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Middle East Censorship News

2014: April-June

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Update: UN raises the plight of a jailed Saudi blogger...

But Saudi attempts to block the criticism by a UN human rights group

Link Here27th June 2014
Full story: Blogging in Saudi...Saudi bloggers arrested and imprisoned
Saudi Arabia repeatedly interrupted an American NGO at an extraordinary meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, as the organisation read out a statement criticising their imprisoning of a man on charges of atheism and running a liberal online forum.

The Center for Inquiry, a US non-profit advocating secular and humanist values, was stopped from speaking on three occasions by the delegation from Saudi Arabia who protested against their raising of specific incidents of human rights abuse.

The case raised was that of Raif Badawi, co-founder of the Saudi Arabian Free Liberals website, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a $266,000 fine in May. He was convicted of violating Islamic values and slurring Saudi Arabia's religious symbols, which drew the ire of Amnesty International who described the ruling as outrageous .

The Center criticised Badawi's conviction at the Council, saying Mr Badawi is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression, which prompted the Saudi delegation to interrupt the statement.

We believe that what is being said by this organisation is completely outside of the mandate of this report, said a Saudi delegate, adding we request that they stop their intervention.

Four member states, including the United States, then responded to the intervention, supporting the right of NGOs to raise specific human rights cases during Council sessions. This allowed the Center for Inquiry's spokesperson to continue speaking and call for Badawi's conviction to be quashed.

We call on Saudi Arabia, as a newly elected member of this council, to release Raif Badawi immediately and unconditionally, and drop any pending charges against him and others for 'blasphemy', 'insulting Islam', or 'apostasy', the spokesperson said. As an elected member of this Council, Saudi Arabia is obliged to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights' and 'fully cooperate with the Council', they added.



Like it or lump it...

Egyptian christian jailed for 6 years for a Facebook like

Link Here26th June 2014
A Christian in southern Egypt has been sentenced to six years in prison and fined the equivalent of $840 on charges of blasphemy and contempt of Islam for simply liking a Facebook page, according to International Christian Concern.

Kerolos Shawky didn't intend to insult the Islamic religion, Rafla Zekry Rafla, a lawyer representing Kerolos, told ICC. He only clicked like on the Facebook page of Knights of the Cross .

Kerolos was accused of violating Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code, which prohibits ridiculing, or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife .

The initial accusations against Kerolos are that he had somehow incited a muslim mob who vanadalised and set alight Christian shops and homese.



Advertising Repression...

Istanbul bans women's bare legs from advertising posters

Link Here16th June 2014
The sight of women's bar legs has been banned from outdoor advertising by the Istanbul council.

The daily Hurriyet reported that comparing posters with the originals reveals that they have been cropped to remove the sight of women's bare legs.

An advertising company representative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had cut women's legs from the photos to receive approval from the Urban Design Directorate of the Istanbul Municipality:

Urban Design didn't approve our ads and after going there and coming back several times, ads with numerous cuts left the women legless.



Offsite Article: Egypt: Authorities reveal plans for mass surveillance of social media...

Link Here 16th June 2014
Full story: Internet Censorship in Egypt...Egypt blocks political and porn websites
The proposed new mass monitoring system has sparked fears that internet activists may be the next targets of the military-backed government's widening crackdown on dissent

See article from



Update: The Turkish right for the religious to spout bollox without criticism...

Cartoonist jailed for blasphemy

Link Here 14th June 2014
Full story: Internet Censorship in Turkey...Website blocking insults the Turkish people
The Turkish cartoonist Mehmet Duzenli began serving a three-month prison sentence on a charge of insulting Adnan Oktar, an extremist Muslim preacher who is well known for his creationist, anti-Zionist and holocaust-denial views.

Duzenli refused to appeal on the grounds that a decision to suspend the sentence would still prevent him from expressing himself freely in his cartoons. He Explained:

If Mr. Oktar has the right to claim that he is the Mahdi [the redeemer who is supposed to appear at the 'end times'], I have the right to say that he is lying.

Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said:

Jailing D?zenli over a cartoon is totally unacceptable. Such a disproportionate sentence is a reminder that Turkey's penal code often violates the country's own constitution as well as international conventions on freedom of information. The Turkish authorities must urgently carry out the necessary reforms , including decriminalizing defamation and insult.



Update: Censors Win...

Bassem Youssef decides that it is now too dangerous to lampoon Egyptian leaders

Link Here7th June 2014
The brave comedian Bassem Youssef has decided to call it quits on his TV show, claiming it is no longer safe to satirise Egyptian politics.

The television satirist seen as the barometer for free speech in post-revolutionary Egypt , Bassem Youssef , has ended his show because he feels it is no longer safe to satirise Egyptian politics. He told repoerters:

The present climate in Egypt is not suitable for a political satire program. I'm tired of struggling and worrying about my safety and that of my family.

Youssef's announcement followed a decision by his host channel, MBC-Misr, to suspend his show during Egypt's recent presidential election campaign, in what was perceived as an attempt to stop him mocking Egypt's incoming head of state, field marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi .



Extract: Economic Censorship...

Turkey suffocates films that it does like by awarding them an 18 rating

Link Here6th June 2014
Arbitrary censorship rulings have many in the filmmaking community wondering how they'll balance artistic integrity with funding and distribution.

New laws decree that films given a +18 rating not only have to return money received from the Ministry of Culture, often a vital contributor to a film's financing, but with added interest. Since distribution deals and TV chances are sunk by such ratings, the effect is clear.

Let's Sin , winner of several awards at the Istanbul festival, including director for Onur Unlu, was slapped with a +18 despite an absence of sexual content. While it's not clear what prompted this rating, the film's protagonist is a pugilistic imam who isn't exactly a model religious leader, and scattered references to last year's social unrest undoubtedly caused discontent.

Fortunately, helmer Unlu didn't receive ministry money, but the film's distribution chances could be completely shot. F ilm festival director Azize Tan explained:

There are several ways of censoring. A +18 kills your film, and then it becomes very difficult for you to make the next one. They have to explain why this film was +18, but there is no explanation.

...Read the full article .



Update: Facing Extreme Injustice...

Eight people jailed in Iran for 7 to 20 years for insults posted on Facebook

Link Here1st June 2014
Full story: Blasphemy in Iran...Repression of free speech
Eight people, including an Iranian-born British woman, have been jailed in Iran on charges including blasphemy and insulting the country's supreme leader on Facebook.

The opposition website Kaleme reported that two of the eight, identified as Roya Saberinejad Nobakht from Stockport, and Amir Golestani, each received 20 years in prison and the remaining six between 7 and 19 years.

They were variously found guilty of blasphemy, propaganda against the ruling system, spreading lies and insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Nobakht's husband, Daryoush Taghipoor, told the Manchester Evening News in April that his wife had been detained at the airport in Shiraz last October in connection with comments she had made on Facebook.



Update: A pity God was not a bit more liberal when handing out a sense of humour...

Man jailed in Turkey over jokey tweets about religion

Link Here 30th May 2014
Full story: Blasphemy in Turkey...Blasphemy repressing Turkish people
A Turkish court handed a 15-month jail term to a teacher over Twitter posts deemed religiously offensive, local media reported.

The court in the city of Mus ruled that the man, identified as Ertan P., supposedly insulted Islamic values with his Twitter handle @allah, and a series of tweets he posted. Pretending to tweet as God, he wrote:

In my present state of mind, I would not have created the little finger of human beings.

Here (heaven) is very safe because there is no police.



Miserable Iran...

Young people arrested for being happy in a YouTube Video

Link Here24th May 2014

Six Iranians paid a high price for joining a global trend when they made a dance video from Tehran inspired by the music video for the song Happy by Pharrell Williams.

Today, all but one of these young people were released from jail after Iranian authorities announced that they had been arrested on May 20.

In a Twitter campaign, #FreeHappyIranians, Iranian netizens flooded the internet with tweets expressing their anger and disappointment.

The group were forced to appear on Iranian state television's evening news broadcast, side by side, facing Tehran's Chief of Police Hossein Sajedinia.

Even more miserable Iran

See  article from

The judicial authorities in Iran appeared to harden their clampdown on expression, moving to block Instagram, imprisoning the director who made the now-famous Iranian version of the Pharrell Williams Happy video and warning women to comply with a police campaign on the proper wearing of mandatory headscarves.

Taken together, the developments suggested that the country's Islamic bureaucracy was alarmed over any perception of permissiveness that may have been partly inspired by the YouTube video.

One of the women, Reihane Taravati, used her Instagram account to publicize their entanglement and release, which may have been seen by the judiciary and police as another impudent act. Hi I'm back, Ms. Taravati wrote, thanking Pharrell Williams and everyone who cared about us.

The semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported that an Iranian court had ordered Instagram blocked over privacy issues, and that Iran's Ministry of Telecommunications was taking steps to ban the site.

In another sign of harsher censorship, the Mehr News Agency quoted the deputy commander of the Iranian National Police, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Radan, as saying there would be no suspension of an enforcement policy aimed at ensuring women correctly follow the Islamic dress code, with their hair covered by a hijab, or headscarf.

Update: Punished for being happy in Iran

23rd September 2014. See  article from

A group of young Iranian men and women known as the Happy in Tehran dancers, arrested in May for videotaping themselves cavorting to Pharrell Williams' popular dance hit, were informed on Thursday of their punishments: 91 lashes and six months of imprisonment for each.

One of the female dancers was given a punishment of 91 lashes and 12 months for uploading the video to the Internet, where it caused an international sensation.

All of the punishments were suspended, one of the dancers said. But they could be carried out if the six defendants committed further wrongdoing over the next three years, a common form of deterrence in Iran's judicial system.



Update: Religious Censorship...

Turkish court hands down suspended jail sentence for supposed blasphemy on an internet forum

Link Here17th May 2014
Full story: Internet Censorship in Turkey...Website blocking insults the Turkish people
A Turkish court has given Sedat Kapanoglu, the founder of one of Turkey's most popular online forums, Eksi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary), a 10 month suspended sentence for blasphemy.

A police complaint was filed regarding writers of a discussion thread opened on the website in 2011, alleging insults to the religious character Muhammad. Some 40 of the website's members were detained by the police and charged with insulting religion on the thread.

The court ruled that Kapanoglu had committed the crime of "insulting the religious values shared by a group of society" and sentenced him to the 10 months in jail. The court suspended the sentence based on the time passed since the crime was committed.

The court also sentenced suspect Özgür Kuru to seven months and 15 days in jail on the same charges, while also suspending the execution of this sentence. The court acquitted a third suspect and also decided to suspend the cases against other 37 suspects. However, suspects would be retried if they commit the same crime within three years.



Update: Open to Repression...

Iran bans the sale and use of VPNs

Link Here13th May 2014
Full story: Iranian Internet Censorship...Extensive internet blocking
Iran is to make the sale, purchase and use of VPN software illegal throughout Iran.

Virtual Private Networks hides the real internet address of users from internet snoopers and from websites being visited.

The draconian clampdown of free use of the Internet was announced by Iran's cyber police chief Brigadier General Kamal Hadianfar on Monday. He warned Internet users that use of a VPN makes all their information available to the companies that own the VPN servers, and claimed: Criminals' use of VPN has made the cost of finding the criminals higher and has increased the risk for those using it.

A 2013 study found that almost half of the world's top 500 most-visited websites - including those related to health, science, sports, news, and even shopping - are blocked in Iran. The regime is also one of three countries in the world to block Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. So it is hardly surprising that many Iranians use VPN software to bypass the regime's censorship of millions of websites and internet services.



Updated: Rouh's Beauty...

Film banned from Egyptian cinemas and under duress in Qatar

Link Here21st April 2014
Rouh's Beauty is a 2014 Egypt drama by Sameh Abdelaziz.
Starring Salah Abdallah, Nagwa Fouad and Mohamed Lotfy. YouTube icon IMDb

Egypt's interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb has banned a recently released Egyptian film, Halawet Rooh (Rouh's Beauty) . It will now be withdrawn from movie theatres and resubmitted to the country's censorship board.

The decision comes after the for-adults-only film, released on 3 April, was hit with a wave of moral indignation accusing it of containing heavy sexual connotations that violate the Egyptian moral code .

The film, which revolves around Rooh, played by Egyptian/Lebanese diva Haifa Wahbe, who becomes the object of desire of all the men in her working class neighbourhood while her husband is away.

A review published last week in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm took aim at Halawet Rooh under the title of How to Make an Egyptian Porno , which accused the film of unsuccessfully posing as drama while it was only concerned with sexually arousing the audience .

Other morality campaigners have joined the crusade against the film. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) claimed:

The film includes language and scenes that negatively affects the morals of children.

Meanwhile the easily offended in Qatar have also been campaigning against the film.

Supposedly, the indecent nature of the film has caused social media outrage due to the x-rated content, which was deemed inappropriate to the norms of the conservative Arab culture. The hashtag #banbeautyofthesouldmovie was trending on Twitter in support of banning the film from screening in Qatari cinemas.

They claim the film was banned in some of Qatar's neighbouring countries for its brazen display of nudity, and the sexual undertones. 'Concerned' Qatari citizens said:

How could they have approved such a movie, we need new regulations to ensure that such unconventional movies are kept out of our islamic society.

Update: Censor resigns

20th April 2014. See  article from

The head of Egypt's censorship board has resigned after the country's prime minister overruled his decision to allow the screening of the film Roh's Sweetness .

Ahmed Awad, undersecretary to the culture minister and head of the censorship authority, told The Associated Press that he had submitted his resignation in response to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab's decision to stop the film from being shown. The censorship board is meant to be an independent body that gives the final say on whether a movie can be seen by Egyptian audiences. Awad said:

Of course I'm not happy with what happened  I did this out of respect for myself.

Update: Censorship reviewed

21st April 2014. See  article from

Egypt's Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb has decided to form a panel tasked with restructuring the Censorship Authority following a controversy over his earlier decision to ban Lebanese star Haifa Wehbe's latest movie, which was deemed as supposedly sexually provocative.

The PMs decision came after he had met with a number of actors, directors, authors and film critics. A Cabinet statement said:

The panel will be comprised of representatives of artistic associations and syndicates, as well as specialists, in order to introduce a developed ideology for the authority.

The panel will also review art censorship laws.

Update: Unbanned

28th November 2014. See  article from

Egypt's administrative court has revoked a Cabinet decree banning the screening of a sexually provocative film starring Lebanese pop diva Haifa Wehbe.



Updated: Retweeted...

Turkey's Constitutional Court orders government to restore Twitter ruling that the illegally breached Turkey's freedom of expression

Link Here5th April 2014
Full story: Internet Censorship in Turkey...Website blocking insults the Turkish people
Turkey's telecoms authority lifted a two-week-old ban on Twitter, after the constitutional court ruled the previous day that the block breached freedom of expression.

Turkey's Official Gazette published the court's ruling on Thursday morning, further piling pressure on the telecoms authority, TIB, to lift the ban. TIB removed court orders blocking the site from its webpage on Thursday afternoon, after which Erdogan's office confirmed the ban was no more.

YouTube however remains offline in Turkey. The TIB blocked it one week after blocking Twitter. Legal challenges are pending.

Update: YouTube Unblocked

5th April 2013. See  article from

YouTube has been unblocked in Turkey after a court ruled that blocking the video service violates freedom of expression.

The country's national telecoms authority censored the platform after an audio recording of Turkish officials discussing possible military action against Syria leaked onto the website.

However, the court declared that 15 YouTube videos must remain blocked in the territory.

Update: YouTube Not Unblocked

7th April 2013. See  article from

YouTube remains blocked even after the court that initially ordered the ban reversed its ruling.

However, the Golbasi Prosecutor's Office challenged the liberal ruling on the grounds that the video that was the subject of the YouTube ban had not yet been removed.

The Golbasi Criminal Court of First Instance, a higher court, ruled to keep the block in place until the criminal content is removed form the site.

Update: YouTube Finally Unblocked

8th June 2014. See  article from

Turkey's telecoms regulator removed an official order blocking access to YouTube from its website on Tuesday after the country's top court ruled last week that the ban was a breach of human rights.

The video-sharing website will be accessible in Turkey later on Tuesday, an official at the office of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told Reuters: As the constitutional court verdict was received today, YouTube will be open to access later today.



Update: Iran Justifies Derogatory Comments...

British woman locked up in Iran for supposedly derogatory comments on Facebook

Link Here4th April 2014
Full story: Blasphemy in Iran...Repression of free speech
A British woman has been locked up in Iran for five months after posting derogatory comments about the country's government on Facebook and fears she will be executed.

Concerns are growing for the welfare of Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, from Stockport, who has been charged with insulting Islamic sanctities , a crime which can be punishable by death. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was urgently looking into her case.

Mrs Nobakht was in Iran visiting family in October last year when she was arrested by police as she arrived by plane in the south western city of Shiraz, according to an account given by her husband, Daryoush Taghipoor.

She was then taken back to Tehran and charged with gathering and participation with intent to commit crime against national security and insulting Islamic sanctities , according to a copy of her charge sheet seen by The Independent .

Mr Taghipoor, who is currently in Iran, claimed that his wife's arrest was over comments she had made on a Facebook group about the government being too Islamic , and that she had only been charged after a confession was extracted from her under duress .



Tit for Tat...

Saudi officially identifies atheists as terrorists with massive 20 years jail for any criticism of the state or its religion

Link Here3rd April 2014
Saudi Arabia has officially identified atheists as terrorists in repressive new laws that threaten up to 20 years in prison for almost any criticism of the government or Islam.

Under the new decree by King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia will jail for up to 20 years anyone who fights in conflicts abroad - an apparent move to deter Saudis from joining rebels in Syria. But the law also applies to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom that calls for atheist thought in any form or calls into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.

The laws have unsurprisingly been denounced by human rights groups. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch said:

Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism.

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