A little while ago the muslim countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) dropped demands for 'defamation of religion' to be internationally enacted in law.
Instead they would look towards the existing western approach to to
criminalize incitement to hatred and violence on religious grounds. This change of direction was related to ongoing diplomatic work by US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
However there have now been further moves that have become a
little worrying to observers.
The OIC's intent, as stated explicitly in its April 2011 4th Annual Report on Islamophobia, is to criminalize incitement to hatred and violence on religious grounds. However the report also alluded to a
'useful' definition of 'incitement to hatred and violence' that rather ends the consensus with the western view.
Using the 'test of consequences' to define incitement to violence simply means that if violence actually results from say a
cartoon of Mohammed, then the publisher is automatically criminally liable. [Because it did incite violence]
In fact the OIC report only says that idea is useful and should be explored as a solution to the perceived gap in enforcement of
the 'soft laws' adopted by the west. The report states:
Approaches like applying the test of consequences were useful and would have to be explored/refined further in an objective fashion towards evolving a
consensus with regard to effectively addressing the matter.
Resolution 16/18 (ie to criminalize incitement to hatred and violence on religious grounds ) was hailed as a victory by Clinton, because it calls on countries to
combat intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization based on religion without criminalizing free speech -- except in cases of incitement to imminent violence.
But if the criterion for determining incitement to imminent
violence is a new test of consequences, then this is nothing but an invitation to stage Muslim Days of Rage following the slightest perceived offense by a Western blogger, instructor, or radio show guest, all of whom will be held
legally liable for causing the destruction, possibly even if what they've said is merely a statement of fact. The implications of such prior restraint on free speech would be chilling.
The European Union should help teach bloggers living under oppressive regimes how to communicate freely and avoid detection, and develop technology to help them, the bloc's digital affairs commissioner has said.
Speaking at an online free speech
conference, Neelie Kroes said digital dissidents need tools that are simple and ready-made. I want the EU to help develop and distribute these tools .
Governments, companies and civil liberties groups are meeting at the Freedom Online
conference at the Dutch Foreign Ministry in hopes of creating a coalition of like-minded groups to promote Internet freedoms.
In an emotional speech, Syrian blogger Amjad Baiazy said his country's surveillance system was built by Western
countries. He said he was arrested and tortured in May for expressing his opinion online, and a friend was arrested as recently as this week for a Facebook posting. He called on governments to fight for security of citizens, not corporations or
governments. Sometimes there's a big gap between the security of governments and the security of citizens.
Dutch member of parliament Marietje Schaake pointed out the Intelligence Support Systems conference held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is
essentially a marketplace for governments and others interested in surveillance technology.
Schaake also slammed the U.S. for its proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, which would require U.S. telecommunications companies to block access to
foreign-based websites for infringing on U.S. copyrights. This will give great incentives to governments like China to do the same, she said, blocking political speech they don't approve and arguing that their censorship practices are no different
than those in the West.
The Dutch government pledged euro1 million ($1.3 million) to develop mesh networks that use multiple local connections to eliminate the need for state controlled internet pinch points such as ISPs and the DNS system.
Thailand has jailed a US citizen for two and a half years after he admitted posting web links to a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Joe Gordon, a used car salesman from Colorado who was born in Thailand, pleaded guilty to the charge of
criticising the Thai monarchy, at an earlier hearing. He was sentenced to five years in jail, but the judges halved the term because of his guilty plea.
The US has expressed concern over the use of Thailand's lese-majeste law. US officials have
repeatedly urged the Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression, and said the decision to prosecute Gordon was disappointing.
Gordon reportedly translated parts of the widely available biography, The King Never Smiles by Paul Handley,
several years ago and posted them on a blog while he was living in the US.
He was arrested in May when he visited Thailand for medical treatment. He initially denied the charges, but said he changed his plea to guilty after being repeatedly
Activists say the lese-majeste law has become increasingly politicised, and is used as a tool of repression rather than as a way of protecting the monarchy.
The UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Thailand to amend the laws on lese majeste.
We are concerned about the ongoing trials and harsh sentencing of people convicted of lese majeste and the chilling effect this is having on freedom of
expression, said Ravina Shamdasani, the agency's acting spokesperson: Such harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate and violate Thai human rights obligations.
Human Rights First applauds the United Nations' Third Committee's adoption of a text on combating religious intolerance that does not include the harmful concept of defamation of religion, an historic step that brings the text closer to final
passage in the full General Assembly in coming weeks.
Human Rights First's Tad Stahnke said:
If this text is adopted by the full General Assembly, it would mark a decisive break from the polarizing focus in the
past on defamation of religions. Governments should now focus on concrete measures to fight religiously-motivated violence, discrimination, and other forms of intolerance, while recognizing the importance of freedom of expression.
The U.N.'s new approach reflects what is needed to combat the intolerance we continue to see around the world. It is crucial for leaders to protect freedom of expression, condemn and prosecute violence, speak out against hatred and
affirm equal rights for all.
This resolution coming out of the Third Committee is based on one adopted by consensus at the Human Rights Council in March 2011. It calls on governments to speak out and to condemn hatred, while
encouraging open debate, human rights education, and interfaith and intercultural initiatives. The text also calls on the U.N. Secretary-General to submit a report on steps taken by States to combat intolerance.
The resolution marks a
welcome departure from previous U.N. resolutions on combating religious intolerance. For over a decade, efforts were made in several venues at the U.N. to promote the concept that states should prohibit defamation of religions -- thus providing cover for
abusive national blasphemy laws. Human Rights First has long argued that this concept is inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect individuals rather than abstract ideas or religions. Indeed, blasphemy laws promote a stifling
atmosphere in which governments can restrict freedom of expression, thought and religion and persecute religious minorities.
An upcoming meeting with Islamic leaders hosted by the State Department has campaigners warning that the United States may play into the push by Islamic nations to create new laws to stifle religious criticism and debate.
The meeting on
religious tolerance, which is scheduled for mid-December, would involve representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a coalition of 56 nations which more or less represents the Muslim world.
Critics describe the get-together as a
Trojan horse for the long-running OIC push for restrictions on speech. They note the track record of nations that want the dialogue, including Egypt, where recent military action against Coptic Christians raised grave concerns about intolerance against
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton originally announced the meeting this past July in Turkey, where she co-chaired a talk on religious tolerance with the OIC. The event was billed as a way to foster respect and empathy and
tolerance among nations. Delegates from up to 30 countries, as well as groups like the European Union, are also invited.
A State Department official told FoxNews.com this week that the meeting is meant to combat intolerance while being fully consistent with freedom of expression.
A key worry is that the meeting could become a platform for Islamic governments to push for hate-speech laws which, in their most virulent and fundamentalist form, criminalize what they perceive as blasphemy.
A range of governments are increasingly restricting media freedom using licensing and regulatory frameworks and receive little criticism or attention for doing so, according to Freedom House's newest report, License to Censor: The Use of Media
Regulation to Restrict Press Freedom.
The report provides an overview analyzing this trend at a global level and in-depth analyses of the regulatory environments in eight countries: Ecuador, Georgia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa,
Uganda and Zimbabwe. It describes some of the most commonly used methods to regulate the media - legal controls on licensing and registration, regulatory bodies that are not independent or operate in an nontransparent or politicized manner, and the
imposition of vague content requirements on media outlets - as well as detailing the use of arbitrary or extralegal actions, including license denials and the suspension or closure of media outlets to restrict media freedom.
The findings in
this report show that governments, as they adapt to diverse and globalized media environments, are becoming increasingly savvy in maintaining control over content, said project director of the Freedom of the Press index at Freedom House, Karin
Karlekar. The report shines a light on an issue that is slowly eroding press freedom in democracies and non democracies alike, and Freedom House hopes that it will result in greater attention paid to regulatory bodies and licensing practices, to
ensure more transparent decisions.
Tim Barnett, the head of the Olympic and Paralympic News Service, which will provide quick flash quotes to the world's media during the Games, said he strongly refuted any suggestion that there may be censorship of athletes' comments.
report fairly and accurately what happens in the mixed zone [where athletes give quick remarks after events], Barnett told more than 500 of the world's media at the World Press Briefing in London.
Barnett's assurances come after the Olympic
News Service failed to report any athlete opinion or comment about the London riots during the beach volleyball test event. At the time OPNS staff said they were instructed to only report comments made about sport.
United Nations representatives of a dozen countries including France, Germany, the UK and Australia have recommended that the Thai government amend their lese majeste law to bring the country's level of freedom of expression in line with international
The recommendation was made during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session in Geneva. The four-yearly process organised by the United Nations Human Rights Council requires each UN member state to present a report on various human rights
conditions and to hear questions and recommendations by representatives of other members.
Representatives from the United Kingdom, France and Slovenia shared the view that the lese majeste law affected freedom of expression and urged Thailand to
consider this aspect of liberty. Hungary and Finland urged Thailand to invite the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Thailand.
The representative of Norway made the suggestion, that although Norway has a lese majeste law, a
charge can only be brought with the personal approval of the king in order to avoid abuses .
The United States joined China, Syria, Singapore and Burma in not expressing any concern about the lese majeste law. One European diplomat told The
Nation that Washington's lack of comment on the issue put the US in the same league with dictatorial states.
Other states whose representatives urged Thailand to amend the law included Switzerland, Brazil, Spain, Sweden and New Zealand.
Some of these, including the Canadian representative, also raised the issue of the Computer Crimes Act, which critics say is also being used by the Thai government to curb freedom of expression.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is delighted that the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to renowned Yemeni press freedom activist Tawakul Karman, Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains.
Tawakul Karman's selection for the Nobel
Peace Prize not only recognizes her relentless battle for a free press in Yemen but also highlights the free flow of information as vital for peaceful and democratic societies, said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem.
We rejoice with Karman and hope that this prize helps to shed light on the targeting of journalists which continues to plague the Arab world.
This year's Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded jointly to three women, Liberian President Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman of Yemen.
They were recognised for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work .
Mrs Sirleaf is
Africa's first female elected head of state, Ms Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist
China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have proposed an Internet code of conduct at the United Nations General Assembly. Their document calls on signatories to curb:
the dissemination of information that
incites terrorism, secessionism, or extremism, or that undermines other countries' political, economic, and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment.
Syracuse professor and Internet governance expert
Martin Mueller warns of the dangers such codes of conduct could pose.
That section would give any state the right to censor or block international communications for almost any reason.
In this anniversary week, it's sobering to reflect that one of the more perverse consequences of 9/11 has been a remorseless assault on free speech throughout the west. I regret to say that, in my new book, I predict this trend
will only accelerate in the years ahead.
Washington plans to host a coordination meeting to discuss with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) how to implement resolution no. 16/18 on combating defamation of religions, and how to prevent stereotypes depicting religions and their
followers; as well as disseminating religious tolerance, which has been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council last March, in agreement with Western countries.
The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had announced the intention of the U.S.
State Department to organize a coordination meeting during her participation in the meeting which she co-chaired with the OIC Secretary General, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu in Istanbul on 15 July 2011.
According to informed sources in the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the two sides, in addition to other European parties, will hold a number of specialized meetings of experts in law and religion in order to finalize the legal aspect on how to better implement the UN resolution.
The sources said that the upcoming meetings aim at developing a legal basis for the UN Human Rights Council's resolution which help in enacting domestic laws for the countries involved in the issue, as well as formulating international laws preventing
inciting hatred resulting from the continued defamation of religions.
OIC Secretary General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, stressed that the crime committed recently in Norway was a result of the rise of the extreme right in Europe and its easy mobility
in political circles. He said that the OIC had warned several times against of what might be called institutionalization of the phenomenon of Islamophobia.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee confirmed the central role of freedom of expression in human rights, making it clear that it can only be limited in the most exceptional circumstances, and calling for the first time for unrestricted public
access to official information.
After two years of debate, the Committee has produced a General Comment that outlines the admissible restrictions on freedom of expression.
Although the General Comment does not discuss specific cases, the
interpretations adopted Jul. 21 would apply to incidents involving freedom of expression, such as the violent protests triggered by the 2005 publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad by a newspaper in Denmark, or more recently, the wiretapping
scandal involving Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch
Committee member Michael O'Flaherty said the strength of the General Comment is evidenced for example in the language that was adopted by the Committee around
issues such as blasphemy and insult to religion, where the Committee made clear that limits on freedom of expression for these reasons can only be in the very exceptional situations laid out elsewhere in the ICCPR that deal with incitement to hatred and
discrimination on religious or racial grounds and so forth.
Fabian Salvioli, another member of the Committee, said it did not linger on specific questions, like the Mohammad cartoons. That was not necessary, he said, because the paragraph
on blasphemy is very clear. Statements and other forms of expression, even offensive ones, should not be penalised, unless they incite hatred, which is something different.
Article 19.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) establishes that freedom of expression may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the
protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals.
Article 20 of the ICCPR says: Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall
be prohibited by law.
Campaign group Article 19 Senior Legal Officer Sejal Parmar noted that Paragraph 50 of the General Comment states that prohibitions of displays (of) a lack of respect for a religion or other belief system,
including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the ICCPR except in specific circumstances envisaged in Article 20 of the Covenant.
The senior legal officer added that it would be impermissible for such laws to discriminate against one or
certain religions or belief systems or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers or for such laws to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.
China Lion Film Distribution has announced that following on from their North American distribution deal they have now completed arrangements to take the Chinese erotic blockbuster Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy into the UK & Ireland. The
film will release exclusively through leading UK cinema chain Odeon with a September 2 release date.
The film has created box office records since release in Australia, New Zealand & Hong Kong.
The film received an 18 rating in
Australia, New Zealand and Canada with the censors ordering no cuts.
North America will begin a city by city roll out from August 12 with leading independent and art house cinemas in the US and exclusively with Cineplex in Canada.
British website owners could face extradition to the US on piracy charges even if their operation has no connection to America and does something which is most probably legal in the UK, the official leading US web anti-piracy efforts has told the
The US's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is targeting overseas websites it believes are breaking US copyrights whether or not their servers are based in America or whether there is another direct US link, said Erik
Barnett, the agency's assistant deputy director.
As long as a website's address ends in .com or .net, if it is implicated in the spread of pirated US-made films, TV or other media it is a legitimate target to be closed down or targeted for
prosecution, Barnett said. While these web addresses are traditionally seen as global, all their connections are routed through Verisign, an internet infrastructure company based in Virginia, which the agency believes is sufficient to seek a US
As well as sites that directly host or stream pirated material, ICE is also focusing on those that simply provide links to it elsewhere. There remains considerable doubt as to whether this is even illegal in Britain, the only such
case to be heard before a British court, involving a site called TV-Links, was dismissed by a judge in February last year.
Barnett, in an interview with the Guardian, explained the broader thinking behind it: By definition, almost all copyright
infringement and trademark violation is transnational. There's very little purely domestic intellectual property theft, he said.
Civil rights and internet freedom organisations said they were alarmed at the apparent intention to enforce US
copyright laws around the globe.
Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: Many countries, including the US, are increasingly asserting jurisdiction over alleged actions that take place in other parts of the world. The internet
increases our risk of falling foul of the law, making it possible to commit an offence on the other side of the world without even leaving your bedroom.
She called on the government to amend the UK's extradition agreement with the US so a
British judge could decide where an alleged crime should be best tried: It would allow UK courts to bar extradition in the interests of justice where conduct leading to an alleged offence has quite clearly taken place on British soil .
A while back, we ran a story about 20 amazing album covers with boobies on them. It was good PG-13 fun and all, but we wanted to get a little heavier, a little darker. So we decided to seek out the badasses.
Here's 32 albums that have been either banned or censored after their initial release.
Thomas Hammarberg, the commissioner for human rights for the Council of Europe has said that freedom on the internet is a matter for the United Nations (UN) to decide because it is an international concern.
He said the UN should look at the
differences between privacy and freedom of expression on the internet and added that politicians need to become more involved in the discussion.
He criticised the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for not
taking responsibility for this, as he felt this was the relevant body in charge of this area.
He said a balance needs to be struck between regulation, which would filter out pornography, incitement to war and hatred, and the right to freedom of
expression. He said that some countries are imposing restrictions, while others are letting the web run wild.
He said the UN should appoint a special commission to work on this issue and that there has to be an international dimension to
regulations since so many web sites are run by private companies, according to the Guardian.
Hammarberg also criticised the use of super injunctions in UK courts, like the recent one relating to footballer Ryan Giggs and Twitter. He said that it
means people are not allowed to even mention that there is a court case, which is a violation of the right to free expression. ?
The Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Council has denounced three strikes laws that would cut off Internet users as a penalty for copyright infringement. The advice comes in a Report to the UN General Assembly on the Protection and
Promotion of Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, States have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur
considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest. In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges
States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws.
The Special Rapporteur also acknowledged the importance of protecting Internet
intermediaries from liability in order to protect human rights. Internet intermediaries should only act to limit the rights of their customers following a legitimate court order.
Muslim countries may seek a United Nations resolution that would brand criticism of Islam and other religions as hate speech, a top U.S. religious freedom official is warning.
Earlier this year, Islamic nations lost their most recent bid to
pass a resolution against defamation or vilification of religions in the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Now they appear to be pursing a new tactic, said Leonard Leo, a presidential appointee who chairs the bipartisan U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom: My concern is that the Organization of the Islamic Conference will now try to get 'defamation of religions' and 'blasphemy' resolutions passed through the back door -- that is to say, by pushing the 'hate speech'
The Islamic conference was lobbying the U.N. for what Leo called a global blasphemy law, which would have condemned defamation of religions and urged member states to pass laws against it. Although the measure failed, Leo
said Islamic states may have better luck using broader hate speech language that some Western countries already accept.
The US State Department is to provide $28 million in grants to help activists thwart internet censorship in repressive countries,.
The recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East and Africa has highlighted young people's use of Twitter,
Facebook, and Google to organize protests and government opposition, as well as governments' willingness to cut off those services and even shut down all access to the web.
The U.S. has also criticized China for its Great Firewall, which
broadly limits citizens' access to internet news and information.
It was not immediately clear which countries would receive the grants or how they would be administered, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried internet crackdowns in Iran
and Syria in a recent speech on Internet freedoms.
Republicans have criticized the program as wasteful in a time of government austerity.
Cyberattacks, politically motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure are among the diverse and growing threats to internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media
, a new study released by Freedom House.
These encroachments on internet freedom come at a time of explosive growth in the number of internet users worldwide, which has doubled over the past five years. Governments are responding to the
increased influence of the new medium by seeking to control online activity, restricting the free flow of information, and otherwise infringing on the rights of users.
These detailed findings clearly show that internet freedom cannot be taken
for granted, said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. Nondemocratic regimes are devoting more attention and resources to censorship and other forms of interference with online expression.
Freedom on the Net 2011,which
identifies key trends in internet freedom in 37 countries, follows a pilot edition that was released in 2009. Freedom on the Net evaluates each country based on barriers to access, limitations on content, and violations of users' rights.
found that Estonia had the greatest degree of internet freedom among the countries examined, while the United States ranked second. Iran received the lowest score in the analysis. Eleven other countries received a ranking of Not Free, including Belarus,
Burma, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. A total of 9 of the 15 countries in the original pilot study registered declines over the past two years. Conditions in at least half of the newly added countries similarly indicated a negative trajectory.
Crackdowns on bloggers, increased censorship, and targeted cyberattacks often coincided with broader political turmoil, including controversial elections.
Countries at Risk:As part of its analysis, Freedom House identified a number of important
countries that are seen as particularly vulnerable to deterioration in the coming 12 months: Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
* Explosion in social-media use met with censorship:In response to the growing
popularity of internet-based applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, many governments have started targeting the new platforms as part of their censorship strategies. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities consistently or
temporarily imposed total bans on these services or their equivalents.
* Bloggers and ordinary users face arrest: Bloggers, online journalists, and human rights activists, as well as ordinary people, increasingly face arrest and imprisonment for
their online writings. In 23 of the 37 countries, including several democratic states, at least one blogger or internet user was detained because of online communications.
* Cyberattacks against regime critics intensifying: Governments and their
sympathizers are increasingly using technical attacks to disrupt activists' online networks, eavesdrop on their communications, and cripple their websites. Such attacks were reported in at least 12 of the 37 countries covered.
motivated censorship and content manipulation growing: A total of 15 of the 37 countries examined were found to engage in substantial online blocking of politically relevant content. In these countries, website blocks are not sporadic, but rather the
result of an apparent national policy to restrict users' access to information, including the websites of independent news outlets and human rights groups.
* Governments exploit centralized internet infrastructure to limit access: Centralized
government control over a country's connection to international internet traffic poses a significant threat to free online expression, particularly at times of political turmoil. In 12 of the 37 countries examined, the authorities used their control over
infrastructure to limit widespread access to politically and socially controversial content, and in extreme cases, cut off access to the internet entirely.
The ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to
critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world, said Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report. A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that
repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media, Kelly added.
The US House and Senate are both drafting rogue sites legislation that will likely support website blocking at the domain name level and will require online ad networks and credit card companies to stop working with sites on the blacklist. That
idea is controversial enough when only the government has the power to pursue the censoring; it gets even more controversial if private companies get the right to bring a censorship action in court without waiting for government to act.
houses of Congress are considering such a private right of action as they work to review and revise last year's COICA Web censorship bill, but Google can't say strongly enough what a bad idea this would be.
Appearing at today's Legitimate Sites v. Parasites
hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Google's Kent Walker was clear: a private right of action to bring a COICA claim would give rightsholders tremendous leverage over Google. Walker went so far as to warn of shakedowns from private
companies wanting to force changes in Google's behavior.
Last year's version of COICA included no private right of action, but that could change this time around. As Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said today, We could begin to grant a right of
private action... I would be the first to be critical if we step over the line, but I think that there's more that can be done, and I think that we need to use this hearing as another opportunity to come up with some legislation that we'll all be proud
Hilary Clinton has introduced the 35th annual report to Congress on the state of human rights around the world.
In recent months, we have been particularly inspired by the courage and determination of the
activists in the Middle East and North Africa and in other repressive societies who have demanded peaceful democratic change and respect for their universal human rights. The United States will stand with those who seek to advance the causes of democracy
and human rights wherever they may live, and we will stand with those who exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in a peaceful way, whether in person, in print, or in pixels on the internet. This report usually generates a great
deal of interest among journalists, lawmakers, nongovernmental organizations, and of course, other governments, and I hope it will again this year.
I'm also pleased to announce the launch of our new website,
humanrights.gov. This site will offer one-stop shopping for information about global human rights from across the United States Government. It will pull together reports, statements, and current updates from around the world. It will be searchable and it
will be safe. You won't need to register to use it. We hope this will make it easier for citizens, scholars, NGOs, and international organizations to find the information they need to hold governments accountable.
were particularly disturbed by three growing trends in 2010. The first is a widespread crackdown on civil society activists. For countries to progress toward truly democratic governance, they need free and vibrant civil societies that can help
governments understand and meet the needs of their people. But we've seen in Venezuela, for example, the government using the courts to intimidate and persecute civil society activists. The Venezuelan Government imposed new restrictions on the
independent media, the internet, political parties, and NGOs. In Russia, we've seen crackdowns on civil society groups turn violent with numerous attacks and murders of journalists and activists. In China, we've seen negative trends that are appearing to
worsen in the first part of 2011.
As we have said repeatedly, the United States welcomes the rise of a strong and prosperous China, and we look forward to our upcoming Strategic and Economic Dialogue with Beijing and
to our continued cooperation to address common global challenges. However, we remain deeply concerned about reports that, since February, dozens of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals, and activists have been
arbitrarily detained and arrested. Among them most recently was the prominent artist, Ai Weiwei, who was taken into custody just this past Sunday. Such detention is contrary to the rule of law, and we urge China to release all of those who have been
detained for exercising their internationally recognized right to free expression and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all of the citizens of China.
Beyond a widespread crackdown on civil society
activists, we saw a second trend in 2010 -- countries violating the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association by curtailing internet freedom. More than 40 governments now restrict the internet through various means. Some censored
websites for political reasons. And in a number of countries, democracy and human rights activists and independent bloggers found their emails hacked or their computers infected with spyware that reported back on their every keystroke. Digital activists
have been tortured so they would reveal their passwords and implicate their colleagues. In Burma and in Cuba, government policies preempted online dissent by keeping most ordinary people from accessing the internet at all.
The third disturbing trend of 2010 was the repression of vulnerable minorities, including racial and ethnic and religious minorities along with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In Pakistan, for example, blasphemy
remains a crime punishable by death. And the blasphemy law has been enforced against Muslims who do not share the beliefs of other Muslims, and also against non-Muslims who worship differently.
In the first two months
of 2011, two government officials in Pakistan who sought to reform the law, Governor Taseer and Minister Bhatti, were targeted by a fatwa and assassinated. Also, in Iraq, Egypt, and Nigeria, violent attacks by extremists have killed dozens of people who
have been peacefully practicing their religions, Christians and Muslims alike. In Iran, we have multiple reports that the government summarily executed more than 300 people in 2010. Many of them were ethnic minorities. For example, in May, four Kurdish
men were hanged in Evin Prison. They had been arrested in 2006 for advocating that Iran should respect human rights. They were reported to have confessed to terrorism under torture. And because I believe, and our government believes, that gay rights are
human rights, we remain extremely concerned about state-sanctioned homophobia. In Uganda, for example, homosexuality remains illegal, and people are being harassed, discriminated against, threatened, and intimidated.
The Hong Kong producers of 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy are presenting Singapore with a heavily self-censored release with more than 18 minutes of cuts, executive producer Stephen Shiu Jr. told The Hollywood Reporter.
Shiu and director Christopher Sun have sliced off scenes of group sex, oral sex, sadomasochism, and those linking religion and sex for a tamer, 110-minute version for easily offended cinema goers in Singapore. Even then there will be a 21 years age
We have to trim the major parts of a scene of a female character seducing a monk, said Shiu, adding no physical contact is allowed between a woman and a person in a religious order. We're told that any portrayal of religion
and portrayal of sex must be separate.
The same cut version will be released in India.
Three minutes of footage depicting group sex has been left on the cutting floor for the South Korean edition.
The $3 million 3D film has been
sold to Singapore, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France, Peru, and Russia.
The enthusiastic international demand serves as compensation for not having the lucrative Chinese market, the filmmakers had ruled out any possibility
of bringing the film into China from the outset.
The Hong Kong theatrical version of the period sex romp is set and approved for release on April 14 at 118 minutes, but a full 129-minute director's cut has been made. The producers will decide
whether to release it in Hong Kong cinemas depending on public demand and local censors, or on DVD.
European distributors can choose between the two versions.
3D Sex and Zen is a reimagining of the 1991 Category III hit Sex and
Zen , produced by Shiu's father Stephen Shiu Sr., which broke records with more than HK$20 million ($2.6 million) at the box office and ushered in an era of Category III erotica in the 1990s. Shiu Sr. produced and wrote the script for the 3D update.
As executive producer, Shui Jr. described the film, in all its versions, as bolder and more graphic than 9 1/2 Weeks , but not to the level of Caligula .
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the UN Human Rights Council's significant step away from the pernicious defamation of religions concept.
The Council have now adopted a resolution on religious
intolerance that does not include this dangerous concept. The defamation concept undermines individual rights to freedom of religion and expression; exacerbates religious intolerance, discrimination, and violence; and provides international support for
domestic blasphemy laws that often have led to gross human rights abuses.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has promoted this flawed concept at the United Nations for more than a decade.
USCIRF and others have worked hard
against the defamation of religions concept for years . Thanks to these efforts, and those of previous administrations and Congresses, more countries each year voted against the defamation of religions concept because they understood that
blasphemy laws increase intolerance and violence. Tragically, it took the assassinations of two prominent Pakistani officials who opposed that country's draconian blasphemy laws--Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor
Salman Taseer--to convince the OIC that the annual defamation of religions resolutions embolden extremists rather than bolster religious harmony.
In place of the divisive combating defamation of religions resolution, the UN Human Rights
Council adopted a consensus resolution on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief. The resolution properly focuses on
protecting individuals from discrimination or violence, instead of protecting religions from criticism. The resolution protects the adherents of all religions or beliefs, instead of focusing on one religion. Unlike the defamation of religions resolution,
the new consensus resolution does not call for legal restrictions on peaceful expression, but rather, for positive measures, such as education and awareness-building, to address intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief.
three-page resolution omits any reference to defamation , it condemns any advocacy of religious hatred that amounts to incitement to hostility or violence against believers and calls on governments to act to prevent it.
from Islamic countries have warned the council that they could return to campaigning for an international law against religious defamation if Western countries are not seen as acting to protect believers.
The 11th annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, sponsored by SAGE, were presented on 24th March at a ceremony in London hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby
The winners were:
Index on Censorship New Media Award,
supported by Google
TuniLeaks by Nawaat
TuniLeaks is a selection of the WikiLeaks State Department cables published by Nawaat.org, an independent group blog run by Tunisian net activists.
The TuniLeaks cables revealed the
extent of the corruption deeply entrenched in many aspects of Tunisian life. Despite attempts to block the site, news of the cables being released swiftly spread around the country and Nawaat helped informal media networks link communities that had been
cut off by government censors.
The other nominees were the Tor Project and Chinese internet activist Wen Yunchao.
Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award
Gao Zhisheng has
been persecuted by the state for speaking out on human rights issues. Gao, a self-taught lawyer, forged a career representing the underdog in cases involving medical malpractice, land redistribution, employment disputes and forced sterilisation.
He has also defended journalists and religious minorities including Christians and members of Falun Gong. In 2005, he resigned from the Communist Party and wrote an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, documenting the suffering of Falun Gong practitioners and calling on the leaders to end their
large-scale, organised abuse.
The other nominees were David Coombs, the criminal defence lawyer leading the defence of Specialist Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old accused of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks; and Sherry
Rehman, a member of Pakistan's parliament who submitted a bill proposing amendments to Pakistan's blasphemy law.
The Guardian Journalism Award
Eissa is Egypt's leading independent editor,
described as a one-man barometer of Egypt's struggle for political and civic freedom . Throughout his career, he has faced prosecution when his push for media freedom has fallen foul of the government.
In 2010, he was fired from his
position as editor of the independent newspaper al Dostour, after new owners bought the paper; his popular satellite talk show was also taken off air. His sacking came in the midst of a wider media crackdown in the run-up to the parliamentary elections,
when Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party emerged victorious amid accusations of unprecedented vote rigging.
The other nominee was Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the co-founder of the Thai online news site Prachatai ( Thai people
). She is currently on trial, facing up to 50 years in jail, for comments posted on Prachatai that were critical of the monarchy.
The Intelligent Life Arts Award
critically-acclaimed Indian artist Maqbool Fida (MF) Husain has been battling against censorship in his native India and elsewhere for close to 20 years. Born in 1915, he is recognised as one of India's greatest living artists. He has lived in exile
Husain's work has caused controversy in sections of the conservative Hindu community, who regard his depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude as blasphemous and offensive. Husain has received numerous threats and exhibitions
of his work have come under attack on several occasions; in India, he has faced hundreds of legal actions relating to his work.
The other nominees were Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, a Sikh British playwright, and acclaimed Iranian director
Belarus's prisoners of conscience were awarded a Special Commendation by Sir Tom Stoppard
Sir Tom Stoppard said: This Index on Censorship award is all the more important as the figure of
prisoner of conscience should have been consigned to history. Yet in Europe in 2011 there are 42 prisoners of conscience held by the government of Belarus.
This award is dedicated to all the prisoners of conscience who have been detained
because they exercised their right to free expression in criticising President Lukashenko.
Reporters Without Borders has carried out a new survey of online freedom of expression for World Day Against Cyber-Censorship on 12 March.
One in three of the world's Internet users does not have access to an unrestricted Internet, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard said.
Around 60 countries censor the Internet to varying degrees and harass netizens. At least 119 people are currently in prison just for using the Internet to express their views freely. These are disturbing figures.
Reporters Without Borders
is releasing its annual report on the state of online freedom of expression in the 10 countries it has identified as Enemies of the Internet and the 16 countries it is keeping under surveillance because of their questionable Internet
Tunisia and Egypt have been removed from the list of Enemies of the Internet following the fall of their governments, Julliard added. These countries nonetheless remain under surveillance, as does Libya. The gains of these
revolutions must be consolidated and the new freedoms must be guaranteed. We have also placed three democracies -- Australia, South Korea and France -- under surveillance because of various measures they have taken that could have negative consequences
for online free expression and Internet access.
Burma China Cuba Iran North Korea Saudi Arabia Syria Turkmenistan Uzbekistan Vietnam
Countries under surveillance
Australia Bahraïn Belarus Egypt Eritrea France Libya Malaysia Russia South Korea Sri Lanka Thailand Tunisia Turkey
United Arab Emirates Venezuela
It's a double-edged sword. Technology has made the life of journalists so much easier and yet so much more difficult. Even in the least-developed countries, where simple infrastructure such as paved road is a luxury, access to
mobile phones, the portability of satellite broadcasting systems, the growth of delivery platforms, and the popularity of 24-hour news channels enable a news story to make it into the homes of hundreds of millions of people instantly.
Which is a problem for those who want to control the flow of information. Reporting is hard to manipulate when the information can be on television, radio, and the Web before anyone else can get their hands on the message. So what
are the options if this reporting is to be stopped?
More and more, intimidation has become the tool of choice: Scare journalists into staying away from a story; make sure they understand their interference is not
welcome. A few dead bodies along the way should help. Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than in Mexico, where drug-related bloodshed has encompassed thousands of lives, including those of many journalists. To drive home their brutal point, gangs dump
beheaded and mutilated bodies on roadsides. When that isn't enough, spraying the offices of media outlets with machine gunfire adds a little emphasis.
As we know, the ruling authorities pose the greatest threat in many
places, targeting news sources directly or imposing restrictive rules that make the job of reporting important stories that much harder. Few countries are an exception to this rule; every government would love to control the flow of information.
So what happens in an era of blogging, tweeting, social media, and citizen journalism, where anyone can be a reporter or mobilize support for an idea? What does that do to the flow of information and who controls it?
That is, perhaps, the biggest game-changer. For journalists, it blurs the lines between official and unofficial media, making it harder for established news organizations to distance themselves from what might be
perceived as politically biased viewpoints. It has particularly affected news media in the United States, where traditionally neutral channels now feature more programming and personalities with a clear and usually outspoken point of view. The raising of
the public temperature through aggressive commentary may help ratings, but it doesn't necessarily help journalists do their jobs effectively.
CPJ report that the most dangerous countries for reporters are:
Rihanna's new single S&M has provoked TV censors across the world. It has been axed from the BBC's daytime radio playlist in Britain and the promo is said to be banned in 11 countries.
The song's suggestive lyrics and the accompanying
video - in which the she is seen writhing in latex, tying a man to a bed, and sucking a banana - are also subject to an age restriction on YouTube.com.
Britain's Daily Mirror reports that BBC bosses have refused to allow DJs on its flagship
station Radio 1 to play the song before 7pm. A BBC spokesman tells the publication, We are waiting for an edited version before deciding whether it will be played in the daytime.
seems that even the song's title is giving the BBC fits.
In the latest U.K. Top 40 Singles chart, which is compiled by the British-based Official Charts Company and was unveiled Sunday on Radio 1. In this week's chart, S&M officially
debuts, but, strangely enough, it did so with the title Come On.
Are you fucking kidding me??? I'm on it! Rihanna wrote in one tweet after being asked by a fan about the new title. When asked by another fan if she was OK with the
change, she replied: Absolutely Not!
Global freedom suffered its fifth consecutive year of decline in 2010, according to Freedom in the World 2011 , Freedom House's annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties around the world.
This represents the longest
continuous period of decline in the nearly 40-year history of the survey. The year featured drops in the number of Free countries and the number of electoral democracies, as well as an overall deterioration for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa
A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains. The number of countries designated as Free fell from 89 to 87, and the number of electoral democracies dropped to
115, below the 2005 figure of 123. In addition, authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.
This should be
a wake-up call for all of the world's democracies, said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. Our adversaries are not just engaging in widespread repression, they are doing so with unprecedented aggressiveness and self-confidence,
and the democratic community is not rising to the challenge.
Four countries received status declines, including Ukraine and Mexico, which both fell from Free to Partly Free. Mexico's downgrade was a result of the government's inability to stem
the tide of violence by drug-trafficking groups, while Ukraine suffered from deteriorating levels of press freedom, instances of election fraud, and growing politicization of the judiciary. Djibouti and Ethiopia were downgraded from Partly Free to Not
Free. Other countries showing declines included Bahrain, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, France, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela.
The Middle East and North Africa remained the region with the lowest level of freedom in 2010, continuing its multiyear decline from
an already-low democratic baseline.
France saw a decline in its civil liberties score due to its treatment of Roma from Eastern Europe as well as its problems in coping with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
There were a few
bright spots in the survey, including status improvements from Not Free to Partly Free for Kyrgyzstan and Guinea after both countries held comparatively free and fair elections, and ratings improvements for Kenya, Moldova, Nigeria, the Philippines, and
Fifty-seven journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2010, 25% fewer than in 2009, when the total was 76.
Significantly, it is becoming more and more difficult to identify
those responsible in cases in which journalists were killed by criminal gangs, armed groups, religious organizations or state agents.
Fewer journalists were killed in war zones than in preceding years, Reporters Without Borders
secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard said: Media workers are above all being murdered by criminals and traffickers of various kinds. Organized crime groups and militias are their leading killers worldwide. The challenge now is to rein in this
phenomenon. The authorities of the countries concerned have a direct duty to combat the impunity surrounding these murders. If governments do not make every effort to punish the murderers of journalists, they become their accomplices.
Another distinguishing feature of 2010 was the major increase in kidnappings of journalists. There were 29 cases in 2008, 33 in 2009 and 51 in 2010. Journalists are seen less and less as outside
observers. Their neutrality and the nature of their work are no longer respected.
Abductions of journalists are becoming more and more frequent and are taking place in more countries. Reporters Without Borders said: For the first time,
no continent escaped this evil in 2010. Journalists are turning into bargaining chips. Kidnappers take hostages in order to finance their criminal activities, make governments comply with their demands, and send a message to the public. Abduction
provides them with a form of publicity. Here again, governments must do more to identify them and bring them to justice. Otherwise reporters – national or foreign – will no longer venture into certain regions and will abandon the local
population to their sad fate.
Even the internet no longer a refuge
Harassment of bloggers and censorship of the Internet have become commonplace. There are no longer any taboos about online filtering.
Censorship is taking new forms: more aggres- sive online propaganda and increasingly frequent use of cyber-attacks as way to silence bothersome Internet users. Significantly, online censorship is no longer necessarily the work of repressive regimes.
Democracies are now examining and adopting new laws that pose a threat to free speech on the Internet.