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Middle East Censorship News

2011: July-Sept

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29th September   

Update: Dangerous Words...

Turkish cartoonist on trial for a cartoon with hidden comment denying the existence of Allah
Link Here
Full story: Blasphemy in Turkey...Blasphemy repressing Turkish people

A Turkish cartoonist will be put on trial for a caricature he drew in which he renounced god, daily Haberturkreported .

The Istanbul chief public prosecutor's office charged cartoonist Bahadir Baruter with insulting the religious values adopted by a part of the population and requested his imprisonment for up to one year.

Baruter's caricature depicted an imam and believers praying in a mosque. One of the characters is talking to God on his cellphone and asking to be pardoned from the last part of the prayer because he has errands to run.

Within the circled wall decorations of the mosque, Baruter hid the words, There is no Allah, religion is a lie.

The cartoon was published in the weekly Penguen humor magazine.

Turkish Religous Affairs and Foundation Members' Union and some citizens filed complaints against Baruter.


16th September   

There Can't be Much Left to Censor...

Iranian TV told to censor topless men and love triangle storylines in dramas
Link Here

Iran has banned TV programmes showing half-naked men and love triangles, the semi-official Fars news agency has reported, in the latest sign of a conservative crackdown.

It was not clear what prompted the ban. Iran TV, which has a monopoly in the country, dedicates large parts of its schedule to religious shows and announcements from the government.

Fars reported that: Based on a new instruction, the broadcasting of programmes that show tempting love triangles is banned. Showing half-naked men in Iranian and foreign productions is also banned.


13th September   

Update: High Ideals...

Eutelsat says no to censoring Syria TV channel airing messages by Gaddafi
Link Here
Full story: China International Censors...China pressures other countries into censorship

French satellite operator Eutelsat has said it had no right to turn off a Syrian television station that is broadcasting audio messages by ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Gaddafi, whose whereabouts are unknown, has defiantly spoken several times on Syria-based Arrai TV since losing control of Tripoli on Aug. 23, calling on his supporters to continue their resistance to the new authorities.

Eutel, the world's third-largest satellite operator, said earlier it was in contact with local distributor Noorsat to see whether Noorsat could stop transmitting Arrai and sister channel al-Oruba, which has also give Gaddafi a platform to speak.

We talked to Noorsat and Noorsat removed al-Oruba, Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O'Connor said. That was their decision and their action. Arrai is still broadcasting and as things stand at the moment we have taken it as far as we can. O'Connor added that Eutelsat did not judge or censor content and it was not up to it to make the decision to stop transmissions.


12th September   

Update: The Sky is Falling in on Egyptian Dreams...

Egypt blocks new satellite channels
Link Here
Full story: Press Freedom in Egypt...Press under duress in Egypt

Egypt's Information Ministry has launched a campaign with the Interior Ministry's censorship department to reconsider the permits of 16 satellite channels broadcasting from Egypt.

Informed sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the office of Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, which began transmission following the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak in February, was raided by Egyptian authorities.

Information Minister Osama Heikal announced that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the cabinet decided after a joint meeting that day to temporarily suspend granting new permits to satellite channels. They also decided to prosecute satellite channels deemed threatening to the stability of the country.

Egyptian rights organizations meanwhile condemned the decision, saying it is a regression to the oppressive policies of Mubarak's regime.


7th September   

Update: The President is Listening...

Iranian satirical picture leads to closure of a newspaper
Link Here
Full story: Press Freedom in Iran...As if there were any

The Iranian newspaper Shahrvand-e-Emrooz has been shut down after mocking President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's relationship with wise man Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei

The cover picture was a photoshopped to look like a 16th-century Persian miniature. The wise man is lecturing his companions who kneel dutifully in front of him.

All the characters are in fact modern-day Iranians. Indeed, the wise man is none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. And in an obvious satire of the country's political leaders, it is Mashaei who counts the president among his obedient followers -- not the other way round.

The picture highlights the concerns among Iranian conservatives over Mashaei's growing political influence. Supporters of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, believe that Mashaei, whose daughter is married to the president's son, is attempting to undermine clerical power in Iran.

It is widely believed the picture was the reason behind the enforced closure of the magazine on Monda. Another publication, Roozegar, was also closed.


2nd September   

Dangerous Cartoons...

Syrian cartoonist gets attacked and his hands broken
Link Here

The Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, an outspoken advocate for human rights, was attacked and his hands broken by masked thugs.

The US State Department criticised the assault as a targeted, brutal attack and demanded that the regime of president Bashar al-Assad stop its campaign of terror through torture, illegal imprisonment, and murder .

The regime's thugs focused their attention on Ferzat's hands, beating them furiously and breaking one of them, a clear message that he should stop drawing, said US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in a statement. He was then reportedly dumped on the side of a road in Damascus, where passers-by stopped and took him to a Damascus hospital.

Ferzat is one of the country's most popular cartoonists, and has become an even more beloved figure during the country's recent uprisings. At the start of the new presidency, he was allowed to publish a satirical magazine called The Lamplighter , which sold out just hours after hitting newsstands. But when Assad began jailing critics of his regime, the publication was soon shut down. Though Ferzat's work has now been banned in local newspapers, the artist continued to post his illustrations on his private website. Recently he had become bolder and started taking jabs at Assad himself (under Syrian law, caricatures of the president are illegal), with a cartoon depicting Assad, his bags packed, hitching a ride with deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.


31st August   

Policing the Censors...

Israeli minster questions shows disquiet over film censors who can make up the rules as they go along
Link Here

Israel's Culture and Sports Minister, Limor Livnat, has asked Israel Film Council Chairman Nissim Abouloff to hold off on a decision to restrict the award-winning Israeli film Hashoter (The Policeman) to viewers 18 and above.

The film, written and directed by Nadav Lapid, won the special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival and three awards at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

It's not clear how the council reached its decision, since the movie does not contain violence or sexually explicit scenes. The decision was handed down last week, without an explanation backing up the ruling.

This is an absurd decision and the censorship is political, Lapid said.

The Israel Film Council falls under the Culture and Sports Ministry. Its decisions are not based on clear criteria or permanent rules; this apparently led Livnat, when she took office in 2009, to seek to stop the council's work in its present form.

According to the culture minister's media adviser, the council has held a number of meetings on the film. Another meeting has been scheduled for next week to study whether to disband the council or set clear criteria for its decisions. This was a pledge the minister made when she came into office, and she intends to keep it, Livnat's office said.

Lapid said the council's decision represents:

the highest form of censorship that can be handed down. Eighteen-year-olds in Israel are able to go into the army, engage in combat, kill and be killed, as well as vote in elections. Israeli girls and boys of 16 are able to visit Poland and deal with scenes of the concentration camps, on trips organized by the Education Ministry. But the critical view of life in Israel as portrayed by Hashoter, its wrestling with the regime and the wealthy, its view of the place of a policeman, a combatant, apparently constitutes a threat to the censorship people.

The film's producer, Itai Tamir, added:

Anyone for whom freedom of speech in Israel is important should be alarmed by the lightness with which the censorship officials decide which viewpoints are worthy to appear on the screen in front of everyone and which are not appropriate.


23rd August   

Update: Threadbare Palestine...

Palestinian TV satire banned after complaints from police and doctors
Link Here

The Palestinian attorney general has ordered a popular television satire off the air, sources at Palestine Television told AFP.

The program, known in Arabic as Watan al Watar ( Nation hanging by a Thread ), was censored under an order citing complaints [from officials rather than viewers] about its skewering of everyone from doctors to police officials, the sources said.

One Palestine Television official said the order accused the program of crossing red lines and inappropriately criticising public figures.

The decision... followed complaints from the president of the anti-corruption commission Rafik Natsheh, the head of the doctors' union, and the director of the Palestinian police, the source quoted the order as saying.

Imad Farajin, a co-creator of the show which has been running since 2009, criticised the order as a blow to Palestinian democracy. This decision violates national rights which are protected by law and the constitution.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and also serves on the board of Palestine TV, condemned the order, warning it laid the groundwork for censorship and stifling of freedoms. He said the station would abide by the order in the short-term, but pledged that it would be challenged before the courts: This decision sets a dangerous precedent in the history of the Palestinian National Authority.


22nd August   

Update: Censorship and Snitching...

Turkey implements internet blocking and ISP reporting of access to banned sites
Link Here
Full story: Internet Censorship in Turkey...Website blocking insults the Turkish people

Turkey's repressive Internet blocking plan, which has drawn criticisms from rights groups, the European Union and web users in Turkey, will come into force Monday.

Based on the Rules and Procedures for the Safety of Internet Use regulation approved by the Prime Ministry's Information and Communication Technologies Authority, or BTK, in February, Internet users in Turkey will be given the option of signing up for one of two Internet packages: family or children. The list of websites filtered by each package will be decided by the BTK, but will not be made public.

According to the BTK, those who decide against using a filter will be able to continue accessing the Internet normally. However, the new plan also a very nasty sting in its tail. Accessing the BTK's banned sites, according to the plan, will be considered a criminal offense, and service providers will be responsible for reporting people who attempt to access the banned sites. Otherwise, they themselves will be charged with heavy financial penalties.

BTK Chairman Tayfun Acarer claimed the new plan will be launched to protect the youth and children from accessing dangerous and obscene content on the Internet.

A commission of 11 people, determined by the Family and Social Policies Ministry, will determine the block lists. However, no criteria have been defined by the BTK as to how the blacklist will be determined. The commission doesn't include any legal experts or news media or communication experts, NTVMSNBC technology editor Noyan Ayan told the Hu rriyet Daily News. Plus we still do not know who determines how and what sites will be banned. Experts say that Turkey's new Internet cyber censorship system is similar to the one used in China.


22nd August   

Update: Epic Censorship...

Iran censors 831 year old classic poem
Link Here
Full story: Book Censors in Iran...Iranian literary censors

Iranian book censors have refused a publishing house permission to reprint an edition of one of the country's best-known classical epic poems.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance decided that some parts of the epic poem Khosrow and Shirin by Nezami Ganjavi needed reworking, despite the fact that the book-length masterpiece has been a classic of Iranian literature for 831 years.

The news not only astounded the publishing house, it also shocked Iran's intellectual class, despite decades of inurement to the censors' heavy hand.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has given no official explanation for its decision to belatedly censor the epic. But one objection reportedly concerns the poem's reference to the heroine Shirin embracing a male body.

If the embrace is indeed the reason for the censorship, it would be in line with decades of similar objections by Iran's censors to anything they construe as indecent. According to their guidelines, indecency can come in a million unexpected forms.

Faraj Sarkouhi, who edited the Iranian cultural weekly Adineh before he was imprisoned for propaganda in the 1990s and fled to Germany following his release, says that Iran's censors are obsessed with the idea that romance can be a corruptive force in society. They make Iran a hell for literature, without regard to whether it is contemporary or classical.

Sarkouhi notes that the dialogue in a recent Iranian version of one of the novels of German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse was altered so that a reference to wine instead became a reference to coffee. Similarly, if a man and a woman who are not married are in love, the censors feel no compunctions about adding a paragraph to marry them and legalize their situation.


31st July   

Update: First of Several...

Hrant Dink killer sentenced to 23 years in jail
Link Here
Full story: Insulting Turkishness...Insulting Turkishness law used to repress

A Turkish court has sentenced the trigger-man in the 2007 murder of International Press Institute (IPI) World Press Freedom Hero Hrant Dink to almost 23 years in prison.

A juvenile court in Istanbul imposed nearly the maximum sentence on ultranationalist Ogun Samast, who was 17 at the time of Dink's killing, after convicting him of premeditated murder and carrying an unlicensed gun Samast gunned down Dink, the editor-in-chief of Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos, in broad daylight outside of Dink's office in Istanbul.

Dink had received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists who viewed his journalism as treacherous. He had also faced legal problems for denigrating Turkishness under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code in his articles about the massacre of Armenians during the First World War.

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: We welcome the conviction and sentence of Mr. Dink's murderer, and we hope it brings a measure of closure to his family. Nevertheless, we call on Turkish authorities to hold all those involved in this heinous crime accountable, from those who facilitated it to the masterminds who ordered it.

A hearing is currently scheduled this Friday in the trial of 18 other defendants charged with involvement in the murder. Their cases were separated from the case against Samast due to his age at the time of the slaying.

Update: Instigator jailed

21st January 2012. See  article from

A court in Turkey has sentenced a man to life in prison for instigating the 2007 killing of prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

The judge sentenced Yasin Hayal to life but acquitted 19 others of a charge of being part of a terrorist group. His teenage killer, Ogun Samast, was jailed for 22 years last year.

After the verdict, a crowd of about 500 people including members of Dink's family marched to the spot where he was shot dead to protest at what they said was state collusion.

Dink's supporters say they have uncovered evidence that suggests involvement by state officials and police in his murder. But, they say, repeated requests to have those officials investigated have been ignored, and in some cases important evidence has been destroyed.


21st July   

Updated: Israel Boycotts Free Speech...

Law banning calls for boycotts being considered by Israel's lawmakers
Link Here

The Israeli parliament is preparing to pass a law that would in effect ban citizens from calling for academic, consumer or cultural boycotts of Israel in a move that has been denounced by its opponents as anti-democratic.

The boycott bill is expected to win majority backing, despite strong opposition. Under its terms, any individual or organisation proposing a boycott could be sued for compensation by any individual or institution claiming that it could be damaged by such a call. Proof of actual damage would not be required.

As debate on the bill opened in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament's legal adviser presented an opinion that parts of the proposed law were borderline illegal . The broad definition of a boycott on the state of Israel is a violation of the core tenet of freedom of political expression and elements in the proposed bill are borderline illegal, Eyal Yinon said.

Among the bill's opponents are dozens of Israeli intellectuals, including the celebrated author Amos Oz, who described the proposed law as the worst of the anti-democratic bills in the Knesset. The bill will turn law-abiding citizens into criminals.

According to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, the bill constitutes a direct violation of freedom of expression . Its executive director, Hagai El-Ad, said: The boycott bill represents the current unfortunate crest in a wave of anti-democratic legislation that is gradually drowning Israel's democratic foundations.

If the boycott bill becomes law, it is expected that it will be challenged in court.

Offsite Comment: A Grave Threat to Free Expression

21st July 2011. See  article from

The Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott,  was approved on 11th July by a majority of 47 to 38 Members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

The law prohibits the public promotion of boycott by Israeli citizens and organisations, and, in some cases, agreement to participate in a boycott. It forbids not only a boycott of Israeli institutions but also of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In private law, the law defines boycott as a new type of civil wrong or tort. It will enable settlers or other parties targeted by boycotts to sue anyone who calls for boycott, and the court may award compensation including punitive damages, even if no actual damage is caused to the boycotted parties. For example, if an Israeli actor publicly calls on others not to perform in a theatre in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, the theatre can sue that actor for a minimum sum of ?5,000 in damages, which can be awarded even if no such damage was caused.

In public law, the law will revoke tax exemptions and other legal rights and benefits from Israeli organisations and charities, as well as academic, cultural and scientific institutions which receive any state support, if they engage in boycott.

...Read the full article


19th July   

Update: Harassment in Yemen...

100 journalists protest against censorship
Link Here

About 100 journalists have protested in the Yemen capital against harassment and censorship by authorities.

The protest was held outside the Sana'a residence of the vice-president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is acting head of state while the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is in Saudi Arabia recuperating from wounds he sustained in an attack on his compound.

The demonstration is part of wider anti-government protests that have been going on for more than four months, demanding an end to Saleh's rule.

One newspaper editor, Osama Ghaleb of al-Nass, said he was forced to distribute the daily to other provinces in banana boxes to ensure the copies would not be confiscated by security. But unfortunately this method has now been exposed, he said.

The Centre for Rehabilitation and Protection of Freedom of Press in Yemen has documented 465 cases of harassment of journalists in the past six months, which include threats, aggression, and detention. Calls by journalists to meet with the vice-president have gone unheeded, according to the head of Yemen's journalists' syndicate, Marwan Damaj.


19th July   

Update: Virtually Proscribed Networks...

Iran upgrades web blocking technology
Link Here
Full story: Iranian Internet Censorship...Extensive internet blocking

Iran has stepped up online censorship by upgrading the system that enables the Islamic regime to block access to millions of websites it deems inappropriate for Iranian users.

The move comes one month after the United States announced plans to launch new services facilitating internet access and mobile phone communications in countries with tight controls on freedom of speech, a decision that infuriated Tehran's regime and prompted harsh reactions from several Iranian officials.

Despite the blocking, many Iranians access banned addresses with help from proxy websites or virtual private network (VPN) services. The upgrade is aimed at stopping users bypassing censorship.

More than 5 million websites are filtered in Iran. Media organisations including the Guardian, BBC and CNN are blocked. On Google, the Farsi equivalents for words such as condom , sex , lesbian and anti-filtering are filtered out.

Iran is believed to be worried about the influence of the internet and especially social networking websites as pro-democracy activists across the Middle East use them to promote and publicise their movements.

In April, the Tehran government announced that it intended to launch halal internet , a country-wide intranet and a parallel network that conforms to Islamic values with the ultimate goal of substituting for the global internet.

Iran's opposition believe that Iran is buying its filtering technology from China.


18th July   

A Return to the Bad Old Ways...

Egypt's military government re-installs minister of censorship and propaganda
Link Here

The reinstatement of Egypt's Information Ministry that was abolished in February constitutes a substantial setback for media freedom in Egypt, the Committee to Protect Journalists has said.

The ministry and the post of information minister were scrapped in February, just days after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Doing away with the ministry, viewed by many journalists and press freedom advocates as the propaganda arm of Mubarak's regime, was a key demand of members of the 18-day revolution that took place in January and February.

Reinstating the Ministry of Information is an unambiguous setback for media freedom in Egypt, said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem: A government body whose primary function was to enforce media orthodoxy and punish dissent during decades of authoritarian rule is not a suitable entity to reform the media sector.


17th July   

Satellite Spring...

Egypt pulls the plug on Gaddafi's Libyan TV channels
Link Here

In response to months of protests by Libyans living in Egypt, the authorities in Cairo on 11 July ordered Egypt's state-owned operator Nilesat to pull the plug on Libyan state TV satellite broadcasts to the Middle East and North Africa.

An Egyptian court ruled that Nilesat should take 16 Libyan satellite channels off the air, the official MENA news agency reported. The barred channels carry sports and variety programming as well as news, current affairs and talk shows.

The ruling followed lawsuits filed by Libyan citizens and Egyptian lawyers who complained that Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was using Libya's state TV channels to incite violence against rebels fighting to overthrow him. The complainants also accused the channels of false reporting.


16th July

 Offsite: Turkey Bugged by Burroughs...

Link Here
Obscenity trial starts for publisher of William Burroughs' The Soft Machine

See article from


8th July   

Encourages Adventurousness...

Turkish magazine shuts down after being deemed a threat to social norms
Link Here

Another censorship controversy erupts in Turkey after a magazine is deemed a threat to social norms.

The magazine is off the news stands now, following a steep fine. [Ozgur Ogret]

Harakiri, a monthly comic, literature and caricature magazine in Turkey, shut itself down before releasing its third issue, stating that a government fine had made continued publication impossible.

The Prime Minister's Board for Protecting the Youth from Obscene Publications, a government organ for reviewing print press, ruled that the magazine's content -- going back to its first issue -- was harmful to minors. It fined the magazine about 65,000 euros and ordered it to be sold in a black bag.

The board accused the magazine of encouraging the youth to laziness, adventurousness and relations outside of wedlock .

The decision has set off another widespread debate over censorship in Turkey.

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