THE FREE SPEECH BLOG Wed, 02 Jul 2014 09:43:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 THE FREE SPEECH BLOG free speech blog is archived Wed, 02 Jul 2014 09:42:46 +0000 This blog is no longer updated. You can find Index on Censorship here.

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Libel begins at Larne Fri, 10 May 2013 15:06:39 +0000 Padraig Reidy: Libel begins at Larne]]> Yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph yesterday ran a strong leader on the fact that the Defamation Act, recently passed into law after a long campaign by Index and our partners and supporters in the Libel Reform Campaign, will not extend to Northern Ireland.

The paper comments:

The absence of any proper explanation as to why Northern Ireland has turned its back on the reforms is baffling. We would urge politicians to throw their weight behind a Private Members’ Bill put forward by [Ulster Unionist Party] leader Mike Nesbitt to have the Westminster reforms introduced here. The reforms do not stop people who have a genuine grievance and want to clear their reputation, but they raise the threshold for taking actions. They also create a stronger public interest defence in defamation cases. Surely, it is in the public interest to reform our outdated libel legislation.

Couldn’t agree more.

Meanwhile, Belfast lawyer Paul Tweed has already been hinting that the Titanic town could become the new “town called sue”, tweeting “Looks like libel litigants will now have to cross the Irish Sea to Belfast or Dublin in order to get access to justice.” A 1 May interview with Tweed in the Belfast Telegraph summed Tweed’s position up, beginning with: “Mention libel tourism and the first Northern Ireland lawyer most people think of is Paul Tweed.”

The same article notes that Tweed is currently campaigning for no-win-no-fee libel claims to be allowed in Belfast, noting “”The fact is that unless you have money you cannot bring a defamation action in Belfast. As things stand, I prefer to act in Dublin, not Belfast.”

Tweed’s firm Johnson’s would appeal to have stolen a march on London libel lawyers by already operating in Dublin, Belfast and London. Will other firms follow suit? Will we see Carter-Ruck taking the ferry to Larne? Schillings and Shilelaghs? The ruling parties in Northern Ireland should back Nesbitt’s attempt to bring libel reform to Northern Ireland before Belfast becomes the capital of censorship.

Padraig Reidy is senior writer for Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy

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The Queen’s speech and free speech Wed, 08 May 2013 11:56:15 +0000 Padraig Reidy: The Queen's speech and free speech]]> queen

Today’s impressively short Queen’s Speech contained two nuggets of interest for Index readers. Firstly, there was the mention of intellectual propety:

A further Bill will make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property

The debate over copyright and free speech has been fraught, with widespread criticism of governmental attempts to create laws on copyright on the web. (Read Brian Pellot on World Intellectual Property Day here here and Joe McNamee’s “Getting Copyright Right” here.)

This is something the government will have to treat very carefully, and the consultation should be fascinating.

Further in, the speech addressed crime in cyberspace:

In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.

Here’s more detail from the background briefing:

The Government is committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public and ensure national security. These agencies use communications data – the who, when, where and how of a communication, but not its content – to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Communications data helps to keep the public safe: it is used by the police to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and to save lives. This is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public.

As the way in which we communicate changes, the data needed by the police is no longer always available. While they can, where necessary and proportionate to do so as part of a specific criminal investigation, identify who has made a telephone call (or
sent an SMS text message), and when and where, they cannot always do the same for communications sent over the internet, such as email, internet telephony or instant messaging. This is because communications service providers do not retain
all the relevant data.

When communicating over the Internet, people are allocated an Internet Protocol (IP) address. However, these addresses are generally shared between a number of people. In order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call, the
police need to know who used a certain IP address at a given point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible for the police to identify them.

The Government is looking at ways of addressing this issue with CSPs. It may involve legislation.

Eagle-eyed observers will note that this echoes what Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told LBC listeners on 25 April, after announcing that the dreaded Communications Data Bill (aka the “Snooper’s Charter”) was to be dropped. Clegg suggested then that IP addresses could be assigned to each individual device.

As I wrote at the time, “New proposals for monitoring and surveillance will no doubt emerge, and will be subject to the same scrutiny and criticism as the previous attempts to establish a Snooper’s Charter.”

Well, here we are.

Padraig Reidy is senior writer for Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy

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Two more journalists arrested in Belarus Tue, 07 May 2013 16:46:19 +0000 Andrei Aliaksandru: Two more journalists arrested in Belarus]]> Belarusian independent journalists Dzmitry Halko and Aliaksandr Yarashevich were sentenced to ten and twelve days of detention, respectively, on Tuesday.

The pair were detained by police in Minsk on Monday evening when they were leaving a meeting with civic activists who had been released from detention. The activists had been detained for involvement in the Chernobyl Way rally on 26 April. Aliaksandr Yarashevich was also detained then, and served three days of arrest – only to receive another, harsher sentence on Tuesday.

The journalists were charged with noncompliance with orders of the police and petty hooliganism. Just like during the trial of 29 April, the sentences were based on contradictory testimonies of the police officers; one of them even admitted he re-wrote the detention protocols. The reporters denied the charges.

Independent journalists who arrived at the court to support their colleagues and report from the trials were not permitted to take photos or videos. The judges also barred audio recordings of the hearings.

While ratcheting up pressure on independent journalists, Belarusian authorities are signalling that they are eager for more dialogue with the European Union.   It resembles the situation of 2008 and 2009, when the police interfered with the work of reporters in Belarus, despite the broadening of official contacts between Belarus and the EU and hints of liberalisation inside of the country.

As Index pointed out in its recent Belarus: Pulling the Plug policy paper, keeping a tight rein on information remains at the core of the Belarusian regime’s policy of self-preservation. The recent events show the authorities of the country are not going to ease their grip on free media and independent journalists.

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Sometimes censorship is complicated, and sometimes it’s really simple Tue, 07 May 2013 15:24:27 +0000 Padraig Reidy: Sometimes censorship is complicated, and sometimes it's really simple]]>

Schoolteacher censored: Tomás Ó Dulaing (picture: Lucan Gazette)

Dublin’s Evening Herald brings us this story of Tommy Morris, and adviser to Derek Keating, a TD (member of parliament) for the government party, Fine Gael.

Keating has been involved in a dispute with a local school principal, Tomás Ó Dulaing, after the TD apparently claimed credit for a school building extension in Lucan, a neighbourhood in Keating’s Dublin Mid-West constituency.

Local freesheet The Lucan Gazette ran a front-page story last week in which Ó Dulaing accused Keating of “gross cynical opportunism” in taking credit for the work. In an open letter, the principal attacked Keating, saying: “Neither did anybody from our board of management or staff contact you or seek your assistance in relation to the extension. You had absolutely nothing to do with this development, and yet you distribute a leaflet in the Lucan area claiming to have ‘initiated, led and delivered’ this extension.”

How to respond to this? Keating’s aide Morris took Route 1, entering a Centra minimarket in Lucan and grabbing a bundle of Gazettes before throwing them in a rubbish bin nearby.

Mr Keating was, needless to say, shocked (shocked!) by his aide’s hands-on censorship technique, telling the Herald:

“I am shocked and disappointed at Tommy’s actions, which I had no knowledge of. I cannot believe what he did and I certainly did not direct him to do so.

“But Tommy was upset when he saw the article and must have had a rush of blood to the head. We don’t believe the article was fair at all to me.

“Tommy was out in the area taking down posters depicting me as an abortionist when he entered the shop and saw the papers.

“This publication is a free sheet so there is no question of Tommy breaking the law.”

To be fair to Mr Morris, he was already out on a mission pulling down posters critical of his boss: Would a few local papers really make any difference?

(h/t Niamh Puirseil)

Lucan Echo

UPDATE: “Derek Bleating” on Twitter (we suspect not his real name), points out that the Lucan Echo had the same front page story. But as you have to pay for the Echo, Morris seems to have left it unmolested. Strongest case for paying for content yet made?

Padraig Reidy is senior writer for Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy

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Free expression in the news Tue, 07 May 2013 08:11:43 +0000 Index on Censorship: Free expression in the news]]> GLOBAL
The PS4’s Share Button Needs To Be All Or Nothing, Publisher Censorship Won’t Work
The PlayStation 4 is doing many things right. It’s ticking the boxes the developers want to see – it’s certainly powerful enough and that RAM is well received; it’s making gamers happy with great first party titles and solid third party support; and it’s making publishers happy – it’ll even offer publishers the ability to block which sections of the game players can share.
(The Sixth Axis)

How free are Egypt’s new voices?
Two years after the 2011 revolution in Egypt, a growing number of satellite TV channels are expressing a range of views – from liberal to ultra conservative. (BBC)

Debate on free speech limits at Mario Miranda Cartoon Festival
After joining The Current in 1952, Mario Miranda drew his first political cartoon poking fun at Bombay’s home minister at the time, Morarji Desai. The cartoon delighted Miranda’s editor, DF Karaka, but annoyed Desai and elicited angry responses from the public. “That experience taught Mario the lesson that in India for an ambitious cartoonist to lampoon some political personage was to invite trouble,” wrote author Manohar Malgonkar in the book “Mario de Miranda”.
(The Times of India)

Resisting the impunity
The agency of journalists to push the envelope and the wider public’s demand for credible, trustworthy news sources are the positive development. On the flip side, there is a real fear of casting away the hard-won freedoms, and, as its extension, a vibrant, common forum for dialogue and debate is under severe strain. The challenges come from multiple sources.
(The Hindu)

Bollywood censorship to be relaxed
India’s all-powerful censor board is planning a lighter approach to Bollywood after decades chopping tens of thousands of film scenes, from onscreen kisses to violent endings.The Himalayan Times)

A crock of gold for libel tourists who bring cases to Emerald Isle
Ah, the good old law of unintended consequences pops up again. Who would have thought that Irish jobs could be affected by the passage at Westminster last week of the Defamation Act?
(Ruth Dudley-Edwards, Irish Independent)

President Joyce Banda waiting for advice on press pact
President Joyce Banda has said she is waiting for expert advice from the Attorney General (AG) and the Minister of Justice on whether to sign the Table Mountain Declaration. The President has come under fire from the press as well as human rights activists over her refusal to sign the accord which proposes abolition of insult laws in Africa.
(The Daily Times)

A year into Russia crackdown, protesters try again
A year ago, Russia’s political opposition was on the rise and aiming for new heights at a demonstration on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. Instead, authorities cracked down, ending their tolerance toward the thousands of Putin opponents who presented him with the greatest challenge to his rule since he took over the country in 2000.
(Washington Post)

Why Britain Refuses To Publish Amanda Knox’s Memoir
We flatter ourselves when we boast of mastery of the ironic style. Unlike literal-minded Germans and Americans, we are not ashamed to live behind masks and speak in riddles. (Nick Cohen, the Observer)

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British embassy in Bahrain gets World Press Freedom Day wrong Fri, 03 May 2013 13:27:49 +0000 Padraig Reidy: British embassy in Bahrain gets World Press Freedom Day wrong]]> Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office marked today’s World Press Freedom Day with the launch of their “Shine a light” campaign. According to the FCO, “‘Shine a light’ aims to highlight repression of the media across the world through personal testimonies. Journalists and activists from around the world will be tell their stories of harassment and other restrictions on press freedom as guest bloggers.”

The FCO’s World Press Freedom Day blog contains some impressive posts on press freedom in Zimbabwe, Vietnam and other countries.

Unfortunately, the British Embassy in Bahrain seems to have gone somewhat off message. They tweeted earlier:

The link leads to two articles: one by Anwar Abdulrahman, of the pro-Bahraini regime Akhbar Al Khaleej and its sister paper Gulf Daily News, and one bylined “Citizens for Bahrain“, apparently a pro-government astroturfing exercise.

The pieces themselves are quite something: Abdulrahman is worth quoting at length:

From my desk as Editor-in-Chief, I believe that freedom should be based on humanness, righteousness and debate, not anarchy and terror. For in this era of open skies and the Internet, to misuse freedom is easy. Any story can be fabricated, any person or government defamed at the touch of a computer screen.

Another thought…as much as beasts cannot be left to roam freely, so in human society the feral element’s freedom should be under control.

That’s the Bahraini opposition, many of whom have been locked up for exercising their right to free expression, he’s referring to as the “feral element”.

Citizens for Bahrain, meanwhile, inform us:

It is time to practice this freedom in a suitable manner and not to abuse it. Freedom of the press is certainly a right, but it must be used with care and wisdom. When used such a manner it can be influential in developing and enlightening society, making this society more resilient both in times of trouble and times of peace.

In conclusion, we say this: Express your views openly and honestly; but put your country before your personal interests.

That is to say, “shut up”.

Why the embassy chooses to mark World Press Freedom Day by publishing two articles in support of censorship, and a regime that imprisons protesters, including Index award winner Nabeel Rajab, is a mystery.

Update: The embassy has moved to distance itself from the views expressed in the blog posts.

Padraig Reidy is senior writer for Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy

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Chinese propaganda paper’s new headquarters looks a bit like, well, er… Fri, 03 May 2013 09:29:43 +0000 : Chinese propaganda paper's new headquarters looks a bit like, well, er...]]> peoples_daily_hq

Chinese censors have been working overtime on social network Weibo after users noticed that the new headquarters of state propaganda sheet the People’s Daily News (see pic) looked, er, a bit phallic.

According to the South China Morning Morning Post, Weibo searches for “People’s Daily” and “building” appear to show that the terms have been blocked.

“It seems the People’s Daily is going to rise up, there’s hope for the Chinese dream,” quipped one Weibo user.

Padraig Reidy is senior writer for Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy

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Free expression in the news Fri, 03 May 2013 09:04:03 +0000 Syria
“Attacks on journalists have threatened the flow of news to the outside world”, says Amnesty International, launching a report on threats to media workers in that country’s civil war. According to AP, killings of journalists in the conflict number “somewhere between 44 and 100, depending on who does the counting”. (AP)


A Muslim woman, Win Win Sein, has been charged with “religious defamation”, after she accidentally knocked over the alms bowl of a Buddhist monk (AFP)

The video for “College Boy” by rock band Indochine has been banned from TV for its portrayal of bullying and the crucifiction and shooting of a schoolboy (Huffington Post France)

(Warning: video is graphic)

Government officials searched phones and cameras of spectators at a horse racing event in an attempt to suppress footage of President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov falling off his horse at the end of a race he “won” (The Times £)

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US report names ‘worst’ violators of religious freedom Thu, 02 May 2013 12:24:25 +0000 Index on Censorship: US report calls out 15 nations for violations of religious freedom.]]> An arm of the US government named 15 nations as the “worst violators of religious freedom”.

The Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act to monitor religious freedom abuses internationally, released its 2013 report, which idenitifes “governments that are the most egregious violators.”

The 15 countries are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, all of which severely restrict independent religious activity and harass individuals and groups for religious activity or beliefs. These nations are classified as Tier 1 “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) in the report.

Despite its recent opening and political reforms, change in Burma have “yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief.” The report states that most violations occurred against minority Christian and Muslim adherents. China’s government is also cited for its ongoing severe abuses against its citizens’ freedom of thought.

The report said that Egypt’s transitional and elected governments have made progress toward religious freedom, it further highlighted the attacks that Coptic Christians have sustained in the period after the Arab Spring that brought down the Mubarak regime. “In many cases, the government failed or was slow to protect religious minorities from violence.”

The former Soviet states of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were included for pursuing state control over religion, targeting Muslims and minorities alike. Iraq was cited for, among other things, tolerating “violent religiously motivated attacks” and Iran for “prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely on the religion of the accused.”

Saudi Arabia continues to suppress religious practices outside of the officially-sanctioned Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, interferes with the faith of guest workers and prosecutes individuals for “apostasy, blasphemy and sorcery”, according to the report. Pakistan has a strict blasphemy law and failure to prosecute acts of religious violence, the report said.

The situation in Sudan has deteriorated since South Sudan gained its independence. Criminalization of apostasy, the imposition of the government’s strict interpretation of Shari’ah on both Muslims and non-Muslims and attacks against Christians, were cited in the report for the decline.

The report also identified Nigeria for continuing religious violence between Muslims and Christians compounded by the government’s toleration of the sectarian attacks. North Korea’s totalitarian regime was also included for its ongoing harassment and torture of citizens based on religious beliefs.

A second tier includes Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia, where abuses of religious freedom are tolerated by the government and meet the threshold for CPC designation by the US Department of State, but don’t meet all of the standards for “systemic, ongoing, egregious” measurements.

Other countries regions being monitored included Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela and Western Europe.

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