The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'freedom of speech'
Britain's High Court has ruled that the Metropolitan Police was justified in preemptively arresting activists prior to the royal wedding last year, just in case they tried something, a decision which effectively allows anybody with a propensity to protest of any sort to be arrested to prevent them protesting, opening the way for the great British democracy to be managed far more smoothly than previously possible. Soon Britain's civil society may be as efficient and trouble-free as Singapore's.
A key driver in the move towards a better managed democracy has been the recent festivities: the royal wedding last year, and the Jubilympics this year, which promise to leave a lasting legacy of legal measures. With the smooth running of the marketing exercise in East London at stake, nothing may be left to chance. Most recently, this has resulted in a “legal” graffiti artist being banned from the vicinity of Olympic venues, all public transport facilities and from possessing spray paint or marker pens for the duration of the event, merely because, should he decide to unlawfully graffiti the games (or to do a commission in the area for a non-sponsoring client), he would be able to do so.
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.
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.
A Berlin-based advertising agency has created some clever ads for the International Society for Human Rights' press freedom campaign:
On advice of the FBI, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris has changed her identity and gone into hiding. Norris was the cartoonist placed on a fatwa by Islamists after proposing an Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, in protest against attempts to kill Danish cartoonists who did that, and produced a drawing of random household objects claiming to be the Islamic prophet. Under Islamic law, it is blasphemy for Muslims to draw Mohammed, on the grounds that that encourages idolatry. Norris is not known to be a Muslim.
Sinister things are afoot at the United Nations, with an alliance of countries moving to change the UN Human Rights Council's mission to one prohibiting the criticism of religion. The alliance is comprised mostly of Islamic countries, though China, Russia and Cuba are notable by their presence. (It can only be presumed that they are doing this out of the principle of supporting repression wherever it rears its head.) I heard that the Vatican may also be involved, though this is unconfirmed.
For what it's worth, if you live in the UK, you can petition the Prime Minister to oppose this; if enough people do so, maybe, just maybe, he will.
The City of London Police are prosecuting a teenager for calling the Church of Scientology a "cult" during a demonstration:
The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church's £23m headquarters near St Paul's cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was "abusive and insulting".
The teenager refused to back down, quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a "cult" which was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous".
The City of London police came under fire two years ago when it emerged that more than 20 officers, ranging from constable to chief superintendent, had accepted gifts worth thousands of pounds from the Church of Scientology. The City of London Chief Superintendent, Kevin Hurley, praised Scientology for "raising the spiritual wealth of society" during the opening of its headquarters in 2006.
Liberty director, Shami Chakrabarti, said: "This barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain's free speech traditions. "After criminalising the use of the word 'cult', perhaps the next step is to ban the words 'war' and 'tax' from peaceful demonstrations?"And Charlie Stross weighs in:
I don't care whether Scientology is a "cult" or a "religion", however you slice or dice those terms. Personally, I think the two are interchangeable; your respectable religion is that other guy's cult, and vice versa.
But I am now officially fed up with this public bending-over-backwards to be respectful and sincere towards superstitionists of every stripe, to the point that religion trumps freedom of speech, as this case demonstrates so clearly. And the religious still aren't satisfied — they're out for more. I see no distinction between Christianity, Islam, and Scientology, in this respect: if you give them an inch they'll try and take a mile, as witness the ambush vote on lowering the age limit for abortion that the god botherers have tacked onto the current embryology bill.
We need to kick the bishops out of the House of Lords, ban the Police and judiciary from taking donations from religious organizations, and get religion out of politics by any means necessary.I pretty much agree. The difference between a "cult" like Scientology and a "respectable" religion such as Christianity is not in the plausibility of their beliefs. (Christian doctrines such as the Virgin Birth and Noah's Ark aren't any more rational or less weird than the tenets of Scientology; they only seem that way to us because they're part of the cultural wallpaper of Western civilisation.) IMHO, religions and their believers should be judged on their actions, rather than on the respectability of their particular brand of mythology. (As Voltaire wrote, there is nothing more respectable than an ancient evil.) And religions shouldn't be automatically entitled to be handled with kid gloves and reverential deference, or, indeed, to impose restrictions on those who do not adhere to them (such as the proposed bans on embryo research), just because their organisations are founded on supernatural or unprovable beliefs.
MySpace's legendary contempt for its users has now extended to deleting the Atheists & Agnostics group with 35,000 members, apparently because its existence offended some religious hardliners.
“It is an outrage if Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the world’s largest social networking site tolerate discrimination against atheists and agnostics-- and if this situation goes unresolved I’ll have little choice but to believe they do,” said Greg Epstein, humanist chaplain of Harvard University. News Corporation, Murdoch’s global media corporation which also includes Fox News, purchased MySpace in 2005.The group has now been undeleted; here is more on the incident from the group's moderator, Bryan Pesta:
We were deleted two years ago due to complaints from a group called the "Christian Crusaders." They would search Myspace for profiles they found offensive, and then mass complain to customer service. Their strategy was to send so many emails to customer service that someone, somewhere at Myspace would delete the profile or group.
(via Charlie's Diary)
Shortly after the McLibel defendants won the right to legal aid and a retrial, the British government is making sure that something like that doesn't happen again, by pushing to criminalise the handing out of leaflets, along with many other forms of protest (now redefined as harassment).
It looks like the next generation of Americans are finally getting over that "free speech" fad that gripped the country for 200 or so years. A survey of US schoolchildren has revealed that one in three believe the First Amendment goes "too far", Meanwhile, half of students believe that the government has the power to restrict any indecent material on the internet and newspapers should require government approval of stories for publication. This is in contrast with dangerously liberal views held by their pinko-coddling baby-boomer elders:
When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.
Eventually, though, the baby boomers will die away and America can complete its transformation into the new Sparta, all without anybody noticing that anything has changed. Or maybe it won't; perhaps this is not so much a trend as part of a cycle. I heard accounts of similar things happening during the McCarthy era (one in which someone once posted a copy of the Bill of Rights, without the heading, somewhere, attracting outraged complaints about "Communist propaganda").
Rod Liddle in last week's Sunday Times on Britain's upcoming religious vilification laws:
Heres a short Christmas quiz. Let me rephrase that. Its a short Winterval quiz. I would not wish to frighten or alienate any Sunday Times readers by waving Jesus Christ in their faces.
Anyway, the first question is this. One of the two statements below may soon be illegal; the other will still be within the law. You have to decide which is which and explain, with the aid of a diagram, the logic behind the new provision. a) Stoning women to death for adultery is barbaric. b) People who believe it is right to stone women to death for adultery are barbaric.
Other people, including comedian Rowan Atkinson, have pointed out that the religious vilification laws could have profoundly chilling effects on debate, which the Home Office strenuously denies. The bill, as drafted, apparently criminalises treating religious texts, such as the Bible or Koran, "in an abusive or insulting way", thus sounding dangerously like the all-faiths blasphemy bill David Blunkett went out of his way to say it wasn't. It does, however, specifically exempt comedians.
(I'll bet that the Church of Scientology's lawyers are rubbing their hands with glee at the shiny new blunt instrument for use against critics they are about to be handed. I wonder whether they'll get to use Britain's national firewall to block access to critical sites.) (via FmH)
Australia has come in in 41st place in Reporters Without Borders' annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index; which is below all EU members, several other Eastern European countries, South Africa and Hong Kong; in contrast, New Zealand ranked ninth, only slightly below the 8 nations sharing first place. Australia's dismal showing has to do partly with restricted press access to refugees, though chances are that media ownership concentration, defamation laws and attempts to force journalists to reveal their sources have also contributed.
The bottom of the list is held, predictably, by North Korea (at #167), with Cuba just above it. Saudi Arabia is at #159, three places ahead of China, while Singapore is at #147. Brazil, a popular recent poster child of the Third Way, languishes at #66. The US's arrest of journalists at anti-Bush protests and restrictions on journalistic visas have knocked it down to #22. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel is at #36 (shared with Bulgaria), except in the occupied territories, where it is at #115 (shared with Gabon), though ahead of the Palestinian Authority (#127, slightly better than Egypt and Somalia).
First place is shared by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.
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.
RSF (that's Reporters Sans Frontières, not the I'm Too Sexy mob) release the first worldwide press freedom index. Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands share the first place, while the world's least free press is, unsurprisingly, in North Korea. Australia is at #12, alongside Belgium, and ahead of the US (#17) which is ahead of the UK (#21, jointly with Benin and Uruguay). Italy has the worst ranking in the EU (#40), mostly thanks to the Berlusconi government doing to the state-run media what Alston could only dream of doing to the ABC. (via 1.0)
US man buys "Give Peace A Chance" T-shirt, wears it in the same mall, and is arrested for trespassing for refusing to take it off; if convicted, he could face a year in prison. Um, what is this "liberty" thing we're meant to be fighting for again? (via bOING bOING)
Right-wing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh denounces anti-war demonstrators as "Communists" and "anti-American"; radical leftists call for a boycott of his advertisers, demonstrating their commitment to pluralism and diversity of opinion. These are probably the same people who tout Cuba as a model democracy. (via FmH)
The World's Oldest Multinational Corporation: Looks like the Vatican is still unclear on the concept of free speech and the open debate of issues, fiercely condemning a film about abuse in convents. Perhaps they should bring back the Index and summarily excommunicate anyone who partakes of forbidden media. Incidentally, I wonder how it will fare against Australia's film censorship regime.
Some good news: The California State Appeals Court rules that code is pure speech, overturning a ban on the publishing of DVD descrambling code.
"DVDCCA's statutory right to protect its economically valuable trade secret is not an interest that is 'more fundamental' than the First Amendment right to freedom of speech or even on equal footing with the national security interests and other vital governmental interests that have previously been found insufficient to justify a prior restraint," the ruling stated.
Mind you, the case is still pending appeal, so it's not over yet. However, this is very heartening news.
British comic Rowan Atkinson (best known for his roles in Blackadder and Mr. Bean) has written a letter, claiming that proposed new religious vilification laws may stifle comedy, to the point where making something like Monty Python's Life of Brian would be criminally prosecutable. (via Lev)
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever: SDMI researchers silenced by DMCA, withdraw paper from conference. There you have it; a research paper is classified as a criminal tool and banned outright. (The paper is mirrored; I'd tell you where, but doing so is probably illegal under Australia's WIPO laws .)
Thanks to Britain's ridiculous libel laws, and a court case which found British ISPs liable for "libellious" pages posted by users, free speech online in Britain is looking very precarious... (BBC News)