Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New UN resolution turns away from religious defamation concept

6 April 2011
New UN resolution turns away from religious defamation concept

A Christian holds a wooden cross during a rally to condemn the assassination of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Lahore in March 2011. Bhatti was killed for challenging Pakistan's blasphemy law
A Christian holds a wooden cross during a rally to condemn the assassination of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Lahore in March 2011. Bhatti was killed for challenging Pakistan's blasphemy law
REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

The United Nations' top human rights body has abandoned its condemnation of religious "defamation" and instead passed a resolution supporting an individual's right to freedom of belief - a move long awaited by IFEX members.

Rather than reintroducing the religious defamation resolution, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) presented a new resolution at the last Human Rights Council session that focuses on ending religious discrimination.

"Combating Discrimination and Violence", which passed unanimously on 24 March, removes all references to protecting religions from criticism and shifts the emphasis to protecting individuals from discrimination or violence, explains PEN American Center.

ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), which have led the campaign against "religious defamation", said the new resolution is a "significant breakthrough for the Human Rights Council and the international human rights system as a whole."

"This new resolution focuses on protecting an individual's freedom of religion by employing and protecting the very right 'defamation' called into question - namely, freedom of expression," said Bahey Eldin Hassan, the director of CIHRS.

Previous resolutions over the past decade backed largely by the OIC sought to criminalise any criticism of religion that believers found offensive, and the concept of religious defamation evolved into one of the UN's most polarising debates. ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS have long argued that the concept has been used to justify limits on free expression - like validating countries' blasphemy laws that have led to the jailing of religious minorities and repression of political dissidents who speak out against their government.

The new resolution advocates for concrete measures and policies to be adopted, such as developing collaborative networks and monitoring mechanisms, and training government officials to speak out against intolerance.

It stresses the importance of an "open public debate of ideas, as well as interfaith and intercultural dialogue [which are] among the best protections against religious intolerance," Hassan points out.

"If maintained in future UN resolutions, the shift is a momentous one that will provide an important framework to combat discrimination, while upholding existing human rights norms," said Hassan. "By adopting this text the international community has reinforced the principles of freedom that the people of Egypt and other countries in the Arab region have fought so hard to uphold."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Supporting Freedom of Speech and Wikileaks‏

Supporting Freedom of Speech and Wikileaks‏



11 April 2011

Supporting Freedom of Speech and Wikileaks

ARTICLE 19 joins free speech activists in a letter supporting Wikileaks and defending the right to publish leaked information in the public interest.

We believe that free societies everywhere are best served by journalism that holds governments and corporations to account. We assert that the right to publish is equal to, and the consequence of, the citizen’s right to know. While we believe in personal privacy and accept a need for confidentiality, we hold that disclosure in the public interest is paramount. Liberty, accountability and true democratic choice can only be guaranteed by rigorous scrutiny.

We defend the right to publish the truth responsibly without obstruction and persecution by the state. The primary duty of journalists everywhere is to advance the cause of understanding, not to assist governments and powerful interests in suppressing information, and never to defer to ingrained habits of secrecy.

With these principles in mind, we declare our support for the publication of documents released through leaks. They have cast significant light on the behaviour of governments and corporations in the modern world. Wikileaks has done the world great service. We strenuously denounce the threats of death and criminal prosecution of its director for publishing, together with many organisations throughout the world, information that is clearly in the public interest.

Those in authority routinely oppose such disclosure, as they have done since the struggle to publish the proceedings of the British parliament over 200 years ago right through to the release of the Pentagon Papers. We believe no democracy has ever been harmed by an increase in the public’s knowledge and understanding. Therefore, we, the undersigned, declare our unyielding support for the principles of journalistic inquiry and openness, and condemn the forces that threaten both.

Supported by: ARTICLE 19, English Pen, International Federation of Journalists, The Newspaper Guild, OpenDemocracy, Reporters Without Borders,


• Signed along with many others: Lisa Appignanesi, John Berger, Fatima Bhutto, Rachel Billington, Rosie Boycott, Heather Brooke, Noam Chomsky, Patrick Cockburn, Steve Coogan, Jeremy Dear, Molly Dineen, Ariel Dorfman, David Edgar, Daniel Ellsberg, Bill Emmott, Richard Eyre, Woody Harrelson, Sue Hollick, Hugh Hudson, Will Hutton, Helena Kennedy, Imran Khan, Phillip Knightley, Hanif Kureishi, Mike Leigh, Kim Longinotto, Edward McMillan-Scott, Terry McDonell, Michael Moore, Philip Pullman, David Puttnam, Salman Rushdie, Richard Sambrook, Susan Sarandon, Alexandra Shulman, Tom Stoppard, Oliver Stone, Laura Wade, Marina Warner, AN Wilson.
• For more information please contact: Oliver Spencer, +44 20 7324 2500

Artist Alert: March 2011‏

Artist Alert: March 2011‏


Artist Alert: March 2011
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.

Tunisia: Artists step into the light
The Dignity Revolution has resulted in an opening of the arts scene in Tunisia as the harsh restrictions on importing books and films came to an end on 22 January. According to Magharebia, bookshops no longer need to covertly smuggle publications into the country, and are taking orders for books on issues as previously controversial as La Régente de Carthage, on the president’s wife’s corruption.

Tunisian artists who had only been able to publish anonymously on the internet, such as rapper Hamada Ben Amor, aka The General, are now able to openly practice their art in public. Amor, who became famous for a song about corruption, ‘President, your people are dead’, was arrested on 5 January for several days during the revolution.

Pakistan: Arts council bans dancing

The Lahore Arts Council has banned all dance performances in theatres with the exception of classical dance. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune, the Council made the decision in order to promote “quality” theatre. In Pakistan, scripts have to be approved first by the city’s arts council, then by the regional arts council and finally by the central Home Department. Unfortunately, rather than reject the ban outright, Commercial Theatre Producers Association chairman, Chaudhary Zulfiqar Ahmad, has instead called for the creators of such “vulgar” dances to be barred from producing more.

Heera Mandi, the famous dancing women in Lahore, have also been forced to stop their classical dancing as the police claim they can no longer provide security against attacks by violent conservative groups. The women, who, according to ActionAid, are often mistakenly believed to work in the sex trade, dance and sing usually for male clientele. The BBC reports that most music festivals, theatres performances and other artistic celebrations that Lahore was once known for, have ended.

China: Ai Weiwei still detained despite protests by international community

China’s leading artist-activist remains in the custody of the government despite pressure from the international community to release him. The Chinese government detained Ai and have since alleged the arrest was based on ‘economic crimes’. Both the United States and the European Union have raised concerns over the detention of Ai, claiming his arrest came as a response to the artist’s criticism toward the Chinese government’s violation of human rights. In particular, Ai said that the government used the 2008 Olympic games as “propaganda” and he blasted the country’s “disgusting political conditions”. The Chinese foreign ministry claimed that his arrest “had nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression”.

United Arab Emirates: Festival denies claims of censorship

The Sharjah Art Foundation has denied claims of “unwarranted censorship” after it dropped controversial documentary by American-Iranian film director Caveh Zahed, according to a report in The National. The film, Plot for a Biennal, was set to screen at the festival in mid-March but was banned because the foundation’s lawyers believed it might promote blasphemy. One scene showed children dancing and throwing their shoes in the air, overdubbed with the call to prayer. Another showed the children kneeling for prayer to the sound of a Bollywood song. Jack Persekian, the foundation director, supported the decision to drop the film, claiming “scenes juxtaposing shots of children with an inappropriate soundtrack would offend Muslims”. Zahed countered the claims and argued that the foundation’s decision was a violation of artistic freedom.

In addition, according to reports in the New York Times, Sheik Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, the ruler of the emirate Sharjah, has ordered Persekin, to be fired. The orders came as a result of numerous complaints about the artwork, “It Has No Importance” by Mustapha Benfodil, displayed in a public square. The work featured a group of headless mannequins with sexually explicit “Arabic slogans and poetry, some making reference to Allah”. The curators who chose the work defended Persekian, who was not involved in the selection of the piece and denied it was meant to offend. They told the New York Times the words in the work “borrowed the voice of the victims of rape at the hands of religious extremists in Algeria (...) who used religious texts to justify their crime.”

Germany: Performance photography banned

A court in Germany has ruled that a display of performance photos in Museum Schloss Moyland was “an incorrect deformation of the original performance”. According to a report by The Art Newspaper, the court ruled in favour of the widow of performance artist, Joseph Beuys, who claimed that the original piece, which was staged during a television show, should not be represented through photos. However, photographer Manfred Tischer’s images remain the only visual record. The museum’s director, Bettina Paust, argued that the decision “abolishes the medium of ‘performance photography’ as now every photograph of a happening is a ‘deformation of the original’.”

United States: Homosexuality censored and un-censored

A United States supermarket, Harps, covered with a ‘family shield’ a magazine showing a picture of Elton John and his husband with their newborn child. Following complaints from shoppers, a Harps store manager deemed the picture to be “offensive” and put a protective shield on it to stop customers from looking through the magazine in January. Harps representatives defended their decision, claiming that the decision was in response to the complaints of the customers and did not reflect the point of view of the store. After receiving scrutiny from international organisations, the store management reversed their decisions and uncensored the magazine.

Fred Zinnemann’s 1953 film about soldiers in Pearl Harbour, From Here to Eternity will be reissued digitally in May. The re-release will feature the gay scenes in James Jones’ 1951 novel which had been originally edited out of the film. One scene includes Private Angelo Maggio - played by singer Frank Sinatra – who reveals that he is paid to have oral sex with another man. The film also covers a military investigation into a case of homosexuality.

Spain: YouTube censors art depicting young Europeans enjoying life

YouTube deleted a documentary in February about the Spanish artist Juan Francisco Casas saying that it “violated company policy relating to nudity and sexual content”. The film, entitled “10 things about Juan Francisco Casas”, showed screen shots of Casas’ work, some of which depicted young adults being partially naked. Casas declared that his work reflects a carefree and hedonistic European generation that “thrives on organising parties and exploring their sexuality”.

United Kingdom: Wrexham Council bans ‘sensitive’ Cameron-Clegg artwork

Wrexham Council has decided to ban a print of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy-Prime Minister Nick Clegg dressed as partially naked cowboys amid concerns it is “politically sensitive”, says a report by the BBC. The print, set to be featured at the Oriel Wrecsam gallery at the end of March, was deemed to be “inappropriate”. The council said the decision was made as they had to “follow strict guidelines prior to an election”, which take place on May 5th 2011. The artist, Brian Jones, responded to the gallery’s decision by claiming they were practicing censorship. “It’s not party political, I’m not on a mission to topple the government, it’s just the backdrop to what’s going on with job losses, prices going up and cuts,” Jones told the BBC.


• For more information: please contact Oliver Spencer,, +44 20 7324 2500
• ARTICLE 19 is part of the Coalition for Arts, Human Rights and Social Justice,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vote for your favourite free expression blog

30 March 2011

Vote for your favourite free expression blog

The search is on for best blog! Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in conjunction with German media group Deutsche Welle wants you to vote for your favourite blog from anywhere in the world that defends free expression, as part of the Best of the Blogs Awards (the BOBs). Hurry, voting closes on 11 April.

This year, choose the winner in 17 categories, including the RSF award, which aims to support bloggers in countries where freedom of speech and press are limited - and goes to a blog that takes a strong stance for freedom of information all over the world.

There are also awards for Best Blog, Best Use of Technology for Social Good, Best Social Activism Campaign, Best Human Rights Blog, Best Video Channel, and best blog in each of the BOBs' 11 contest languages.

Jury members have already pared down the 2,101 blogs, social media projects and social good campaigns you submitted to the BOBS to just 11 finalists per category. Kudos to IFEX member the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Indonesia, whose blog has made the cut for the RSF award.

So get voting! The blogs and projects with the most votes will be named the winners of the BOBs User Prizes on 12 April.

Three Depressed terrorists

Three Depressed terrorists
Terrorism is inhuman act, an evil concept