UN calls upon Iran to free musicians jailed for insulting islamic sanctities
27th June 2016
The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, and on freedom of expression, David Kaye, have called on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker
Hossein Rajabian, who were imprisoned and heavily fined earlier this month. Ms. Bennoune said.
These three artists were sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, which in
turn results in unjustifiable restrictions on the right of all persons in Iran to have access to and enjoy the artsArtistic expression is simply not a crime.
The human rights experts contacted the Iranian authorities
on these cases earlier this year, including on the use of torture against Mr. Rajabian, musician and founder of Barg Music, an alternative music distributor in Iran.
Barg Music was the main medium broadcasting alternative music in
the country and had introduced more than 100 music albums and thousands of single records by Iranian alternative musicians, as well as female singers, to Iranian audiences, before being shut down by Revolutionary Guards in 2013.
In May 2015, and, according to the Government's answer to the UN experts, the three artists were sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of 50 million Rials each (some 1,658 USD) for
insulting Islamic sanctities , propaganda against the State and conducing illegal activities in the audiovisual affaires including through producing prohibited audiovisual material and performing an illegal and underground music site
. On appeal, the prison sentence was reduced to three years. Mr. Kaye said:
We take note that the sentence of the artists was reduced by the appeal court However, this verdict is still unacceptable: detaining someone
on the grounds of 'insulting the sacred' and 'propaganda against the state' is incompatible with international human rights standards.
Ms. Bennoune added:.
I am particularly
dismayed that Mehdi Rajabian, Yousef Emadi and Hossein Rajabian were allegedly forced to make self-incriminating televised 'confessions' to the charges of having produced prohibited audiovisual materials, to express regret for their work and to apologize
for broadcasting the voice of female singers, This amounts to an extraordinary attack against these artists, and one which has serious repercussions for others in Iran.
The arrest, conviction and sentencing of artists is entirely
unacceptable and in complete violation of international human rights law binding on Iran. The three artists should be released immediately and all charges dropped.
The expert's call has also been endorsed by the UN
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan E. Mendez.
An Turkish court has found the well known model, Merve Buyuksarac, guilty of insulting a public official, after she shared a poem on her Instagram account in 2014 that was deemed insulting to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country's president. She was given a
14 month suspended prison sentence.
Ms Buyuksarac was one of thousands of people to share the poem, which did not mention Mr Erdogan - who was then prime minister - by name, but alluded to a corruption scandal that allegedly involved his family.
Her lawyer, Emre Telci, said he would file a formal objection to the verdict and appeal her case at the European Court of Justice. Telci said:
These insult trials are being initiated in series, they are being filed
automatically. Merve was prosecuted for sharing a posting that did not belong to her.
The case against Ms Buyuksarac is one of almost 2,000 defamation suits that have been brought against critics of Erdogan since he became president
in 2014. The trials have targeted journalists, academics and even schoolchildren. Free speech advocates say the law is being used aggressively to silence and intimidate critics.
Artists are facing severe difficulties under Erdogan's rule in Turkey. On 15 February 2016, The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, issued a fatwa -- a religious ban -- on sexual music.
The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs
is a governmental institution responsible for managing the religious affairs in Turkey. It is infamous for its scandalous fatwas.
On 15 February 2016, a new fatwa hit the news. The Directorate distributed a 2016 calendar, in which they included a
Q&A for each day. On the page for the day 24 August, the question was What is the place of music in religion? Which types of music are halal (acceptable for Islam)? The answer started with some general information:
According to Quran, there is no proof which shows that making or listening to music is a sin. In this sense, the types of music which do not contradict with the fundamental beliefs of our religion and with the general moral values are
Then came the but :
BUT... making or listening to music which includes expressions or depictions that arouse sexual desires or which show haram things as
beautiful is a sin.
The fatwas by the Directorate, whose members are all appointed by the government, are not legally binding or cannot be used as legal opinions or precedents, but they have practical effect. They form public opinion.
They direct the central and local governments about what type of art and which artists to support. They encourage public prosecutors to start cases against Islamically unacceptable art works and artists. They present legitimacy for the
government's change of legislature. They are influential.
An imam, previously with the rockband Kramp , who now runs the band Firock , is opposing the Directorate's fatwa from a religious perspective.
The censorship bureau of Lebanon's General Security Directorate has banned Bachar Mar-Khalife's song Kyrie Eleison because it supposedly contains offenses to God as the singer talked to God in the song saying, 'have mercy on us and
leave us alone' .
The authorities further stated that if Bashar Mar-Khalife wants to promote his album in the country then he must delete the song from the album. Authorities also cllaimed in their statement that the song included words that could
be interpreted as sexual innuendo.
Germany's parliament was 'shocked' when one MP read aloud Jan Bohmermann's poem about Turkey's president which sparked an international free speech row last month. His performance was aired on national TV. He said the aim had been to show how awful
The poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gained an audience in the Bundestag when Detlef Seif, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party recited the entire text standing at the pulpit.
audience gasped in awe when Seit began to recite the text.
Seit said he wanted to illustrate how awful the text was, claiming that he had been absolutely disgusted by it:
I didn't want to do this, but I read
this to you so that one knows what was actually said here. A person's honor is clearly infringed upon here.
The Turkish government is shutting down Zaman newspaper, one of the last surviving newspapers that is critical of Turkey's repressive government.
Police raided the offices of the newspaper in March and the government has now decided that it should be
permanently shut down. The government had been running the newspaper as a propaganda organ since the police raid.
Along with Zaman, a number of other Feza Media Group outlets will be shut down, including Cihan News Agency. Küre tv will also
The artist Isil Egrikavuk, who was commissioned to create a new work for YAMA, a public art installation series screened on top of the Marmara Pera hotel in Istanbul, says in a statement on Facebook that her animation about women's voices in public
spaces was first removed for "insulting religious views," and later that the work was a source of "visual pollution".
Egrikavuk's work is titled Time to Sing a New Song and consists of a short animation of a woman's emoji
face slowly turning into an apple.
It was supposed to be on display from sunset to sunrise everyday between April 23 to June 30 of this year, however three days after the opening on April 26 officers from Beyoglu Municipality apparently came to
the hotel and put a stop to the exhibition.
The artist learned that there had been a complaint about the video, for insulting religious views, and subsequently also was told that the video was causing visual pollution and had to be
A Dutch journalist was blocked from leaving Turkey on Sunday following her arrest on Saturday night for tweets deemed critical of the easily offended Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ebru Umar, a well-known atheist and feminist journalist
of Turkish origin, recently wrote a piece criticising Erdogan for the Dutch daily Metro, extracts of which she then tweeted, leading to her arrest. After her arrest in the resort town of Kusadasi in western Turkey, where she was on holiday, Dutch
officials said, she was brought before a judge.
She later said she was free but forbidden to leave the country .
Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey punishable by up to four years in jail, but the law has rarely been
invoked. Since Erdogan became president in 2014, prosecutors have opened more than 1,800 cases against people for insulting him, the justice minister said last month.
The Dutch government considers freedom of speech and the freedom of the press to be fundamental values which
cannot be used as bargaining chips, foreign minister Bert Koenders said a briefing to parliament on Thursday. He said:
We do not bargain with fundamental values, even if we are making agreements with a country about
other issues. These are completely separate.
Koenders was updating MPs on the arrest of Metro columnist Ebru Umar, who was picked up in Turkey last weekend after sending out two tweets considered to be insulting to Turkish president
Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish embassy is attempting to censor a Swedish channel broadcast pf a documentary film about the Armenian genocide.
Ahead of Sunday evening's scheduled broadcast of a documentary titled Seyfo 1915 : The Assyrian Genocide , TV4
said it received an email from Turkish embassy press officer Arif Gulen, in which he opposes the film's use of the term genocide, which is often used to describe the tragic death of thousands of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks during WWI.
The letter, which was subsequently published on TV4's official website claims hat only a competent international tribunal can determine whether a particular event is genocide.
The broadcaster denounced Gulen's attempt to pressure the
channel to cancel its broadcast, while promising to air the documentary on Sunday despite the warning. TV4's program director, Viveka Hansson said on the website:
We can never accept this. We will protest against any
attempt to exert pressure that threatens freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, an orchestra in Germany has accused Turkey of forcing it to change the name of a concert it is scheduled to give on April 30, as well as remove a piece from
its program that calls the massacre of Armenians a genocide. The name of the event is Aghet, a term commonly used by Armenians to describe the events of 1915 as genocide, whose literal translation in English is catastrophe.
Dresden Symphony orchestra said that Turkey's delegation to the EU had reportedly asked the European Commission (EC), which is financially supporting the event, to defund the concert and remove its title from the EC's official website. While the
Commission declined to withdraw the financial support, it did remove the announcement of the concert. A spokesperson for the Commission came up with a few weasel words to justify the censorship:
Due to concerns raised
regarding the wording used in the project description, the Commission temporarily withdrew it,
The orchestra's director, Markus Rindt, slammed Turkey's bold interference as an an infringement on freedom of expression.
An orchestra in Germany has accused Turkey of forcing it to change the name of a concert it is scheduled to give on April 30, as well as remove a piece from its program that calls the massacre of Armenians a genocide. The name of the event is Aghet
, a term commonly used by Armenians to describe the events of 1915 as genocide, whose literal translation in English is catastrophe.
The Dresden Symphony orchestra said that Turkey's delegation to the EU had reportedly asked the
European Commission (EC), which is financially supporting the event, to defund the concert and remove its title from the EC's official website. While the Commission declined to withdraw the financial support, it did remove the announcement of the
concert. A spokesperson for the Commission came up with a few weasel words to justify the censorship:
Due to concerns raised regarding the wording used in the project description, the Commission temporarily withdrew
The orchestra's director, Markus Rindt, slammed Turkey's bold interference as an an infringement on freedom of expression.
Dutch MPs have called for a parliamentary debate about a letter that was sent out by Turkey's consulate in Rotterdam calling Turkish organizations in the Netherlands to report people who insult the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Party, SP, demanded a debate on the matter. MP Sade Karabulut described the email as Erdogan's long arm in the Netherlands and accused the Turkish government of trying to intervene at Netherland's domestic affairs. A parliamentary majority
supported the MP's call for a debate, though it hasn't been scheduled yet.
The move was not well received by many in Turkey too. The Dutch offices of Turkish opposition party CHP received numerous calls from concerned Dutch citizens with Turkish
origins. CHP chairman Axu Ozalp said to the Volkskrant newspaper:
People are afraid because they once responded to something critical on Facebook or Twitter for example. They worry about whether they can still go on holiday to Turkey with peace of mind or will they be stopped at the border. This is
very worrying and we therefore also emphatically disapprove of this call.
Update: Turkey demonstrates the need for people to be able to ridicule repressive politicians
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has claimed that the German comedian who ridiculed Turkey's president is a racist. He added that Europe had no right to bombard his country with lectures on freedom of expression.
The row came as
Angela Merkel joined Davutoglu, Donald Tusk, the European Council President, and Frans Timmermans, the European commission vice president, to review the EU's migration deal at a refugee camp in Gaziantep. Davutoglu whinged about Jan Böhmermann's
performance and the resultant press criticism of Turkey's attack on free speech:
There was an insult against our president. The freedom of the press should never respect negate for human dignity. I mean, very heavy
insults against a president of a country that one should not read or hear about? Is that really part of freedom of the press? If the same words were uttered for the president of another nation, would they be acceptable I wonder?
Donald Tusk stood up for free speech replying:
As a politician, I have learned and accepted to have a thick skin, and I have no expectation that the Press will treat me with a special care - quite the opposite.
The line between criticism, insult and defamation is very thin and relative, and the moment politicians decide which is which can mean the end between freedom of expression, in Europe, in Turkey, in Africa and Russia, everywhere. I
hope that in the future freedom of speech will not be our main topic of dialogue.
Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen has weighed in to the free speech battle with the repressive Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Teeuwen has produced a YouTube video having fun with the claim that Erdogan used to be a boywhore in an
Istanbul brothel. The video takes the form of Teeuwen being interviewed by a reporter.
The reporter repeatedly says the claims are satire or a sketch, but Teeuwen, who tours the UK this autumn, insists this is a true story. When challenged
that he is insulting a befriended head of state, the comic replies: This is a whore customer standing up for his rights.
Both Germany and The Netherlands have laws against insulting foreign heads of state which means Teeuwen could
also find himself in legal trouble. Hopefully Erdogan hasn't so much leverage over the Netherlands compared to Germany.
A prominent female academic and human rights activist in Kuwait has been charged with blasphemy. Sheikha al-Jassem was summoned to the public prosecutor's office after legal complaints were filed against her over a recent interview she gave on TV.
asserted that the constitution of Kuwait should be above the Quran and Islamic law in governing the country. The interview was broadcast on Kuwaiti Al-Shahed TV on 8 March. Its theme was the rise of Islamic extremism.
During the interview, Jassem
was asked about radical Islamists who said that religion was more important than the Kuwaiti constitution. She responded by saying that this was dangerous and that, in her opinion, politics and religion should be kept apart. Jassem made reference
to the violence across the Middle East and divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims. She said that if you just went back to holy books and relied on them, society could not move forward.
Her remarks provoked a storm of attacks against her,
spearheaded by Islamist members of Kuwait's parliament.
The public prosecutor still has the discretion to decide whether or not Ms Jassem will be put on trial.
Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who fell victim to the country's brutal and repressive legal system, has been awarded the International Publishers Association's Prix Voltaire for his contribution to freedom of speech.
Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in
prison and 1,000 lashes for publishing a liberal and atheistic blog. He was arrested in 2012 on a charge of insulting Islam and indicted on several charges including apostasy. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in
2013, and then re-sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine in 2014. The sentence was upheld by the Saudi supreme court in June. In December, it was reported that Badawi had gone on hunger strike.
His wife Ensar Haider Mohammed,
who is travelling to London to collect the award on Badawi's behalf, has called on the world's writers to continue applying pressure of regimes that do not tolerate free speech. S he told the Guardian:
become a symbol for the fight for freedom of expression and the right to publish ideas in writing. My husband once wrote that freedom of expression is the 'air that any thinker breathes and the fuel that ignites the fire of his or her ideas', and he was
This is why he is wasting away in jail today, and precisely why the world's free writers should use their freedom of expression as a weapon in the war on oppression.
Egypt's Ministry of Culture has approved a new system of film classification, adding two new age categories for the classification of films. From now on, the certificates +12 and +16 will be applied, in addition to the pre-existing +18 certificate.
The new rating criteria take into account factors such as violence and gore, sensitive subject matters and adult content.