Musician and 2010 Freemuse Award winner Ferhat Tunç has been sentenced in Turkey to one year, 11 months and 12 days in prison for making propaganda of a terrorist organization. The charge relates to messages shared on Tunç's social media in
December 2016, with the terrorist organization referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party and Kurdistan Peoples Community. Tunç plans to appeal the verdict at the Court of Appeal in the next week.
Alongside this case, Tunç faces two additional trials on
the charges of publicly inciting hatred and hostility f or tweets shared on 16 April 2017, including '#WeAreNotSilent'; and insulting the President through messages shared on his social media in 2016.
Freemuse calls for a
transparent, fair and impartial appeals process and for the Turkish government to drop all charges against Tunç. Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said:
The sentencing of Ferhat Tunç to prison is a human
rights scandal in Turkey. When a musician who sings peacefully is imprisoned for promoting terrorism, the world knows that Turkey is stepping up its efforts to silence artists and art communities. The imprisonment of Tunç is the imprisonment of artistic
freedom in Turkey.
A by-law which will allow for Turkey's state-run TV censor to extend its remit to all internet broadcasting platforms has been approved.
The Turkish state agency for monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning radio and television broadcasts (RTÜK) met on
Tuesday to discuss the bylaw regarding radio and TV programs aired online. The bylaw, which will also require that TV stations obtain a licence from RTÜK to begin broadcasting online.
Under the leadership of the ruling Justice and Development
Party (AKP), RTÜK took a strict approach with TV stations, slapping channels with large fines for what they say is ''offending societal values.'' Consequently, many Turkish television producers have opted to share their work online, but now face the same
repressive censorship rules that they previously managed to avoid.
The Nun is a 2018 USA horror mystery thriller by Corin Hardy. Starring Taissa Farmiga, Bonnie Aarons and Charlotte Hope.
When a young nun at a
cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order's unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but
their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in 'The Conjuring 2,' as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.
Lebanon's film censors have banned the new horror movie, The Nun, from a cinema release. The censors claimed that the film was offensive to the Christian faith.
The Warner Bros production was awaiting a screening licence from the General
Security's censorship committee ahead of an expected release on 6 September. However last Wednesday, the Catholic committee watched the movie and asked the General Security to ban it in Lebanon for religious reasons.
It is unclear which scenes
caused 'the offence', but some believe the ban may stem from the victimisation of nuns in the film.
According to the constitution, multi-religious Lebanon can impose censorship on local and international productions for a number of reasons. These
include banning films for stirring religious and political sensitivities as well as those with sexually explicit content.
Theatre director Maryam Kazemi and theatre manager Saeed Assadi were detained by Iranian authorities over a video trailer for a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on 9 September 2018.
The trailer features men and women
dancing together, which is illegal in Iran.
Cultural censorship official Shahram Karami said the issue was with the type of music played and the actors' movements used in the trailer.
Both men were later bailed on surety of about $23,000
The decades-long Turkish tradition of watching a classic American cowboy film on Sunday morning came to an end in August 2018, with state-run broadcaster TRT giving them the boot as US-Turkey relations deteriorate.
American Westerns have been shown at
9.55am on Sundays since the 1980s; according to NRT News , the John Wayne film Big Jake that aired on 19 August was the last.
TRT will now show films supported by the Turkish Ministry of Culture in that timeslot.
The change comes
after a diplomatic dispute over US pastor Andrew Brunson, who is under house arrest on charges relating to the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey.
Arab News says the decision comes after the Turkish media censor, Radio and Television Supreme Council,
warned about the expansion of American imperialism and culture through movies.
Israel's public broadcaster has apologised to listeners after playing part of an opera by German composer Richard Wagner on 31 August 2018.
Classical music radio station Kol HaMusica (the Voice of Music) said its editor erred in choosing to play
the final act of Wagner's Goetterdaemmerung (Twilight of the Gods) opera, which goes against the broadcaster's long-standing directive not to play any music by the controversial 19-century figure, who was Adolf Hitler's favourite composer.
Wagner's music has been unofficially banned in what is now Israel since 1938. In addition to composing music, Wagner also wrote a pamphlet called Judaism in Music, in which he said that the Jew was incapable of artistic expression.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed a new law that tightens controls over the internet.
The legislation means websites can be blocked in Egypt if deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy. Anyone found
guilty of running, or just visiting, such sites could face prison or a fine.
Authorities claim the new measures are needed to tackle instability and terrorism.
But human rights groups say the government of trying to crush all political
dissent in the country. The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed.
Last month another bill was passed by parliament, yet to be
approved by President Sisi, that would allow any social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers to be placed under supervision.
Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message reflecting on religion, free expression and the controversial editorial line of the magazine:
A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.
We stood up for this because different voices -- even if
they're sometimes offensive -- can make the world a better and more interesting place.
Later that same month, Facebook agreed to restrict access to an unspecified number of pages for "offending prophet
Muhammad" in Turkey at the request of local authorities.
Turkey is notorious for the number of requests it makes to internet companies to remove content for violating its local laws, but it is not the only government in the
Middle East to resort to such tactic to silence critical voices.
While a number of the region's governments sometimes make direct requests for content removal -- along with exerting "soft" pressure through other means --
the failures of tech giants in moderating content in the region is a much bigger and more complex problem.
Abuse of flagging mechanisms
Across the region, social media platform "flagging"
mechanisms are often abused to silence government critics, minority groups or views and forms of expression deemed not to be in line with the majority's beliefs on society, religion and politics.
In 2016, Facebook suspended
several Arabic-language pages and groups dedicated to atheism following massive flagging campaigns.
This effectively eliminated one of the few (in some cases, the only) spaces where atheists and other minorities could come
together to share their experiences, and freely express themselves on matters related to religion. Across the region, atheism remains a taboo that could be met with harassment, imprisonment or even murder. Jessica Anderson, a project manager at
onlinecensorship.org which documents cases of content takedowns by social media platforms, told Global Voices:
[Abusive flagging] is a significant problem.
In the Middle East as well as other
geographies, we have documented cases of censorship resulting from 'flagging campaigns'--coordinated efforts by many users to report a single page or piece of content.
Flagging mechanisms are also abused by
pro-government voices. Earlier this year, Middle East Eye reported that several Egyptian political activists had their pages or accounts suspended and live-streams shut down, after they were reported by "pro-government
trolls." Anderson said:
What we have seen is that flagging can exacerbate existing power imbalances, empowering the majority to 'police' the minority The consequences of this issue can be severe:
communities that are already marginalized and oppressed lose access to the benefits of social media as a space to organize, network, and be heard.
Failure to consider user rights, in context
This past May, Apple joined the ranks of Facebook and Twitter -- the more commonly-cited social media platforms in this realm -- when the iTunes store refused to upload fives songs by the Lebanese band Al-Rahel Al-Kabir. The songs
mocked religious fundamentalism and political oppression in the region.
A representative from iTunes explained that the Dubai-based Qanawat, a local content aggregator hired by Apple to manage its store for the region, elected not
to upload the songs. An anonymous source told The Daily Star that iTunes did not know about Qanawat's decision, which it made due to "local sensitivities." In response to a petition from Beirut-based digital rights NGO SMEX and the band itself,
iTunes uploaded the songs and pledged to work with another aggregator.
This case does not only illustrate how "local sensitivities" can interfere with decisions about which types of content get to be posted and stay
online in the region, but also shows that companies need to practice due diligence when taking decisions likely to affect users' freedom of expression rights.
Speaking to Global Voices, Mohamad Najem, co-founder of SMEX pointed
out that both Facebook and Twitter have their regional offices located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which he described as one of the "most repressive countries" in the region. He said: "This is a business decision that will affect
free speech in a negative way,"
He further expressed concern that the choice of having an office in a country like the UAE "can sometimes lead to enforcing Gulf social norm[s]" on an entire [Arab] region that is
"dynamic and different."
Location, location, location
Facebook and Twitter have offices in the UAE that are intended to serve the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a region that is
ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse, and presents a wide range of political viewpoints and experiences. When companies are pressured by oppressive governments or other powerful groups to respect "local sensitivities," they are
being complicit in shutting down expression of such diversity. Anderson said:
"Platforms seem to take direction from louder, more powerful voices...In the Middle East, [they] have not been able to stand up to
powerful interests like governments,"
Take, for example, Facebook's willingness to comply with the Turkish government's censorship demands. Throughout the years, the company was involved in censoring criticism of
the government, religion and the republic's founder Ataturk, Kurdish activists , LGBT content and even an anti-racism initiative .
Facebook's complicity with these requests appears to be deeply ingrained. I spoke to a Turkish
activist two years ago who told me that he believed the platform "was turning into a pro-government media." Today, the platform continues to comply, restricting access to more than 4,500 pieces of content inside the country in 2017 alone.
Facebook is not transparent about the number and rates of requests it complies with. Arzu Geybulla, a freelance writer who covers Turkey and Azerbaijan for Global Voices said:
The biggest shortcoming in [the]
ways platforms deal with takedown requests is [their] lack of understanding of the political contexts. And even if there is some kind of idea of what is happening on the ground, I am not entirely sure, there is always due diligence involved.
In conference settings, representatives from Facebook are routinely faced with questions about massive flagging campaigns. They maintain that multiple abuse reports on a single post or page do not automate the process of
the post or page being removed. But they offer little concrete information about how the company does see and respond to these situations. Does the company review the content more closely? Facebook representatives also say that they consult with local
experts on these issues, but the specifics of these consultations are similarly opaque.
And the work of moderating content -- deciding what meets local legal standards and Facebook's own policies -- is not easy. Anderson
from onlinecensorship.org said:
Content moderation is incredibly labor intensive. As the largest platforms continue to grow, these companies are attempting to moderate a staggering volume of content. Workers (who may
not have adequate knowledge and training, and may not be well paid) have to make snap decisions about nuanced and culturally-specific content, leading to frequent mistakes and inconsistencies.
For activists and human
rights advocates in the region, it is also difficult to know the scope of this problem due to lack of corporate transparency. Cases like that of iTunes may be occurring more often than is publicly known -- it is only when someone speaks out about being
censored that these practices come to light.
Qatar has removed whole articles from the Doha edition of The New York Times for highlighting the plight of the emirate's LGBTQ community.
According to ABC News, large sections of the Qatari edition of the New York paper have been censored with a note
that said exceptionally removed .
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, as it is in many other Arab countries, and homosexual acts can be punished under current laws.
The New York Times told the U.S. news channel that the decision to
censor the articles was made by a local vendor or distributor. A spokesman said:
While we understand that our publishing partners are sometimes faced with local pressures, we deeply regret and object to any censorship
of our journalism and are in regular discussions with our distributors about this practice.
Offsite Comment: My Article Was Censored. I Found Out Why
The censored article covered a New Orleans museum show as a whole, but focused on one artist's contribution: an exhibit exploring an overlooked, dark chapter of the history of the L.G.B.T.Q. community in New Orleans. The artist,
Skylar Fein, researched the tragic killing of 32 people at a gay bar in 1973, and he recreated both the feeling of the bar and the limited -- and sometimes homophobic -- news coverage around it at the time.
The article featured
images of Mr. Fein's exhibit and the artist shot by a local photographer, William Widmer. Though the images may be suggestive (a shirtless man, for example), they are not explicit. In fact, the article was similar in many ways to other Arts pieces that
have been published in The Times, and not particularly edgy.
The new 45-article cybercrime law, named the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes law, is divided into two parts. The first part of the bill stipulates that service providers are obligated to retain user information (i.e. tracking data) in the
event of a crime, whereas the second part of the bill covers a variety of cybercrimes under overly broad language (such as threat to national security).
Article 7 of the law, in particular, grants the state the authority to shut
down Egyptian or foreign-based websites that incite against the Egyptian state or threaten national security through the use of any digital content, media, or advertising. Article 2 of the law authorizes broad surveillance capabilities, requiring
telecommunications companies to retain and store users' data for 180 days. And Article 4 explicitly enables foreign governments to obtain access to information on Egyptian citizens and does not make mention of requirements that the requesting country
have substantive data protection laws.