Politics & Society

Index Index – International free speech roundup 15/01/13

The European Court of Human Rights deemed today (15 January) that a woman working for British Airways was unfairly discriminated against for her religion. Nadia Eweida was fired by BA in 2006 for refusing to stop wearing her crucifix visibly. Judges ruled that Eweida’s rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated. Three other Christians who had taken their employees to court lost their cases. Shirley Chaplin, whose employer also stopped her wearing crucifix necklaces, Lillian Ladele, disciplined after refusing to conduct same-sex civil partner ceremonies — and Gary McFarlane, a marriage councillor fired for saying he might object to offering sex advice to gay couples.

 Elizabeth Brossa - Creative commons Flickr

Aaron Swartz’s suicide prompted calls for cyber law reform

The suicide of US activist Aaron Swartz on 11 January has prompted calls to reform computer crime laws in America. The 26 year old was awaiting trial, charged with 13 felony counts of wire fraud and hacking two years ago. Swartz had downloaded millions of academic papers from online archive JSTOR and was due to face trial in April, for which he could have been jailed for decades and faced massive fines. Calls for amendments to The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act have been widespread, with critics alleging that certain internet hacking laws are too vague and broad, and impose overly harsh penalties.

On 9 JanuaryIran’s Supreme Court ratified the death penalty of five Ahwazi (Arab-Iranian) human rights defenders. Hadi Rachedi, Hashim Shabani Nejad, Mohammad Ali Amuri Nejad, Jaber Al-Bushoke and his brother Mokhtar Al-Bushoke were arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security in the spring of 2011. They were charged with spawning mischief, threatening national security and inciting propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The activists had been protesting for their right to speak Arabic, rather than the national language of Persian – a right that is written into Iranian constitution. They were allegedly tortured into giving false confessions in detention.

App developers Tencent have apologised to users of social media app WeChat, after the programme appeared to be censoring controversial terms globally. Tencent, China’s most widely used internet portal, blamed a “technical glitch” after it had blocked terms such as Southern Weekend and Falun Gong, a banned group in China often referred to as a sect. Activists have voiced concern that authorities are hacking the app, in order to increase surveillance on some of its 200million users. WeChat has subscribers in the UK and America, and will soon be launched across Asia.

US Vice President Joe Biden met with the president of the Entertainment Software Association on Friday, to discuss the gaming industry’s influence over violence, following a school shooting in Connecticut that prompted calls for reforms on gun policy. Biden’s White House meeting aimed to establish whether America was undergoing a “coarsening of our culture”, discussing how to eliminate the culture of violence, a happening the gaming industry is frequently blamed for. The National Rifle Association (NRA) had accounted the rate of gun crime in America to media and video game violence, which the gaming industry refuted, expressing fears that they could become a scapegoat in the Connecticut debate.

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