Politics & Society

Index Index – International free speech round up 30/01/13

A former CIA officer was sentenced on 25 January to more than two years in prison for leaking official information to the media. John Kiriakou had released the name of a covert officer to a reporter in 2007 in media interviews which were among the first to confirm the waterboarding of detainees, including al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah. Defenders say the former officer acted as a whistleblower to the CIA’s use of torture to interrogate detained terrorists, whilst prosecutors said his intention was purely to gain fame and status. He pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 2012, the first conviction under the law in 27 years. Kiriakou was initially charged under the World War I-era Espionage Act but swapped charges in a plea deal. The deal meant US district judge Leonie Brinkema was restricted to imposing a two and a half year sentence — which she said she would have extended if she could.

Poster for the play Behzti – Gurpreet Bhatti has faced censorship of another play by the BBC

Human rights defender Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested in Egypt on 29 January for allegedly defaming a judge. The political activist and 2012 Index on Censorship awards nominee was released on bail by Judge Tharwat Hammad on Tuesday, as part of a wider investigation into allegations against private satellite channels. Charges have been filed by 1,164 judges, who complained that TV station workers had invited guests on air who had criticised the judiciary. Abdel Fattah was charged with incitement against the military in October 2011 during the Maspero demonstrations in which 27 protestors were killed.

Playwright Gurpreet Bhatti said that her play scheduled for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 1 February has had lines removed from the script.  During Index on Censorship’s arts conference Taking the Offensive at the Southbank Centre on 29 January, Bhatti told attendees that her play Heart of Darkness had been altered by broadcasters. The episode, due to be played on the Afternoon Drama slot, followed the investigation into the honour killing of a 16 year old Asian girl – a case investigators are told to handle sensitively because of her Muslim heritage. Bhatti’s play Behzti was axed from a Birmingham theatre in 2004 following protests from the Sikh community. The playwright denied the BBC’s compliance department accusations that lines were offensive in Heart of Darkness, saying “we live in a fear-ridden culture.”

Germany’s foreign minister said on 28 January that Russia’s draft bill banning “homosexual propaganda” could harm Russia’s ties with Europe. In a meeting on Monday evening, Guido Westerwelle told Russia’s ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Grinin, that the law violated the European human rights convention and will harm Russia’s image and relationships within Europe. The draft legislation was passed by the  State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, on 25 January and prompted protests by the gay community, including a kiss-in protest by activists which was broken up by police on Friday. The law will ban the promotion of homosexuality amongst children and is alleged to intend consolidation of public support for President Vladimir Putin.

On 28 January, Twitter began censoring porn related searches on its video sharing app Vine yesterday, after a six-second porn clip was accidentally made editor’s pick. Searching for terms such as #sex and #porn came up with no results, but users could still access pornographic content if it had been posted under a different hashtag. The social networking site apologised for circulating the video of a graphic sex act on the app launched last week, blaming the slip-up on a “human error”. Vine was introduced to Twitter as a video programme similar to Instagram, where users can upload six second video loops, some of which proving to appeal to a more adult audience. Last week, Apple banned 500px, a photography app with a section dedicated to nudity, from its app store.

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