Russia has expressed regret over a Siberian court trial considering a ban on a one Hindu holy book causing an 'uproar' in India.
State prosecutors in Tomsk seek to ban the Russian translation of the Bhagavad Gita , contending it is an
extremist religious text that should be banned. They said the book spreads social discord, the IANS news agency reported.
Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin said:
I consider it categorically
inadmissible when any holy scripture is taken to the courts. For all believers these texts are sacred.
He claimed that Russia was a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoyed equal respect.
The Siberian court is
expected to deliver its verdict in the case on December 28.
judge in Tomsk, Russia drew a round of applause from the court room as she dismissed charges of extremism against the Bhagavad Gita As It Is , a Russian commented translation of the Bhagavad Gita published by the International Society for
Krishna Consciousness. This decision put an end to the six-month-long trial of the book accused by the state prosecutors of fostering social discord and incitement to religious hatred .
The Indian Foreign Ministry, which had been
urging Moscow to avert the possible ban they termed as absurd , welcomed the verdict calling it a sensible resolution of a sensitive issue which demonstrates yet again that the people of India and Russia have a deep understanding of each
other's cultures and will always reject any attempt to belittle our common civilizational values and thanked the Russian government for their support.
The controversial court case on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text regarded sacred by
millions of Hindus, had caused political and societal turmoil in India, with the Indian Parliament stalled over the proposed ban and Hindu activists burning Russian flags. The trial also evoked strong criticism from the international media.
Angelina Jolie is being noticed for her work behind rather than in front of the camera with her directorial debut - a harrowing story of love and war in Bosnia.
Even before the release of In the Land of Blood and Honey , Jolie garnered her
first directing honour, winning the Producers' Guild of America special award for portrayal of social issues.
But in the Balkans, the film is inflaming old and deeply-held emotions. The passionate reaction reflects the deep ethnic rifts that still
divide Bosnia ahead of next year's 20th anniversary of the bloody fratricidal conflict that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives.
The leader of a Bosnian Serb prisoners group has slammed the film for its allegedly one-sided depiction of the
atrocities and called for it to be banned from the country's Serbian areas.
The film, which opens in the US on 23rd December, centres on the fictional relationship between a Muslim woman artist and Serbian army officer. Once romantically involved
before the war erupted in April 1992, they are reunited when she is detained in a Serbian internment camp that he commands.
Russia's industry organisation, League of Internet Security, has proposed creating a blacklist of websites containing child pornography and other prohibited information and oblige internet providers to block such sites.
proposal followed its announcement that it had broken up an international ring of 130 alleged pedophiles circulating material via the internet.
Denis Davydov, the League's executive director, said the proposed bills also provide for tracking down
extremist materials on the web, raising fears among the Russian media and internet community that they could make it easier for the authorities to crack down on dissent under the guise of fighting child abuse.
The League, whose board of
trustees is headed by Communications Minister Igor Shchyogolev, proposed creating a special public organization involving experts, representatives of internet providers and search engines to monitor the web in search of suspicious content.
with the amendments, which have yet to be submitted to parliament, websites containing child porn are to be blocked as soon as they are identified, while those containing other prohibited information can only be closed following a court ruling.
Another proposal regarding internet security has been put forward by senior Interior Ministry official Alexei Moshkov, who said anonymous accounts should be outlawed on social networks and online forums to prevent internet fraud, blackmailing and
Foreign ministers from around Europe have come out against online censorship and political pressure on providers of social networks and other communication tools.
In a statement, the Council of Europe's decision-making body, the Committee of
Ministers, said new media tools had become crucial to civil society representatives, whistleblowers and human rights defenders. The committee said such facilities had become a significant part of the public sphere , despite being privately
The committee particularly warned of the dangers of political influence and politically motivated economic compulsion on those operating such services, or those hosting websites with sensitive content:
Direct or indirect political influence or pressure on new media actors may lead to interference with the exercise of freedom of expression, access to information and transparency, not only at a national level but, given their global
reach, also in a broader international context. Decisions concerning content can also impinge on the right to freedom of assembly and association.
The purpose of the statement, the committee said, was to underline the gravity of the situation and the need for people to comply with articles in the European Convention on Human Rights that back freedom of expression and information.
The International Partnership for Human Rights, a coalition of European and Central Asian human rights groups, has released a new report this month, Central Asia: Censorship and Control of the Internet and Other New Media.
Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been praised by Western leaders for increasing Internet access, but it turns out that with the average monthly salary only $285 in Turkmenistan, the $215 monthly Internet fee or even the dollar-an-hour Internet cafe are
beyond most people's budgets.
In any event, the Internet is heavily regulated, and there is only one state-run provider, Turkmentelecom, which blocks independents sites like gundogar.org and chrono-tm.org as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Live
Although the report is quite bleak describing heavy police control of the Internet and the cancellation of cell phone service for 2.4 million people when the contract of Russia's mobile company MTS was not extended, there are some
glimmers of hope. Last July, some citizen journalists came forward to try to cover the explosion in Abadan when the authorities tried to cover it up. While a stringer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was jailed for his coverage of Abadan, after a
worldwide outcry he was released.
In his third term, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is turning stagnation into regression according to the 2011 EU Progress Report on media freedom and the report of the OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media. On 17 -- 18 November, Index on
Censorship joined an International Partnership Group on Macedonia to investigate these concerns.
Straight after the election, a new broadcasting law was rushed through that added 6 new members to the broadcasting council. There was no
consultation. The president of the council, Zoran Stefanovski, only found out when the bill was in parliament. In all it took 70 hours for the law to pass. Every single one of the new members of the council were selected by the ruling coalition group in
Parliament (VMRO-DPMNE). We spoke to the president of the broadcasting council in Skopje. He is furious and thinks the new members were added to block any decisions adverse to the government. Since these changes were made, the council is in deadlock.
Russia's Nizhny Novgorod election committee has banned political cartoons for the State Duma election on 4th December because they depicted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
KPRF Party Communists say that the images show not Putin, but an old man
with progressing dementia. They plan to contest the ban by central election committee.
The main reason for the ban was that Putin did not agree for his image to be used in the campaign, Kommersant reported.
Deputy head of Nizhny
Novgorod election committee Alexander Ivanov explained the reasoning. In the comics it may have been possible to recognise representatives of other political parties, but we decided not to even discuss the cases where there are doubts. For example, A
Just Russia's representatives did not recognise their leader Sergei Mironov as one of the characters. But the caricature of the prime minister looks like Vladimir Putin 100 percent, all the members of election committee recognised it.
character that looks 100 percent like Putin is shown in the comics as the Communists' main adversary, who gets help from other political movements. For example, one of the illustrations shows a mighty man, who resembles a young Communist leader
Gennady Zyuganov, arm wrestling with a feeble man, who resembles the prime minister.
The election committee banned the brochures and sent a notice to law enforcement that if the communists go on distributing the comics, their Nizhny Novgorod
division could be held accountable.
Putin's press-secretary stressed that any image use of his boss had to be approved by him. He did add that lawyers would have to decide whether a drawn image is the image of the prime minister and said he did
not see the comics, Kommersant reported.
Kazakhstan's state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) has prepared -- but not yet adopted -- the new rules to implement the system of compulsory state censorship of almost all religious literature and objects. The rules for expert analyses will
also apply to religious organisations' statutes. Without such ARA approval, religious books cannot be imported (apart from in small quantities) or distributed, and religious organisations will not be able to gain state registration.
draft rules -- seen by Forum 18 News Service - make no provisions for any challenges to ARA's censorship decisions. The draft rules were presented to a closed 27 October meeting of about twenty senior government officials to devise plans for implementing
that month's harsh new Religion Law. No one at the ARA was prepared to discuss the censorship rules with Forum 18 or when they might be adopted.
Under the draft rules Kazakhstan's state Agency of Religious Affairs (ARA) will have up to 90 days to
conduct the compulsory state censorship of almost all religious literature and objects, as well as the statutes of religious organisations.
While some individuals and religious communities say that government prior censorship of religious
literature is required to prevent the distribution of texts inciting violence, others complain to Forum 18 that such censorship violates freedom of speech. They also fear that ARA officials will act arbitrarily and slowly to ban religious literature they
do not like or which is associated with religious communities they do not like.
The draft rules -- drawn up in the wake of October's harsh new Religion Law -- represent the first time the way the official state censorship of religious literature
and other materials is conducted will have been codified. However, partial state censorship of religious literature imported into the country has existed for some years. In one case known to Forum 18, religious books imported into the country were held
up in customs for months until the ARA gave permission earlier this year.
The Russian Culture Ministry has drafted a bill that could ban movie theaters from showing films that so much as mention extremist organizations, Kasparov.ru reports.
Films could be banned if they contain scenes containing public
calls to carry out terrorist activities or that publically justify terrorism or other extremist activity, or scenes that propagandize pornography or a cult of violence and cruelty.
The ministry will also reserve the right to ban screenings of
films found to include information on ways or methods of developing, producing, or using narcotics, psychotropic substances, or their precursors, or about places where they can be purchased, as well as scenes propagandizing any sort of advantages of
using particular narcotic substances, psychotropic substances, or their precursors.
The draft is posted on the Culture Ministry's website for public discussion from November 25 to December 8.
Ekho Moskvy journalist Vladimir Varfolomeyev
featured the bill on his blog, noting that it could prevent any movie with incisive social or political content from making its way into Russian theaters. There won't be any more films like Russia 88, Trainspotting, or even Kill Bill
or Shattered , he said.
Russia 88, a 2009 award-winning docudrama about neo-Nazis in St. Petersburg, has suffered both from lawsuits and self-censorship on the part of theaters that refuse to screen the film.
the Culture Ministry bill, Russia 88 director Pavel Bardin said: We already have effective mechanisms for film censorship. The federal law against extremism allows any movie to be banned (true, along with the effect of an unnecessary scandal). The
theaters wait for telephone calls signaling if they can or cannot show a certain film and basically never show any incisive movies. This order is simply the final accord.
Russian guerrilla artists from the Voina art collective are facing criminal prosecution for their controversial brand of political street art.
action had been brilliantly planned and executed, it was refreshingly low-tech and delightfully accessible. Over two weeks of clandestine observation, the group calculated they had an average of just 30 seconds between traffic being stopped and Liteinyi
Bridge being raised for the night. Over the same two weeks they practised daily with water in a parking lot, dividing the phallus into five cuts with one artist responsible for each, and perfecting the assembly of the five cuts into a well-formed
and recognisable whole, completed within the 30 seconds. Fifty-five litres of white water-based emulsion paint mixed with water were divided into five-litre canisters, two together for the penis head and testicles in order to achieve the required
thickness. Further activists distracted the bridge security in their roles of drunken football fan, nervy woman driver and cyclists. On the night, the group stormed the bridge and completed the phallus in 23 seconds; the only blemish a slightly
ill-formed left testicle due to one of the artists being taken out by a security guard. An incredulous crowd wondered and photographed as the bridge towered insolently above the FSB [previously the KGB] headquarters.
The Uzbek national security service (SNB) has issued warned to the country's leading artists against using religious themes in their work. The warning was issued at a special conference held at the end of October.
At the meeting, an SNB
representative told leading theatre and film professionals, writers, painters and musicians that the use of any kind of religious theme in their works was strictly forbidden.
Following the KGB-style warning, a member of Uzbekistan's State
Committee for Religious Affairs described how members of extremist Islamist organizations knowingly misrepresent the Koran, exploiting the fact that the majority of Muslims in Uzbekistan do not know the Arab language and cannot refer to the original
It is thought that one of the reasons for the move to ban religious themes in works of art was the recent film Nafs (Desire) by the young Uzbek actor and director Farroukh Saipov. The film premiered not long before the special meeting
of Uzbek artists, but Saipov's film was banned from distribution after the screening.
Saipov is very popular among young Uzbeks as an actor and director. He is deeply religious and is also a member of a Muslim sect which is not recognised in
Uzbekistan. Not long before the premier Saipov was arrested and charged with belonging to a banned religious organization.
Prison terms of up to five years, or maximum fines of nearly nine years' worth of official minimum wage, are set to be adopted by Azerbaijan's parliament in mid-November. The extreme penalties will be applicable for groups of people who produce or
distribute religious literature without going through Azerbaijan's compulsory prior state censorship of all religious literature.
Also due are new punishments for those who lead Muslim worship if they have gained their religious education abroad,
Forum 18 News Service has learnt.
The punishments are included in proposed amendments to the Criminal and Administrative Codes approved by two parliamentary committees on 28 October.
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to share with you its concern about Bill No. 7132 proposing amendments to the Protection of
Public Decency Law.
This bill, which you approved on first reading on 18 October, aims to ban pornography and the use of words or images of an obscene, vulgar and brutal nature in the print and broadcast media and on the
Internet. It also aims to penalize extremist and offensive content and the defence of violence. While we understand your goals, we are extremely concerned about the methods being used to achieve them. We think that the very vague definition of banned
content, the possibility of blocking websites without a court order and the failure to take account of the public's right to information pose a great danger to freedom of information in Ukraine.
This bill's defence of public
decency covers a very wide range of subjects, including not only pornography but also defence of fascism, appeals for war, Ukrainophobia, humiliation of handicapped persons and promotion of cigarette smoking. The response is nonetheless the
same for all these crimes. The lack of clear definition leaves a disturbing degree of room for varying interpretations. Who will decide what promoting (...) terrorism and other forms of criminal activity covers? There have unfortunately
been many examples in neighbouring countries of this kind of provision being used to crack down on every form of criticism. Our concern is increased by the fact that the bill applies to a very wide range of media.
By default, the
National Commission for Protecting Public Decency is granted excessive powers. There is no provision for supervising the committee and no mechanism for appealing against its decisions. It alone has the power to determine the degree to which any content
comes under a banned category. It will be able to require Internet Service Providers to restrict free access to content deemed to be indecent within 24 hours and without need for a court order. Since not only content creators but also editors and
hosting companies could be held responsible, overblocking will be likely, threatening the free flow of information.
Ukrainian NGOs that defend the media are worried that acts of provocation, such as the posting of hate comments,
could be deliberately used to get critical websites closed down. We share their concern. As in very closed countries, Internet Service Providers will be reduced to playing the role of Internet policemen without any autonomy. Whenever required,
they will moreover be forced to immediately hand over a user's private data to the police in order to prevent banned content from circulating online.
We regret that this bill does not weigh the legitimate need to combat
terrorism and pornography against the public's right to information about subjects of general interest. This principle nonetheless lies at the heart of all the rulings that have been handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. The United Nations
and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recently recognized in a joint report that this principle also applies to the Internet.
The news is unfortunately often dominated by violence or by disgraceful
statements. Will these news events be censored because they fall within the definitions of the Protection of Public Decency Law? As international practice has often shown, there is a great danger that the bearers of bad news will be confused with those
who were responsible for them. Journalists and bloggers are not responsible for the events they have a duty to report.
We are of the view that, if implemented as its stands, this proposed law would violate article 10 of the
European Convention on Human Rights and article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which have been ratified by your country. We therefore think there it would redound to your credit it you were to reject this bill on second reading.
I thank you for the attention you give to this letter.
Reporters Without Borders condemns plans by Roskomnadzor, Russia's federal supervisory agency for communications, information technology and mass media, to use search software to track down extremist content on the Internet. The agency is
currently testing the software and intends to start using it in December.
When Roskomnadzor's software, using very vague criteria, decides that a website has extremist content, the site will be given three days to remove it. If it fails to
comply, it will be sent two further warnings and then it will be closed down.
In a separate development, the justice ministry has announced a contest for the design of software that it could use for scanning and monitoring Internet content. It
would scan for anything posted online about the Russian government and judicial system, and any European Union statement concerning Russia.
Our main concern is Roskomnadzor's very broad definition of 'extremist' content and the arbitrary and
disproportionate nature of the sanctions, that can include website closure, Reporters Without Borders said: The creation of this software will establish a generalized system of surveillance of the Russian Internet that could eventually lead to the
withdrawal of all content that troubles the authorities. It will inevitably restrict the free flow of information.
Prosecutors in Tomsk are seeking through the courts to have the Russian translation of the most important work for Hare Krishna devotees, the Bhagavad-Gita As it Is , declared "extremist" and placed on the Federal List of Extremist
An 'expert' analysis completed in October 2010 by three academics at Tomsk State University, Sergei Avanesov, Valeri Svistunov and Valeri Naumov, found that the book contains signs of incitement of religious hatred and humiliation of
an individual based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, origin or attitude to religion .
The analysis claimed the book humiliated those who did not believe in or even know about Krishna or follow Krishna's teachings. It claimed that the
author propagated the exclusivity and superiority of his faith and was hostile, insulting and humiliating about other faiths [Just like any other supposedly holy book then] . It also claimed that the author called for
hostile or violent acts against women and non-Hare Krishna devotees.
This case is more than important for us - it is vital, Hare Krishna lawyer Mikhail Frolov told Forum 18: This is the most important development in the whole history of
our movement in Russia. They are trying not just to declare our book extremist, but our religious teaching also. If they succeed, our community throughout Russia could be declared extremist.
Meanwhile, an appeal court in Dagestan, while
upholding a three-year suspended prison term on Ziyavdin Dapayev, has ruled that works by the late Muslim theologian Said Nursi should be handed to the Dagestan Muslim Board for a decision on the question of the destruction of the banned books and
Censorship is supposedly forbidden by the Russian Constitution, although the past decade has seen attempts to reintroduce a censorship body governed by the state or the Russian Orthodox Church, or both.
Forbidden Art , a 158-page
documentary graphic novel published by Boomkniga Publishers in St. Petersburg earlier this month, deals with a situation in which the state and church joined forces to suppress dissent in present-day Russia.
With drawings by artist Viktoria
Lomasko and text written mostly by artist and former political journalist Anton Nikolayev, both from Moscow, the book documents the legal trial of the organizers of the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibition held at the Andrei Sakharov museum and community
center in Moscow in 2008. The trial was brought by the Orthodox Christian nationalist movement Narodny Sobor (People's Council).
During the trial, critics found similarities with the Soviet show trials held under Josef Stalin in the 1930s.
Forbidden Art 2006 featured works that were rejected by Russian galleries and museums for political or religious reasons. The artworks were put behind a false wall with peep holes in it high above the floor, and visitors had to climb up onto a
bench in order to peep at the works through the holes.
Curator Andrei Yerofeyev and his co-organizer Yury Samodurov were found guilty of inciting religious hatred and were given substantial fines (the state prosecutor had called for three-year
prison sentences for both).
Speaking at a presentation of the book at the bookstore Vse Svobodny, Nikolayev said he had the idea of documenting Yerofeyev and Samodurov's trial, which he described as a social comedy, because he felt it would
expose the characters of the people involved as well as new social trends.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military cooperation body consisting of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, has announced that it will start controlling social networks to avoid
the unrest seen in the Arab world.
From The Moscow News:
Sources in CSTO said:
Experts of the highest level are already working on this. The thing is, in the modern environment there is an infrastructure
that allows for creating destabilizing situations in any, even the most trouble-free country. Mobile connections, social networks, even NGOs when needed, could be used for these aims.
After the Arab Spring and the much-discussed role
of the Internet and social media, we'll see more and more of this Internet panic and knee-jerkism (from suggestions in Britain to shut down social networks after the London riots to this kind of blame-the-Internet-bots-rather-than-the-tyrants approach).
As countries like Belarus, Iran and Myanmar digest the lessons of the Arab Spring, their demand for monitoring technology will grow.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has not publicly cultivated the macho public image of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, but when it comes to dance-floor grooving, the president has the public's undivided attention.
Medvedev first leaped to
disco fame in April when a video shot on a mobile phone at a university reunion and posted on the Internet captured the president boogying in a blue suit (above) to American Boy, the post-Soviet pop anthem.
The president's swinging hips,
bobbing shoulders, and robotic dance rhythm won the video hundreds of thousands of hits overnight.
In May, dozens of Russians organized a flash mob near the Kremlin, where they danced to American Boy in a synchronized impersonation of their
A Russian comedy act subsequently mimicked Medvedev's dancing and entered a pre-recorded video of their performance in a state television competition on Channel One. They won first prize for their humorous interpretation and reworking
of Medvedev's bob-and-strut. Their video has received more than 1 million hits in the last few days:
Channel One editors were, however, less amused, and the parody of the president dancing was mysteriously edited out of the state television show.
The president has no problem with people impersonating him, the BBC quoted a Kremlin spokesperson as saying.
On the eve of its presidential election campaign, Kyrgyzstan has imposed a ban on real-time broadcasts by international, primarily RussianTV channels.
Earlier in June, the former-Soviet republic's parliament passed a law On Information Security
. Under the law, during the election campaign all international TV channels available in Kyrgyzstan can only be shown on delayed feed.
Prior to deciding whether the video is suitable for being aired or not, Kyrgyz broadcasters will have to
watch and record international TV channels' programs. Then, if no untoward messages are detected, they will be shown to the republic's viewers. Programs and reports that discredit presidential candidates will be cut out.
Now the vexed problem that
chiefs of Kyrgyz channels are facing is how exactly the new rules can be followed. First of all, there are no clear criteria for what is suitable or not for being shown on TV. Secondly, there are no professionals who would be able to deal with the task.
And, finally, the majority of Russian TV channels are being broadcast through cable networks.
The presidential vote in Kyrgyzstan is scheduled for October 30.
Russia's Communist Party has submitted a bill to the State Duma aimed at creating a Supreme Council on the Protection of Morality on state TV channels and radio stations.
The bill is awaiting consideration by lower house legislators during
their last session prior to the December elections.
If approved, a specially-created body would make appraisals or, at least, express opinions on the extent to which TV and radio broadcasts promote public morality, one of the authors of the
initiative, MP Nina Ostanina, told Itar-Tass.
This is not meant as an instrument of censorship, Ostanina claimed. In contrast to the situation in the Soviet era, the moral assessment would be made after rather than before a TV or
radio program went on air.. . [BUT] ... In any case, it would send a signal to conscientious producers of TV programs when broadcasts are unacceptable to public morals.
The bill makes no provision for any punishment or
sanctions against broadcasters who regularly violate the rules of morality. The council would, however, have the right to appeal to the state leadership and a channel's majority shareholders as well as to urge the public to show its disapproval.
However another Communist faction deputy, Sergey Obukhov, suggested that the watchdog bodies should have far more extensive powers, including the defining of TV channels' program policy. The television has been turned into a scrapheap, Obukhov observed. The council's task would be to sort that scrapheap out and bring Russian TV up to European standards.
As for the membership of such TV watchdogs, the MP believes they could be comprised of representatives of political parties and public organizations, as well as members of society with moral authority .
Kazakhstan is considering imposing laws that will force internet cafes to monitor their customers use of the web.
The potential new regulations are part of a wider attempt by the Kazakh authorities to cut the flow of videos and literature produced
by militant Islamists which they blame for fueling extremist violence.
Last week a court in Kazakhstan blocked access to the popular Russian blogging platform LiveJournal and other sites because Islamic extremists had been using them. Earlier this
year a court also stopped access to the WordPress blogging site for several weeks for similar reasons.
The head of the Kazakh Interior Ministry's department, Erseri Utegaliyev, told the Express-K newspaper that internet cafes in Kazakhstan are
favoured by fraudsters and extremists: Basically these things are committed in internet cafes and that is why we are now looking at the idea of monitoring clients using a number of records to show the time of their work and the IP address used .
The newspaper article also described how under the proposed regulations, internet cafes may have to install cameras to video their customers.
Turkmenistan's leader has ordered the removal of satellite dishes from apartment blocks in a move that could restrict access to foreign television channels in the reclusive Central Asian state. President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, whose word is final
told his government to install cable television to replace the dishes that crowd the walls and roofs of many buildings in Ashgaba.
Numerous television aerials installed on the roofs and facdes of houses reflect negatively on the capital's
architectural appearance, Berdymukhamedov claimed in comments published by state newspaper Neitralny Turkmenistan.
Satellite television is one of the few means by which residents of Turkmenistan can access independent information in a nation
dominated by state media. An official at the Ministry of Communications, who declined to be identified, said cable television would be installed free of charge and that a basic package would include channels already transmitted by four satellites.
Reporters Without Borders has written to Sultan Qaboos, Oman’s head of state, expressing deep concern at the trial of Yousef Al-Haj , a journalist with the Muscat-based daily Al-Zaman , as a result of a
complaint by justice minister Mohamed Al-Hanai about article published on 14 May.
In its letter, sent on 11 August, Reporters Without Borders voiced amazement at the range and scale of the charges brought against Al-Haj in response to
the article, which quoted a justice ministry employee’s allegations about growing corruption within the ministry and favouritism in promotions.
“ The proceedings are out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence and we call
for their immediate withdrawal ,” the letter said. “ We fear that Yousef Al-Haj will not have time to organize his defence for the first hearing and will not get a fair trial .”
After being summoned at short notice for
interrogation at the prosecutor’s office on 5 July, without having time to notify is lawyer, Al-Haj was charged with:
insulting the justice ministry
insulting the justice minister and his under-secretary
trying to create divisions within Omani society
violating article 60 of the civil code (the publications law)
working as a
journalist without a permit.
The Reporters Without Borders letter also advised against closing Al-Zaman in response to an order issued by a Muscat court in connection with the case. “ It would be regrettable if the Omani courts upheld this decision, which
would violate freedom of the press and would give credence to the journalist’s allegedly defamatory claims. ” The newspaper has nonetheless been closed.
The president of Al-Zaman ’s board, its editor and one of its design
editors are also charged with illegally employing Al-Haj without a permit from the information ministry. Many journalists work without permits in Oman.
The Uzbek authorities greeted the start of the Internet Festival celebrating the national domain .uz with a block on almost all Russian, western and Central Asian news websites.
The blackout of dozens of websites began on 9 August. Uznews.net's
editorial office checked the reported blocking of 65 Russian news sites and found that 29 had been blocked including the sites of national TV channels First Channel; Rossiya; NTV and the business channel RBK TV.
The internet block also extended to
the websites of many Russian socio-economic and political institutions and publishing houses.
Internet users in Uzbekistan also found that radio stations were blocked including Mayak; Radio Rossii and Echo Moskvy.
The BBC and Deutsche Welle
are among the western news outlets which were blocked six years ago after the events in Andijan. Now the Financial Times (London), the New York Times and Reuters news agency are unavailable too.
Central Asian news sites appeared to be a particular
target of the web censor. Information agencies in Kyrgyzstan were all blocked as were practically all news sites in Tajikistan and some in Kazakhstan.
Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has called for limits to be imposed on the Internet to prevent young people from being influenced by extremism on the web.
The remarks fueled fears among bloggers, journalists, and rights activists
that Russia may seek to adopt China-style restrictions on the Internet.
Nurgaliyev warned that young people are no longer united by the love songs of old and that they are prone to the malicious sway of an estimated 7,500 extremist websites
operating on Russian territory:
Nurgaliyev later said the time has long been ripe to carry out monitoring in the country to find out what they are listening to, what they are reading, [and] what they are watching.
Nurgaliyev was not
specific about what kind of controls he believes are needed. But he is, nevertheless, the highest-ranking official to call for restrictions on the Internet.
Security services expert Andrei Soldatov Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia's security
services and head of the Agentura think tank, said Nurgaliyev's comments partially reflect a desire by law-enforcement bodies to stave off unrest ahead of elections to the State Duma in December and for the presidency in March 2012.
added that the Interior Ministry is also eager to win additional budget money to expand the online portion of a four-year-old campaign to combat extremism, which allows it to take preventive measures against those who may pose a threat: If we
are talking about preventive measures, then we need to understand what people or person might in the future commit a crime, write something or publish something . For that you need to monitor what is going on the Internet.
the ministry would like to deploy special, so-called anti-extremism profiling systems such as one currently under construction by Roskomnadzor, an agency in the Ministry of Communications, that will monitor online media and new media in Russia.
Kyrgyzstan's Central Elections Committee (CEC) has decided to bar web-based news media from participating in the campaign ahead of the 30th October presidential election.
Eleven news sites have been denied accreditation to inform voters on
pre-election developments. A CEC spokeswoman said: the Kyrgyz law on mass media does not regard web-based news agencies as media outlets; that is why they cannot generate revenue from promotion of the candidates.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a law supposedly protecting children from 'hazardous' information, the Kremlin reports.
The law sets a censorship level for information for children under 18 and classification of information products. This
also bans schoolbooks with hazardous information.
Certain advertisements will be banned from education centers, sanatoriums and sports organizations for children within a radius of 100 meters.
Violation of the law will be punishable by
2,000-3,000 rubles for citizens, 5,000-10,000 for officials and businesses, 20,000-50,000 for legal bodies or a 90-day administrative suspension for business.
A new report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says Internet access should be a fundamental human right, like freedom of expression.
The study also argues that Internet blocking and content filtering mandates and
technologies are, in most cases, cannot be reconciled with the free flow of information and freedom of expression, both of which are basic commitments made by the 56 members of the OSCE.
Everyone should have a right to participate in the
information society and states have a responsibility to ensure citizens access to the Internet is guaranteed,' the report reads.
The study, authored by Istabul Bilgi University's Yaman Akdeniz and commissions by the OSCE Representative on
Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic' examines the level of Internet content regulation in the OSCE region and evaluations how member states' laws embody their OSCE commitments and international standards.
Legislation in many countries does not
recognize that freedom of expression and freedom of the media equally apply to Internet as a modern means of exercising these rights, said Representative Mijatovic', in a statement. In some of our states, 'extremism , terrorist propaganda,
harmful content, and hate speech are vaguely defined and may be widely interpreted to ban speech types that Internet users may not deem illegal.'
The report also noted that many countries permit the complete suspension of Internet access and
services during a declared state of emergency, war, or in response to other security threats.
Foreign Office to discuss UK policy on freedom of expression on the internet
The decision by a French court on July 1, 2011, to dismiss a defamation suit brought by the daughter of Uzbekistan's president against an online French news agency highlighted Uzbekistan's repressive approach to criticism, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Press Court in Paris dismissed the lawsuit brought by Lola Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov, against Rue89. Karimova had sought moral damages against Rue89.com for a May 2010 article that called her the daughter of dictator
Karimov, and alleged she was whitewashing Uzbekistan's image through charity events.
Uzbekistan is widely known for its atrocious human rights record, including repression of free speech, said Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia
researcher at Human Rights Watch. Political figures like Karimova should never be able to abuse defamation laws to silence open and critical debate about government actions.
Karimova filed the suit in August 2010, seeking EUR30,000
(US$43,000) in damages over an article with the headline, AIDS: Uzbekistan Cracks Down at Home but Puts on Show at Cannes. The article says that Karimova paid the actress Monica Bellucci EUR190,000 (US$272,000) to appear at a charity event.
President Karimov's government has a well-documented record of serious human rights violations, including severe political repression. Torture and ill-treatment are systematic in the criminal justice system. Opposition political parties cannot operate
freely in Uzbekistan, and there has not been a single election since Uzbekistan's independence in 1991 that international observers found to be free or fair.
Two large-scale sculptural works by Moscow-based artist Aidan Salakhova, on show at the entrance of the Azerbaijan National Pavilion in Venice, have been hidden from view under drapes following protests from the Azerbaijan president.
The Art Newspaper
understands that Ilham Aliyev took offence at the pieces because of their references to Islam. One work, Waiting Bride , 2010-11, which shows a woman covered in a black veil from head to foot, was deemed as promoting an unacceptably strict
form of Islam. The other sculpture, which depicts the Muslim relic, the Black Stone of Mecca, contained in a vagina-like marble frame, was considered insensitive to the religion.
A Kremlin official has dismissed as unconstitutional, a proposal to establish a committee to monitor journalists' compliance with moral norms.
The idea of introducing censorship - for that is what this is - is against the
constitution and does not fit in with the development path that our country has taken, said the officia.
The proposal was put forward by a group of prominent Russian cultural figures including Oscar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov.
The proposal has sparked angry reactions from journalists and bloggers. Editor-in-chief of the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily Pavel Gusev described it as a talentless idea, which contradicts Russian media laws.
Russia's culture ministry said it was disgusted by the awarding of a top art prize for a phallus painted on a bridge but vowed to stay out of the controversy as it was not an organ of censorship .
Street art group Voina, (translated as
War), won the Innovation prize last week for the phallus which it painted on a drawbridge opposite the headquarters of the FSB security service in Saint Petersburg last summer.
The ministry said it found the work, titled A dick captured by the
FSB, provocative, hooligan-like and disgusting, but said that interfering in the jury decision would be a great blow to developing civil society.
In a statement it called the prize a slap in the face for common sense and
said the ministry should have intervened at the nomination stage or pulled out as a backer of the prize. The prize is awarded by the State Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow, although the ministry said it did not provide the prize money.
Uzbek security services have closed down bookstores specializing in religious literature in Tashkent, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.
Twenty bookstores in the Kitoblar dunyosi (World of Books) book trading center have been raided by Uzbek National
Security Service (NSS) agents, police, tax officers, and representatives of the government Committee for Religious Affairs in the past week and closed.
Kitoblar dunyosi was the only place allowed to sell books on religion, primarily on Islam and
mainly published in Uzbekistan.
According to a RFE/RL source, bookstore owners were selling only books approved by the state.
Local human rights activists say authorities have intensified their already tight grip on religion in the wake of
the recent antigovernment uprisings in the Middle East. At the same time, the government is continuing its crackdown on what it calls radical groups willing to overthrow the constitutional order.
Human rights groups have criticized the
authorities, saying many people have been labeled extremists and jailed for peacefully practicing their religion.
The government is also getting tougher on activities such as proselytizing and importing and disseminating religious
literature. Officials have confirmed around 15,000 Bibles have been confiscated in the past year.
Proposed Russian legal amendments that would ban anyone except registered religious organisations from distributing religious literature have received initial backing from the Duma's Committee on Social and Religious Organisations, Forum 18 News Service
The Committee has set 30 April as the deadline for comments on the amendments, which also impose fines for this offence .
In May the Committee will review the draft in the light of comments and either pass it to the full
Duma or reject it.
Some do not think the draft will be adopted, but it has aroused concern from human rights defenders and some religious communities. Similar proposals have regularly been made, but this is the first time to Forum 18's knowledge
that such a proposal has had initial Committee backing. It is unclear how much support this proposal has among senior Russian political figures.
Western media outlets can't stop glorifying the Internet and social networks as the new tools for empowering grassroots resistance movements. This point is not lost on the notoriously suspicious Kremlin, which is convinced that the
West has found a new means for advancing its interests after the color revolutions of the mid-2000s. Since then, the argument goes, the opposition is much more capable of orchestrating a regime change thanks to Twitter technology.
What's more, even weak or poorly organized opposition forces are capable of effecting regime change if their arsenals include Twitter and Facebook. As President Dmitry Medvedev said last week in Vladikavkaz: Let's face the truth.
They have been preparing such a scenario for us, and now they will try even harder to implement it.
Medvedev's reaction shows that the Kremlin is taking the threat very seriously. The question now is how the
authorities will respond if similar protests erupt in Russia. The siloviki and the presidential administration are the two agencies capable of responding to any Internet-based threat of revolution.
The Federal Security
Service and Interior Ministry have demonstrated several times in recent years which approach they believe is best, registering every single Internet user to identify extremists and bring criminal charges against them. That is precisely how the
they reacted to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They proposed Criminal Code amendments that would have made the owners of online social networks responsible for all content posted on their sites. Apparently, the idea is not to incriminate the
owners of Facebook and Vkontakte of extremism personally, but to force them to pass responsibility on to individual users by requiring each to sign a contract that includes their passport information.
presidential administration has traditionally preferred more adventurous methods. A couple years ago, the Kremlin opened its own school of bloggers, and although the school was supposedly later shut down, the same initiative was taken up by the
regions. This project was organized by the Foundation for Effective Policy, a think tank run by Kremlin-friendly political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky. The group is charged with a single overriding task: to resist the subversive activity of the West.
As mass unrest continues to shake authoritarian states in North Africa and the Middle East, the siloviki are pushing for the registration of social network users and waiting to pounce on anyone posting an extremist
message and the Kremlin is funding pro-government bloggers. This will inevitably be interpreted by analysts as a new political battle between the government against the opposition.
Meanwhile, Russia's 40 million
Internet users have shown remarkably little interest in this political struggle. This means that the Kremlin's battle to prevent an imminent Facebook revolution will remain largely virtual.
Western actors and musicians including Kevin Spacey, Kelvin Kline, the Pet Shop Boys, Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Tom Stoppard and Samuel West, have been put on a blacklist of artists banned in Belarus.
The list was
apparently drawn up by the Belarus Council of Ministers but the official government position is that such a list does not exist.
Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Sir Ian McKellen and Samuel West have all been added to the list after they performed at an
Index on Censorship event at the Young Vic with dissident theatre group the Belarus Free Theatre on 5 December last year.
Sir Tom Stoppard has supported the Belarus Free Theatre for many years and has been a vocal opponent of President
Lukashenko's authoritarian rule.
A new Russian police law has come into force that gives officers the right to take down web sites without a court order but industry representatives said police can already do that under existing legislation.
The police's right is mentioned in a
report on intellectual piracy submitted by the Economic Development Ministry to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which is preparing its own annual piracy survey
The ministry report, first leaked on the Marker.ru news web site,
lists the police's right to shut down web sites among measures intended to help crack down on copyright infringement.
The police law provides officers with an instrument to terminate the activity of Internet resources that infringe on Russian
and international copyright law, which was previously possible only with the judicial order or during investigation, the ministry said in the report.
The actual police legislation does not mention web sites, but contains vague wording that
authorizes the police to order any organization to change or stop operations that contribute to criminal activity in any way.
On a chilly Moscow morning last November, 10 plainclothes policemen broke into the Moscow apartment where Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were sleeping. Screaming at everyone to stay on the ground, the officers handcuffed the two men, pulled
plastic bags over their heads and threw them into a police van. They drove north for 10 hours while police allegedly kicked and abused the two men, who have been held in a pre-trial detention centre in St Petersburg until this week. But Mr Vorotnikov and
Mr Nikolayev are not drug dealers or dangerous murderers on the run -- they are artists.
The two men are part of Voina, a radical art collective that has infuriated the Russian authorities with a series of increasingly audacious stunts, and whose
jailing has caused concern in Russia about a return to a Soviet-style censorship of the arts. Over the past three years, the group's installations and performances have included organising the mock execution of migrant workers in a Moscow supermarket, an
impromptu expletive-filled punk rock performance in a courtroom, throwing live cats at McDonald's cashiers and painting an enormous penis on a bridge in St Petersburg.
One day there will be thousands of volunteers out there patrolling the Russian Internet. That at least is the dream of a new organization, the League of Internet Safety.
The league is formed by the three major mobile providers: Mobile TeleSystems,
VimpelCom, and Megafon, and the state telecom company Rostelecom. It also features the head of Mail.ru, Dmitry Grishin, on its board of trustees, which is headed by the Communications and Press Minister Igor Shchyogolev.
Shchyogolev says thousands
of volunteers, or simple people, would monitor the Internet and tell the league when they see dangerous content. The league will also provide grants to develop filters to protect children from seeing adult material on the web too.
The league's stated purpose in the next year will be to fight against child pornography, organizers say. But they inevitably talked about expanding that mission to policing other negative content.
Pavel Astakhov, the children's ombudsman
who is also a trustee of the league, called on Internet users themselves to refrain from putting anything negative, extremist, disgusting or dangerous online.
Bloggers, for their part, reacted skeptically to the new organization.
Anton Nossik, one of the country's most famous bloggers and Internet businessman, pointed out that China, which has far more control of the web than Russia, had its own cyber-militia to screen websites to report to the authorities.
Another blogger Maxim Kononenko slammed the idea, claiming that organizations like the Friendly Internet had limited success. He suggested that the League of Internet Safety would end up being sold as a business in the future.
suggested that the league was just another way for the state to abuse the Internet for its own purposes. In recent years, the security services and Kremlin-backed youth organizations have been active on the Internet, harassing those they view as
Protestant church leaders in central Kazakhstan have issued a joint protest against an article and accompanying cartoon critical of Christianity printed in a newspaper last month, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
Igor Pak, the pastor of the Kamo
Gryadeshi (Quo Vadis) Protestant church told RFE/RL an article published in the newspaper Vzglyad na sobytiya (A Glance at Events) in December was a lie written by a reporter who visited his church.
The article implied that the
church was involved in brainwashing people to become Christians. A cartoon accompanying the article showed a man in a doctor's robe opening up another's man's skull and putting what appears to be a Bible in his head. The man in the doctor's robe says:
Some words of the Lord Almighty, a bit of spicy tricks with delirium about personal growth; as for logical thinking ... we do not give a damn about that.
Vzglyad na sobytiya chief editor Andrei Menshchikov said that the last time I
checked, freedom of speech is still legal in our democratic country called Kazakhstan.
A group of Ukraine lawmakers has drafted a bill proposing to end the licensing and censorship of internet video
I very much hope that our committee (the committee for freedom of speech and information) will support this bill, and it will be
considered this month, one of the authors of the bill, MP Olha Bodnar of the BYT-Batkivschyna faction, said at a press conference.
According to her, the bill proposes amending some laws, in particular, to stipulate that the distribution of
video on the Internet is not subject to licensing and censorship by the public authorities. T he responsibility for disseminating Internet child pornography and materials that are a threat to national security interests, would lies with the owners
of the Web site.
Tajikistan charges religious communities high prices for censorship which violates the internationally recognised human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service has found.
An Imam of an
officially registered mosque, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that he is confident he will receive Religious Affairs Committee permission to print books. But he is surprised that charges are imposed. We
cannot afford to pay these charges to print books , he lamented. We do not earn much , he observed.
The Hare Krishna community have found that even our main sacred book, the Bhagavad Gita , must be censored. And it is
going to be very expensive for us , Dilorom Kurbanova complained. The state Religious Affairs Committee refuses to make public how much it charges for censorship. It is also uncertain whether communities will be fined for already having or using
uncensored literature, and what will happen to confiscated literature.
A new offence of producing, distributing,
importing or exporting religious literature and items of a religious nature which have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship was created with the addition of Article 474-1 to the Code of Administrative Offences.
Article, which came into force on 1 January 2011, imposes heavy fines.
Mavlon Mukhtarov of the Government's Religious Affairs Committee denied that the censorship violates Tajikistan's international human rights commitments. Asked by Forum 18
about the huge fines, he told Forum 18: Well, we will warn religious organisations not to violate the law, and those fines will only come if they continue violations.
Police in Almaty, Kazakhstan have confiscated the latest issue of the opposition weekly Golos Respubliki (Voice of the Republic), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
Newspaper spokesman Sergei Zelepukhin told journalists that police stopped
the paper's delivery vehicle late on January 13 with thousands of copies of this week's issue.
He said the driver and accompanying staff members were taken to a police station, where they were told they had been detained on suspicion of spreading
false information. The individuals were later released, but the newspapers were confiscated.
Zelepukhin said the issue contained articles criticizing the proposed national referendum on prolonging President Nursultan Nazarbaev's term in office
Golos Respubliki journalist Oksana Makushina told a press conference in Almaty that just 3,000 copies of the total print-run of 19,000 made their way to newsstands in Almaty.
An eastern Russian region tried to ban a New Year's production of Cinderella claiming it contained a subliminal political message about contested time zone changes.
Authorities in Kamchatka targeted the play after audiences responded
strongly at an apparent parallel with a hugely controversial change to bring the far-flung volcanic region closer to Moscow time.
Following a decree from President Dmitry Medvedev, the Kamchatka region last year moved to a time zone that is only
eight hours rather than nine hours ahead of Moscow, a move that has sparked street protests.
During the show, in the region's main city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, audiences began furiously applauding a scene where the king turns the clock back
to keep Cinderella at the ball.
At the fifth show - which most unfortunately happened to be attended by a close aide of the regional governor - the scene where Cinderella does not leave the ball aroused particularly passionate applause, the
former governor of Kamchatka, Mikhail Mashkovtsev, wrote in his blog: The governor was informed and he ordered that the play should be banned .
A Minsk-based radio station that broadcast campaign advertisements for opposition presidential candidates has been taken off the air due to the cancellation of its license, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.
AvtoRadio went off the air one day after
the National Commission for Broadcasting pulled its broadcasting license.
The censor's justification for the action appeared to dovetail with authorities' efforts to cast political dissent in the wake of last month's tainted presidential vote as
During the campaign for last month's presidential election, AvtoRadio broadcast some campaign material of opposition candidates Andrey Sannikau and Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu. The material was aired as advertisements under formal contracts
with the two candidates.
Avtoradio said it would appeal the cancellation of its license in court.