Rob Hallam

Pakistan Blocks YouTube

YouTube access has been blocked in Pakistan for hosting material offensive to Islam.

Its telecommunications authority ordered internet service providers to block the site until further notice. Reports said the content included Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that have outraged many. However, one report said a trailer for a forthcoming film by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, which portrays Islam in a negative light, was behind the ban.

Wahaj-us-Siraj, convener of the Association of Pakistan Internet Service Providers said:

“They asked us to ban it immediately… and the order says the ban will continue until further notice.”

Unfortunately, the method the ISPs used to block access to YouTube was said to affect users outside Pakistan, leading to a near worldwide outage.

Thanks to the BBC for the reports.

Rob Hallam

Moroccan Jailed For Spoof Facebook Profile

From the BBC, Fouad Mourtada has been jailed for 3 years and fined $1300 for creating a fake profile in the name of a Prince in the Royal Family.

In his defence, he said he admired the prince, and that the Facebook entry was just intended to be a bit of fun. A website supporting him published a letter addressed to the prince apologising for the incident. The letter, reportedly penned by Mr Mourtada’s family, requested clemency.
According to the website, he told family members who visited him in jail that he had been blindfolded and beaten unconscious at the time of his arrest.

“Fouad Mourtada, like thousands of people who create fake profiles of well-known personalities or celebrities on Facebook, has in no way acted in a willingness to cause nuisance to Your Highness, for whom he has always shown the greatest of respect.”

Earlier this week some Moroccan bloggers went “on strike“, suspending their regular blog entries for 24 hours in protest at Mr Mourtada’s detention.

Rob Hallam

Decision To Free Five May Help Scot’s Appeal

From The Scotsman:

A Scottish student jailed for terrorism-related offences last year hopes a Court of Appeal decision in England may help to free him. Five men jailed for similar crimes walked free yesterday. Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, sitting with two other judges, quashed their convictions and ordered their release.

(we covered this story too)

The ruling will be studied by lawyers planning an appeal against the conviction of Mohammed Atif Siddique, a Scottish student jailed for eight years for possessing and distributing terrorism-related materials on the internet.

Last night, Aamer Anwar, Siddique’s lawyer, said he would be meeting Imran Khan, the solicitor who represents the five freed men, within weeks. “This decision will be scrutinised by us to see if there are any implications,” Mr Anwar said.

As I commented previously, downloading such material should not be a crime. If there is an act of violence being planned, that can be prosecuted as the equivalent of “Conspiracy to commit X“.

Aamer Anwar is a human rights lawyer and a current candidate for the Rectorship of the University of Glasgow. He is expected to come and speak to the GU Amnesty International society next Tuesday at 6PM. He is facing charges of contempt of court for his defence of Siddique, which has lead to campaign to defend him.

Rob Hallam

Appeal Frees 5 Students Jailed For ‘Jihadist’ Material

Five British Muslim students jailed for downloading extremist material from the internet were released today, after the Appeal Court ruled their convictions were unsafe. The Lord Chief Justice said that although the evidence was clear that the five had accessed the jihadi websites and literature there was no proof of any terrorist intent, the BBC reports.

In a statement today via his solicitor, Malik said: “As I said when I was arrested, I do not, have not and will not support terrorism in any form against innocent people.

“My prosecution was a test case under the 2000 Terrorism Act. Today’s decision means no first year student can ever be prosecuted again under this Act for possessing extremist literature.”

Freeing the men, the Lord Chief Justice said there was no proof of terrorist intent. The lawyer for one said they had been jailed for a “thought crime”.

Critics inside the Muslim community and civil liberty campaigners say section 57 of the 2000 Terrorism Act has been used as a blunt instrument to prosecute young Muslim men where there is no proof of genuine links to terrorism. Imran Khan, solicitor for Mr Zafar, said the five had been prosecuted for “thought crime” and that the ruling would have an significant impact.

He said:

“Young Muslim men before this judgement could have been prosecuted simply for simply looking at any material on the basis that it might be connected in some way to terrorist purposes.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission said it hoped Thursday’s judgement would stop the “criminalisation of Muslim youth for downloading and reading material that is widely available to everyone”.

Chairman Massoud Shadjareh said:

“Our anti terror strategy should target and bring to account those who plan criminal acts of terrorism. Instead individuals who write poetry, read blogs or download material from the internet are being targeted because of their ethnicity or religious affiliation.”

From the BBC, The Register and The Times Online.

Since this was a test case, it will hopefully have impacts on later cases. We may laugh and sigh at banning books (and rightly so), but the same thing is happening here. The lawyer said it was a thought crime, and so it was. Reading material of any sort should never be conflated with planning terrorism and it certainly should not be a crime.

“Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”
~Potter Stewart

Rob Hallam

British Athletes [Not] Restricted From Criticising China On Human Rights (Updated)

Update: It seems like the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The BOA has clarified it’s position (BBC coverage this time) saying:

“I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA’s Team Members Agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic Charter, this is not our intention nor is it our desire to restrict athletes’ freedom of speech and the final agreement will reflect this.”

Which is still somewhat unclear – will the clause remain in some form in the final agreement? Hopefully it will be a recommendation or guideline rather than a strict rule of “no criticism”.

From The Daily Mail (only source carrying this at the moment, picked up by a few blogs):

British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China’s appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing. The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest. The controversial clause has been inserted into athletes’ contracts for the first time and forbids them from making any political comment about countries staging the Olympic Games.

Should a competitor agree to the clause but then speak their mind about China, they will be put on the next plane home. The clause, in section 4 of the contract, simply states: “[Athletes] are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues.” It then refers competitors to Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter, which “provides for no kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda in the Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.

However, The BOA (British Olympic Association) denied it was suppressing the right to free speech:

“Clearly what we are not trying to do is suppress comment or debate from our athletes. If an individual is asked a direct question and makes a response that’s fine.”

Amnesty International campaigns director Tim Hancock said:

“People in China can’t speak out about human rights without fear of reprisals; people in Britain can. It’s up to each individual to decide what they think and what they say about China’s human rights record and that goes for athletes too.”

Of course, while this looks like an infraction of the athletes right to free speech as countried like Finland have stated, it should be noted that it’s the Daily Mail that is reporting and it doesn’t look like other news agencies have picked it up (though if anyone has a link that says otherwise, post it in a comment below and I’ll edit the post to reflect that). While the Olympic Games is not meant to be a forum for expressing political or idealogical protests, it is surely within the competitors’ rights to state their views or report any abuse they witness?

Amnesty has other things to say about the Olympics too. You can also keep an eye on other Beijing 2008 news stories over at the China section of Amnesty UK’s website and also at OlympicWatch.

Rob Hallam

Chinese Protestation of Internet Censorship Grows

Zhu Nan had been itching to say something about the country’s pervasive online censorship system, widely known here as the Great Firewall. When China’s censors began blocking access to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr, Zhu felt the moment had come. Writing on his blog last year, the student, who is now a freshman at a university in this city, questioned the rationale for Internet restrictions, and in subsequent posts, began passing along tips on how to evade them.

Chinese censors have tightened controls over the Internet, often blacking out sites that had no discernible political content. In the process, they have fostered a backlash, as many people who previously had little interest in politics have become active in resisting the controls. And all of it comes at a time of increasing risk for those who choose to protest. Human rights advocates say that the government has been broadening its crackdown on any signs of dissent as the Olympic Games in Beijing draw near.


Please check out the China 2008 campaign, which is just one of the campaigns we and Amnesty are running this year. We will be organising an event to raise awareness of Chinese human rights problems on March 13th, so watch this space for more information.