Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Persian Impediment

A new campaign against internet censorship in Iran has been started: see here.

According to the campaign organisers, "[a]s new and revolutionary mediums of communication and expression become available, The Islamic Republic Of Iran invests greater amounts of resources in an attempt to silence, repress and suppress.

ARTICLE 19 is launching a campaign against internet censorship, and in support of freedom of expression and freedom to impart information on the internet in Iran.

the campaign aims to

  • strengthen the legal and regulatory framework of freedom of expression and media freedom on the internet in Iran; and
  • facilitate discussion on systematic online censorship"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

French court rules GM maize locations are Top Secret, must be removed from Google Maps

Greenpeace France Ordered to remove information about GE field locations

Marmande, France — If you fly over the south of France you might be tempted to believe that aliens have landed with a huge crop circle appearing in a field of maize. But the aliens aren't from a distant galaxy; it's Genetically Engineered (GE) maize from the laboratory of Monsanto -- that the French government says you have no right to know about.

A French court has ordered Greenpeace France to remove a webpage featuring a Google Map showing the location of commercial GE maize fields in France -- despite an EU law which says the government should make the information available to the public.

So today we have responded by carving a giant 'X' crop circle into one of the GE maize fields in question, marking the spot of the GE maize field that is now censored from Greenpeace Frances' webpage.

"As we are now forbidden to publish these maps of GE maize on our webpage, we have gone into the fields and marked the field for real," said Arnaud Apoteker, of Greenpeace France.

The EU law says that member states are obliged to maintain public registers in order to inform their citizens about the locations of GE fields. But the French Government is dragging its heels in making the EU's directive into national law, depriving its citizens of vital information to protect against the risk of GE contamination of conventional and organic food.

If you are German, you can find out the locations of GE crops easily by looking on government websites, if you are French however, you are kept in the dark.

"By publishing secret locations of fields of GE maize, Greenpeace is defending the right to know and say 'no' to the environmental and health risks associated with GE Organisms," said Geert Ritsema of Greenpeace International.

France is not the only country where the growing of GE organisms is shrouded in secrecy. The Spanish government has so far refused to publish the locations of GE fields. The dramatic consequences of this policy became clear in April of this year when Enric Navarro, an organic farmer, burned his crop of maize which had become contaminated with GE rather than sell the contaminated maize to his customers.

Our recent report 'Impossible Coexistence' showed that in nearly 20 percent of the investigated cases, neighbouring conventional and organic maize fields in Spain are contaminated by GE organisms, without farmers and consumers even knowing about it.

the secret map... (click here for more detail)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Indonesia abolishes criminal libel (partly?)

In full, from the Jakarta Post of 7 December 2006 (I am quoting it in full because I don't know if the link will last):

Insulting president no longer a crime

Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Insulting the president is crime no more after the Constitutional Court on Wednesday scrapped three articles in the old Criminal Code.

The court said three articles undermined the country's process toward democracy and caused confusion because they were subject to subjective interpretations.

The code had ruled burning pictures of the president and vice president and mocking them in public were insults. Violators of the law faced a maximum six years in jail.

Court chief Jimly Asshiddiqie said the three articles were now null and void.

"(Those articles) pave the way for law enforcers to curb the right to freedom of expression when dealing with protesters in rallies," he said.

The court had reviewed the code as requested by lawyer Eggi Sudjana and activist Pandapotan Lubis.

Eggi is on trial for slandering Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his advisors, while Pandapotan was arrested after insulting the president at a rally.

The panel of nine judges said the articles made it difficult for people to criticize the president and his deputy.

The verdict was handed down in a split decision with four of the nine judges offering dissenting opinions.

The dissenting judges said the petition made by Eggi and Pandapotan should be rejected. The said the president's dignity must be protected and that the problem with the articles was in their implementation.

However, Jimly said the newly drafted bill on the Criminal Code should no longer incorporate similar articles.

A government-sanctioned team assigned to draft the bill to replace the Criminal Code has insisted on inserting articles on insulting the president. "Every country has such articles," team head Muladi once said.

The code, inherited from Dutch colonial legislation, was often used by former president Soeharto to silence critics during his 30 years in power.

The latest verdict was applauded by human rights and political activists.

"We have just made a history," Eggi said after the hearing. "I will use this ruling for my defense plea. The defamation trial against me should be dropped as it is ridiculous to try somebody without a legal basis," he said.

Former staunch Soeharto critic Sri Bintang Pamungkas said the verdict was a "victory" for all activists.

"Dozens of activists have been arrested and jailed because of the articles," he said.

Sri Bintang, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia, was jailed for 34 months for insulting Soeharto while addressing a seminar in Germany in 1995.

Fakhrur Rahman, 21, a student from Jakarta's State Islamic University, is the latest activist convicted of insulting the president during a protest against the Yudhoyono administration. He was sentenced to three months in prison.

Increasing use of criminal law against journalists in western countries?

In what is rather an unfortunate trend, there seems to be an increase in prosecutions against journalists in western countries for matters such as refusing to reveal their sources, publishing 'state secrets' and criminal defamation.

In the Netherlands, the State also use quite enthusiastically the old criminal law provisions of libel and slander. In one case, a well-know PR guru, Maurice de Hond, is being sued for accusing the police of having nibbed the wrong person in an infamous murder case some time ago, and naming the person he reckons did it. A serious accusation, I agree, but we need to remember that alongside the criminal prosecution, the guy now being accused of the murder is already suing De Hond under Dutch libel laws. How, in such circumstances, can a criminal prosecution be justified?

240th Anniversary of the first FOI law

A nice little celebratory press release by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media:

OSCE media freedom representative marks 240th anniversary of first access to information law

VIENNA, 1 December 2006 - Marking the 240th anniversary of the world's first freedom of information act, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, encouraged those OSCE participating States which have not yet developed and enforced access to information legislation to speed up this process.

Forty five out of 56 OSCE participating States have adopted national laws giving specific rights to citizens and journalists to obtain information from government bodies.

The first access to information act took effect in the then Kingdom of Sweden and Finland on 2 December 1766. Since then, many democracies worldwide have adopted freedom of information laws and set up transparent principles of classification.