Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Insult laws

8 December 2010

WPFC's 2009 insult laws survey: steps forward, steps back

Spreading defamatory information through the Internet can land you in jail for up to six years in Indonesia - a greater crime than if you defamed someone through traditional means. It's just one example where new media has fuelled restrictive governments to seek even more special protection for public officials, says the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) in its just-published annual survey of insult laws.

The comprehensive survey, "Insult Laws: In Contempt of Justice", covers 61 countries where journalists were punished, sometimes with lengthy prison sentences, for allegedly "insulting" the dignity of officials or institutions in 2009. It also provides key portions of insult and criminal defamation laws.

While WPFC says there were notable advances for free expression that year, "steps forward in one country seem to be matched by steps back elsewhere." For instance, while international efforts to make "defamation of religion" a crime were resisted, individual Islamic countries enforced laws against the notion of "hisba" - harming society by failing to uphold religious principles.

Ireland even managed simultaneously to abolish libel as a criminal offence while instituting blasphemy as a new crime, says WPFC.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., a small, "incestuous" class of specialised lawyers have made fortunes exploiting an anomalous legal regime, says Peter Preston, former editor of the "Guardian", in the introduction to the survey. British politicians have in fact responded to public outcries over heavy libel penalties and have lobbied hard to remove them. "The people who are fighting hardest to preserve the status quo - or, at least its money-raising aspects - are lawyers themselves," notes Preston.

WPFC's annual guide to insult laws is researched and written by Austrian lawyer Uta Melzer, and sponsored by a grant from the Swiss-based global printing and publishing company Ringier AG.

Hard copies can be requested in North America from Carolyn Wendell at cwendell (@) or from WPFC European representative Ronald Koven at KovenRonald (@)

The report will soon be available on WPFC's website.


8 December 2010

U.K. libel reform group puts out libel guide for bloggers

Picture this: someone writes, emails or phones you to say that something you wrote on your blog is libellous and is threatening to sue. Do you take it seriously? Do you take down your material? Do you say you're sorry? Or do you face your nemesis in court? The independent charitable trust Sense About Science has put together a guide entitled "So you've had a threatening letter. What can you do?"

"So you've had a threatening letter" explains exactly what defamation is, and what to do if you are threatened with it. For instance, the guide proffers that how you react in the first few weeks after you receive a threat is crucial in deflecting an unfounded claim or correcting something you got wrong.

"Stay calm, review the material, and be friendly and open in your correspondence. Lawyers say the best way to avoid ending up in court is to write letters that would go down well if read out in court," says the guide.

The guide is specifically designed for bloggers in the U.K. and has been published as part of a campaign to reform English libel laws. In a recent survey, Sense About Science found that service providers and bloggers are increasingly vulnerable because of their unfamiliarity with media law.

Sense About Science cautions that the guide is not a substitute for legal advice, but "it does provide information which other bloggers and writers who have been through the experience say they wished they had known at the outset."

The guide was compiled in association with Index on Censorship, English PEN, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

Read "So you've had a threatening letter" here.

Sign a petition for English libel law reform here.

Source : IFEX

Get Liu Xiaobo out of prison in time for Nobel prize ceremony

10 November 2010

Take action!

Get Liu Xiaobo out of prison in time for Nobel prize ceremony

This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, is serving an 11-year sentence in a jail in the remote province of Liaoning for defending human rights and press freedom. Join Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) in calling for the release of Liu - one of China's most famous dissidents - in time for him to attend the Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo on 10 December. Sign the petition here:,38708.html

"We urge you to intercede quickly to obtain his release, the quashing of his conviction and the withdrawal of all charges pending against members of his family, especially his wife, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest in Beijing," reads the petition.

In the weeks since the award was announced on 8 October, more than 100 Liu supporters, students, lawyers, journalists and bloggers have been placed under house arrest or subjected to increased police surveillance, or have disappeared, reports RSF.

News of the award is practically non-existent in China's media and has been blacked out from international news broadcasts on the BBC and CNN. Instead, Liu is being portrayed as a "traitor" and a "criminal" on China's official news agency, Xinhua.

Meanwhile, at least four RSF members and two other human rights activists were arrested in Paris on 5 November after opening umbrellas bearing the words "Free Liu Xiaobo" as Chinese President Hu Jintao passed by in a motorcade during his three-day state visit.

Liu, whose activism dates back to the days of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, was the lead author of a document called Charter '08, calling for multi-party elections in Communist Party-led China. The petition led to his 11-year jail sentence.

Help get Liu to Oslo by signing the petition here

WikiLeaks - Don't shoot the messenger, say IFEX members

8 December 2010

WikiLeaks - Don't shoot the messenger, say IFEX members


Online retail giant Amazon dropped the site from its servers on 2 December, after political pressure from Joe Lieberman, chair of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee. Amazon denied caving into Lieberman's request, posting on its blog that WikiLeaks was violating its terms of service by publishing "harmful" content.

WikiLeaks moved to French Internet company OVH, sparking French industry minister Eric Besson to write to Internet companies warning them that there will be "consequences" for any companies or organisations helping to keep WikiLeaks online in France. This week a French court refused to order OVH to stop hosting WikiLeaks. was also recently dropped by its registry, EveryDNS. EveryDNS claimed that hacking attacks ("distributed denial of service", or DDOS attacks) against WikiLeaks were disrupting its service provided to thousands of other customers. The site's new Swiss registry rejected international calls to force the site off the net, saying there was "no reason" why it should be forced offline.

The reassurances come just hours after eBay-owned PayPal, the primary donation channel to WikiLeaks, terminated its links with the site, citing "illegal activity". Visa and MasterCard have also followed suit, as has Swiss Postfinance, which shut down a bank account of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks's founder.

Meanwhile, DDOS attacks by unknown hackers still bring the site down.

"This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency," said RSF. "It is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed."

IFEX members say it's not surprising that the usual suspects - China, Tunisia and U.A.E., for instance - have blocked access to WikiLeaks or sites that have been reprinting the cables. What is new is that countries that purport to stand for free expression have also been clamouring to shut down WikiLeaks.

For example, Index on Censorship points out that not even a year ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about Internet freedom, which was widely interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google.

Students at Columbia University in New York have been advised not to download or comment on the cables if they might want a government job. According to WikiLeaks journalist James Ball, writing on Index's website, the 19 million U.S. federal government employees have been told not to read the cables material - or any publication containing them. Agencies have added virtually every mainstream news outlet to web filters and blocks, "a move reminiscent of China's Great Firewall."

Said Index's Jo Glanville, "When one of the world's leading liberal educational institutions advises self-censorship to its students, rather than encouraging them to explore and read one of the most significant publications of our time, it is clear that we are in the grip of such a damaging panic that it is threatening the core principles of freedom of speech."

IFEX members ARTICLE 19, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have also spoken out against the backlash.

Lieberman and other senators are trying to introduce emergency legislation to make it illegal to publish the names of U.S. military and intelligence agency informants - which would ultimately allow the administration to go after WikiLeaks. Whether this tactic gains momentum remains to be seen.

According to "The Washington Post", Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has been urging WikiLeaks to "redact from the documents the names of any U.S.-supported human rights defenders who might be placed in jeopardy," such as activists who have spoken with U.S. diplomats in countries with repressive governments. At the same time, however, he voiced concern that the U.S. State Department was trying to use the fear of disclosure about human rights defenders "as an excuse to pursue WikiLeaks or restrict access to this kind of information."

"It is perhaps the fallout from Wikileaks's mass publication of diplomatic cables, rather than the content of the cables themselves, that may do the most harm in the end," Glanville lamented.

RSF is also concerned for Assange, who is currently facing sex assault allegations. In a letter to U.K. Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke, RSF says the proceedings should concern solely the private accusations made against Assange in Sweden, "and must not turn into a proxy trial for the publication of leaked documents by WiliLeaks."

In the meantime, WikiLeaks says it is here to stay. On 7 December, the day Assange was arrested, WikiLeaks tweeted, "Today's actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won't affect our operations: we will release more cables tonight as normal." Copies of WikiLeaks are now loaded on more than 300 different servers worldwide. You can still donate at:


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Artist Alert: October 2010

Artist Alert: October 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.

China: leading artist’s studio to be demolished

One of China’s leading artists, Ai Weiwei, has been informed by the authorities that his new $1.1 million studio in Shanghai must be demolished. The BBC reports that Ai, who was involved in the design of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, was initially invited to build the studio in an emerging arts district, but the building has now been ruled illegal for not following proper planning procedures. The artist, a vocal critic of human rights abuses in China, was held under house arrest for two days in Beijing, while supporters held a protest party at the studio on 7 November to mark the demolition. The Tate Modern gallery in London is currently displaying Ai’s latest work of art: a giant installation made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny, hand-painted replica sunflower seeds.

Turkey: Ferhat Tunç acquitted - and immediately charged again

The Kurdish singer Ferhat Tunç has been informed by the Turkish authorities that he must answer new charges only a day after being acquitted by a court in Diyabarkir of crimes brought under anti-terrorism legislation. The Freemuse award winner had been accused of “spreading propaganda for the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] organization” by the prosecution, and “committing a crime on behalf of an illegal organization without being a member of the organization.” Judges in Diyabarkir had ruled that there was no evidence of any crime being committed in a case that gained international support for the singer. After his latest run-in with the government Tunç wrote to Freemuse saying: “Such is my life! Tomorrow I will have to present myself once again to the police.”

Singapore: Shadrake found guilty over death penalty book

British author Alan Shadrake has been found guilty of insulting the Singapore judiciary after alleging that judges were insufficiently impartial in their use of the death penalty, and has been sentenced to six weeks imprisonment. As reported in the previous Artist Alert, Shadrake’s book tour to promote Once a Jolly Hangman - Singapore Justice in the Dock was severely curtailed by the authorities. After landing in Singapore on 19 July, Shadrake was taken into police custody and detained for a series of interrogations, and will now be sentenced for contempt. The crime is punishable by imprisonment or a fine or both, with no maximum limit set on either, although the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) has called for a jail term of at least 12 weeks. ARTICLE 19 partnered with 27 other free speech organisations in calling on Prime Minister Lee to intercede with the authorities and withdraw the charges. Shadrake, who is also facing separate charges of defamation, is expected to be sentenced on 16 November.

Denmark: Artists' exhibition cancelled over royal orgy cartoon

A retrospective exhibition of the satirical Danish duo Surrend (a.k.a. Jan Egesborg and Pia Bertelsen) was cancelled when the pair told organisers they would be using a pornographic depiction of the Danish royal family. According to The Art Newspaper, the show had been due to open at the Danish Poster Museum, in Aarhus on 13 October. Thomas Bloch Ravn, the director of Den Gamble By, the open-air village museum where the Danish Poster Museum is located, accused the artists of attention-seeking and said that he will no longer work with Surrend. Ravn denies censorship, saying that the artists are free to publish their works elsewhere. Egesborg, for his part, has accused the people of Denmark of hypocrisy, arguing that while it was happy to allow Kurt Westergaard’s controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to be published, it has different rules regarding the royal family.

Malaysia: Cartoonist Zunar challenges cartoon book ban in court

Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anawar Ulhaque, better known by the pen name of Zunar, has brought a legal action challenging a government ban on two of his cartoon books, ‘Funny Malaysia’ and ‘Perak Darul Kartun’.. In a separate case, the cartoonist is facing charges of sedition for a collection of satirical works, ‘Cartoon-o-phobia’. Zunar was arrested and bailed in September, and faces a possible three-year jail sentence if found guilty of the charges. Speaking about his work, Zunar said: “I have always liked political books, which is very different from practising politics. I don’t belong to any party. In my view, a political cartoonist must be well informed, he must know about legal matters, human rights and so on. I hope that, through my cartoons, people understand what is going on. I would like to be a pioneer and for other young cartoonists to take this road. I have already worked with several of them.”

Israel: Funding to be cut for artists who boycott settlement performances

An increasingly impassioned debate over whether government-funded artists have the right to choose where they perform has reached new heights in Israel, after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to penalise artists who are boycotting a new theatre in the illegal Jewish settlement of Ariel. Three days before the Ariel Cultural Center was set to open in the northern West Bank settlement, artists and academics published an open letter calling on performers to boycott the theatre, arguing that Ariel “is an illegal settlement which violates international law and the Geneva Conditions.” Lieberman has hit back at those who signed the letter, saying that “These artists can practice freedom of speech but not on taxpayer's money. Those who refer to Israel as an apartheid state cannot enjoy its fruits.” According to the Jerusalem Post, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat has announced that her ministry will introduce a legal amendment to force theatre companies to provide services regardless of geographic location.

India: Award-winning author besieged by nationalist protesters

The Delhi home of Indian author Arundhati Roy was surrounded by around 150 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) women's faction, who demanded Roy leave India after making remarks about the legitimacy of India’s claims to the disputed territory of Kashmir. Roy, whose novel The God of Small Things won the influential Booker Prize in 1997, had told a conference that “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.” According to The Guardian, the BJP protesters gathered outside the author’s home while she was inside, chanting slogans for her to withdraw the statement or leave the country.

Earlier in the month, another leading Indian author, Rohinton Mistry, strongly criticised the decision of Mumbai University to withdraw one of his books from its literature syllabus, following threats from the right wing Hindu political group Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena had publicly burned copies of Mistry’s novel Such a Long Journey, which it claimed contained disparaging comments about the organisation.

Venezuela: ‘Narco-novela’ soap operas banned from television networks

Venezuela's Nacional Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) has banned television stations from airing two ‘telenovela’ (soap operas) whose main protagonists are drug-dealers. Conatel has said that the shows hurt the social and psychological well-being of children and adolescents, and has banned the Colombian-produced shows under the controversial Radio and Television Social Responsibility Law, according to BBC Mundo. ‘El Capo’ tells the story of a drug dealer who becomes president, while ‘Rosario Tijeras’ depicts a young woman drug dealer and killer, and is a spin-off from the successful 2005 movie of the same name. Telenovela writer Leonardo Padrón told El Universal newspaper that the censorship was an act of “absurd puritanism”, adding, “If it's a measure to reduce violence, it should be applied on the streets.” The ban comes weeks after Venezuelan courts prevented the media from publishing “violent, bloody or grotesque images”, and adds to the growing pressure on freedom of expression in the country.

China: Two Tibetan writers released conditionally

Two leading Tibetan writers have been released conditionally by the Chinese authorities. Tagyal, known by the pen name Shogdung, was arrested on 23 April at the Qinghai Nationalities publishing house in Xining, in the province of Qinghai. He spent six months in a detention centre, during which time visits from family members were forbidden, after the Chinese authorities accused him of inciting separatism in his writings. Tagyal was released on bail on 14 October but under a form of parole pending trial that does not protect him from being arrested again. Kalsang Tsultrim, writing under the pseudonym Gyitsang Takmig, was arrested on 27 July in Sichuan province, most probably for expressing his concern about the Tibetan people. He was released on 15 October on condition that he does not participate in political activities.


• For more information: please contact Oliver Spencer,, +44 20 7324 2500

UN General Assembly: UN Member States Should Vote Against Proposed Resolution on “Vilification of Religions”

19 November 2010

UN General Assembly: UN Member States Should Vote Against Proposed Resolution on “Vilification of Religions”

London 19.11.10: ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) urge UN Member States to vote against the draft resolution proposed at the current session of the UN General Assembly on “combating religious hatred and vilification of religions”.

“We are extremely concerned about the draft resolution on ‘vilification of religions’ proposed by the Organization of Islamic Conference,” says Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “It fails to address our concerns about earlier resolutions on ‘defamation of religions’ or meet the standards set down in Article 20 of the ICCPR. While we welcome the dropping of the phrase ‘defamation of religions’, the content and implications are even more far reaching than earlier resolutions on combating ‘defamation of religions’, which we have found so problematic from an international human rights perspective”.

In response to the draft resolution, ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS have produced a detailed legal analysis which raises three areas of concern:

In response to the draft resolution, ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS have produced a detailed legal analysis which raises three areas of concern:

• ‘Vilification of religions’ is even broader than ‘defamation of religions’ and will have far reaching negative implications for freedom of expression;
• The draft distorts and undermines states’ international human rights obligations, particular with respect to Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and
• The draft continues to legitimise the fundamentally flawed notion of ‘defamation of religions’ and, if adopted, will provide international support to national laws on blasphemy and defamation of religions which are often used by repressive states to silence religious and political opponents, government critics, dissidents as well as religious minorities and critics of religions.

ARTICLE 19 and the CIHRS urge all Member States to vote against the resolution.


• Read the full analysis at:
• For the draft of the resolution on combating defamation of religions
• For more information, please contact Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer +44 20 734 2500, or Jereme Smith, Director-Geneva Office of CIHRS,
• CIHRS is an independent regional human rights organization based in Cairo, Egypt with offices in France and at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.