Saudi Arabia repeatedly interrupted an American NGO at an extraordinary meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, as the organisation read out a statement criticising their imprisoning of a man on charges of atheism and running a liberal online forum.
The Center for Inquiry, a US non-profit advocating secular and humanist values, was stopped from speaking on three occasions by the delegation from Saudi Arabia who protested against their raising of specific incidents of human rights abuse.
The case raised was that of Raif Badawi, co-founder of the Saudi Arabian Free Liberals website, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a $266,000 fine in May. He was convicted of violating Islamic values and slurring Saudi
Arabia's religious symbols, which drew the ire of Amnesty International who described the ruling as outrageous .
The Center criticised Badawi's conviction at the Council, saying Mr Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of
nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression, which prompted the Saudi delegation to interrupt the statement.
We believe that what is being said by this
organisation is completely outside of the mandate of this report, said a Saudi delegate, adding we request that they stop their intervention.
Four member states, including the United States, then responded to the intervention,
supporting the right of NGOs to raise specific human rights cases during Council sessions. This allowed the Center for Inquiry's spokesperson to continue speaking and call for Badawi's conviction to be quashed.
We call on Saudi Arabia, as a
newly elected member of this council, to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for 'blasphemy', 'insulting Islam', or 'apostasy', the spokesperson said. As an elected member of
this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights' and 'fully cooperate with the Council', they added.
A Christian in southern Egypt has been sentenced to six years in prison and fined the equivalent of $840 on charges of blasphemy and contempt of Islam for simply liking a Facebook page, according to International Christian Concern.
Shawky didn't intend to insult the Islamic religion, Rafla Zekry Rafla, a lawyer representing Kerolos, told ICC. He only clicked like on the Facebook page of Knights of the Cross .
Kerolos was accused of violating Article 98(f) of
the Egyptian Penal Code, which prohibits ridiculing, or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife .
The initial accusations against Kerolos are that he had somehow incited a muslim mob who vanadalised and set alight
Christian shops and homese.
The sight of women's bar legs has been banned from outdoor advertising by the Istanbul council.
The daily Hurriyet reported that comparing posters with the originals reveals that they have been cropped to remove the sight of women's bare legs.
An advertising company representative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had cut women's legs from the photos to receive approval from the Urban Design Directorate of the Istanbul Municipality:
Urban Design didn't approve our ads and after going there and coming back several times, ads with numerous cuts left the women legless.
The Turkish cartoonist Mehmet Duzenli began serving a three-month prison sentence on a charge of insulting Adnan Oktar, an extremist Muslim preacher who is well known for his creationist, anti-Zionist and holocaust-denial views.
Duzenli refused to
appeal on the grounds that a decision to suspend the sentence would still prevent him from expressing himself freely in his cartoons. He Explained:
If Mr. Oktar has the right to claim that he is the Mahdi [the redeemer
who is supposed to appear at the 'end times'], I have the right to say that he is lying.
Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said:
D?zenli over a cartoon is totally unacceptable. Such a disproportionate sentence is a reminder that Turkey's penal code often violates the country's own constitution as well as international conventions on freedom of information. The Turkish authorities
must urgently carry out the necessary reforms , including decriminalizing defamation and insult.
The brave comedian Bassem Youssef has decided to call it quits on his TV show, claiming it is no longer safe to satirise Egyptian politics.
The television satirist seen as the barometer for free speech in post-revolutionary Egypt , Bassem Youssef ,
has ended his show because he feels it is no longer safe to satirise Egyptian politics. He told repoerters:
The present climate in Egypt is not suitable for a political satire program. I'm tired of struggling and
worrying about my safety and that of my family.
Youssef's announcement followed a decision by his host channel, MBC-Misr, to suspend his show during Egypt's recent presidential election campaign, in what was perceived as an attempt to
stop him mocking Egypt's incoming head of state, field marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi .
Arbitrary censorship rulings have many in the filmmaking community wondering how they'll balance artistic integrity with funding and distribution.
New laws decree that films given a +18 rating not only have to return money received from the Ministry
of Culture, often a vital contributor to a film's financing, but with added interest. Since distribution deals and TV chances are sunk by such ratings, the effect is clear.
Let's Sin , winner of several awards at the Istanbul
festival, including director for Onur Unlu, was slapped with a +18 despite an absence of sexual content. While it's not clear what prompted this rating, the film's protagonist is a pugilistic imam who isn't exactly a model religious leader, and scattered
references to last year's social unrest undoubtedly caused discontent.
Fortunately, helmer Unlu didn't receive ministry money, but the film's distribution chances could be completely shot. F ilm festival director Azize Tan explained:
There are several ways of censoring. A +18 kills your film, and then it becomes very difficult for you to make the next one. They have to explain why this film was +18, but there is no explanation.
Eight people, including an Iranian-born British woman, have been jailed in Iran on charges including blasphemy and insulting the country's supreme leader on Facebook.
The opposition website Kaleme reported that two of the eight, identified as Roya
Saberinejad Nobakht from Stockport, and Amir Golestani, each received 20 years in prison and the remaining six between 7 and 19 years.
They were variously found guilty of blasphemy, propaganda against the ruling system, spreading lies and
insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Nobakht's husband, Daryoush Taghipoor, told the Manchester Evening News in April that his wife had been detained at the airport in Shiraz last October in connection with comments she had made on Facebook.
A Turkish court handed a 15-month jail term to a teacher over Twitter posts deemed religiously offensive, local media reported.
The court in the city of Mus ruled that the man, identified as Ertan P., supposedly insulted Islamic values with his
Twitter handle @allah, and a series of tweets he posted. Pretending to tweet as God, he wrote:
In my present state of mind, I would not have created the little finger of human beings.
(heaven) is very safe because there is no police.
The judicial authorities in Iran appeared to harden their clampdown on expression, moving to block Instagram, imprisoning the director who made the now-famous Iranian version of the Pharrell Williams Happy video and warning women to comply
with a police campaign on the proper wearing of mandatory headscarves.
Taken together, the developments suggested that the country's Islamic bureaucracy was alarmed over any perception of permissiveness that may have been partly inspired by the
One of the women, Reihane Taravati, used her Instagram account to publicize their entanglement and release, which may have been seen by the judiciary and police as another impudent act. Hi I'm back, Ms. Taravati wrote,
thanking Pharrell Williams and everyone who cared about us.
The semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported that an Iranian court had ordered Instagram blocked over privacy issues, and that Iran's Ministry of Telecommunications was taking steps
to ban the site.
In another sign of harsher censorship, the Mehr News Agency quoted the deputy commander of the Iranian National Police, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Radan, as saying there would be no suspension of an enforcement policy aimed at
ensuring women correctly follow the Islamic dress code, with their hair covered by a hijab, or headscarf.
A group of young Iranian men and women known as the Happy in Tehran dancers, arrested in May for videotaping themselves cavorting to Pharrell
Williams' popular dance hit, were informed on Thursday of their punishments: 91 lashes and six months of imprisonment for each.
One of the female dancers was given a punishment of 91 lashes and 12 months for uploading the video to the Internet,
where it caused an international sensation.
All of the punishments were suspended, one of the dancers said. But they could be carried out if the six defendants committed further wrongdoing over the next three years, a common form of deterrence in
Iran's judicial system.
A Turkish court has given Sedat Kapanoglu, the founder of one of Turkey's most popular online forums, Eksi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary), a 10 month suspended sentence for blasphemy.
A police complaint was filed regarding writers of a discussion
thread opened on the website in 2011, alleging insults to the religious character Muhammad. Some 40 of the website's members were detained by the police and charged with insulting religion on the thread.
The court ruled that Kapanoglu had
committed the crime of "insulting the religious values shared by a group of society" and sentenced him to the 10 months in jail. The court suspended the sentence based on the time passed since the crime was committed.
The court also
sentenced suspect Özgür Kuru to seven months and 15 days in jail on the same charges, while also suspending the execution of this sentence. The court acquitted a third suspect and also decided to suspend the cases against other 37 suspects.
However, suspects would be retried if they commit the same crime within three years.
Iran is to make the sale, purchase and use of VPN software illegal throughout Iran.
Virtual Private Networks hides the real internet address of users from internet snoopers and from websites being visited.
The draconian clampdown of free use of
the Internet was announced by Iran's cyber police chief Brigadier General Kamal Hadianfar on Monday. He warned Internet users that use of a VPN makes all their information available to the companies that own the VPN servers, and claimed: Criminals'
use of VPN has made the cost of finding the criminals higher and has increased the risk for those using it.
A 2013 study found that almost half of the world's top 500 most-visited websites - including those related to health, science, sports,
news, and even shopping - are blocked in Iran. The regime is also one of three countries in the world to block Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. So it is hardly surprising that many Iranians use VPN software to bypass the regime's censorship of millions of
websites and internet services.
Rouh's Beauty is a 2014 Egypt drama by Sameh Abdelaziz. Starring Salah Abdallah, Nagwa Fouad and Mohamed Lotfy.
Egypt's interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb has banned a recently released Egyptian film, Halawet Rooh
(Rouh's Beauty) . It will now be withdrawn from movie theatres and resubmitted to the country's censorship board.
The decision comes after the for-adults-only film, released on 3 April, was hit with a wave of moral indignation accusing it of
containing heavy sexual connotations that violate the Egyptian moral code .
The film, which revolves around Rooh, played by Egyptian/Lebanese diva Haifa Wahbe, who becomes the object of desire of all the men in her working class
neighbourhood while her husband is away.
A review published last week in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm took aim at Halawet Rooh under the title of How to Make an Egyptian Porno , which accused the film of unsuccessfully posing as
drama while it was only concerned with sexually arousing the audience .
Other morality campaigners have joined the crusade against the film. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) claimed:
The film includes language and scenes that negatively affects the morals of children.
Meanwhile the easily offended in Qatar have also been campaigning against the film.
Supposedly, the indecent nature of
the film has caused social media outrage due to the x-rated content, which was deemed inappropriate to the norms of the conservative Arab culture. The hashtag #banbeautyofthesouldmovie was trending on Twitter in support of banning the film from
screening in Qatari cinemas.
They claim the film was banned in some of Qatar's neighbouring countries for its brazen display of nudity, and the sexual undertones. 'Concerned' Qatari citizens said:
could they have approved such a movie, we need new regulations to ensure that such unconventional movies are kept out of our islamic society.
of Egypt's censorship board has resigned after the country's prime minister overruled his decision to allow the screening of the film Roh's Sweetness .
Ahmed Awad, undersecretary to the culture minister and head of the censorship authority,
told The Associated Press that he had submitted his resignation in response to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab's decision to stop the film from being shown. The censorship board is meant to be an independent body that gives the final say on whether a movie
can be seen by Egyptian audiences. Awad said:
Of course I'm not happy with what happened I did this out of respect for myself.
Egypt's Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has decided to form a panel tasked with restructuring the Censorship Authority following a controversy over his earlier decision to ban Lebanese star Haifa Wehbe's latest movie, which was deemed as supposedly
The PMs decision came after he had met with a number of actors, directors, authors and film critics. A Cabinet statement said:
The panel will be comprised of representatives of artistic
associations and syndicates, as well as specialists, in order to introduce a developed ideology for the authority.
Turkey's telecoms authority lifted a two-week-old ban on Twitter, after the constitutional court ruled the previous day that the block breached freedom of expression.
Turkey's Official Gazette published the court's ruling on Thursday morning, further
piling pressure on the telecoms authority, TIB, to lift the ban. TIB removed court orders blocking the site from its webpage on Thursday afternoon, after which Erdogan's office confirmed the ban was no more.
YouTube however remains offline in
Turkey. The TIB blocked it one week after blocking Twitter. Legal challenges are pending.
Turkey's telecoms regulator removed an official order blocking access to YouTube from its website on Tuesday after the country's top court ruled last week that the ban was a breach of human rights.
The video-sharing website will be
accessible in Turkey later on Tuesday, an official at the office of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Reuters: As the constitutional court verdict was received today, YouTube will be open to access later today.
A British woman has been locked up in Iran for five months after posting derogatory comments about the country's government on Facebook and fears she will be executed.
Concerns are growing for the welfare of Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, from Stockport,
who has been charged with insulting Islamic sanctities , a crime which can be punishable by death. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was urgently looking into her case.
Mrs Nobakht was in Iran visiting family in
October last year when she was arrested by police as she arrived by plane in the south western city of Shiraz, according to an account given by her husband, Daryoush Taghipoor.
She was then taken back to Tehran and charged with gathering and
participation with intent to commit crime against national security and insulting Islamic sanctities , according to a copy of her charge sheet seen by The Independent .
Mr Taghipoor, who is currently in Iran, claimed that his wife's
arrest was over comments she had made on a Facebook group about the government being too Islamic , and that she had only been charged after a confession was extracted from her under duress .
Saudi Arabia has officially identified atheists as terrorists in repressive new laws that threaten up to 20 years in prison for almost any criticism of the government or Islam.
Under the new decree by King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia will jail for up to 20
years anyone who fights in conflicts abroad - an apparent move to deter Saudis from joining rebels in Syria. But the law also applies to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom that calls for atheist thought in any form or calls into
question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.
The laws have unsurprisingly been denounced by human rights groups. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch said:
Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism.