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Indonesia is not a good place to be an atheist. Alexander Aan, a self-proclaimed atheist has been jailed under a “cyber crimes” law, not long after having been beaten for his beliefs:
His crime was spreading his atheist beliefs through his Facebook accounts, “Ateis Minang” and “Alex Aan”, which the court said incited hatred and animosity against religious groups. In one posting, which was used as evidence in court against him, he professed “God does not exist”.
Aan is probably better off, and safer, inside. A local radical Islamic group has been anxious to get its hands on him, again. Before his arrest in February, he was dragged and beaten once the group was able to locate his whereabouts, a remote little town about four-hour drive from the West Sumatra capital of Padang. With his full name and photo posted on his Facebook accounts, it didn’t take long for anyone to find him. While the assailants walked free, Aan now has to serve time in jail.Extrajudicially beating up atheists, mind you, is perfectly fine in Indonesia; in fact, the jury is still out on whether they are entitled to any legal protections at all, or whether a profession of atheism incurs an automatic sentence of outlawry, allowing others to hunt you for sport:
By regarding the case as a cybercrime, the court failed to address the one constitutional dilemma about the presence of atheists in the country. Do they have the right to exist in this country, and more importantly, if they are considered as being outside the constitution, can they expect state protections just as all other citizens
The largely dismissive public and official attitude towards Aan’s case is another sad reflection of the way the nation treats as impertinent a constitutional question such as religious freedom. We have seen this attitude prevailing in regard to recent cases of persecutions against followers of the Ahmadiyah and Shiites, and the increasing harassments against Christians who are deprived of their right to build places of worship. The Ahmadis, the Shiites and the Christians literally have to fight their own battles in the face of the increasingly indifferent Muslims. Aan himself is almost alone in fighting for his rights as a citizen of this country.
A piece on the Olympic “Brand Exclusion Zone”, a quasi-totalitarian construct passed into English law at the diktat of the International Olympic Committee, and sweeping aside rights of free expression and association in order to protect the primacy of Olympic sponsors' brand names and logos:
The most carefully policed Brand Exclusion Zone will be around the Olympic Park, and extend up to 1km beyond its perimeter, for up to 35 days. Within this area, officially called an Advertising and Street Trade Restrictions venue restriction zone, no advertising for brands designated as competing with those of the official Olympic sponsors will be allowed. (Originally, as detailed here, only official sponsors were allowed to advertise, but leftover sites are now available). This will be supported by preventing spectators from wearing clothing prominently displaying competing brands, or from entering the exclusion zone with unofficial snack and beverage choices. Within the Zone, the world's biggest McDonald's will be the only branded food outlet, and Visa will be the only payment card accepted.The restrictions on what people entering, leaving or having the fortune to reside in the Olympic zone wear or carry on their person are supposedly to prevent rival brands from playing “ambush marketing” stunts, such as sponsoring covert flash mobs of people dressed in their logo colours. It is not clear whether a bunch of people wearing Chicken Cottage T-shirts would impair McDonalds' image, though it seems that Olympic sponsors insult easily, and when offered the full might of the state and extraordinary police powers to do so, are willing to jump at the offer.
And it's not just London. All the venues for the 2012 Olympics will be on brand lockdown. In Coventry, even the roadsigns will be changed so that there is no reference to the Ricoh Arena, which is hosting matches in the football tournament. Even logos on hand dryers in the toilets are being covered up. The Sports Direct Arena in Newcastle will have to revert back to St. James Park for the duration of the Olympics.It would be amusing if it didn't trample on the rights of free expression and free association. In a free society, one might argue that there are certain extreme contingencies when the usual freedoms need to be temporarily suspended for the common good. That it may be justifiable to do so to soothe the tender egos of a multinational corporations' marketing departments at a sporting event is a considerably more dubious proposition.
Meanwhile, the (London) Metropolitan Police, who were escorting the Olympic torch rally through Cornwall, seized a Cornish flag carried by a torch-bearer, on the grounds that it was a “political statement”.
And as ominous as the Olympic mascots are (they're essentially anthropomorphised surveillance cameras, executed in a hip-hop aerosol-art fashion, sublimating the appropriation of the superficial aspects of underground/“street” culture into an architecture of surveillance and control and subtly, or not so subtly, alluding to London's heritage as a world leader in CCTV coverage), some pieces of official merchandise are more ominous than others; take the mascot in a policeman's costume. It's not clear whether the Orwellian connotations are unintended or whether they're a deliberate acknowledgement of London's status as a model panopticon. After all, there will be a lot of foreign dignitaries at the Olympics, some from countries with, shall we say, more fraught internal situations than others, and if the Olympics go smoothly, with no evident dissent and no obvious sign of dissent being heavy-handedly crushed, this could result in a lot of sales by British security technology vendors.
Britain isn't the only place where protest activity is being deterred: in Israel, an activist named Jonathan Pollak has been gaoled for three months for taking part in a nonviolent bicycle demonstration against the blockade of Gaza:
"It is not common that someone found guilty of illegal assembly will be sent to prison," said (Pollak's lawyer) Lasky, who has worked in this field for eight years. "We are in the midst of a high wave of detentions of activists," she added. "The criminalisation of leftwing demonstrations is a policy these days".When Israel's aggressive foreign policy and handling of the Palestinians are brought up, one rejoinder often heard is that Israel, the premier (if not only) pluralist democracy in the region, has a very robust culture of democratic debate, with more dissent and criticism heard there than in, say, the U.S, and certainly more than in the Middle East in general. In light of this, the gaoling of nonviolent demonstrators is particularly disturbing.
Meanwhile in Tennessee, state anti-terrorism officials have listed the American Civil Liberties Union on a map detailing "terrorism events and other suspicious activities", after the ACLU warned schools to ensure that holiday celebrations "are inclusive". Officials now say that this was done by mistake, but it does make one wonder whether, for some officials, terrorism is the new Communism.
Julian Assange is free on bail, while he awaits Sweden's extradition case against him. According to his lawyer, he was kept in the same cell in Wandsworth Prison that had previously housed Oscar Wilde. (Perhaps it's the celebrity suite?)
Of course, it is widely argued that the Swedish allegations (note: not charges), nebulous as they are, are merely the phony war before the main event, an attempt to extradite Assange to the US and make an example of him so that nobody tries aything like WikiLeaks again, and harmony is restored across the New World Order. The British government appealing against the bail decision, and claiming that the Swedish prosecutor had done so (which the Swedes denied) also adds to the suspicion. Earlier, Assange's lawyer claimed that, according to Swedish sources, a grand jury has already been impanelled in secret in Alexandria, Virginia. The latest rumours say that the US won't seek to try Assange for espionage (which was assumed to be shaky), but to try him for conspiracy, making a case that he conspired with accused leaker Bradley Manning. Given that Manning is likely to face capital treason charges and is being held in conditions said to amount to torture, he'd have a strong incentive to remember evidence implicating Assange. The problem with this is that it is only slightly less problematic, as according to some commentators, it would also criminalise investigative journalism in general.
If the US Government just wants to put the frighteners on other potential troublemakers, they could attempt to try Assange in a closed military tribunal, arguing that evidence for the prosecution (i.e., ECHELON intercepts or similar) cannot be revealed to civilians. Everybody will suspect it's a kangaroo court, but will also know that you don't fuck with Uncle Sam.
That is, of course, assuming that the British government agrees to extradite Assange to the US. It could always stand up and tell the Yanks where to stick their conspiracy charge. By the same token, England could always win the World Cup in 2014. In all likelihood, assuming that the US gives its assurances that the prosecution will not be seeking the death penalty (the main sticking point with EU countries), extradition should be straightforward. In the unlikely occurrence that extraditing him is politically unpalatable, Britain could just cancel his visa and deport him to Australia (the only country he is believed to hold citizenship), where, if PM Julia Gillard is any authority on the matter, he would be handed over to the FBI as soon as his plane landed. (They don't mess around with finicky issues of civil liberties in former penal colonies.)
Meanwhile, Assange is not the only one to fall foul of the European Arrest Warrant system, which establishes the legal fiction that all European justice systems are equivalent and requires European countries to honour other countries' arrest warrants automatically, and has led to some absurd situations:
This month I watched proceedings in Westminster magistrates' court as Jacek Jaskolski, a disabled 58-year-old science teacher, fought an EAW issued against him by his native Poland. Jaskolski – also the primary carer for his disabled wife – has been in the UK since 2004. His crime? Ten years ago, when he still lived in Poland, Jaskolski went over his bank overdraft limit.
In 2008 a Polish man was extradited for theft of a dessert from a restaurant, using a European arrest warrant containing a list of the ingredients. People are being flown to Poland in specially chartered planes to answer charges that would not be thought worthy of an arrest in the UK, while we pick up the tab for police, court, experts' and lawyers' time to process a thousand cases a year. This whole costly system is based on the assumption that the criminal justice systems of countries such as Poland are reasonable enough that it is worth complying with all their requests.Meanwhile, the net is closing around those involved in online activist/terrorist group Anonymous: a Greek designer has been arrested after leaving his details in a press release, and Scotland Yard say that they have been monitoring the group since their attacks on copyright enforcement groups. It is not clear whether post-9/11 antiterrorism powers are being used.
The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2010 Democracy Index, a ranking of countries from most to least democratic, is out. The actual report requires registration, but the Wikipedia page contains a list, and various news sites across the world accompany this with explanatory commentary. A press release is here.
The report divides the world into four blocks, in order from best to worst: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes. The largest group, by population, is flawed democracies, followed by authoritarian regimes and, some distance behind, full democracies.
The four most democratic countries are—quelle surprise!—Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. They're followed immediately by New Zealand (which is looking increasingly like a chunk of Scandinavia in the Antipodes) and Australia. That's right, Australia is more democratic than Finland, Switzerland and Canada (#7. #8 and #9). The United States is at #17 (with a score of 8.18/10) and the UK is at #19. (The US loses points due to the War On Terror, whereas the UK's problem seems to be political apathy. Though is that the cause or, as Charlie Stross argued, a symptom?)
Meanwhile, France under Sarkozy has fallen out of the league of full democracies, and been relegated to the flawed democracies; there it is kept company by Berlusconi's Italy, Greece, and most of the Eastern European countries (with the notable exception of the Czech Republic, who are one step above the US), along with South Africa, Israel, India, East Timor, Brazil, Thailand, Ukraine and a panoply of African, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Below the flawed democracies lie the hybrid regimes; these include Hong Kong (a notional democracy with Communist China keeping it on a leash), Singapore (a model of "managed democracy"), Turkey, Venezuela, Pakistan, Palestine and Russia. And at the bottom are authoritarian regimes, including the usual suspects: Cuba, China, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Saudi Arabia and such. It will surprise few to learn that the bottom spot is held by North Korea, with a score of 1.08 out of 10, followed by Chad, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Burma.
The press release states that the democracy ratings are worse than in previous years, with democracy declining across the world. Several factors are cited for this decline, including the economic crisis, the War On Terror, and declining confidence in political institutions. The press release also says that the crisis may have increased the attractiveness of the Chinese authoritarian model.
The scale of the rankings is, of course, not scientific. A rating of 9.8/10, as Norway has, would suggest that 98% of policy is decided at the ballot box, rather than in negotiations with other states, interest groups, bondholders and the like. And if 81.6% of Britain's decisions were democratically made, grossly unpopular decisions like trebling university tuition fees or invading Iraq would not have happened. One could imagine a more accurate scale, which estimates what percentage of a country's public affairs are decided through democratic discourse. A better measure would also have to take into account media pluralism, the education levels of the public, and access to unfiltered information; if a country's media is controlled by a few media tycoons, the will of the people will act as a low-pass filter on their opinions.
The new face of terrorism in the UK? A 12-year-old schoolboy in Eynsham, Oxfordshire was taken out of his class by anti-terrorism police, and threatened with arrest after starting a Facebook group to protest to the Prime Minister against the closure of a youth club:
Speaking to the Guardian, Nicky Wishart said: "In my lesson, [a school secretary] came and said my head of year wanted to talk to me. She was in her office with a police officer who wanted to talk to me about the protest. He said, 'if a riot breaks out we will arrest people and if anything happens you will get arrested because you are the organiser'.Via MetaFilter, whose discussion thread includes this particularly insightful comment, by one "SysRq":
More and more, I get the feeling that the anti- in "anti-terror" doesn't refer to ideological opposition so much as directional opposition, as in anti-clockwise; whereas "terror" is the psychological warfare of The Enemy upon The State, "anti-terror" is the psychological warfare of The State upon itself — a sort of national autoimmune disorder.
Another chapter from Britain's war on its youth: a police officer in London, who asked to not be named, has stated that the police routinely arrest teenagers with no criminal records, just to collect their DNA, just in case they do commit a crime in the future:
The officer said: "It is part of a long term crime prevention strategy. We are often told that we have just one chance to get that DNA sample and if we miss it that might mean a rape or a murder goes unsolved in the future.
"Have we got targets for young people who have not been arrested yet? The answer is yes. But we are not just waiting outside schools to pick them up, we are acting on intelligence. If you know you have had your DNA taken and it is on a database then you will think twice about committing burglary for a living."Or you'll watch a few episodes of CSI and, when you do commit a burglary, you'll ensure to tip an ashtray from a busy pub over the premises or something.
The latest weapon in Britain's ongoing war on its "out-of-control" youth: anti-teenager lighting. It's much like the violet anti-junky lighting often seen in public toilets and doorways, only it's tinted bright pink to simultaneously mock hormonal adolescent males' sense of masculinity and make their acne show up particularly vividly:
Meanwhile, the original anti-junky lights have been found to not only not work (ask any junky with a felt-tipped pen), but to also have unintended consequences:
Public toilets in Church Street, in Rugby town centre, were closed in February after a shocked cleaner discovered two people having sex inside. In a report to officers, Rugby borough council head of engineering and works David Johnson said the toilets were still suffering anti-social behaviour.
“The subdued lighting encourages an atmosphere conducive to sexual activity, while it is off-putting to the public wishing to use the facilities.
“Another problem is that graffiti written in certain pens looks spectacular under UV lighting.”
The recent Beijing Olympics have been acclaimed as a spectacular success; though what they really demonstrated is the power of totalitarianism to get things done, a point which has been lost on a lot of naïve Western commentators:
The road home from Beijing is lined with wide-eyed converts who've seen the light on totalitarianism. “China has set the bar very high,” Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said. “There are some things that London will not be able to compare to, or equal - such as the ability to bring hundreds of thousands of volunteers to different sites.” Yes, Jacques, it is amazing what people can achieve once they appreciate there is no alternative.
Of course the Beijing Games went without a hitch. Give anyone total, terrifying control over a population, with force, and they will make them march in unison, drum, smile, dance, mime, jump through hoops if necessary. “They don't look very oppressed,” wrote one observer. No, pal, and neither would you if you knew the consequences of complaint.
Those performing the three-minute umbrella dance at the opening ceremony trained for six months for 14-15 hours each day, while the 900 soldiers unrolling the scroll that was the centrepiece of the production wore nappies because they had to stay hidden for seven hours, with not even a trip to the toilet allowed. And this is the event that our Olympics Minister called wondrous? That Rogge thinks will be hard to beat?And the biggest threat, the article says, is that Britain's politicians, starstruck by Beijing 2008, will take home the lesson that totalitarianism can be so awesome:
This is the most worrying legacy of the Beijing Games. It has shown our ministers, civil servants and sports administrators what could be achieved, if we could only suspend personal freedom. Change is afoot.Not that suspending civil liberties for the duration of the Olympics so that everyone can have fun without being brought down by protesters or other troublemakers is without precedent; it happened during the Sydney Olympics of 2000, when locals were prohibited from letting friends park in their houses (as not to compete with the official parking sponsors) and wearing clothing with political slogans or non-sponsoring brand names on it in the streets. Which is fairly mild compared to mass levelling of neighbourhoods, though it does make one wonder what innovations in the management of civil liberties the Blairite/Brownites will be tempted to bring to London 2012.
Let it not be said that China is not willing to democratise; the Chinese government has announced that, for the Olympics, it is adopting one aspect of American-style late democracy: free speech zones, in which protest is permitted. As long, of course, as the protesters have permission from the police:
Liu Shaowu, director of the Beijing organising committee's security department, said protests would be allowed in Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan parks.
"They are all close to the city proper and the Olympic venues," he told a press conference on the city's security preparations. But Mr Wu was hazy about how potential protesters would apply for permission, and on whether spontaneous demonstrations would be allowed.
If you break the law, the law will break you: The fabled Australian commitment to free speech, civil liberties and the right of peaceful dissent is once again in the news, as the New South Wales government announced that anyone annoying those attending the Catholic Church's "World Youth Day" may face criminal penalties.
Police and emergency services will have the power to order people to cease behaviour that "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event" under the regulations. Anyone who fails to comply could be fined A$5,500 (£2,630).
Anna Katzman, the president of the New South Wales bar association, which represents almost 3,000 lawyers, said it was "unnecessary and repugnant" to make someone's inconvenience the basis of a criminal offence. "If I was to wear a T-shirt proclaiming that 'World Youth Day is a waste of public money' and refuse to remove it when an officer ... asks me to, I would commit a criminal offence," Katzman said. "How ridiculous is that?"This is possible under laws related to those used for suspending civil liberties during the 2000 Olympics, and could criminalise planned protests by gay rights, student and secularist groups. Not to worry, though; the authorities have given their word that these sweeping powers will be exercised reasonably.
In today's paranoid age, controlling parents have ever-increasing options for monitoring everything their children do:
The SnoopStick looks like a memory stick. You plug it into your teenager's computer when they are not around, and it installs stealth software on to the machine. Then you plug it into your own computer and can sit back at your leisure and observe, in real time, exactly what your child is doing online - what websites they are visiting, the full conversations they are having on the instant messenger (IM) service, and who they are sending emails to. It is as if you are sitting and invisibly spying over their shoulder.
Significantly, the £37.50 device comes with the warning that, if you use it to monitor an employee's computer without notifying them, you may well be in breach of employment laws. But install it secretively on the computer of your teenager, who has absolutely no rights at all, and no one can touch you. The moral argument doesn't come into it.
The following devices, please note, are not just being marketed to private detectives to catch errant spouses; they are being targeted at parents of teenagers. You can get clothes with tracking devices fitted into them. You can fit such devices covertly into mobile phones. For $149 you can purchase a mobile spy data extractor, which reads deleted text messages from a SIM card. For $79 you can buy a semen detection kit, to test your teenage daughter's clothing. And for $99, if you really want to ape the mad ex-Marine father in American Beauty, you can buy a drug identification kit which can detect up to 12 different illegal drugs.
The SnoopStick symbolises the modern obsession with control. The American psychologist Robert Epstein, who wrote the controversial book The Case Against Adolescence, estimates that young Americans are now ten times more restricted than adults, and twice as restricted as convicted criminals. He says teenagers are infantilised and deprived of human rights. As well as the obvious legal bar to prevent them smoking, drinking, marrying, voting and gambling, teenagers have no privacy rights, no property rights, no right to sign contracts or make decisions regarding their own medical or psychiatric treatment.
Central London to be shut down for 3 days for the Imperial visit. In a concession to British traditions of freedom of political debate, protests will be allowed in three specially-designated "free-speech zones", believed to be in Dagenham, Surbiton and Milton Keynes.
U.S. officials complain about Canada's human rights. That's right, not "human rights abuses" (which are only a bad thing if the other party has oil and isn't willing to share), but human rights. Canada has too many civil liberties to effectively pull its weight in the War On Terrorism. The U.S. has also singled out Canada's plan to decriminalise marijuana, as something that will have Serious Consequences if it goes ahead. Clearly the Canadians have abused their sovereignty, and if they continue to do so, their sovereignty may, by the rules of the Rumsfeld Doctrine, be forfeit.
On a similar theme, Little Johnny's loyalty to Washington has paid off, with Uncle George offering him a "free trade deal" between Australia and the U.S., agribusiness lobbyists permitting. Mind you, one aspect of the treaty will involve harmonisation of "intellectual property" laws, which will be bad for both sides. It's not just the matter of Australia's copyright laws being co-written by Jack Valenti and things which inconvenience Big Copyright becoming crimes in Australia; Americans stand to lose when their politicians decide to amend the DMCA and realise that they can't because international treaties prevent them. Closer to home, one effect of the "free trade" treaty's copyright provisions is likely to be a ban on multi-region DVD players and "mod chips", neatly sidestepping Alan Fels' attacks on DVD region coding.
Routes of Least Surveillance: A group of civil libertarians has created a map of New York showing routes with the fewest surveillance cameras.
"We've designed iSee to be useful to a wide range of ordinary people," said an IAA operative who declined to be identified. "The demonstrated tendency of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) operators to single out ethnic minorities for observation and to voyeuristically focus on women's breasts and buttocks provides the majority of the population ample legitimate reasons to avoid public surveillance cameras."
"The advent of sophisticated face-recognition technologies are further reasons to use iSee. They will allow companies, private investigators, and journalists to browse video databases for footage of spouses, employees, and neighbors engaged in perfectly legal, but nonetheless private acts like attending job interviews and psychiatric appointments."
Expect it to become a big hit with dissidents, adulterers and the aluminium-hat set, before possibly being shut down lest it help potential terrorists.
Details have emerged of Britain's anti-terrorism bill, revealing that it contains draconian new police powers and restrictions on protest activity. The bill makes it a criminal offense to publish details of the movement of nuclear waste trains (which sounds like an echo of China's state secret legislation), and gives the police power to jail demonstrators who refuse to remove masks or face paint, as well as including surveillance powers which have previously failed to pass parliament. Various voices in the wilderness have strongly condemned the new bill, which is expected to be passed into law shortly.
Democracy is not a spectator sport: A good Slashdot feature about the coming crackdown on freedoms and civil liberties in the US (and elsewhere too, most probably), and more importantly: how you can fight for your rights:
Rep. Rivers says phone calls "...have a sense of personal contact to them," and this makes them the most effective grassroots lobbying tool. "Stick to one issue," she advises. "Don't come up with a laundry list."
"The House [of Representatives] is ruled by brute force." ... the "unanimous" vote that got DMCA through the House was not really unanimous at all; that the bill got through a committee dominated by a powerful chairman (which is how bills generally get to the floor for a vote) and that the Speaker called for a voice vote. "Most yelled 'Aye,'" Rivers said, and some yelled 'Nay.'" The voices yelling "Aye" were the loudest, so DMCA passed by acclamation.
If you live in the US and are concerned about the erosion of your remaining rights (both in terms of privacy/crypto and in terms of things like the SSSCA), read it and, for the love of "Bob", act on it. If you don't live in the US, read it anyway as it's bound to be relevant soon if not now. (And if you aren't concerned, wake up and look around you.)
Am I glad I don't live in Sydney: Meanwhile, civil liberties have been suspended, as Sydney is turned into Disneyland for the Olympics, replete with totalitarian restrictions designed to maximise the sponsors' profits. (Or so these lefties are saying anyway; though in this case I'd probably believe them.)
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the power to disqualify athletes who "promote a political or religious message" and requires them to sign an agreement prohibiting them from "recording their thoughts" of their Games experiences, which according to the IOC would amount to "an athlete acting as a journalist." The rule, which covers athletes' personal web sites, is an attempt to ensure that athletes do not scoop official broadcasters. Any breach will constitute grounds for expulsion from the event.
It is illegal for residents living within a five-kilometre radius of an Olympic venue to allow cars to be parked on their property, with any breach punishable by a $15,000 fine. Parking in Olympic-designated zones incurs a $348 fine, five times the current penalty, and those attempting to travel in special Olympic traffic lanes on Sydney roads will be fined $2,200.
(Somewhat reminiscent of the special lanes on Soviet motorways that were reserved for Communist Party apparatchiks.)
Welfare workers have complained that treatment of the homeless by security guards "borders on harassment". The guards, however, are taking their lead from the state government, which has offered the homeless a "choice" of staying in an overcrowded city hostel or being transported to a tent encampment in one of Sydney's outer suburbs
(Brazilian-style shanty towns, here we come; perhaps we should borrow more of the Brazilian solution and just cull the homeless like feral kangaroos?)
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