Middle East

Saudi judge calls for murder of satellite channel owners

Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan, 79, chief of the Saudi Arabias highest tribunal, the supreme judiciary council, has issued a fatwa (via) authorising the murder of owners of satellite TV networks that broadcast bad programmes.

The judge was answering listeners questions during a radio programme in which he and other clerics make rulings on what is permissible under Islamic law. One caller asked about Islams view on satellite TV channels that broadcast bad programmes during Ramadan.

What does the owner of these networks think, when he provides seduction, obscenity and vulgarity? said Al-Lihedan. Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly its permissible to kill them. Those calling for sedition, those who are able to prevent it but dont, it is permissible to kill them.

Al-Lihedan did not specify particular channels in his judgment but one of the most viewed Arab satellite networks is Rotana, which broadcasts films and music videos. It is owned by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman and member of the Saudi royal family. Several other networks are owned by Saudi princes.

Cross-border censorship

The Wall Street Journal (via) has picked up the previously mentioned news that a Jordanian court is prosecuting 12 Europeans, including Geert Wilders, in an extraterritorial attempt to silence the debate on radical Islam.

The prosecutor general in Amman charged the 12 with blasphemy, demeaning Islam and Muslim feelings, and slandering and insulting the prophet Muhammad in violation of the Jordanian Penal Code. The charges are especially unusual because the alleged violations were not committed on Jordanian soil.

Among the defendants is the Danish cartoonist whose alleged crime was to draw in 2005 one of the Muhammad illustrations that instigators then used to spark Muslim riots around the world. His co-defendants include 10 editors of Danish newspapers that published the images. The 12th accused man is Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who supposedly broke Jordanian law by releasing on the Web his recent film, Fitna, which tries to examine how the Quran inspires Islamic terrorism.

The article goes on to point out that, far from being an isolated case, this attempt at criminalising foreign free speech is part of a larger campaign to use the law and international forums to intimidate critics of militant Islam.

In December, the UN General Assembly passed the Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions; the only religion mentioned by name was Islam. And, in June, the U.N. Human Rights Council said it would refrain from condemning human-rights abuses related to a particular religion.

The ban applies to all religions, but it was prompted by Muslim countries that complained about linking Islamic law, Shariah, to such outrages as female genital mutilation and death by stoning for adulterers. This kind of self-censorship could prove dangerous for people suffering abuse, and it follows the councils March decision to have its expert on free speech investigate individuals and the media for negative comments about Islam.

In the Jordanian case, the prosecutor is relying on a 2006 amendment to the Jordanian Justice Act – passed in response to the Muhammed Cartoons Controversy – that allows for the prosecution of individuals whose actions affect the Jordanian people by electronic means, such as the Internet. This amendment, in theory, means anyone who publishes on the Internet could be subject to prosecution in Jordan.

Obviously, neither Denmark nor the Netherlands are about to start turning over citizens over to face a charge as repressive as this one, and it is unlikely that any other Western democracy would either. But there is no such guarantee if any of the defendants travel to countries that are more sympathetic to the Jordanian court.

Unless democratic countries stand up to this challenge to free speech, other nations may be emboldened to follow the Jordanian example. Kangaroo courts across the globe will be ready to charge free people with obscure violations of other societies norms and customs, and send Interpol to bring them to stand trial in frivolous litigation.

A new form of forum shopping would soon take root. Activists would be able to choose countries whose laws and policies are informed by their religious values to prosecute critical voices in other countries. The case before the Jordanian court is not just about Mr. Wilders and the Danes. It is about the subjugation of Western standards of free speech to fear and coercion by foreign courts.

The sort of libel shopping that UK courts allow is bad enough. An offendedness market such as this would be much, much worse.

Four bloggers imprisoned in Iran

A Tehran court has passed (via) six-month prison sentences on four female bloggers. The women were found guilty under article 500 of the Islamic criminal code, under which “anyone who undertakes any form of propaganda against the state will be sentenced to between three months and one year in prison.”

The four women were charged for articles that appeared in two online newspapers that defend women’s rights in Iran, Zanestan and Tagir Bary Barbary.

Israel bans Harry Potter imports

Arab-Israeli publisher Salah Abassi has been ordered (via) to stop importing Arabic-language childrens books, such as Harry Potter and Pinocchio, from Syria and Lebanon. The ban also includes Arabic classics.

The ban is based on a 1939 decree - when the area was under British mandate - prohibiting the importation of books from hostile countries. According to Abassi, however, the Arabic translations of many of these books can be found only in Lebanon and Syria.

If they were printed in Jordan or Egypt, which are friendly to Israel, I would lose no time in buying them there. Now the significance is that the Arabic reading public in Israel will not be able to enjoy the best literature, he said.

Iran proposes death penalty for bloggers

A draft law which proposes to apply the death penalty to bloggers and website editors who ‘promote corruption, prostitution or apostasy’ has passed (via) its first reading by the Iranian parliament. According to article 3 of the bill, judges will be able to decide whether the person found guilty of these crimes is a ‘mohareb’ (enemy of God) or a ‘corrupter on earth’. Article 190 of the criminal code stipulates that these crimes are punishable by ‘hanging’ or by ‘amputation of the right hand and left foot’.

Rising religious censorship

A little over a week ago two Dutch companies, fearing a boycott of their products took out advertisements in Jordanian newspapers distancing themselves from the film Fitna.

Now Heineken has withdrawn (via) a television ad from the Spanish television station La Sexta after the station broadcast a satirical series which made fun of the Roman Catholic Church.

Heineken withdrew the ad after the Christian group Hazte Or called for a boycott of all companies which do business with La Sexta.

Sending silly signals

Following Mondays announcement by Amsterdams chief public prosecutor, Leo de Wit, that no case will be brought against Geert Wilders in the Netherlands for either discrimination or incitement to hatred, the Jordanian justice authorities have started preparing a criminal case against the right wing MP over his film, Fitna.

A Jordanian judge has ruled that there is a case to answer. A number of procedures will have to be followed before any indictment is issued and this is likely to take a considerable time.

The complaint has been brought by organisations which believe the film constitutes an incitement to hatred of Muslims. They have already launched a campaign to boycott Dutch products, blaming the government in The Hague for not prosecuting Wilders.

Jordans justice authorities have announced that they are not aiming to arrest the Dutch MP, who leads the rightwing Freedom Party. They say the decision to prosecute was taken in order to send a signal to the Netherlands.

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.

Muslim countries abandon reality, demand censorship

Demonstrating a disconnection from reality that only the religious can achieve, several Islamic countries - including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia - are demanding (via) that the Dutch government prosecute Geert Wilders on the basis that his film, Fitna, on the basis that it somehow violates their human rights.

According to Omar Shalaby, the delegate from Egypt (last election, political prisoners), the decision by The Hague District Court last week, which said the lawmakers right to free speech and role as a politician allow him to freely voice his criticisms of radical Islam and the Koran:

This ruling may suggest that the judiciary is out of touch with the relevant international and regional obligations and jurisprudence in the field of human rights.

It is probably a lot more accurate to say that Shalaby, and the rest of these Islamic delegates who have done so much to undermine the U.N. Human Rights Council, are out of touch with the meaning of the phrase human rights.

Iran, whose president recently attempted to cast doubt on whether the September 11th attacks actually happened, claimed that the film is vivid example of Islamophobia and incitement to religious hatred, and demanded that the Netherlands change their laws to give special protection to Islam.

Back in the real world, the Dutch embassy in Pakistan has been temporarily relocated because of security worries. Officials are looking at how to tighten security around the vacated embassy building so that staff can return.

Fitna bandwagon update

The Fitna bandwagon just keeps on rolling. Indonesia are leading the pack at the moment, banning broadcasts of the film and barring Geert Wilders from entering the country.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged fellow Muslims in the country on Monday night not to use violence, vandalism or conduct a sweep against opponents in protests against the film, saying Islam and other religions never allow such a way.

But he also insisted that world leaders have a moral obligation to prevent religious or cultural defamation, which they dont.

In Malaysia, the countrys national religious council called the film an insult it Islam and called for a boycott of Dutch products.

And a group of 53 Jordanian MPs have delivered a petition to their government in Amman, demanding that it break all diplomatic ties with the Netherlands. They also want the Dutch ambassador expelled from the country.