia’s offending cartoon. “If his self-esteem has been damaged, well, perhaps he needs to see a psychologist.”

Insulting royalty or “damaging the prestige of the Crown” is a crime in Spain, punishable by up to two years in prison.

In a separate case, the two cartoonists who were prosecuted over a cartoon that appeared in El Jueves are appealing against a €3,000 fine.

And in a third, upcoming case, actor and comedian Pepe Rubianes is charged with “insulting Spain”. Mr Rubianes told Catalan television in 2006 that he was sick and tired of hearing about the “unity of Spain” – a concern cited by conservative Spaniards to oppose a law then under discussion to grant Catalonia greater regional autonomy.

“We have noticed a worrying trend in Spain, because these laws [against insulting the Crown] have been put into practice,” Giulia Tamayo, of Amnesty International, said. “We are concerned that it is setting a precedent.”

Trapped by fundamentalists

Earlier this month, a Jordanian Muslim group filed a lawsuit against Geert Wilders as a protest gesture over Fitna.

The group - which calls itself Rassoul Allah Yajmana, or The messenger of God Unites Us - was formed in February to campaign against anyone who mentions Muhammed and has also filed a lawsuit against 17 Danish newspapers for reprinting the Mo-toons earlier this year.

The Jordan public prosecutor has decided to charge Wilders over the film, in which he expressed his concern about what he called the Islamization of the Netherlands and the spreading of Muslim fundamentalism in Europe. Dutch Foreign Minister, Maxime Verhagen appears to be taking this threat seriously and, on Thursday, met with Wilders to discuss the consequences of the decision.

Wilders said he and Verhagen discussed whether it was likely that another country that he might visit would extradite him to Jordan.

Theoretically, Jordan could file an extradition application through Interpol to a country that Wilders might visit.

Now singing is a crime

Nine members of a Kurdish childrens choir, aged from 12 to 17, have gone on trial in Turkey. They are facing up to five years in jail for singing a march in Kurdish at a world music festival in San Francisco.

The prosecutors indictment claims the song is the anthem of the PKK.

In a statement on the case, Amnesty International argues that singing a historic anthem cannot be judged a threat to public order - and is therefore a matter of free expression. It warns that the children will be considered prisoners of conscience if they are found guilty.

One of the singers told the BBC the lyrics to the march were in an old form of Kurdish, and he and his friends did not even understand them. He said the choir wanted to showcase Kurdish culture, not engage in politics - and they only sang the march in response to a request from the audience.

Three teenagers, aged 15 to 17, went on trial on Thursday in an adult, serious crimes court in Diyarbakir. Six younger choir-members, aged 12 to 15, will be tried in a childrens court on the same charge in July.

In prison for publishing

Turkish publisher, Ragip Zarakolu has been sentenced to five months in prison for publishing a book by a British author about the mass killing of Armenians in 1915.

He was found guilty of insulting the institutions of the Turkish republic under the notorious Article 301 of Turkeys penal code.

This is the first high-profile verdict to be handed down since the law was reformed, under pressure from the EU to ensure freedom of speech in the country, and confirms campaigners fears that the changes were merely cosmetic.

In April it became a crime to insult the Turkish nation, rather than Turkishness. But insulting the Turkish nation can still be punished by up to two years in jail.

Comedy: its not for children

Back in March some of the more sensitive sections of the Hindu community decided - on the basis of a trailer - to take offence at Mike Myers latest film, The Love Guru.

Now more than 5,000 people have signed a petition protesting against the film - which, of course, they havent seen yet.

Some Hindu groups are considering a boycott of Paramount Pictures which produced the film and Hindu activists in the US are calling on the MPAA to change the rating of the film to NC-17, making it impossible for anyone under 17 to see it. Theyve also written protest letters to the Indian Film Censor Board.

In the UK, Paramount Pictures says it will arrange a pre-screening for Hindus before the film opens in August.

Mike Myers has pointed out that the religion lampooned in the film is a mythical creation - its like the Force in Star Wars.

Scared of Singers

Turkish singer, Bulent Ersoy is the latest person to fall foul of the oversensitivty of the countrys leaders.

Back in February, when the army was conducting a major operation against the PKK in northern Iraq, the singer suggested that it was not worth sacrificing soldiers lives in Turkeys conflict with the Kurdish separatist group.

Ms Ersoy has said she will stand by her comments but, if convicted of dissuading people from military service, she faces up to four-and-a-half years in prison. The trial is also likely to scare many others into silence.

Questioning the military can be a risky business in Turkey where Article 318 of the penal code is frequently used by the military against its critics.

Redefining terrorism

Last week Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen printed the above cartoon. According to (via) Pakistan’s ambassador to Norway, Rab Nawaz Khan:

What is terrorism? Terrorism you commit an act, and thereby invite a strong reaction. And that reaction when it gets into spin it is uncontrollable. Similarly this hurts the feelings of the Muslim community all around the world, and therefore I think in a way it is an act of terrorism.

Not according to my dictionary, it isnt.

Khan goes on to issue the sort of non-specific threat that these types of idiot are so fond of:

It also puts he lives of the Norwegian citizens in danger around the world. You must not forget that there are number of Norwegian companies working in Pakistan

ter·ror·ism – noun
the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.

A seriously screwed set of priorities

The Burmese junta, criticised at home and abroad for its incompetent handling of the Cyclone Nargis disaster and for seizing emergency aid intended for its victims, has decided to take decisive action by arresting a comedian.

Zarganar, who put his considerable name behind an independent aid campaign after the disaster, was arrested on 4 June, according to reports by the authoritative Burmese news website the Irrawaddy.

‘The objective seems to be to silence one of the best-known critics of the regime,’ said Index on Censorship chief executive Henderson Mullin. ‘The junta has not only silenced him, they have put a stop to one of the few actions that have been able to turn words of sympathy into life-saving action on the ground.’

Before his arrest Zarganar had recruited more than 400 volunteers to take aid to 42 villages, some of which had until then received no help at all after the cyclone.

Pakistan Ambassador: Its all YOUR fault

There has been a lot of speculation about the recent bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan, but Fauzia Mufti Abbas, Pakistans ambassador to the country, believes (via) – along with many others – that it was linked to the publication of the Muhammed cartoons. Inevitably, she goes on to draw the rather childish conclusion that the bombing of the embassy, which killed six people and left 30 injured, was the fault of the Danish press.

It isnt just the people of Pakistan that feel they have been harassed by what your newspaper has begun, she said. Id like to know if your newspaper is satisfied with what it has done and what it has unleashed?

Jørn Mikkelsen, Jyllands-Postens editor-in-chief, defended his newspapers decision to print the cartoons.

The decision to do so was in full accordance with Danish law, Danish press ethics and Danish press traditions. That the facts have been twisted in the rest of the world and misused for purposes that are no concern of Jyllands-Posten is something we can and will not take responsibility for.