Sunday, July 25, 2010

Government ramps up Internet control and leans on Hong Kong to erase dissent

21 July 2010

Government ramps up Internet control and leans on Hong Kong to erase dissent

The Chinese government has targeted micro-blogging services in its  latest attack on Internet freedom.
The Chinese government has targeted micro-blogging services in its latest attack on Internet freedom.
China Rights Forum

In a series of surgical strikes against Internet freedom, Chinese authorities have imposed restrictions on micro-blogging services and shut down an estimated 60 blogs by prominent legal and political commentators, report Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). China's influence is also reducing space for dissent and independent press in Hong Kong, says a new report by the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).

The People's Republic of China routinely deploys major resources to control political discussions on the Internet. Four of the leading Chinese micro-blogging services, Netease, Sina, Tencent and Sohu, were displaying messages on 15 July saying they were down for maintenance or had inexplicably reverted to an earlier "beta" testing phase, says RSF. "Testing" is often a euphemism for strengthening internal self-censorship systems following government pressure, says Freedom House. China's micro-blogging services are closely examined by censorship filters which analyse both the posts and the shortened URLs that appear in them.

"This latest censorship attempt shows that the Chinese authorities, who are obsessed with maintaining political stability, mistrust micro-blogging and its potential for spreading information and mobilising the public," said RSF.

Human Rights in China (HRIC) recently released a translation and analysis of a report that provides insight into the Chinese authorities' approach to controlling the Internet. It is a comprehensive and detailed report by Wang Chen, the country's top official responsible for managing online information, delivered in a speech in April to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The report reveals how the Chinese government plans to control the Internet to keep out "harmful information" from abroad and to harness its power for guiding "correct" public opinion, "unifying thinking," and countering "the hegemony of Western media."

China has the most sophisticated, multilayered Internet control apparatus in the world, says Freedom House. Twitter and Facebook have been completely blocked for approximately a year. In addition to censorship within the country, Chinese hackers are attacking organisations and companies outside of its borders.

"Internet freedom and free access to information are not simply luxuries but critical avenues for advancing democratic reforms and enabling the Chinese people to protect themselves and their families from threats such as tainted food or environmental pollution," said Freedom House.

Free expression is also under threat in Hong Kong as the political scene deteriorates, says a new report by the HKJA. "The Vice Tightens: Pressure Grows on Free Expression in Hong Kong" details arrests and prosecutions of protesters, as well as scuffles between police and demonstrators.

"These incidents give a taste of the political atmosphere in Hong Kong - an atmosphere in which… there is growing intolerance of dissent and greater emphasis on social harmony - a catch phrase used in mainland China to denote adherence to the Communist Party line," says the HKJA.

For example, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) will remain government-owned, "despite pleas from the public and non-governmental organisations, including the HKJA, that it should be separated from the administration to become an independent public service broadcaster." In addition, HKJA is challenging the constitutionality of the government's superficial changes to the law about licensing radio broadcasters, saying it needs major restructuring to create media diversity. "Broadcasting legislation should ensure that the airwaves are open to all those who wish to set up broadcasting operations, irrespective of political orientation," says the report.

Three journalists arrested for leaking report on corruption

21 July 2010

Three journalists arrested for leaking report on corruption

Three journalists in the Ivory Coast who refused to reveal their sources after publishing details of a government report on corruption in the coffee and cocoa trade were arrested on 13 July, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

The journalists published a front-page story in the private daily "Le Nouveau Courrier" leaking findings of a government report on 23 industry figures charged with corruption in an ongoing investigation ordered by President Laurent Gbagbo in 2007.

Managing editor Stéphane Guédé, news editor Théophile Kouamouo and editor-in-chief Saint-Claver Oula were arrested the same day the article hit the newsstands and accused of stealing confidential documents. Police raided the newspaper's office in search of the leaked report.

Ivory Coast law does not permit criminal penalties or pre-trial detention for journalists; however, for publishing offences, the theft of secret documents carries a prison sentence, reports IPI. The journalists were formally charged on 16 July with "theft of administrative documents", which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Saint-Claver Oula began a hunger strike and has refused medication despite suffering from a stomach ailment at the time of the arrest, says CPJ.

On 16 July, media groups at a news conference in Abidjan, the capital, threatened to publish the full report on the alleged embezzlement in their respective media outlets if the three journalists were not released.

In court on 20 July, the prosecutor called for a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 15,250 Euros against each journalist, as well as for the daily to be suspended and for the confiscation of the computer used in the story.

"Journalists have the right to refuse to divulge their sources where it is in the public interest to do so," said IPI. "This right is the cornerstone of the profession."

In another case, journalist Guy-André Keiffer was abducted in 2004 while investigating corruption in the cocoa industry. He remains missing.

Political blogger and radio journalist slain

21 July 2010

Political blogger and radio journalist slain

A Greek radio journalist and blogger who was about to publish results of an investigation into corruption in the country was lured out of his home in Athens and shot dead on 19 July, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). This is the first murder of a journalist in Greece in more than 20 years.

Sokratis Giolias, 37, stepped out of his apartment after three men dressed in security uniforms told him his car was being stolen. He was then riddled with bullets.

Giolias was the director of the private radio station Thema 98.9, and contributor to the popular online news blog Troktiko, which often covers social and political scandals.

"Somebody wanted to silence a very good investigative reporter who had stepped on a lot of toes with his stories," said Panos Sobolos, president of the Athens journalists' union, report IPI and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

British author arrested for book on death penalty; film on political prisoners banned

British author arrested for book on death penalty; film on political prisoners banned

British journalist Alan Shadrake is facing up to two years in  prison for his book on the death penalty in Singapore.
British journalist Alan Shadrake is facing up to two years in prison for his book on the death penalty in Singapore.

The Singapore government's pattern of repressing free expression continues with the recent arrest of a British journalist for writing a book critical of the city-state's death penalty, and the ban of a film about ex-political prisoners by a Singaporean filmmaker, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Amnesty International.

Alan Shadrake, 75, is the latest in a long list of international journalists and newspapers charged after publishing critical opinion of Singapore's leaders. He was arrested on 18 July while in Singapore to promote his book, "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock." He is facing charges of defamation and contempt of court. Freed on bail on 19 July, Shadrake is due to appear before the Singapore high court on 30 July. If he is found guilty of criminal defamation, he could face up to two years in prison and a large fine. The case is an abuse of judicial authority, says RSF.

The book contains interviews with a former executioner, human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on cases involving capital punishment in Singapore. The government doesn't like to release statistics about the death penalty, so the publishers' claim that the book "cuts through the façade of official silence to reveal disturbing truths about Singapore's use of the death penalty," has "clearly ruffled some feathers," writes British journalist Ben Bland for Index on Censorship. Bland was denied a visa and forced to leave Singapore last October after working in the city-state for a year as a freelance journalist.

According to "The Guardian", after being released, Shadrake told reporters: "I'm feeling pretty shaken at the moment... I've been sitting at a desk being interrogated all day long explaining all the chapters of the book: going into the history of the book, my research, why I did the book."

The government's heavy-handed approach sends a clear message that anyone thinking of "research and debate about sensitive issues such as the death penalty risks severe consequences," says Bland.

But the book has not been banned. Although it has been removed from one of Singapore's biggest bookshops, it will apparently be available in Singapore's National Library to reference readers, although it cannot be borrowed.

In another episode of censorship, a film by Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See was banned - effective 14 July - because it was considered "contrary to public interest." The Media Development Authority (MDA), which also made the police complaint that led to Shadrake's arrest, ordered See to remove all digital copies of the film uploaded on YouTube and his own blog. The film, "Ex-political prisoner speaks out in Singapore" or "Dr. Lim Hock Siew", registered 49,903 views as of 12 July.

The Singapore government said See's film "gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Dr. Lim's arrests and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1963." This is the second of See's films to be barred from being publicly shown in Singapore.

Amnesty International also reports that Singapore Democratic Party leader Dr. Chee Soon Juan - who has been repeatedly arrested and fined - was convicted of yet another offence. He was charged with illegally "giving a public address" in 2006, and fined S$5,000 or five weeks in prison, because he asked people to buy his party's newspaper when they walked by.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Artist Alert June 2010


Artist Alert
June 2010
Art, in any form, constitutes a key medium through which information and ideas are imparted and received. Artist Alert, launched by ARTICLE 19 in 2008, highlights cases of artists around the world whose right to freedom of expression has been curtailed and abused, and seeks to more effectively promote and defend freedom to create.
Russia: martyred for their art

In May 2008, Yury Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev were accused of inciting religious hatred through their Moscow exhibition – Forbidden Art. On Monday, 21 June, Prosecutors demanded a three-year jail term for the two curators, according to the magazine The Economist, for “debasing the religious beliefs of citizens and inciting religious hatred.” The verdict is due on 12 July. An ARTICLE 19 source claims that out of 134 prosecution witnesses, only three had in fact attended the exhibition. Samodurov has faced similar charges in the past, having been fined one hundred thousand roubles for his 2003 show, Caution: Religion! The Forbidden Art exhibition featured many works previously shown in Russia as well as internationally, items of particular controversy included a Jesus figure surmounted with the head of Mickey Mouse and a veiled crucifix covered in sexual slang. The venue for Forbidden Art was the Sakharov Centre and Museum, an institution whose core ideology firmly supports the tradition of human rights. The trial continues.

Pakistan: music market bombed

Pakistan Press Foundation - on 26 June, a Lahore market was blasted by two separate explosives in a planned attack on the Plaza’s music outlets. Two shopkeepers and several customers were injured by shattered shop windows, responsibility for which was claimed by the Nazria Pakistan Group. In the lead up to the attacks store owners had received threats, demanding that they stop selling western video and music products. Police are investigating connections between the market bombings and previous attacks on cultural events in the Punjab capital.

Netherlands: Snoop Dogg ousted

Calvin Broadus, a.k.a Snoop Dogg, was banned by Dutch authorities from performing at a free festival in The Hague on 27 June, reports the BBC. The US Hip-Hop artist’s controversial lyrics and persona were considered at odds with the ‘open and friendly’ character of Parkpop festival. The Mayor, alongside the police and public prosecutors, , requested his removal from the bill.
Indonesia: a new Islamic Iconoclasm

Authorities in Bekasi, Indonesia, have demanded the destruction of a statue in a private residential complex, following pressure from local hard-line groups. The Three Girls sculpture represents a symbol of local West Javan culture, according to the artist Nyoman. Three Sundanese women are depicted in traditional attire, welcoming residents on a three-path intersection of the housing complex in which it stands. The sculpture’s creation involved over fifty people and cost an estimated $260,000, reports The Jakarta Globe. Bekasi’s Islamic Defenders Front protested that the women were depicted in “tight costumes” and that any artist that attempts to “copy real living human beings” is being anti-Islamic. Accusations that the women’s composition reflected the Christian Holy Trinity were also aired. The artist denies any attempt to depict the figures as sexual objects and stated, “people of certain cultures should not force their cultural understanding onto others.”

Jordan: director’s plea denied

On 21 June, a film documenting the plight of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, missing in the aftermath of war and displacement, was dropped from its premier slot at Jordan’s Franco/Arab Film Festival. According to Human Film Inc, Sons of Babylon, by Iraqi director Mohammed Al-Daradji, was pulled out of the festival following the organisers’ decision to prevent the director’s letter being read to an expectant audience. The letter details the film’s importance to Iraq’s Missing Campaign, an initiative striving to help families torn apart by the country’s recent legacy of war and disruption. Festival organisers claimed Al-Daradji’s message was “political...and not related to cinema.”

Japan: dolphin ‘bloodbath’ banned in cinemas

National Geographic photographer, Louie Psihoyos, had his latest Oscar winning documentary stalled from general release in its country of origin, Japan. The Cove, an undercover film infiltrating the coastal town of Taiji, assembled a team of divers, climbers, effects artists and technicians in a bid to document the epicentre of Japan’s annual dolphin slaughter. The Cove has struggled to find theatres willing to screen it in Japan, due to issues raised around the industry and the graphic nature of the film’s finale. The film has faced additional censorship from US sources, including an American Airbase near Tokyo, which prohibited screenings. ABC News quotes Psihoyos, a founding member of the Ocean Preservation Society, insisting his message will still be heard, “This kind of information needs to be freed. We're going to get it out there, one way or another."

Germany: no dancing in the streets

On Thursday, 24 June, in Hannover, Germany, a Jewish folklore group was attacked while trying to perform a traditional dance in the city’s Sahlkamp district, which has a large immigrant community. Before their performance had even begun, the Chaverim dancers were forced to seek shelter in the wake of a stone barrage from the teenage crowd. The attackers were identified as a group of Muslim youths aged from 10 to 20 according to the BBC. Charlotte Knobloch, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, commented, "It particularly saddens me that those anti-Semitic views can already be seen with such vehemence among children."

Malaysia: political cartoons censored

The Malaysian Government has banned three separate cartoon publications that allegedly pose a security threat, according to ABC News. The censored works focus on the creations of Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, and other local cartoonists, questioning current events in Malaysia. Subjects include police shootings and the sodomy trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. The cartoon ban further questions the Government’s attitude toward freedom of expression and prohibiting dissenting voices. Zunar describes drawing cartoons as his social obligation and vows to continue his commentary.

Czech Republic: ID artist arrested

A leading member of the controversial Czech art group, Ztohoven, has been arrested following the opening of the Citizen K exhibition in Central Prague. On 18 June, local police stormed the gallery seizing exhibits alongside the group’s figurehead, Roman Týc. According to Czech News site Actuálně, the show was intended to highlight the ease with which people exploit personal information and contained identity cards alongside other phony official documents. The group has previously courted prosecution through installing ‘drunk’ traffic lights in urban streets and inserting recorded images of nuclear explosions into public weather broadcasts.


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