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.

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.

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.

Motoon II: The Saga Continues

The Comics Reporter (via) has a lengthy and depressing update of the state of the second run of the Muhammed Cartoons conroversy.

In Egypt

  • Four international newspapers were banned by government officials for recent republication of the images. Two of the papers have never printed the cartoon
  • The Danish Ambassador to Cairo was summoned by the Egyptian government to listen to another rant
  • Thousands of students protested
  • And two football matches have been cancelled.


  • Yemen has suspended friendship with Denmark’s parliament
  • In Jordan, the lower house of Parliament fails to recognise that freedom is a value

Sentenced under an obsolete law

Muhammed cartoon A Jordanian court on Tuesday sentenced to prison two newspaper editors for “attacking religious sentiment” by reprinting two aof the cartoons that were at the centre of the the Muhammed Cartoons Controversy.

Jihad Momani, former editor of the weekly Shihane tabloid, and Hisham Al Khalidi, editor-in-chief of the tabloid Al Mehwar, “were each sentenced to two months in prison,” attorney Mohammed Kteishat told AFP.

Kteishat said he will appeal the verdict

The defendants have been on bail since their arrest in February for printing the drawings, first published in September by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

And then, on Wednesday, the Jordanian government announced that they in tend to scrap prison sentences for offences involving the press.

Controversial nonsense

If you happen to live in Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon, you can forget about seeing The Da Vinci Code.

Observers are claiming that the films controversial take on Christs life will fan sectarian tension. Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt are especially strained after two deadly clashes in Alexandria, the countrys second largest city.

Youssef Sidhom, editor of a Christian newsweekly, thinks many Egyptians may view the film as a conspiracy against Christianity. But he opposes banning it, which he expects would provoke more curiosity and a greater demand for pirated copies.

In Jordan, the Council of Churches has urged the government to ban the film because it tarnishes the memory of Christian and Islamic figures and contradicts the truth as written in the Bible and the Quran about Jesus.

Moustafa Darwish, who worked as a film critic and directed government censorship in the 1960s, explains the lines of reasoning weighing against Da Vinci opening in Egypt: One is that the film will be sent here after the agents are sure it will be approved by the censors. Two, the producers decided not to send it here because the agent advised that it could be banned. Basically, it is self-censorship.

(via The Melon Farmers)

Journalists jailed for Muhammed

Muhammed cartoon Reporters Without Borders has launched an appeal and a petition for the immediate release of six journalists thrown into prison in Yemen and Algeria for reprinting the pictures at the centre of the Muhammed cartoons controversy as part of informing their readers.

“Whatever one thinks of the cartoons or whether they should be published, it is absolutely unjustified to jail or prosecute journalists, threaten them with death or shut down newspapers for this reason,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

At least 11 journalists are being prosecuted in five countries and six have been imprisoned. Some face long prison sentences if convicted.

Two editors in Jordan have been charged with provocation and encouraging disorder. Four journalists have been jailed in Yemen and charged under article 103 of the press law, which bans publication of anything that “harms Islam, denigrates monotheistic religion or a humanitarian belief.” Reporters Without Borders calls for all criminal cases among these to be dropped.

In total, thirteen publications have been temporarily or permanently closed in Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, Malaysia and Indonesia for reprinting the cartoons.

A conference to discuss the cartoons crisis on 9 February in Paris stressed that nothing could justify the imprisonment of journalists. More than a dozen journalists, intellectuals and religious officials from Western and Arab/Muslim countries attended the meeting, organised by Reporters Without Borders and the Arab Commission for Human Rights, and appealed for calm and dialogue. A similar conference will be held in Cairo on 25 February.

All of the journalists in question have been jailed for simply doing their job and passing on news that made headlines around the world.

Violence and moderation follows the cartoon jihad

According to The Brussels Journal, Mullah Krekar, the alleged leader of Ansar al-Islam who has been living as a refugee in Norway since 1991 has said that the publication of the Jyllands Posten Muhammend cartoons amounts to a declaration of war.

“The war has begun,” he told Norwegian journalists. Mr Krekar said Muslims in Norway are preparing to fight. “It does not matter if the governments of Norway and Denmark apologize, the war is on.”

The Brussels Journal also notes that Islamist organisations worldwide have started issuing threats against Europeans. Hizbollah has announced that is preparing suicide attacks in Denmark and Norway and that a senior imam in Kuwait, Nazem al-Masbah, has said that those who have published cartoons of Muhammad should be murdered. Al-Masbah also threatened all citzens of all countries where the cartoons have been published (see here, here and here and see the full set of cartoons here).

Spiegel quotes Mahmoud Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas who told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that the cartoons were an unforgivable insult that should be punished with death. We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully, he said.

In Gaza on Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in protests and stormed a number of European buildings including the German culture center and the European Commission building in Gaza City.

And in the UK, MediaWatchWatch reports that the recently formed Al Ghurabaa group has called for those who “insult Muhammad” to be killed.

Pakistans foreign ministry has called in the envoys of nine Western countries - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic - to protest at the publication of the cartoons in those countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered his commerce minister to examine the feasibility of cancelling all trade contracts with countries whose media had published the cartoons. He claimed that the pictures show the impudence and rudeness of western newspapers.

The Vatican has also decided to get involved, calling the cartoons an unacceptable provocation, and insisting that freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers.

EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has criticised the papers that have published the cartoons , accusing them of throwing petrol onto the flames of the original issue and the original offence that was taken. Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has claimed that the decision to republish the cartoons could encourage terrorists - and he probably also thinks that women who wear short skirts encourage rapists. And UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan is said to be worried about the issue - his pokesman said that Mr Annan believes freedom of expression should always be used with respect for religion - which, quite frankly, is a meaningless disclaimer.

In France, however, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy is taking a more robust approach, reminding us that: “Freedom of expression is not an issue for negotiation and I see no reason to give one religion a special treatment.”

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed understanding for the offence taken by Muslims. However, she also pointed out that Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion.

And the Danish People’s Party wants to seriously consider the possibility of expelling imams who do not have Danish citizenship and who have harmed Danish interests in the Middle East by feeding the Arab media with false information. The initiative is backed by Prime Minister Rasmussens Liberal Party (Venstre).

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