Monday, February 25, 2008

"Freedom of expression" under attack

Pakistan - Protesters express anger at Danish cartoons

‘Freedom of expression’ has been the focus of several reports over the weekend. In Morocco a man has been jailed for three years after he was found guilty of impersonating a Prince on the social networking site Facebook. The computer engineer, Fouad Mourtada, was accused of stealing the Moroccan Prince’s identity and forging computer documents. He claimed the site was “just a bit of fun”, but Prince Moulay Rachid was apparently not amused by the prank and imposed a $1,300 fine as well as the jail sentence [BBC / CNN]. Dozens of fake profiles exist on the social networking site including that of George W Bush and the late Mother Theresa. YouTube suffered problems over the weekend as Pakistan attempted to block the video website [BBC]. The effort to block the site caused outages worldwide for two hours before YouTube engineers were able to bring the website back online [BBC]. Several countries have attempted or continue to block access to the video hosting website. China, Iran and Brazil have all attempted to thwart access to the website. Last year Thailand blocked the site after video ridiculing the King were posted on the site. Morocco, Syria, Myanmar and Turkey have also attempted to block access. But while some efforts by the authorities are successful, due to the interconnected nature of the internet there are often ways around these curbs.

There has been anger too over the republication of one of the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. The cartoon was reprinted following the arrest of several men said to be involved in a terror plot to kill some of the cartoonists involved in the furore which divided many Muslims two years ago. Three people were arrested in the early hours of Tuesday February 12th in what police say was a plot to kill Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists who has been under police protection for three months [BBC]. While protests in Denmark have been peaceful there have been stronger voices on the streets of Pakistan with demonstrators vowing revenge and burning the Danish flag [BBC].

Meanwhile an Afghan student journalist, who was sentenced to death after downloading and allegedly distributing material connected with women’s rights, has spoken to the press for the first time. His death sentence has not yet been commuted, contrary to earlier reports, and he remains in jail. He told the Independent newspaper in the UK that his trial had lasted only 4 minutes and he was denied access to a lawyer. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said earlier this month that she would make representations to the Karzai government. “I do think that the Afghans understand that there are some international norms that need to be respected. Of course, one has national laws and they’re national laws that are in accordance with traditions and religious practice. But there are international norms and I’ll certainly talk to President Karzai about this case” she said during a visit to London on the 6th February. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has also said he would raise the issue with the Afghan President adding that Britain was “opposed to the death penalty in all cases and believe that freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society”. He said he had already raised the subject with the United Nations and supported the UN Special Representative’s call for a review of the case. But so far all protests have fallen on deaf ears [BBC].

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