Sunday, June 21, 2009



Philanthropic organisation ArtAction is seeking to "find light in darkness
and courage in truth" with the 2009 Freedom to Create Prize, which honours
artists around the world who promote human rights and free expression and
are denied their "freedom to create." The deadline for entries is 14 August

The prize is divided into three categories: the Main Prize is open to
artists (individuals or artistic groups) in all creative fields; the Youth
Prize is for artists aged 18 or younger; and the Imprisoned Artists Prize
is for artists currently in jail because of their work. The total prize
fund of US$125,000 is to be divided between the winning artists and
advocacy organisations they designate in order to further the cause their
artwork has highlighted.

For more information and to register, visit the Freedom to Create Prize



A journalist who is also a local community leader was killed in southern
Colombia last month, report the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) and the
Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Two hitmen burst into the home of Hernando Salas Rojas, director of the
Curillo municipality's local television station, in Caquetá department, on
20 May and fired several shots at him.

Salas was Salas was also the president of a committee calling for the
recall of the local mayor, Esneider Mayorga, for alleged wrongdoing.
According to FLIP, Salas's murder may be linked to his political and
community-related activities.

FLIP called the assassination "a serious affront to freedom of expression"
and is urging the Attorney General's office to investigate the incident and
ensure that those responsible are identified.

Related stories on
- Journalist and community leader killed in Caquetá department:



China is planning to force computer manufacturers to install software on
all new personal computers that would filter out "unhealthy" information,
report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without
Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Ostensibly to protect young people from "harmful content", especially
pornography, the "Green Dam" software was created by the military-backed
company Jinhui. It must be preloaded - preinstalled or enclosed on a CD -
on all PCs to be sold in China as of 1 July.

"The idea that Beijing now needs to place another filter inside each of the
40 million PCs sold annually in the country to protect the public raises
suspicion that the authorities have ulterior and more sinister motives,"
said CPJ.

RSF is urging the companies that sell computers to the Chinese market not
to comply with the instruction, "which will make them accomplices to

In May, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told computer
manufacturing companies that they had six weeks to install the software,
which would be paid for by public funds in the first year. According to
"The Wall Street Journal", the software would link PCs with a regularly
updated database of banned sites and block access to those addresses.

According to the "Guardian", in the face of public opposition China now
says the software will not be compulsory. "PC makers are only required to
save the set-up files of the program in the hard drives of the computers,
or provide CD-ROMs containing the program with their PC packages," the
English-language "China Daily" quoted an official saying on 15 June.

"The users have the final say on the installation of the Green Dam Youth
Escort, so it is misleading to say the government compels PC users to use
the software ... The government's role is limited to having the software
developed and providing it free," says the paper.

RSF reports that since March, the software has been downloaded three
million times, is reportedly used in 2,279 schools and has been installed
in some 518,000 computers. The companies Lenovo, Inspur and Hedy have
apparently already installed the software in 52 million computers.

"The appearance of such a strict directive shows the need to protect
foreign companies operating in China, who are forced to comply with local
laws. This is why we support the need for a law like the Global Online
Freedom Act, that makes it possible to stand up to the Chinese government
in this kind of situation," said RSF.

China already operates an extensive Internet filtering system, popularly
known as the Great Firewall, which blocks access to a range of content,
from pornography to politically sensitive sites. Such sites have included
those promoting Tibetan independence or referring to the Tiananmen Square
massacre and the pro-democracy group Charter 08.

But that system blocks content at the network level, and many users
circumvent it. The new method could give the government a way to tighten
its control.

U.S. Internet companies have for years wrestled with demands from the
Chinese government to censor content or share potentially private data with
police. Last year Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft joined human rights and
press freedom groups to announce a set of guidelines for how they would
comply with censorship requests from countries like China. Known as the
Global Network Initiative, the group does not include any computer hardware

Related stories on
- Government tightens clamps on Internet usage:

More on the web:
- Seeing red over green: China to install censorship software (CPJ):
- China backs down over controversial censorship software (Guardian):
- China squeezes PC makers (The Wall Street Journal):



Yet another Filipino journalist was killed last week by unidentified
assailants, reports the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR).

On 12 June, print journalist Antonio Castillo was shot at close range by
two men after a brief chase on motorbikes in Uson, Masbate province,
central Philippines. He died in hospital three hours later. He was able to
describe the attackers but refused to give their names to investigators,
said CMFR.

Local police said they have yet to establish why Castillo, a columnist for
the local tabloid "Bigwas" (Blow), was killed.

According to CMFR, he is the fifth journalist deliberately murdered because
of his work in the country this year. Three days before Castillo's murder,
radio host Crispin Perez was shot dead in front of his house in San Jose
City on Mindoro island, also in central Philippines.

Perez hosted two talk shows at a state-owned radio station in Occidental
Mindoro province and had strongly criticised local mining and energy

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world for
journalists - 65 journalists have been killed under President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo's rule since she was swept into power in 2001, says CMFR.
Of the 65, 40 cases were work-related.

Under fire from local and international human rights groups for its failure
to protect hundreds of journalists and activists killed over the past seven
years, the government has vowed to track down killers of reporters but
there have been few convictions.

More on the web:
- Two media practitioners killed in a week (CMFR):

Iran: Escalation of attacks and censorship after elections


Iranian authorities have censored independent media sources, both local and
foreign, as anti-government protests have raged in the country following
last Friday's presidential elections, report ARTICLE 19, the Committee to
Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX

The security services have moved into the offices of newspapers where they
are censoring content before they go to print, reports RSF. The 15 June
front page of "Etemad Meli", the paper of candidate Mehdi Karoubi, shows a
photo of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a rally with a column left blank
because of editing by the censors.

Meanwhile, "Kalameh Sabz", the paper of Ahmedinejad's main challenger Mir
Hossein Mousavi, has not been able to publish since 13 June.

According to ARTICLE 19, the intelligence ministry has reportedly ordered
all newspapers not to write anything which questions the legitimacy of the

Ahmadinejad lashed out at the media shortly after he claimed victory in the
election that critics contend was marked by widespread voter fraud. At a
news conference on Sunday, he accused international media of launching a
"psychological war" against the country.

Staff from several international news organisations, including Belgian,
Spanish, Canadian, U.S., Emirati and Italian newscasters, have had tapes
confiscated, been ordered to leave the country, been beaten while covering
public protests and have even been detained, says ARTICLE 19.

Following a massive opposition rally on 15 June, authorities restricted
foreign journalists - including Iranians working for foreign media - from
reporting about the protests on the streets, report CPJ and the
International Press Institute (IPI). They could effectively only work from
their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official
sources, such as state TV.

The BBC said that electronic jamming of its news report, which it said
began on election day, had worsened by the end of the weekend, causing
service disruptions for BBC viewers and listeners in Iran, the Middle East
and Europe.

On 14 June, the authorities ordered the Tehran bureau of the Arab satellite
TV news station Al-Arabiya closed for a week after it broadcast video of
the first demonstration following the announcement of Ahmadinejad's
re-election, reports the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

A range of social communications has also been disrupted inside Iran since
election day, including text messaging, social networking sites and
official campaign websites of the opposition that were being used to
organise protests. At least 10 pro-opposition websites have been censored,
says RSF. Then on 16 June, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard warned online
media to remove all content that might "create tension," or face legal
consequences, reports IPI.

But some protesters in Iran are reaching out to the West using special web
servers, such as one developed at the University of Toronto, to circumvent
efforts to block websites.

Plus, Iranians abroad are using social networking tools to instantly spread
news about their homeland. For instance, on Twitter, Hamid Akbari, a
university student in Toronto, follows eight people in Iran he has come to
trust, reports the "Toronto Star" newspaper. They tweet about where
protesters are gathering for a demonstration, and what police are doing.
Akbari then feeds that information to his 500 contacts back home by email
or through Facebook.

Meanwhile, 11 Iranian journalists have been arrested since 12 June,
including Reza Alijani, winner of the 2001 RSF-Fondation de France press
freedom prize. He was released two days later. According to RSF, there is
no word from about 10 other journalists who have either been arrested or
gone into hiding.

RSF reiterates its appeal to the international community not to recognise
the election results. "A democratic election is one in which the media are
free to monitor the electoral process and investigate fraud allegations but
neither of these two conditions has been met for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's
supposed re-election," RSF said.

Related stories on
- Government cracks down on foreign news media:
- Authorities crackdown on media in election aftermath:
- News and information fall victim to electoral coup:

More on the web:
- Twittering Iranians tell the world (Toronto Star):
- The 15 June front page of Etemad Meli, with a photo of President
Ahmadinejad at a rally with a column left blank because of editing by the
censors (
- Internet filtering in Iran (OpenNet Initiative):
- International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:

Iran: Escalation of attacks and censorship after elections

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Islamic Republic of Iran immediately to unblock Iranians’ access to international media, to lift bans on local newspapers and websites, and to stop harassing Iranian and foreign journalists in the wake of last Friday’s presidential elections.

The Iranian government is using various methods to block the reporting of events following the presidential election on 12 June, including by censoring and suspending newspapers blocking internet news websites and preventing access to international news media.

There have been widespread public protests in major cities across Iran, after the incumbent candidate, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, announced a resounding victory over opposition reformist candidates early on Saturday morning.

Staff from several international news organisations, including Belgian, Spanish, Canadian, American, Emirati and Italian newscasters, have had tapes confiscated, been ordered to leave the country, been beaten while covering public protests and even been detained. The BBC English and Persian television and radio services have been interrupted by electronic jamming, apparently from within Iran, which began on Friday and has gradually intensified.

The Iranian print media has been subject to serious censorship. The Kalam-e Sabz newspaper, which supports opposition reformist candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was not printed on Monday 15 June. The intelligence ministry has also reportedly ordered all newspapers not to report anything which questions the legitimacy of the elections.

The government has censored internet sites operating within and outside Iran too, as part of an ongoing pattern of repression. Over the weekend, civilians began posting coverage and images of the post-election violence on sites such as YouTube and Facebook, filling the vacuum left by the failure of other media to report on this. The government responded by blocking social networking sites on Saturday afternoon, along with the official campaign websites of the reformist political candidates.

Several Iranian journalists have been arrested, disappeared or gone into hiding in the last two days.

SMS messaging was blocked on the eve of the elections and the main mobile telephone network for Iran cut its services in Tehran on Saturday. There have been various reports of phone lines not working for hours after the polls closed.

The national state media (IRIB), the only locally licensed television and radio services available in Iran, has refrained from covering any of the clashes between pro-reform supporters and the police.

ARTICLE 19 notes that the Republic of Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. The attempts by the Iranian authorities to impose a news blackout on reporting on the election and its aftermath are a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression as protected by the ICCPR. ARTICLE 19 calls on Iran to respect its ICCPR obligations and to stop the censorship by unblocking access to all print, broadcast and online media immediately.


• For more information please contact: Khashayar Karimi, Iran Programme Officer,, or at +44 20 7324 2500.

Norway: ARTICLE 19 Benefits from Norwegian Foreign Minister’s Personal Donation of Book Royalties

Norway: ARTICLE 19 Benefits from Norwegian Foreign Minister’s Personal Donation of Book Royalties

The Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, has donated to ARTICLE 19 royalties amounting to NOK 1,000,000 (about GBP 97,000) from a book he published in 2008.

Mr Støre announced the donation at a press conference in Oslo on 3 June 2009, coinciding with a week-long international gathering of freedom of expression organisations and activists in the city.

ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, Dr Agnès Callamard comments: “ARTICLE 19 is very touched and honoured by the Minister’s generosity, as well as his commitment to freedom of expression, in general, and ARTICLE 19’s work in particular.

“We are particularly honoured to be awarded these book royalties because of the leadership consistently demonstrated by Jonas Gahr Støre on the international stage. Mr Støre took a courageous position defending freedom of expression at the UN Durban Review Conference on racism in April this year – he defended human rights in the face of the Iranian President’s attempts to spread fear and intolerance at the event, when other country representatives had walked out. And, in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons incident in 2005, he initiated, with his Indonesian counterpart, the Global Inter-Media Dialogue to promote understanding and dialogue across cultures, religions and the media.”

ARTICLE 19 will use Mr Støre’s donation to further its global work advocating for the development and adoption of sound policies and laws supporting freedom of expression and conforming to international standards. Further, ARTICLE 19 will continue its work to promote understanding of the interdependence between the right to freedom of expression and the right to equality. The organisation will also strengthen its work against violence against journalists and impunity for crimes against the media, and continue monitoring abuses of human rights and freedom of expression in different parts of the world.

Mr Støre’s book, Ǻ Gjøre en Forskjell (Making a Difference), was published in November 2008 and outlines his views on international politics, human rights and the world. The book invites readers to a broad reflection on Norway´s position, values and interests at a time when many fundamental assumptions regarding international politics are changing.

• For more information: please contact Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director at or +44 20 7324 2500.

immediate release – 15 June 2009

Maldives: Stop Prosecuting Criminal Defamation Cases

Maldives: Stop Prosecuting Criminal Defamation Cases

The first criminal case in many years began hearings at the Criminal Court in the Maldives yesterday. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Maldivian authorities to abolish the crime of defamation, replacing it with appropriate civil defamation rules, and on the Prosecutor General, Ahmed Muiz, to refrain from bringing cases in the interim.

Muiz, appointed as an independent Prosecutor General pursuant to the new democratic 2008 Constitution, adopted after wide-ranging public consultations, announced in April 2009 that he was obliged to enforce all provisions of the Penal Code, including those on criminal defamation. Prior to the new Constitution, former Attorney General Hassan Saeed had refused to bring criminal defamation cases.

ARTICLE 19 believes that criminal defamation is a breach of the right to freedom of expression under international law, which the new Constitution closely mirrors. While Muiz does have to follow the law, his primary obligation is to uphold the Constitution, and he should not enforce provisions where there is a serious question as to their constitutionality.

In November 2008, Mohamed Nasheed, a journalist and former prisoner of conscience, overwhelmingly won the popular vote in 2008, sweeping Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, leader of the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), out after 30 years as president. Nasheed won the 2008 general election proclaiming that his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), would consolidate democracy and press freedom. In parliamentary elections in May 2009, the MDP got the second largest number of seats, after the DRP.

In the defamation case, Hameed Abdul Kareem, ex-editor of Manas magazine, is accused of publishing defamatory remarks about former Chief Justice Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim. The article apparently discussed Rasheed’s loyalty to former President Gayoom and his lack of independence as the head of the judiciary.

• For more information please contact: Toby Mendel, Senior Legal Counsel,, +1 902 431-3688.

Vietnam: Release Leading Human Rights Lawyer Le Cong Dinh Immediately and Unconditionally


Le Cong Dinh, a prominent lawyer, writer, blogger, and human rights
defender in Vietnam, has represented other writers and right advocates in
Vietnamese courts over the past years, courageously taking on cases despite
a repressive media environment in the country. Now he needs your help.

Dinh was arrested on 13 June in his home in Ho Chi Minh and faces up to 20
years in jail on charges of distributing anti-state propaganda, sedition
and conspiring with subversives. Join the Southeast Asian Press Alliance
(SEAPA), International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), Human
Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship
to demand his immediate release.

The Investigation Agency at the Ministry of Public Security announced that
Dinh was arrested because he had reported distorted facts to foreign news
agencies and allegedly libelled Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Dinh is well known for defending human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le
Thi Cong Nhan when they appealed their prison sentences for spreading
anti-government propaganda in 1997.

He also defended in court the famous blogger Dieu Cay for his right to free

His writings about the legal system in Vietnam and the need for independent
media have been well received and broadcasted widely on various websites
inside and abroad, as well as international media, such as the BBC and
Radio Free Asia.

SEAPA believes the charges are flimsy and are meant to silence critical
voices in Vietnam. "Dinh's arrest simultaneously sends a chilling message
to both writers and advocates on the one hand, and to lawyers who, fully
working within the system and respecting Vietnam's laws, represent them on
the other."

The Swedish Bar Association has sent out a letter of protest to the
Vietnamese authorities about Dinh's arbitrary arrest. Now you can too.

The IFEX members are asking that you write or fax a letter of protest to
the Vietnamese embassy in your country. SEAPA has drafted a letter that you
are free to use and send on. You can access it on the SEAPA website:

For a partial list of Vietnamese embassy addresses, see

You can also sign the online petition for Dinh:

Related stories on
- Media advocate arrested for "spreading propaganda against government":

Article19 adds

Vietnam: Release Leading Human Rights Lawyer Le Cong Dinh Immediately and Unconditionally

Leading Vietnamese human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh was detained by police on 13 June 2009 and has been held since then on charges of breaching Article 88 of the Penal Code of Vietnam for “distributing propaganda against Vietnam”. If convicted, Dinh faces up to twenty years in prison. ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship call on the Vietnamese authorities to free Dinh immediately and unconditionally, and to repeal Article 88 in full.

Dinh is a respected Vietnamese lawyer and human rights defender who has, in the past, defended Vietnamese pro-democracy activists, bloggers and labour rights activists. He has also been an outspoken proponent of political pluralism and other causes which the Vietnamese government disapproves of.

Article 88 of the Penal Code makes it an offence, among other things, to defame the Vietnamese administration, to spread fabricated news to foment confusion among the people, and to circulate documents against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. All of these offences fail to meet the standards set out in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Vietnam acceded to in September 1982, thereby undertaking to respect its provisions. In particular, none of these offences can be justified as necessary to protect national security or public order. Indeed, criticism of the authorities is central to democracy.

• For more information please contact: Toby Mendel, Senior Legal Counsel: ARTICLE 19 at or +1 902 431 3688; or Jo Glanville, Editor: Index on Censorship at or +44 (0) 20 7324 2531.
• Index on Censorship has been working to protect and promote freedom of expression since 1972 through its award-winning magazine, website and international projects. .

Burma: ARTICLE 19 Urges Support for Aung San Suu Kyi on her 64th Birthday

On Friday 19 June, Aung San Suu Kyi will celebrate her 64th birthday locked in a prison cell in Burma. She is the only Nobel Peace Prize winner in prison and is currently on trial on charges of breaking the conditions of her house arrest. If convicted, she faces another five years’ imprisonment.

ARTICLE 19 is part of an international coalition of organisations which have been campaigning actively for Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest for many years. On the occasion of Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday and in recognition of these new charges brought against her by the Burmese regime, ARTICLE 19 urges all human rights activists to act in solidarity with this brave defender of her people’s most basic freedoms.

ARTICLE 19 encourages supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi to visit and add a message before 19 June. Around 10,000 individuals and groups from all over the world have already contributed their 64-word messages of support. Some of these include other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, such as Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Kim Dae-Jung, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, and Wangari Maathai.

The Group of Elders, which includes Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, Jimmy Carter, Mohammed Yunus, Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, have also added a message and regularly keep a chair empty for Suu Kyi at their meetings.

Other world leaders such as the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the former Japanese Prime Minister, Tsutomu Hata, a group of MPs from ASEAN (Association of South East Asian) countries have contributed too, along with film stars, celebrities and many thousands of ordinary people.

Events in solidarity with See Kyi will be held in cities worldwide on Friday. For more details in different regions, visit:

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

Azerbaijan: Proposed Amendments Threaten Media, Civil Society

The rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association are at serious imminent risk in Azerbaijan as the country’s parliament, the Milli Mejlis, this week deliberates on further restrictions on the media and civic organisations.

In an extra-ordinary session on Friday 19 June, the Milli Mejlis will consider legislative changes relating to the establishment and activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media.

Legislators propose amending the Media Law to reinforce changes adopted in March 2009. These included a provision to allow suspension of any media outlets engaged in so-called “abuse of power” through, for example, the use of anonymous sources. Criminal and civil defamation laws are used extensively in Azerbaijan to intimidate journalists and human rights defenders: several journalists and editors are currently in prison, some convicted on evidently trumped up charges.

The draft legislative amendments also contain a provision allowing the government to disband organisations convicted of writing “biased articles” three times within two years. Founders of media outlets and non-governmental organizations that are closed by the government could be banned from setting up similar organisations for up to five years.

Any non-governmental organization that wishes to operate or conduct activities in Azerbaijan would have to be registered by the state and anyone speaking on behalf of an unregistered organisation could make this organization liable to an administrative sanction, including a fine of up to 50,000 AZN (approximately USD 62,500 or EURO 44,650). If such an individual is a foreign citizen, the person could potentially be expelled. The result could be to limit access to the country for foreign representatives of international human rights organisations, which are not registered there.

Azerbaijani non-governmental organizations would no longer be allowed to operate if they have less than 50 percent local funding. In order to carry out work throughout the country, an organization would have to have branches and/or representations in one-third of Azerbaijan’s 59 administrative-territorial districts.

Foreign groups would be virtually unable to open offices using international funding, unless there is a formal international agreement between Azerbaijan and the country of origin.

“These changes will severely limit the capacity of organisations and media critical of the government, and are a direct attack on freedom of expression and association in Azerbaijan,” said Rashid Hajili of the Media Rights Institute in Azerbaijan.

Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch and International PEN believe that these legislative changes, if adopted, would have a severe, negative impact on civil society and the media, which would come under even more intense government scrutiny and control, through more restrictive registration and financial monitoring. This will cripple the ability of independent organizations to monitor abuses of human rights and hold the government to account for its actions. The right to freedom of expression and the right to free association will both be compromised.

We call upon the Milli Mejlis not to pass any amendments that could be used effectively and unjustifiably to hinder the professional activities of civil society and the media organisations. We also call upon the Milli Mejlis to make a commitment to bring its existing legislation into line with the government’s international obligations. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, the Government of Azerbaijan has a legal obligation to uphold the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

• For more information please contact: Zulfia Abdullaeva, Campaigner on South Caucasus/Central Asia, Amnesty International,; tel: +44 20 7413 5669; Nathalie Losekoot, Senior Programme Officer; Europe,; tel. +44 20 7324 2500; Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia division, Human Rights Watch; tel: +1 212 216 1266 or Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus researcher, Human Rights Watch; tel: +99 577 42 12 35
• Amnesty International is a global movement of 2.2 million people in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.
• Human Rights Watch is an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights worldwide.
• International PEN is the world association of writers bringing together members in 102 countries in a common concern for the craft and art of writing and a commitment to freedom of expression through the written word.

Ireland: Blasphemy Amendment Contrary to Free Speech

The Irish government’s amendment on “blasphemous matter”, introduced in the Defamation Bill 2006, is contrary to the right to freedom of expression under international human rights law. ARTICLE 19 urges Ireland’s Parliament, the Houses of the Oireachtas, to reject this amendment.

ARTICLE 19 very much welcomes the primary motivation behind the Defamation Bill 2006, inasmuch as it seeks to modernise defamation law in Ireland by decriminalising defamation and removing imprisonment as punishment for defamation. This is a result which ARTICLE 19 has been promoting globally for some time now and it is good that Western European countries are finally joining other countries around the world that have decriminalised defamation.

The government amendment, which was submitted to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on 14 May 2009, provides for the offence of blasphemy whenever a person publishes matter which is “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion” with the intention of causing such outrage. Conviction can lead to a fine of up to €100,000. There is a defence of “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value”.

The amendment has attracted significant criticism from within Ireland and beyond, including from the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Harazti, who has said that it “violates OSCE media freedom commitments and other international standards upholding the right to freely discuss issues of religion” and has “a chilling effect on freedom of expression”.

We acknowledge the Irish government’s position that, whilst it would prefer to abolish blasphemous libel altogether, the constitution precludes this, as Article 40(6)(1)(i) of the constitution of Ireland provides that the publication of blasphemous matter is an offence punishable by law. The Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, has indicated that the government does not intend to propose a constitutional amendment at this time. He has further explained the government’s reasons for proposing the amendment by suggesting that a 1999 decision which held that the common law offence of blasphemous libel did not survive the adoption of the constitution, Corway v Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, had left a legal void which the government was bound to fill through legislation on the matter.

We consider that the amendment on “blasphemous matter” should be rejected for three reasons.

(1) We consider that the offence of blasphemy is inconsistent with a modern interpretation of international guarantees of freedom of expression, notwithstanding the continued presence of such offences in many countries. Blasphemy laws do not protect individuals against harm but serve instead to insulate the sensitivities of religious adherents by protecting religious ideas, symbols or objects from attack or insult. Blasphemy laws discriminate against atheists and non-theists by providing special protection for religious beliefs but not other deeply held views. We note that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has expressed concern about blasphemy laws and suggested that a useful alternative to blasphemy laws would instead be proper implementation of Article 20 of the ICCPR, providing for prohibition of incitement to hatred, including on the basis of religion. It also goes against current trends toward abolition of blasphemy laws in democracies. Notably, in 2008, the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in the UK.

(2) We note that the amendment does not provide for prison sanctions for blasphemy, but it does provide for a fine of up to €100,000. This is a considerable sanction, which is likely to have a chilling effect upon speech concerning religion, as suggested by the OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media.

(3) We recognise the government’s argument that, if the amendment is adopted, the Irish law on blasphemy will be limited and prosecutions will be highly improbable. This cannot detract from the principled point made above, namely that the very idea of a blasphemy law runs counter to respect for freedom of expression. We note that the impact of the amendment will be felt well beyond Ireland. A compelling reason to reject this amendment is the negative message it sends to illiberal regimes seeking to justify their own repressive laws on religious offence, including blasphemy laws. It will also be seen as providing support to the arguments raised by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and its supporters in favour of the continuation of adoption by UN bodies of resolutions on “combating defamation of religions”.

Instead of adopting a blasphemy law, the Irish government should respond positively to the essence of the Corway judgment, in which the Irish Supreme Court, in holding that the common law offence of blasphemy was void, emphasised the secular nature of the constitution and its guarantees of the right to freedom of conscience, of religion and of expression. The government should not add an offence of blasphemy to the existing law and should, instead, present in due course a referendum to delete Article 40(6)(1)(i) of the constitution, as recommended by both the Constitutional Review Group and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution.


• For more information please contact: Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer +44 20 7324 2500
• To view the additional footnotes, please visit the ARTICLE 19 website at

The Gambia: Journalists and Gambia Press Union Executive Members Detained


Seven journalists and press union leaders were arrested this past week for
criticising the Gambian President for his comments on the unsolved 2004
murder of a prominent editor, report the Media Foundation for West Africa
(MFWA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect
Journalists (CPJ).

The Gambia's National Intelligence Agency (NIA) arrested seven journalists
in connection with a press statement issued on 12 June by the Gambian Press
Union (GPU). The statement criticised President Yahya Jammeh for his
assertion that the state was not involved in the murder of Deyda Hydara,
which has yet to be solved, and that press freedom was respected in the

The seven are: managing editor Sam Sarr and reporter Abubacarr Saidykhan,
of the pro-opposition "Foroyaa" newspaper; deputy managing editor Ebrima
Sawaneh and publisher Pap Saine of "The Point" newspaper; and GPU's general
secretary Emil Touray, vice president Sarata Jabbi and treasurer Pa Modou

"We firmly stand by our statements... and are today, more than ever before
determined to remain steadfast, courageous, and, to speak the truth, only
the truth and nothing but the truth," said Ndey Tapha Sosseh, GPU
president. According to Sosseh, the NIA action contravenes Section 207 of
the 1997 Gambian Constitution and various regional and international

"The failure of the Gambian authorities to bring those responsible for the
killing of Deyda Hydara to justice has rightly angered local journalists,"
said CPJ. "Instead of answering journalists' legitimate questions about
this case, the authorities are locking them up. They should be released

Hydara, editor and co-founder of "The Point", who was also the Gambia
correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and RSF, was shot dead on 16
December 2004 in the capital Banjul. At the time of his death Hydara had
become identified with outspokenness and barbed criticism of the

RSF said media harassment had reached unprecedented levels with the
arrests. President Jammeh has for several years been on RSF's list of
"Press Freedom Predators". Gambia is ranked 137th out of 173 countries on
the organisation's worldwide press freedom index.

Related stories on
- Three press union executives and four journalists detained by National
Intelligence Agency:

From article 19:

Seven journalists and members of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) Executive have been held without charge by the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) since being called for questioning on 15 June 2009.

The arrests are believed to be in connection with a statement by the GPU on 11 June 2009, criticising comments made by President Yahya Jammeh during a television interview where he made what they describe as inappropriate comments about the murder in December 2004 of the editor of The Point newspaper, Deyda Hydara, and the status of Freedom of Expression in the country.

Those detained are: the, Sarata Jabbi, First Vice President of the GPU, Emil Touray GPU Secretary General, Pa Modou Faal, GPU Treasurer, Pap Saine and Ebrima Sawaneh, Editor and Deputy Editor of The Point newspaper, Sam Sarr and Abubacarr Saidykhan, Editor-in-Chief and reporter for the Foroyaa newspaper.

The arrests come only weeks after the 45th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) held in May in the Gambia, where ARTICLE 19 urged the Gambian authorities to comply with their international obligations on freedom of expression and to allow journalists to work freely.

Media workers and those defending free expression in the Gambia operate in a climate of fear. ARTICLE 19 is gravely concerned that despite many recommendations and resolutions of the ACHPR, the Gambian government and its security agents continue to intimidate and harass media workers on a regular basis.

We reaffirm our solidarity and support to the GPU and call on the Gambian authorities to immediately release those detained and to cease the intimidation and harassment of journalists” said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.