The British Shadow Chancellor Kerry McCarthy attended the Pussy Riot trial on Monday to give a bit of extra attention to the three members of the all-female protest group who face up to seven years in prison for a church performance in which they
denounced President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill.
It seems strange to me that they have been charged with this offense, McCarthy told The Moscow Times during a break inside the courtroom at Moscow's Khamovnichesky District Court. In the U.K., they would have been charged with a breach of peace
and told off or fined.
When McCarthy started following the trial, she saw that the defendants weren't able to call their witnesses and that other violations of their rights were taking place, she said.
Asked whether she saw the trial as politically motivated, she replied, Everything I've read about it would lead me to think that.
Pussy Riot's alleged crime was to have performed what they dubbed a punk prayer in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February, a 40 second performance of a song calling on the Virgin Mary to join forces with them against Vladimir Putin.
The trial has in large part been about whether the band were demonstrating religious hatred by their actions, or whether - as the women maintain - it was a political protest. The prosecuting lawyer somewhat bizarrely argued in his closing
statement that it wasn't a political statement as no politicians were named, although the song is called Virgin Mary, Chase Putin Out.
The band argue, perhaps a little facetiously, that the song isn't anti-religious because they're enlisting the Virgin Mary onto their side. The female lawyer representing the nine victims in court (that is, those who say they were insulted or traumatised
by seeing the performance) was outraged by the band's suggestion that Mary was a feminist, and said that feminism is a mortal sin .
There have, however, been many criticisms made of the trial process: the fact the defence weren't allowed to call the witnesses they wanted to, and not allowed to examine the prosecution witnesses/victims properly either. I wasn't there for the victims'
testimony but people have reported that the judge was very quick to shut down questions, and simply didn't allow the sort of cross-examination that the defence wanted.
There have also been many concerns raised about the way the women are being treated: they say they are only getting a few hours sleep a night, they aren't being fed during their 12 hour days at court, and Nadya and Masha have not been able to see their
two small children. There has also been an order made barring Nadya's husband, Peter, from visiting her, after - I was told - he was seen to be too active in calling for their release.
Comment: The bit about forgiving those who trespass against them
11th August 2012. Thanks to Alan
Kerry McCarthy's remarks on the trial are interesting, but I don't think she quite sees the point about Pussy Riot's claim that the Virgin Mary would agree with them. It isn't facetious . Whether or not they believe the doctrines of the opening
words of their prayer - Bogoroditse Devo ( Virgin Mother of God ) - or even in her historical existence, the fact is that in the longest speech attributed to her in the New Testament Mary talks of God putting down the mighty from their
thrones and raising up the humble, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty . Looks like that's another Madonna they've got on their side.
Furthermore, Patriarch Kirill, his absurd spokesprat Fr Chaplin - can't resist saying he's a right Charlie! - and the allegedly offended lay people in the cathedral ought to be well aware of this, since, like Anglicans and Catholics, they say or sing
this text, called the Magnificat, daily in their services. They also say that prayer by Mary's kid, but don't seem to have taken on board the bit about forgiving those who trespass against them.
When it comes to the lawyer calling feminism a sin , words almost fail me. Does this idiot ever look in the robing room mirror? She's (1) a woman and (2) a lawyer. How does she think she manages to be both without the work of feminists?
Extract: Russian Orthodox Church defiant over Pussy Riot trial
Younger Orthodox Russians I spoke to, many of whom support Pussy Riot, disagree. They feel that their Patriarch is not maintaining the neutrality expected of him and is in fact legitimising the activity of the state.
The Church connects people to God but now these two bodies - the Church and the government - are linked and it should not be like this, says Nikolai Polozov, a committed Orthodox Christian and the lawyer acting for Pussy Riot.
And yet the Church feels someone is out there to get them. As it struggles to boost its low attendances (fewer than 10% of Russians attend church regularly), it talks of a smear campaign being waged against the Patriarch.
TalkTalk, which provides web access to 4million subscribers, already offers new customers the option of activating blocking for websites with adult themes. Now it has said it will be the first company to ask both new and existing subscribers whether they
want to block adult content.
TalkTalk's filter, HomeSafe, blocks sites categorised as unsuitable for under-18s, including those related to pornography, suicide, self harm, gambling, dating, drugs and weapons. But it also blocks websites for strong language, references to sex and any
sites that happen to contain a few words that trigger automated classification software.
It has been available to customers since May last year, but only if they requested it. From March this year, new subscribers have been asked to choose whether or not they want the filter.
Now the company wants to force all of its customers to decide whether they want access to adult material, with a view to making them choose their settings once a year.
It is believed other internet providers will introduce a system in October which will be more tailored to devices and individuals.
A student who admitted posting racially offensive comments on Twitter about footballer Fabrice Muamba has been jailed for 56 days.
Swansea University student Liam Stacey, 21, from Pontypridd, admitted inciting racial hatred over remarks about the Bolton Wanderers player, who collapsed during a FA Cup tie at Tottenham.
A district judge in Swansea called the comments vile and abhorrent . Sentencing Stacey at Swansea Magistrates' Court, District Judge John Charles told him: In my view, there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence.
Stacey broke down in tears as he was led away to begin his jail term.
The troubles started when Muamba collapsed. Stacey tweeted: LOL. Fuck Muamba he's dead!!! #haha.
A number of people challenged Stacey on Twitter following his first comment, and he responded with a number of offensive posts aimed at other Twitter users. Such as the one reported by the the Huffington Post, suggesting one of his detractors go pick
He later tried to delete his tweets but was arrested the following day at his student house in Swansea. When interviewed by police, Stacey said he had been drinking since lunchtime on Saturday and was drunk when he made the comments.
Jim Brisbane, chief crown prosecutor for CPS Cymru-Wales, said:
Racist language is inappropriate in any setting and through any media. We hope this case will serve as a warning to anyone who may think that comments made online are somehow beyond the law.
A Swansea University spokesperson said:
The student remains suspended from the university pending the conclusion of our disciplinary proceedings.
This morning Swansea magistrates jailed a 21-year-old student called Liam Stacey for eight weeks for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter about Fabrice Muamba.
I've no doubt that he's a vile man, who by the sound of it was drunk at the time he posted, but what remains disturbing about the case is that the Crown offered no evidence that Stacey had incited racial violence or any other crime. That his speech was
racist was enough to send him down.
This verdict, like so many others, shows how little confidence the judiciary has in wider society. It's as if the judges, politicians and the police believe that a neo-Nazi can turn the usually placid British into Ku Klux Klan supporters with a few
inflammatory words; that we are a bomb just waiting for someone to light the fuse and ignite us.
A man, Liam Stacey, has been imprisoned in the UK for using Twitter.
Yes, imprisoned for using words that do not constitute incitement of any sort. Such is the tragic state of affairs for liberty in this country.
The most important liberty of all being at stake: that absolute freedom of one's body from interference from the State.
That he lost his liberty for a mere vulgar prank, which had no attack on another's physical body that should justify the loss of liberty of his own, is not the most worrying aspect of Stacey's prosecution and conviction.
Am I the only one to think that 56 days in jail for a drunken rant, despicable though it was -- so noxious, in fact, that no newspaper has the
stomach to publish it -- is a bit severe? Yes, punish him; but if he is to change his behaviour, which we all want to see, he hardly needs a sentence of this length. I'd be happy to see him do some community work, where he might come into contact with
some of those he currently dehumanises.
At the moment, it seems, the criminal justice system is unleashing all its energy on the little guys. Twitterers, train ranters, even footballers -- for venting their emotions in public. These are all issues which, a few years ago, would have gone mostly
unnoticed by all but the victims. Now, though, these incidents are likely to be recorded, replayed, retweeted, stuck on YouTube and viewed by millions. And the state seems keen to go after these quick wins to try to claim that racism will no
longer be tolerated.
After some digging I found screen shots of Liam Stacey's tweets in question. Just stupid, what's the worst thing I can say for attention repetitive garbage. Dick for the sake of being a dick. Go rape your mother and go suck a nigger dick
you aids ridden cunt . Like he took all the worst words he knew would get reactions and cut n pasted them. Definitely a shithead but inciting racial hatred?
Not really a White Power/Nazi Rally call to arms that should qualify for a prison sentence.
Update: And as if the sentence wasn't extreme enough
Liam Stacey jailed for using Twitter to mock heart-attack football star Fabrice Muamba has been banned from his university for the rest of the year. He has now been suspended from Swansea University as a top up to his jail sentence.
Freedom of Expression Awards 2012
28th March 2012, London
Winner: Idrak Abbasov, journalist, Azerbaijan
Idrak Abbasov is an Azerbaijani journalist whose investigative work has put his life in danger. Abbasov reports for newspaper Ayna-Zerkalo, contributes to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting website, and he is one of the founding members of
Azerbaijan's Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) .
Han Han, blogger, China
The author of China's most widely read blog, 29-year-old Han Han has been called the world's most popular blogger . He is also famed for being a cultural critic, race-car driver, actor and novelist. But despite his rock star status he has long
been considered a thorn in the side of the Chinese government.
Lucia Escobar, journalist, Guatemala
Lucia Escobar's story highlights the state of press freedom in Guatemala, where journalists are regularly intimidated by paramilitary groups. Escobar is a freelance columnist for El Perio'dico, a publication based in Guatemala City, and also operates an
online radio station, Radio Ati.
Kayvan Samimi, journalist, Iran
Iranian journalist Kayvan Samimi has been instrumental in keeping dissent alive in the Islamic Republic.
Winner: Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, NGO, Bahrain
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has played a crucial role in documenting human rights violations, political repression and torture in the Gulf kingdom. Despite efforts to silence and discredit it, the BCHR has kept international attention on
the brutal government crackdown that began last February. It has prevented the Bahrain government from whitewashing its international image, and at times when news media were severely restricted and foreign journalists barred, it acted as a crucial news
Alaa Abd El Fattah, blogger, Egypt
Alaa Abd El Fattah is at the forefront of protests against Egypt's current military rule. Over the last 12 months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has tried to silence dissent, crushing protests, restricting the media and questioning and
imprisoning activists who criticise its actions.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC, UK
Anthony Lester is a British barrister and Liberal Democrat peer whose work in the field of human rights has transformed the legal landscape. His support for the libel reform campaign has led to one of the greatest advances for free speech in recent years
in the UK, potentially transforming the most infamous and enduring chill on freedom of expression in the country. Following the introduction of Anthony Lester's private member's defamation bill in May 2010, the government then used it as the basis for
its own bill a year later. If it becomes law this year, it will mark the end of London's notorious reputation as a town named sue , the libel capital of the world, and fulfil Anthony Lester's personal aim of providing a catalyst for reform in an historic moment for free speech in the UK.
Winner: Freedom Fone by Kubatana, mobile phone technology NGO, Zimbabwe
Kubatana is an NGO based in Harare that uses a variety of new and traditional media to encourage ordinary Zimbabweans to be informed, inspired and active about civic and human rights issues. As an organisation, it continuously seeks innovative fixes to
the challenges of sharing independent information in Zimbabwe's restrictive media environment. Freedom Fone is one of Kubatana's solutions. An open-source software, Freedom Fone helps organisations create interactive voice response (IVR) menus to enable
them to share pre-recorded audio information in any language via mobile phones and landlines with their members or the general public. The software is aimed at organisations or individuals wishing to set up interactive information services for users
where the free flow of information may be denied for economic, political, technological or other reasons. Freedom Fone is one of the many ways Kubatana reaches across the digital divide to inform and inspire the vast majority of Zimbabweans who do not
have regular or affordable internet access.
ObscuraCam, smartphone app, USA
ObscuraCam is a free smartphone application that uses facial recognition to blur individual faces automatically. Developed by WITNESS and the Guardian Project, it enables users to protect their personal security, privacy and anonymity. In 2011 and 2012,
uprisings throughout the Middle East have shown the power and danger of mobile video footage. ObscuraCam helps protect activists who fear reprisals but want to safely capture evidence of state brutality. Launched in June 2011 and based in the USA,
ObscuraCam is the only facial blurring or masking application that has responded to the concerns of human rights groups, citizen activists and journalists. In addition to obscuring faces, the application removes identifying data such as GPS location data
and the phone make and model.
Visualising.org, data visualisation resource, international
Visualising.org was created to help make data visualisation more accessible to the general public. It calls itself a community of creative people making sense of complex issues through data and design... and a shared space and free resource to help
you achieve this goal .Data analysts and graphic designers have set themselves the challenge of sharing a constantly proliferating body of public data in an accessible form. Raw data on its own might as well be censored; visualisation opens the door
to open information that otherwise would be left languishing on hard disks or, if downloaded, unintelligible to the average citizen. The project offers a place to showcase work, discover remarkable visualisations and visually explore some of today's most
pressing global issues. Created by GE and Seed Media Group, Visualising.org promotes information literacy. The portal has had a remarkable year.
Telecomix, internet activists, across Europe
Telecomix is the collective name for a decentralised group of internet activists operating in Europe. Their focus is to expose threats to freedom of speech online. During one operation, Telecomix activists published a huge package of data which proved
that the Syrian government was carrying out mass surveillance of thousands of its citizens' internet usage. Telecomix's revelation that the technology used was supplied by US firm Blue Coat Systems has prompted serious investigations into the involvement
of western technology firms in helping repressive regimes spy on their people. In mid-August 2011, Telecomix's dispersed group of hackers came together to target Syria's internet. Those attempting to access the internet though their normal browsers were
confronted with a blank page bearing a warning: This is a deliberate, temporary internet breakdown. Please read carefully and spread the following message. Your internet activity is monitored. Following this, a page flashed up describing how to
take precautions to encrypt usage.
Winner: Ali Ferzat, cartoonist, Syria
Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat has been called an icon of freedom in the Arab world . He has spent decades ridiculing dictators in more than 15,000 caricatures. His depictions of President Assad and the police state have helped galvanise revolt in
Voina, performance artists, Russia
Voina, meaning War , is a collective of radical Russian anarchist artists who combine political protest and performance art.
Ai Weiwei, artist, China
AiWeiwei is a Chinese artist and activist whose work incorporates social and political activism. He has investigated corruption and cover-ups and openly criticised the Chinese government's record on human rights.
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, poet, Burma
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, a poet, filmmaker and screenwriter, co-founded Burma's inaugural Arts of Freedom Film Festival, which took place in early January 2012.
Index 40th Anniversary award
Index singles out The Research and Information Centre Memorial, which logs the brutal repression suffered by millions in former Soviet countries, for their continued dedication to guaranteeing freedom of information. The centre has demonstrated a fierce
commitment to protecting human rights. It not only chronicles the crimes of the Stalinist period, but monitors current threats against those who speak out against injustice. Memorial's remarkable archive includes letters, diaries, transcripts,
photographs, and sound files. Individuals with first-hand experience of Stalin's terror and the Soviet gulag have donated documentation they had hidden during this brutal period.
The London Book Fair is facing claims it has bowed to pressure from Chinese authorities by failing to invite
dissident and exiled writers to next month's event and choosing only state-approved authors.
Bei Ling, an exiled poet and essayist, has written to the British Council, the organisers of the cultural programme of the fair, which is one of the biggest international publishing events in the world, expressing his surprise over its plans to host
Chinese state-approved writers and organisations.
I was amazed that no independent voice, no exiled or dissident writer from China is being represented at the London Book Fair, he told the Guardian, accusing the fair, which is focusing on China this year, of self-censorship to keep Chinese
authorities on board.
It is shocking enough that the book fair has worked with Gapp (General Administration of Press and Publication, the agency responsible for regulating publications in China). In order to ensure that their guest country was happy they exercised
self-censorship and didn't push for other, non-state-approved writers, although without them you don't get a full picture of literary China, he said.
Azhar Ahmed appeared in court charged with making offensive comments on Facebook about the deaths of six British soldiers. He has been accused of committing an offence under the Communications Act of sending a grossly offensive message.
The District Judge heard no evidence and adjourned the trial until 14 September due to an unexpected legal problem.
Around 20-30 far right protesters appeared at Huddersfield Magistrates Court for the hearing and packed out the public gallery.
Tehran has blocked another UK Foreign Office website in Iran as part of its ever-tightening stranglehold of censorship , the foreign secretary has said.
William Hague said UK for Iranians was launched on March 14 to reach out to its citizens but access from the country was blocked on March 17. Iran had already blocked the main British embassy website in December 2011.
Britain last year closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iran's diplomats. It followed an attack on the embassy building, which Iran described unacceptable behaviour by a small number of protesters . However, British diplomats said they
believed it was likely the attack had state backing.
In a statement Hague said the UK for Iranians website had been established to explain UK policy and engage with Iranians and that the blocking of the site was only a very small part of what Iranians endure daily . He said Iran's government had
jammed international television channels, closed film and theatre productions, rewritten traditional Persian literature and banned the publication of some books and newspapers.
A man has been arrested after allegedly making racist remarks on Twitter relating to critically ill footballer Fabrice Muamba.
South Wales police confirmed the arrest of a man for allegedly making racially offensive comments on Twitter.
Officers did not confirm that Muamba was the target of the remarks.
However, police forces throughout the UK regularly take action against those who post racially offensive remarks on Twitter but rarely feel the need to issue a public statement indicating it has happened.
Ex-New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns, who is suing a former Indian Premier League boss over a Twitter posting, has his case heard by
the UK High Court in the latest example of libel tourism.
Chris Cairns is taking legal action over a January 2010 tweet by Lalit Modi alleging that he was involved in match fixing.
The action is taking place in London despite claims by Modi's lawyers that there were only 35 readers of the tweet in England and Wales. Evidence for Cairns put the figure at around 100.
Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorshop said:
The Cairns case is one of the most clear-cut cases of libel tourism we have seen.
While cricket is an international game, the alleged libel took place in India, concerned conduct in India, and primarily affects Cairns's reputation in India.
Plans to prevent libel tourism were put forward by the Government last year. The proposed new rules would block celebrities and businessman from bringing such actions in this country unless it could be proved that publication caused them substantial
harm in England and Wales.
BBC World News television has been restored in Pakistan after being taken off air in November 2011.
Welcoming the move, the BBC said it hoped there would be no further disruption to its services.
Pakistani cable operators had blocked the channel after it broadcast a documentary called Secret Pakistan . The documentary questioned the country's commitment to tackling Taliban militancy, arguing that some in Pakistan were playing a double
Last month, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the BBC he wanted to see the channel back on air.
A former Tory local council candidate has failed in his libel action against Google over comments posted about him on a blog.
Payam Tamiz started legal proceedings against Google after allegedly defamatory comments were written about him on the London Muslim section of Blogger.com.
Google argued that it had no control over any of the content and had no way of knowing whether the comments posted were true or not.
In a written judgement handed down at the high court on Friday, Mr Justice Eady said Google should not be regarded as a publisher under the established principles of the common law.
Eady said that even if Google was regarded as the publisher of the offending words, it would be exempted from liability in accordance with regulation 19 of the European Union's electronic commerce directive 2002.
Scotland's Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was brought in to crack down on sectarian songs, chants and abuse at football matches, but also applies to such messages posted on the net.
It came into force on 1 March and there is concern in the media in Scotland, and further afield, about how they are to comply with the law
The act also applies to people or organisations based outside Scotland. The law would also apply to Twitter and Facebook if they allowed offensive material to remain on their sites, as it would to any publishers based in England. The practicalities of
getting them into a Scottish court might be more onerous, but nonetheless the threat is there and it would not be the first time that an English publisher has been up in a Scottish court because of ignorance of the law.
Removing material as promptly as the new law appears to require is going to require intense moderation of sites, or else pre-moderation of message boards, building in delays which many users used to immediate posting would find unacceptably slow.
The article continues that even the legal defence of innocent dissemination may not apply. This is where websites can claim they are not aware of content posted but do react to complaints. This defence is usually used against civil claims and may not be
effective in criminal cases arising from the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.
Police have seized copies of a Manchester United fanzine before the match with Liverpool amid claims its cover would stoke the racism row
between the clubs.
The Red Issue fanzine featured a cut-out Ku Klux Klan-style mask with the words LFC Suarez is innocent .
The magazines, described by police as potentially offensive , were confiscated outside Old Trafford. Ch Supt Mark Roberts said:
Shortly before kick-off we were made aware that a Manchester United supporters' fanzine being sold outside Old Trafford featured a potentially offensive image.
Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public.
Police have also arrested a man on suspicion of a racially aggravated offence over a T-Shirt which has been confiscated.
Comment: Anti-racist censorship that should make us all see Red
Nobody will be charged over copies of a Manchester United fanzine seized before the match with Liverpool.
The magazines, described by police as potentially offensive , were confiscated outside Old Trafford.
However the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that no further action would be taken over the publication. 'Unpleasant and obnoxious'
Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor, CPS North West Area, said he had asked the CPS's Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division to see if the magazines were guilty of potential incitement to racial hatred.
I have received advice from a senior lawyer in that division that although the fanzine distributed may have been offensive to some people, there was insufficient evidence to prove that the content was intended to stir up racial hatred, or that it was or
likely to do so, he said.
It is not a crime to possess material that is threatening, abusive or insulting, or hold views which others may find unpleasant and obnoxious.
It is a crime to distribute this sort of material to the public, if it is intended to stir up racial hatred, or in circumstances where it is likely to have that effect.
Neither will the CPS be pressing any charges in relation to slogans on T-shirts seized at Old Trafford on the same day.
It is fascinating to read the newspaper reports of the riots in Rochdale that so obviously go to great lengths to avoid mentioning a
single word of the motivations driving the unrest.
I can understand that newspapers or the authorities don't want to fuel any further tensions between the muslim community and the anti muslim rioters. But readers should be informed about the underlying reasons. This can surely be done in a suitable, even
handed way without invoking accusations of being islamophobic or whatever.
But to totally not mention the perceived connection between gang rapes and the muslim community, and then not mention the groupings behind the rioting is exactly the support of reporting bollox that one would expect in China. I bet Chinese authorities
try to do the best for their communities by obscuring and propagandarising the news with the best of intentions, just like in Britain.
Through reports to the blocked.org.uk
site, we have established that Orange UK are filtering access to La Quadrature Du Net's website on pre-paid mobile accounts.
La Quadrature Du Net is similar to ORG -- it is an advocacy group that seeks to defend citizen's fundamental rights on the Internet. They have been a leading voice in the growing movement to oppose the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, behind which so
much momentum is gathering. They have provided detailed analyses alongside practical suggestions about how to help with the political effort to oppose the treaty.
Searching for LQDN's website on Orange pre-pay handsets leads to a warning that Orange Safeguard has classified this page as only suitable for people over the age of 18. LQDN's site does not contain any such material. But it still falls within the
parameter of adult-related material.
That La Quadrature Du Net is blocked under such a policy highlights the need for change. The problem of over-blocking is being exacerbated by a lack of transparency (so that it's not clear what is blocked and to whom) and the problems users experience
trying to opt-out.
We're gathering more evidence of the scale of the over-blocking problem through blocked.org.uk site, and you can help by reporting inappropriate blocks you find. We're currently in the process of meeting the mobile operators and the Mobile Broadband
Group to tell them our concerns and outline how we think the problems can be addressed. More efficient measures need to be implemented in order to allow parents to implement tools to try to manage their children's Internet use whilst ensuring that adults
are not subject to unnecessary censorship.
The UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has seized the domain of a popular music blog in the style of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security domain name seizure.
blog in question was running from a .com domain name, seemingly outside of British jurisdiction. Rackspace hosted the content in question, and its domain was registered with GoDaddy; both are U.S. companies. The site now just carries a threatening page
including the message:
If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law.
In speaking to GoDaddy, a spokesperson confirmed that the company had a presence in the UK, as has Rackspace. This seems to be enough for the UK authorities to demand a domain take down.
The board of Index on Censorship has announced that it has appointed Kirsty Hughes as the organisation's new Chief Executive
A highly-respected international figure, Kirsty will succeed John Kampfner, who leaves at the end of March. She will begin her work in the middle of April, leading a team of 20 in Index's London office and 12 staff around the world.
Kirsty's distinguished career has taken her from Chatham House to the IPPR and the European Commission. More recently, she was head of Global Public Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam. Currently Senior Associate Fellow, at the Centre for International Studies,
University of Oxford, Kirsty is also an experienced writer, policy analyst and journalist who has written extensively on European and international politics.
Kirsty Hughes said: At a time when people around the world are standing up for their right to freedom of expression, often in the most difficult and challenging circumstances, Index has been a vital, internationally renowned, source of news, analysis,
argument, campaigning and hope. I am greatly looking forward to working with the Index team and its partners.
After he has stepped down as Chief Executive, John Kampfner will join the Index board.
Atheists, secularists and supporters of free speech rallied in London to protest what they feel is an increased confidence of Islamists to censor free expression publicly . Around 200 people gathered on the steps of the memorial to King George V
in Old Palace Yard opposite the House of Lords in Westminster.
Anne Marie Waters from the One Law for All group, which protests against sharia law in the United Kingdom, said that freedom of expression was the greatest freedom we have and included the freedom to offend .
Accusations of Islamophobia against those who reposted the Jesus and Mo webcomic was one of a number of incidents highlighted by speakers. Susan Zhuang from the University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society spoke of the reaction to
the posting of the cartoon to their Facebook profile: maybe we were naive but we never thought it would come to this . The university's student union demanded that the group remove the cartoon, but the group declined and launched an Internet
petition to defend freedom of expression .
The blogger and activist Rhys Morgan, who had been previously threatened with libel for saying that the a clinic operated in Texas by Staislaw Burzynski was charging hundreds of thousands of dollars to cancer patients for unproven treatments, also spoke
of being threatened by his sixth-form college to remove the Jesus and Mo cartoon from his Facebook account. He said that the staff at his college implied that [he] would be suspended or expelled , claiming that the image offended Muslims. He also
said that he had got threats of violence including someone saying that his house would be burned down, and was called a God-hater .
The philosophy professor A. C. Grayling and the popular science writer Richard Dawkins both spoke at the rally, with the latter criticising the decision by the organisers of a literary festival in Jaipur, India, to kowtow to a violent threat by
rescinding an invitation to the author Salman Rushdie based on a demand by some local Islamic scholar . (Dawkins joked about how, unlike Islamic scholars, a true 'scholar' studies more than one book .)
Dawkins argued that people should stop being so damn respectful . Without freedom of speech, Dawkins said, society would be in a scientific, technological, moral dark age .
From the end of next month new subscribers to TalkTalk broadband will be unable to activate their internet connection until
they specify any categories of website access that they would like to block.
The TalkTalk ISP has defined nine categories of websites, including porn, dating, gambling, gaming, suicide, social networking and weapons + violence, that can be blocked. Subscribers will be alerted automatically either by email or text if the controls
are subsequently changed.
TalkTalk already provides subscribers with the opportunity to block access to websites through its HomeSafe service, but currently they not prompted to choose website blocking and the default is for no sites to be blocked. So far 240,000 subscribers have
elected for website blocks to be imposed.
The children's minister, Tim Loughton, praised TalkTalk and said he hoped other internet service providers would offer similar services shortly:
Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety we are working with industry and charities to provide tools and information to inform parents and help keep children safe online.
Meanwhile a little propaganda for cyberbullying parents
Parents who are not technology savvy are putting their children are at risk from exposure to unsuitable content on the internet, claim two studies.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) Centre and IT firm Westcoastcloud, have warned that not all parents have put internet blocking controls on their computers.
Further, even the majority of those who have put controls in place have not considered doing the same on other household devices that access the internet.
A Mori poll, commissioned by Ceop, showed that about 8% in the UK, aged between five and 15, are regular users of the internet.
But the study from Westcoastcloud, a division of Glasgow-based cloud computing specialist Iomart, revealed that only half of parents have installed software to protect their offspring while only one in four has installed similar protection on the
mobile phones, games consoles and television services.
Technology has transformed people's lives both collectively and individually, said Peter Davies, chief executive of the Ceop Centre and the senior police officer leading on child protection on the internet for the Association of Chief Police
Officers: But too often we see examples of where the child is at risk because they make simple online mistakes -- because they are lured in or push the boundaries too far and risk their safety.
Open Rights Group and Tor have established that UK mobile
networks such as Vodafone, O2 and 3 are blocking UK users' access toTor's primary website (meaning the Tor Project website, rather than connections to the Tor network)
on pre-paid contractless accounts.
Tor helps people stay anonymous online. Some examples of how it has been used include those trying to avoid oppressive state censorship in places such as Iran, through to abuse victims in the UK.
There is a blog post by Jacob Appelbaum with more technical details about the blocking on UK mobile
networks over at the Tor blog.
Searching for torproject.org reveals that it is blocked because it falls into the category of anonymiser . (Orange also say that they block content that falls into the anonymiser category - but it does not seem that Tor
is blocked on Orange.) It's unlikely that mobile operators are targeting Tor, and more likely that anonymisation tools generally are blocked.
It was initially established that Tor was blocked initially through the new tool blocked.org.uk. openrightsgroup.org are asking for help in monitoring how blocking on
mobile networks works by reporting when you come across incorrectly applied blocks.
Open Rights Group will be meeting with mobile operators over the next few weeks to talk about making sure that they can both help parents manage their children's mobile Internet use and avoid clumsy implemented blocking. Some are better at aspects
of this than others (Orange provide an overview of the categories they block, for example.) But none implement a transparent and clear policy that puts users in charge.
have launched an investigation into images of a Liverpool fan apparently making racist taunts from the stands, as totally overblown claims of prejudice in sport risked overshadowing events on the pitch.
Patrice Evra of Senegalese descent, and the Manchester United captain, was repeatedly booed and subjected to chants of there's only one lying bastard . Seventeen fans were ejected from the stadium and two were arrested.
Liverpool FC said it was working closely with police over a photograph posted on Twitter that appeared to show one Liverpool fan making a monkey gesture.
Perhaps more interesting was to note that the BBC in some sort of ultra political correctness decided to report the story without actually telling readers what the gesture was, or give any idea of what people were chanting etc.
But the BBC did give a better impression of the amount of police trouble one can get in for an almost childish insult:
A man has been arrested over an alleged gesture made at the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Manchester United.
Merseyside Police said a 59-year-old from north Wales was arrested during the evening. Earlier the force said the incident was being investigated by detectives from the specialist hate crime team, which investigates racist and
On Saturday night a police spokeswoman said: The man has been taken to a police station and will be questioned by officers. Merseyside Police would like to thank North Wales Police and Liverpool Football Club for their assistance
with this matter.
Police have told a shopkeeper
to remove a supposedlyoffensive window display of mannequin urinating the word sale
Philip Browne, who owns the menswear shop named after him in Norwich city centre received a phone call from a policeman after the local force received a complaint.
Browne said his show-stopping display had amused shoppers, but that police had told him to remove the dummy. The shopkeeper said: It has been there 10-12 days - it's just Great Yarmouth-style saucy, end-of-the-pier seaside humour. Everyone has
been laughing about it.
But Browne has now been warned he could be breaking the 1986 Public Order Act. he said I think it's very unfair. We've had kids and families laughing at it. We've had old ladies in their 70s laughing.
Richard Evans, who works at Browne's and designed the eye catching display, says he hoped to grab customers' attention, not to offend anyone
One local resident who did not see the funny side is Stuart Goodman, who said he had been offended by the display. He said: I'm against censorship. ..BUT... this is disgracefully offensive.
With their weeing mannequin gone but not forgotten, Browne's took the time to laugh at the situation today, posting a photo response on the business's Facebook
page. Cigarette in hand, the dummy can be seen on its knees, sponge in hand, cleaning the Sale sign off the wall. A caption written by Browne reads: Cleaning his disgraceful mess. Shame upon him!'
The BBFC published it's decision to make cuts to the R18 adult DVD titled The Best of Lucy Law. It cut 2:35s with
Cuts were required to remove the clear indication that one woman is licking urine from another, penetration with an object with potential to cause physical harm, and dialogue encouraging an interest in breath restriction.
Cuts made in line with current interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 , BBFC Guidelines and policy, and the Video Recordings Act 1984.
This decision was published after the R v Peacock case where a jury unanimously cleared films depicting full on urolagnia of obscenity.
Sergio enquired of the BBFC whether anything has changed regarding the R V Peacock case and received an email from the BBFC:
The role of the BBFC is not to decide the law but to enforce it, and in this we will be guided by the law enforcement agencies. In relation to this case, the CPS have stated that the fact that a jury has acquitted someone does
not mean that the guidance is incorrect.
There are no current plans to revise our Guidelines.
The National Secular Society
has submitted a response to the Police Powers Consultation, calling on the Government to removeinsulting from Section 5 of the Public Order Act. A change in the law would protect freedom of expression for both the religious and non-religious.
It would also lay down clearer guidelines for the police and direct them to focus on more serious cases.
The submission calls on the Government to recognise that the word insulting sets the bar for criminal offence far too low. The risk of being arrested can in itself have a chilling effect, preventing people from expressing
legitimate views. Section 5 would retain threatening and abusive conduct to cover serious offences and there are other existing laws to protect the individual.
Section 5 of the Public Order Act currently states that it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is
threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
The NSS submission makes the case that insult is too subjective and nebulous a concept, and therefore open to abuse, partly because a subjective response is hard to challenge. It also identifies a growing trend to claim
offence on behalf of a religion.
Other organisations such as Liberty, Justice, the Christian Institute and the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights are also calling for the removal of insulting . The law must recognise that groups like the Christian
Institute have a right to freedom of expression but it must also ensure thatinsulting cannot be used by the religious to prevent debate, analysis or criticism.
Section 5 has been used against religious campaigners against homosexuality, a British National Party member who displayed anti-Islamic posters in his window and people who have sworn at the police. A teenage anti-Scientology protestor
was arrested, as was a student for calling a police horsegay . Both were released without charge but changing the law would make guidance for the police clearer. At the moment, there is evidence that some officers are not clear about what
does or does not constitute an insult.
The removal of the word insulting from section 5 would also bring English law into line with Scottish law, which works effectively without criminalising insulting . For example, the Offensive Behaviour at Football
and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2011 explicitly excludesinsult from the list of banned behaviour.
It's been a dreadful week for free speech. A meeting at a prestigious London college had to be abandoned on
Monday evening when members of the audience were filmed and threatened by an Islamic extremist.
Then the president of a student society at another London college was forced to resign after a Muslim organisation called for a ban on a joky image of the Prophet Mohammed.
Finally, on Friday, the author Sir Salman Rushdie cancelled an appearance at India's largest literary festival, saying he feared an assassination attempt after protests by Muslim clerics.
Almost as sinister as this series of events has been the reaction to them.
Ofcom has revoked the licence for Press TV to broadcast to the UK.
Ofcom cites The Communications Act 2003. Under section 362(2) of the Act, the provider of the service for the purposes of holding a licence is the person with general control over which programmes are comprised in the service.
In the course of correspondence and meetings with Ofcom, statements made by Press TV Limited about the operation of the Licensed Service failed to satisfy Ofcom that the Licensee had general control over which programmes and other
services were comprised in the Licensed Service. Ofcom therefore concluded that Press TV Limited had ceased to provide the Licensed Service in accordance with section 362(2) of the Act and that, accordingly, it was appropriate to revoke the Licence.
Performance Space, Hackney Wick, London
4th March 2012
It has grown out of its origins to represent more than itself. 11 pieces were curated by the body-artist Thomas John Bacon to engage with an ethos of Tempting Failure as part of a new live art & transgressive performance platform.
Each work selected sought to engage with the role that sacrifice may play for the artist who challenges their practice or Being in the production of the living artifact: Be it via physical means or through a sense of exposure. Be it metaphorical or
actual. And most importantly, be it through the risk of failure. These were all areas of personal exploration for the curator, linked to his PhD research and forthcoming installation [RE]authoring through Sacrifice.
But this platform, originally set to be staged in Bristol was a victim of censorship, something that Thomas John Bacon has experienced on more than one occasion due to the type of work he produces. This lead the platform to be rehoused
at ]performance s p a c e [ in London and has seen it grow to stand for more than its original enquiry but represent a statement that art cannot and should not be held back or hidden for the sake of othersprotection.
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the police. Beyond already dealing with a raft of ill-considered laws, politicians
also want them to act againstinsulting behaviour. Section five of the Public Order Act is so broad that almost any protester on any subject can be arrested and fined for harassment, causing alarm or distress .
It's not merely theoretical; many ludicrous cases have been prosecuted. The police arrested a student who held up a sign stating Scientology was a cult -- surely a matter of opinion? Kyle Little, a 16-year-old from Newcastle, was
fined£ 50 with £ 150 costs for saying woof to a labrador dog in front of police officers. Eventually the magistrates' decision was overturned by a crown court. The
very arbitrary nature of deciding what is insulting gives the police a power they can misuse. After a night out with friends, Sam Brown asked a police officer:Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay? Police took Brown to court after he
refused to pay an£ 80 fine. The CPS eventually dropped the case.
In an exclusive extract from You Can't Read This Book , the Observer columnist Nick Cohen presents a damning indictment of how the English legal system helps the wealthy and powerful suppress inconvenient truths:
At their best, journalists expose the crimes of the powerful and there were plenty of powerful people worthy of examination in the Britain of the early 2000s. London was awash with money as it competed with Manhattan to be the
hub of global finance.
If journalists tried to do what they should do and investigate them, Britain also gave the oligarchs a further privilege: the power to enforce a censorship that the naive supposed had vanished with the repressions of the old establishment.
Among the many attractions London offered the oligarchs was a legal profession that served them as attentively as the shop assistants in Harrods food hall.
With an aristocratic prejudice against freedom of speech, the judges imposed costs and sanctions on investigative journalism that would have been hard to endure in the best of times, but were unbearable after the internet had undermined
the media's business models. Instead of aiming its guns at the worst of British writing, the law of libel aimed at the bravest.
A talk on sharia and human rights by NSS Council Member Anne Marie Waters' at Queen Mary College, London was cancelled at the
last moment because of an Islamist who made serious threats against everyone there.
The talk was due to take place on 16 January but before it started, a man entered the lecture theatre, stood at the front with a camera and filmed the audience. He then said that he knew who everyone was, where they lived and if he heard anything
negative about the Prophet, he would track them down.
The man also filmed students in the foyer and threatened to murder them and their families. On leaving the building, he joined a large group of men, apparently there to support him. Students were told by security to stay in the lecture theatre for
their own safety.
Jennifer Hardy, President of Queen Mary Atheism Society, who organised the event said:
This event was supposed to be an opportunity for people of different religions and perspectives to debate, at a university that is supposed to be a beacon of free speech and debate.
Only two complaints had been made to the Union prior to the event, and the majority of the Muslim students at the event were incredibly supportive of it going ahead. These threats were an aggressive assault on freedom of speech
and the fact that they led to the cancellation of our talk was severely disappointing for all of the religious and non-religious students in the room who wanted to engage in debate.
My One Law for All Co-Spokesperson Anne Marie Waters was to speak at a meeting on Sharia Law and Human Rights at the University of London last night.
It was cancelled by the Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society organisers after police had to be called in due to Islamist threats. One Islamist filmed everyone at the meeting and announced he would hunt down those who said anything
negative about Islam's prophet. Outside the hall, he threatened to kill anyone who defamed the prophet. Reference was made to the Jesus and Mo cartoon saga at UCL.
The University's security guard -- a real gem --arrived first only to blame the speaker and organisers rather than those issuing death threats. He said: If you will have these discussions, what do you expect? Err, to speak without being
threatened with death maybe?
The Duchess of York, who faces charges in Turkey for going undercover and secretly filming children at a state-run home for a 2008
documentary, canceled a recent trip to the United States because of the case, a source and her spokesman said.
The United States and Turkey have an extradition treaty and the cancellation raised the question of whether Sarah Ferguson is avoiding the United States because she fears being sent to Turkey.
The duchess was accompanied by one of her two daughters, Princess Eugenie, to film the ITV Tonight program in Turkey. An ITV press statement at the time of the film's broadcast in 2008 said the duchess, as part of a reporting team, had gone
undercover in one of Turkey's worst institutions -- capturing images that will shock and horrify. The hard-hitting program was intended to help investigate the treatment of mentally and physically disabled children, ITV said.
Ferguson feels the work she did in Turkey was completely valid and consistent with her ongoing support for humanitarian causes, spokesman James Henderson told CNN. Ferguson is consulting rights lawyers as well as attorneys in Turkey as she decides
what to do next, he said.
The Ankara prosecutor's office in Turkey accused the duchess of violating the private lives and rights of five children while filming a program for Britain's ITV network, Turkey's semiofficial Anatolian news agency reported last week. Discussing
the case, the Ankara chief prosecutor asked for a prison term of up to 22 years, six months, Turkish state TV reported.
What Ferguson is accused of in Turkey would not constitute a crime in Britain.
The Home Office confirmed that it has received a formal request for mutual legal assistance concerning Sarah, Duchess of York.
Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) centre said more can be done to safeguard children who use the Twitter
Apparently social networking sites Facebook and Bebo both report far more incidents of illegal activity to Ceop than Twitter does. Perhaps the 140 character tweets are not the most likely communication method for grooming and the like.
Peter Davies, head of Ceop, said:
Providers of online services have a responsibility to safeguard their environment in order to minimise the risk to children and close down opportunities for offenders.
Many companies work closely with us to enhance their ability to do this, including Facebook and Bebo.
The centre does receive reports relating to material on Twitter but it's important to say these amount to a very small proportion of 1,000 reports a month relating to a wide range of online environments.
Twitter have removed illegal images and other content on our request.
We believe more can be done around the moderation of Twitter feeds and the strengthening of Twitter's reporting mechanisms.
It's important that all providers have in place robust and effective reporting mechanisms so that when illegal, offensive or inappropriate material is posted it is quickly removed and reported to law enforcement as necessary.
Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 is a menace to free speech and the right
to protest. It has been repeatedly abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors, to variously arrest gay rights campaigners, Christian street preachers, critics of Scientology and even students making jokes.
It is time section 5 was repealed, to allow freedom of expression without the threat of arrest. The opportunity for reform exists. The current Protection of Freedoms Bill could easily be amended.
Some MPs and Lords want to amend it. Alas, the Con-Dem government is hesitating, despite its professed commitment to restore many of civil liberties that were whittled away during the Blair-Brown era.
The High Court has ruled that the Justice Secretary's refusal to grant the BBC permission to have and to broadcast a face-to-face interview
with terrorism suspect Babar Ahmad was unlawful.
The BBC and one of its home affairs correspondents, Dominic Casciani, had applied for permission to conduct the interview with Ahmad, who is currently detained at HMP Long Lartin, and is fighting extradition to the USA. The BBC also wished to broadcast
the interview. The Justice Secretary refused the permission, which refusal the BBC challenged in a judicial review claim.
Ahmad, a British Muslim, was first arrested in 2003 but released without charge after six days. In July 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction again him
in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000. However, he was arrested again in August 2004 following a request by the US for his extradition. The Home Secretary made an extradition order in 2005, which was followed by long running legal proceedings in the
domestic courts and in Strasbourg.
In the meantime Ahmad has remained in detention for over seven years without charge or trial.
It's a very worrying question, with an extremely worrying answer coming from some members of
the police force and even more so from Police Community Support Officers. Having several friends in the police, I know for a fact that nowhere in their training does it state that officers should censor this country's free press.
As long as members of the press aren't breaking police cordons, or on private property after being asked to leave, the police (and I include PCSOs in this) have no power, nor rights to interfere with a photographer going about doing
their job of gathering news. In fact, our country goes to war to help people being oppressed by various regimes, yet we find on occasion that we are being oppressed much closer to home, not by fundamentalists or dictators, but by our own police services
up and down the county.
Sadly the court case at the Old Bailey, where two of the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence were finally jailed, illustrated just how ill-informed some members of the police and PCSOs are. Just what is the motivation to stop a
story like this being covered? Did these officers in question want to protect the racist murderers from the photographers' cameras or not allow the same cameras to record the dignified Lawrence family after the verdict? This behaviour is absolutely
As a hip-hop artist, live performance is not only the bread and butter of my career, as it is for all musicians, but also the lifeblood of my existence. Hip-hop is a direct form of communication and live performance is the opportunity to interact
directly with your audience -- when your ideas truly come to life.
It's because of this that I have always perceived the 696 form, the now notorious risk assessment form that requests London venues and promoters to describe the type of music being played, to be cause for great concern. It especially
worries me when I hear reports of performers being searched by police prior to stepping on stage, as was reported this week. Where is the line to be drawn? Actions like these serve only to humiliate the performers and alarm their audience unnecessarily.
The 696 form essentially serves as a means for the Met to place unnecessary demands upon venues and promoters and in some circumstances almost extort them all in the name of ensuring security. There are countless stories of the
Met issuing ultimatums on the very day an event is due to take place. Demanding, for instance, that venues and promoters shell out thousands of pounds to cover the costs for extra security and even, in some instances, the presence of armed police. The
only other option is that the event does not take place at all.
Well this week it's all about sex again! And you really probably should ensure your children aren't in the back seats if you're listening in the car. Awkward questions might abound. Ben, Kirstin and regular contributor, Jonathan
Holt, talk with Alex Dymock once more following the verdict in the Southwark Obscene Publications Trial and are joined by Myles Jackman, one of Michael Peacock's defence team and journalist David Allen Green to discuss the merits of repealing the 1959
Act and what this verdict means for future prosecutions.
Open Rights Group (ORG) are researching
into the accuracy of the website blocking employed by mobile phone companies. The group wrote in its newsletter:
Last month, we asked ORG supporters to help us find sites that were being blocked by the default Adult filter on their mobile phones. Lots of you replied and asked to get involved. And thanks to that extraordinary team
- we've launched a tool to report what sites are being blocked and by whom.
We are getting regular reports and testing blocks on every mobile network. We're seeing just how bad mobile blocking is, and how bad the networks are at dealing with complaints. Forums and joke sites get banned. So do churches.
Some MPs want to extend defaultadult censorship to Internet at home as well: but we are already seeing how bad it is on mobile networks. ORG has already been invited to talk to O2 about their systems, as a result of this campaign.
Meanwhile thank to a reader who wrote to MelonFarmers:
Just to let you know; the mobile network Three are blocking access to your site through their 3G networks - The site works fine on Wi-Fi, but on 3G you get asked to contact Three to get a pin to unblock the site,
as they have it listed as anAdult content site.
They charge 99p to allow access to adult sites (And it's not straightforward, takes a while to find the right place to do it.).
They have also blocked Movie-Censorship.com, same reason as above.
A British student can be extradited to the United States to face charges of copyright infringement over a website he ran offering
links to pirated films online, a court has ruled.
Richard O'Dwyer, whose site TV Shack made more than £ 150,000 in advertising revenues, according to US prosecutors, is thought to be the first person extradited to America on such charges. If convicted in New
York, he faces jail.
Speaking after the hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court, the 23-year-old said he felt like a guinea pig for the US justice system. His lawyer argued that his site hosted no illegal content, but merely directed users to where
it was held online, and said that his client would appeal the ruling.
What do you think of the Scottish Government's anti-bigot bill to help curb sectarian aggression?
It's basically an attack on freedom of speech. It's the ruling classes telling the working classes what to say and think. Will middle class rugby fans be arrested for singing anti-English songs? The idea is laughable.
Of course, some of the songs and words contravene laws on racial hatred, and maybe even on inciting violence. But that's a debate that needs to be had. Why aren't we having that? Because it would be really fucking awkward. Sectarianism is a real
problem, but it should be addressed by people engaging with each other -- reconciliation. If we were really serious about this the first step is to end religious segregation in schools. It's a Scottish reaction to think we can get rid of all this with
a piece of paper, just so we don't have to make eye contact, talk to each other, agree. In my time in Glasgow I've known a lot of Catholics and a lot of Protestants and you know what? Scratch the surface and we're all the same. Total cunts.
Chris Ashford has written an excellent report of the trial:
On Friday 6 January 2012, a historic case came to a conclusion in Courtroom 7 of Southwark Crown Court in Courtroom 7. Michael Peacock was unanimously acquitted, after a four-day trial that saw the outdated obscenity law of England
and Wales in the dock.
Peacock had been charged under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 for allegedly distributing obscene gay DVDs, which featured fisting, urolagnia ('watersports') and BDSM.
Peacock had advertised the DVDs through Craigslist, his own website (which also promoted his services as a male escort), and in a magazine. The Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Command (SCD9) or London's Metropolitan Police
--- which encompasses the former Obscene Publications Squad --- saw the advert and began an investigation.
The International Union of Sex Workers is delighted by the unanimous verdicts of not guilty on all counts in the trial of Michael
Peacock that concluded at Southwark Crown Court on Friday 6th January.
Michael's courage and determination in pursuing this case was the first challenge to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 for many years. Understandably, most people charged with offences under this Act plead guilty as an innocent plea followed by
a court case that returns a guilty verdict will result in a harsher sentence. This has the effect of leaving police and CPS opinion of what isobscene untested.
The DVDs that were the subject of this prosecution were sold through Michael's website, sleazymichael.com, and on Craigslist. They contained scenes of male fisting, urination and BDSM. Michael was charged with six counts of publishing obscene articles
likely todeprave and corrupt . The jury saw a substantial amount of the content which the police and CPS deemed illegal and required less than two hours deliberation to return unanimous not guilty verdicts on all counts. Therefore material
showing the activities depicted is no longer defined as obscene in law.
It's time to decriminalise sex between consenting adults. Lady Chatterley trial of 1960 (R v Penguin Books) is still quoted as precedent in obscenity trials; the jury's response in R v Peacock shows public opinion has clearly moved on considerably.
Catherine Stephens, activist with the International Union of Sex Workers, says:
In a week that has also seen the collapse of the Sheila Farmer trial for brothel keeping, it is time to decriminalise the sexual activities of consenting adults, whether or not they are in front of a camera. These two trials were
an appalling waste of public resources: the law as it stands does nothing to enhance the safety either of the general public or those who work in the adult industry and often actively increases the dangers we face.
Michael Peacock says:
Responsible treatment of pornography would allow adults who want to access sexually explicit materials freedom to do so and protect those who are underage or do not wish to view such content. The current legal framework fails to
do either of these things. I give my thanks to my legal team at Hodge Jones Allen, the judge who heard my case and the twelve people who served on the jury whose maturity and commonsense has changed the law.
Hazel Eracleous, Chair of Backlash comments:
Backlash is delighted that a jury decided it is no longer appropriate to prosecute people based on consensual adult sexual activity. We support the rights of adults to participate in all consensual sexual activities and to watch,
read and create any fictional interpretation of such in any media. We will continue to raise awareness of the unseen consequences of these draconian laws, provide legal advice and defend those same consenting adults caught up in the Extreme Pornography
and Obscene Publication laws.
Myles Jackman, solicitor at Hodge Jones Allen with a specialist interest in obscenity cases states:
This case shows the Obscene Publications Act is no longer effective in the age of the internet.
Jerry Barnett, Chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association (AITA), says:
We congratulate Michael Peacock on his victory. The idea that depictions of consenting adult sexual activity can be deemed obscene is a throwback to an earlier age. The adult industry continues to develop and adopt technologies
that prevent children from accessing sexual content. We see no need for adults to be protected from it -- a free society should protect the rights of adults to participate in any consenting sexual act they choose.
In the Press
The judgement seems to have captured little attention from the newspapers with the exception of the Guardian/Observer which has published several items about the news.
Feona Attwood of Sheffield Hallam University, who lectures in sex, communication and culture, and who attended the trial, said:
I think the law does not make sense. All the evidence that was heard was about whether the material had the ability to harm and corrupt. The question now is, what does that actually mean? What is significant is that the jury understood
[the issues at stake].
Attwood, like others experts in the field, believes that the law has been overtaken by new understandings of the way in which people think about sexuality and the depiction of sex including whether a process actually exits that leads to moral
Others who have been deeply critical of the attempted prosecution include solicitor and New Statesman legal blogger David Allen Green. Writing during the case he said:
Obscenity is a curious criminal offence, and many would say that it now has no place in a modern liberal society, especially when all that is being portrayed in any obscene material are the consensual (if unusual) sexual acts between
Jeremy Clarkson, the TV presenter, has been ludicrously criticised for making trivial tasteless comments about the Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy in which 23 Chinese migrant workers died.
In a column for The Sun newspaper, Clarkson mocked the sport of synchronised swimming as Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water , adding: You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe Beach. For free.
Hardly worthy of mention but Tracy Brown, a Morecambe town councillor had a little whinge. She said:
I choose to ignore such comments and treat them with the contempt they deserve. In fact, this is beneath contempt. He is just trying to make himself look big at other people's expense. Many people around here were deeply affected
by the tragedy.
But then the tiff escalated to international levels: Ms Dai Qingli, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Embassy, went well overboard. She said:
We deplore and oppose Mr Clarkson's comments, which are insulting and show a woeful disrespect of decency and moral standards. We regret that The Sun has publicised such remarks.
Michael Peacock has been acquitted of all charges after a unanimous jury decision to find Peacock not guilty on 6 counts of obscenity.
Michael Peacock (referred to in the gay porn world as Sleazy Michael) had been charged for distributing supposedly obscene DVDs including representation of gay fisting, urolagnia and BDSM.
The trial was heard before the Southwark Crown Court. The films in question feature: gay fisting (the insertion of five fingers of the fist into the rectum of another male); urolagnia (in this case men urinating in their clothes, onto each others'
bodies and drinking it); and BDSM (in this case hard whipping, the insertion of needles, urethral sounds and electricaltorture ). Also there was an example of a staged non consensual scene.
The Obscene Publications Act 1959 features the contentious and ambiguous deprave and corrupt test, whereby an article (for example a DVD) is obscene if it tends to deprave and corrupt the reader, viewer or listener. The Test is defined
in Section1 of the Act as:
An article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are
likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
Peacock was represented by Nigel Richardson and Sandra Paul of Hodge Jones and Allen
Myles Jackman, a solicitor specialising in obscenity law, said this outcome was a significant victory for common sense suggesting that the OPA has been rendered irrelevant in the digital age .
In a tweet, Jackman said that SCD9, the Metropolitan Police unit dealing with human exploitation and organised crime, will meet with the Crown Prosecution Service and the British Board of Film Classification to review guidelines on obscenity.
And of course the authorities will be considering whether the law itself now needs changing. No doubt nutter campaigners will now be pushing for something new to replace the OPA now that it no longer supports their censorial views.
Speculation: So what may be the outcome at least in terms of BBFC censorship of R18s?
The BBFC have been cutting all such material citing the current interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act. But now of course this will change. The
BBFC will still be at liberty to cut scenes off their own bat. And indeed the board has been regularly cutting scenes involving penetration by objects that could possibly result in harm justified via its own guidelines.
I think there will be a few changes welcomed by all sides. The current prohibition of female squirting leaves everyone totally baffled as to why. This prohibition can now be rapidly dropped. Perhaps urolagnia can now be generally allowed albeit
with restrictions when it is considered by the censors to be degrading.
Perhaps something similar with fisting which could be generally allowed with a proviso that it must not be seen to be causing any discomfort to those participating.
The BDSM issue is not going to be easy. The current ban is at least easy to explain. To allow any level of hurt beyond trifling may prove very difficult to define. Maybe it is still banned by legislation examined during the notable Spanner Case,
the judgement of which basically disallows people from giving consent to be hurt. So perhaps the BBFC will just switch justifications but continue to ban BDSM.
And I don't suppose that the non-consensual scene will impact BBFC guidelines at all. This will no doubt continue to be banned from R18s.
Index on Censorship Chief Executive John Kampfner will be stepping down at the end of March. His announcement brings to an
end a three-and-a-half year tenure that has seen Index become one of the world's leading free expression advocacy organisations.
John will be working with Google as a part-time consultant on free expression and cultural issues and with the Global Network Initiative from 1 February, as well as undertaking various journalism and book-writing ventures.
Jonathan Dimbleby, Chair of Index on Censorship, said:
I'm very sad to see John depart. He has transformed Index's profile and practices, turning it into the 'go to' destination for anyone interested in free expression and censorship questions in the UK and around the world. His successor
will have a great opportunity to build on those achievements. I am delighted that John wishes to be involved with our work in other ways in future.
John Kampfner said:
It's been a fantastic privilege to run an organisation of such passion and stature. I'm particularly proud of the work we've done to transform English libel law, our strong editorial work and our campaigns for freedom of expression
around the world. I said originally that I wanted to help take Index to a new level, which I believe has been achieved. I pay tribute to the dedication of our staff and trustees and wish them all success in the future.
Olympic organisers have set out internet censorship rules for the 70,000 Games Maker volunteers, including a ban on pictures
or posts featuring backstage VIPs.
The rules are set out in a document in the Games Makers' area of Locog's website. The document asks people not to mention details about their role, location or about athletes, celebrities and dignitaries.
It says Games Makers should remember to avoid making any public statement on any subject relating to London 2012 without the prior approval of the Locog Communications team - including agreeing to attend any event to speak about any aspect of London
It sets out how the public realm of social media could pose a risk to the Games in terms of reputation and safety and security.
In a what to do and what not to do section, it warns volunteers:
not to disclose their location
not to post a picture or video of Locog backstage areas closed to the public
not to disclose breaking news about an athlete
not to tell their social network about a visiting VIP, eg an athlete, celebrity or dignitary.
not to get involved in detailed discussion about the Games online
but they can retweet or pass on official London 2012 postings.
The 3rd January 2012 marks the first day of the most significant obscenity trial of the decade; which will ultimately clarify the law on
the representation of gay fisting, urolagnia as well as BDSM.
The defendant in the case, Michael Peacock, is charged on indictment with numerous offences under the Obscene Publications Act for distributing supposedly obscene DVDs.
The Obscene Publications Act 1959 features the contentious and ambiguous deprave and corrupt test, whereby an article (for example a DVD) is obscene if it tends to deprave and corrupt the reader, viewer or listener. The Test is defined
in Section1 of the Act as:
An article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are
likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
In this trial, which will be heard before the Southwark Crown Court, the films in question feature: gay fisting (the insertion of five fingers of the fist into the rectum of another male); urolagnia (in this case men urinating in their clothes,
onto each others' bodies and drinking it); and BDSM (in this case hard whipping, the insertion of needles, urethral sounds and electricaltorture ).
These activities feature on the current list of what the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) currently consider to be obscene. Ultimately though, it is a matter for a jury to decide whether these acts are obscene by virtue of whether they deprave and
corrupt the viewer.
Interestingly this case seems to have found unofficial tacit support from the BBFC; and the Metropolitan Police's Abusive and Extreme Images Unit (the Met's old obscene publications squad is now part of SCD9): on the basis that this case will establish
whether the depiction of fisting and urination pornography is legal or not.
Hence, if the jury decides that such pornography is not obscene, on the basis that it does not deprave and corrupt the viewer; then it is entirely likely that both the producers and distributors of pornography will make such material available for
sale, for example via licensed sex shops.
Consequently, this significant obscenity prosecution will either reaffirm or rearrange the boundaries of obscenity law.
Mr Peacock is represented by Hodge Jones and Allen LLP..
The #ObscenityTrial involving the issue of fisting (among others) goes into day three today.
If you're not already doing so, be sure to follow on twitter the excellent activist and scholar, @lexingtondymock . I'd also suggest following the journalist
@NichiHodgson . Both have been providing fascinating coverage through their live tweets from the courtroom.
Many of the exchanges today would be comical, were they not so serious.