Egypt’s Lack of Democratic Values

02egypt-articleLargeOn Thursday, three journalists working for Al Jazeera’s English-language network were ordered a retrial ain Egypt after a sham proceeding in which they were given between 7-10 years in prison for “…conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports.” The reason for this is two-fold:

1) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, like all new strongmen, wants to possess as much control over the press as he can. He is afraid that a currently tumultuous political climate may sweep him out of power just as quickly as it brought him in. This is why the three were arrested in the first place.

2) Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, a state that has long shown favor towards the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. But the Brotherhood was also former President Mohamed Morsi’s movement, who was brought in after democratic elections that resulted from the Arab Spring. Now since the ouster of Morsi, and the installation of el-SiSi, Al-Jazeera has been leading a critical viewpoint against el-SiSi for the last 18 months. But under pressure from Egypt, the Saudis, and the UAE, Qatar has put an end to its anti-el-SiSi campaign. Therefore these latest events may lead to the release of the three A-Jazeera reporters as a quid pro quo for the less critical look at el-SiSi.

So all in all, these three men were fulfilling their obligations to the essential ingredient of a functioning democracy, namely, the freedom of the press. We cannot make informed decisions without the information pertaining to the matter at hand.

The Mid-East region demanded more rights in the streets and squares just a few years ago and yet these events come right out of the old ways.

Also, for more on this cause, checkout the website for the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) where you can find a good graphic entitled “2014 prison census: 220 journalists jailed worldwide.” It is a worldwide map of states currently imprisoning journalists with the offending countries highlighted and the number of prisoners being held. The page also includes some good charts and even a listing, nation by nation, of each journalist known two be serving time their.

 

 

 

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In Light of the Reaction to Anti-Islamic Film, Where Should We Draw the Line on Censorship?

As the protests overseas continue to grow over a film trailer and violence has turned the demonstrations horribly ugly, a question is raised by the entire situation from a domestic perspective.  An article in the CSM points to the question:

The difficult legal question involving free speech is whether the offensive video in this case amounts to what US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1919 called a “clear and present danger” akin to someone “falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

The FBI has now spoken to the filmmaker but should he be implicated for the reaction to his video?  The obvious Constitutional answer is no.  But the fact he has been, at the very least, contacted by a federal law enforcement agency suggests the answer is not that obvious.

This question is provocative and has many debatable points but, for this post, let’s just focus on the idea of whether a negative depiction of a culture is akin to yelling fire in a theater.  The idea behind yelling fire in a theater is the knowledge a panic will erupt and people could get hurt in the ensuing chaos.  But when negatively portraying something in a film that is near and dear to another person’s heart, where should the line be drawn?

Anything can be taken as offensive and potentially enrage people sensitive to the subject being ridiculed or criticized.  But in a country where free speech is king, how do we judge what is okay and what is dangerous?  Take the upcoming release of the film Red Dawn, for example.  In this remake, the bad guys are the invading North Korean army.  How can we be sure there will be no violent reaction in North Korea to this movie?  We simply can’t.

Let’s take another example more relevant to the recent protests: the Kevin Smith comedy relating to Christianity, Dogma.  Protests occurred and people were angry at the movie but no embassies were attacked.  No one that I’m aware of was killed despite the anger.  But how did we know for sure nothing would happen prior to the release of this film?  We didn’t know but allowed the release anyway.

And for these reasons, the filmmaker of the anti-Islamic trailer should not be prosecuted.  It is a difficult balance to reach, particularly on the subject of religion and also after lives have been lost, but we cannot know the reaction of the public when a movie, a piece of artwork, a song, or anything else that could be offensive is released.  Prosecuting this filmmaker would be no different than prosecuting the makers of the Dark Knight for the proceeding shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Some may see this as the lesser of two evils but there is no doubt it is in the interest of freedom of expression in the long run.

Twitter Posts Considered Public

All you activists who read this may need to take heed regarding what you say on Twitter. A New York judge ruled that Twitter posts are public speech and can be subpoenaed by prosecutors.

Read more here.