Tessa Houghton

Global Voices: July 18, 2012

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/07/18/malaysia-national-harmony-act-greeted-with-cynicism/

 

The Malaysian social and alternative media sphere is describing an impending ‘National Harmony Act,’ as “Orwellian” and “draconian.”

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that Malaysia’s Sedition Act of 1948 is to be repealed, and replaced with the National Harmony Act (NHA.)

The Sedition Act, a hangover from Malaysia’s era of colonial rule, was originally introduced to quell opposition against the British, but is infamous for its vague definitions and use by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to silence political opposition.

Rather than celebration, there is widespread concern that the new National Harmony Act will not prove any better than its predecessor. Barisan Nasional has dismantled several existing laws only to replace them with barely improved or even worse versions. For example the Internal Security Act, the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Evidence Act amendments.

Many Malaysian netizens are concerned that the NHA is yet another example of double-talk.

Mustafa K. Anuar, writing for Aliran describes it as a ‘Seduction Act in the offing’, identifying the widespread cynicism towards the new Act as predictable:

In the recent past, the promise of a repeal of certain undemocratic laws such as the equally draconian Internal Security Act turned out to be a nightmare for Malaysians, especially human rights activists, as the replacements are either the same or even worse than the laws they replaced.

 

A political cartoon by well-known Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, depicting what many Malaysians fear from the planned National Harmony Act. [Zunar Kartunis Fan Club’ Facebook page]

Phil Robertson, the deputy director Human Rights Watch’s Asia division,  also summed up this worrying legislative trend in the alternative media website The Malaysian Insider:

He said “the government should realise that change for change’s sake is not enough”, adding that the drafting of replacement laws “has gone on behind closed doors with little input from civil society.”

As reported by Malaysiakini (paywall-protected site), Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing (as well as Lim Chee Wee, head of the Malaysian Bar Council) has suggested that the government should just repeal the Sedition Act, rather than replace it with more legislation prone to selective enforcement:

“We have seen a politician or two and some religious leaders raise the bogey of Christian proselytisation of Muslims and proffer no substantive proof in support and yet they have not been hauled up for seditious speech.

“Don’t replace obsolete laws with newfangled ones, especially if you cannot be counted on to enforce them with equity,” he contended.

Commenters on the Malaysiakini article seem to agree:

Hang Babeuf: Of course, the National Harmony Act provokes scepticism. Just look at the name.

Absalom: If you want national harmony, you don’t need an Act, for that’s all it is, an act.

Ez24get: National Harmony Act – harmony for whom? Harmony for the corrupt BN as nobody could question or take away their gravy train?

Similar sentiments are expressed in yet another Malaysiakini commenter round-up:

Kee Thuan Chye: The Sedition Act should be repealed, not put into a new wine bottle with a nicer-sounding name. A repressive law by any other name still stinks just as bad.

Abasir: Deja vu! We’ve been here before. Remember how he introduced the so-called Peaceful Assembly Act following which a well-publicised peaceful assembly of citizens was deliberately trapped, gassed, beaten by gangs of unnamed men in uniform and thugs in mufti?

Kgen: Knowing Najib, the false democrat, the new Act will be even worse than the old Act. Just like the Peaceful Assembly Act, which is even harsher than the existing Police Act.

However, PM Najib Razak claims that the Act will “ensure the best balance between the need to guarantee the freedom of speech for every citizen and the need to handle the complexity of plurality existing in the country”, as reported by the state news agency Bernama:

”With this new act we would be better equipped to manage our national fault lines. It will also help to strengthen national cohesion by protecting national unity and nurturing religious harmony… and mutual respect in the Malaysian society made up of various races and religions.”

Najib also stated that the government wants to invite views and opinions from Malaysian individuals and organisations on the legislation, naming the Attorney-General’s Chambers as the agency responsible for consulting with such stakeholders.

Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, a minister in the Prime Minister’s department, stated that unlike the to-be-repealed Sedition Act, the NHA will allow for criticism of the Malaysian government:

There should be no absolute freedom to the extent we can call people pariah, pimps and so on.It is [obvious] we want to protect the Institution of the Malay Rulers. They are above politics and this country practises Constitutional Monarchy

According to Mohamed Nazri, the new Act is not expected to be tabled until next year. It is therefore likely that the Sedition Act will remain in place until after the 13th Malaysian General Election, which must be held before March 2013.

Thailand may have chaired the UN’s Human Rights Council but no case more clearly demonstrates Thailand’s total disregard for human rights than that of PULO.

The Patani United Liberation Organisation was founded in 1968 although there had been an active separatist movement since at least 1941. PULO’s demand was for separation of the five Southern Muslim provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, Songkhla and Satun.

These provinces were part of the autonomous sultanate of Patani which was divided by King Chulalongkorn when he sold four lower Patani provinces (Saiburi, renamed Kedah; Kelantan; Perlis; and Terengganu) to England in 1910 in order to finance a railway unifying Thailand from north to south. It goes without saying that this division was accomplished with no representation by Malays.

The principal target of PULO for bombings was this very railroad; the bombings were always announced and very few were ever hurt. The principal effect was delay and inconvenience to passengers giving them ample time to contemplate the resentment and frustration of Patani. Patani has become the very poorest region in Thailand not least due to the horrific body count.

Despite a massive military and police presence under continuous martial law, since 2004, 4,800 have been killed, 6,000+ wounded, more than 5,000 arrested, 21 executed by death penalty and 21 serving life sentences. While the causes to resort to violence are abundantly clear, unbelievably, govt ‘intelligence’ has not been able to identify the actual insurgents (which they number between 500 and 15,000!) or the sources of their weapons.

Patani’s recent violent insurgency has nothing whatsoever to do historically or logistically with PULO. Yet Thai govt is making Useng a scapegoat for the violence they have been unable to stop by brute military force. In fact, Useng appears to have been sentenced simply for his opinions; the Criminal Court would not have dropped his charges were he accused of any violent act.

Should be be inclined to trust such matters to judicial fairness, note that the Criminal Court of First Instance dropped all charges against Useng. The Public Prosecutor appealed the ruling (of course) and the Appeals Court was inclined to the death penalty. This was precisely the same judicial scenario as that against the three Palace servants accused to regicide in the death of King Ananda.

Keep them coming back to court until we get the right verdict: Guilty!

 

FREE USENG! FREE PATANI!

 

COMMENTARY

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post: June 9, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/297250/ladda-gone-but-the-thought-police-aren-t

“Cultural Surveillance”: Ladda Tangsupachai

Amidst the ballyhoo of black-screen TV, broadcast-rights rivalry, football fracas, reconciliation war and constitution horror, we return to visit the most beloved media agency of all: the Cultural Surveillance Office, aka the Rottweiler, the guardian of Thainess, or the Department of Propriety.

Last month, the Culture Ministry made a surprising move: they transferred (“promoted”) Ladda Tangsupachai, the controversial head of the surveillance office whose past record inspires shudders among artists, singers, actors, and anyone who dares test the limits of official appropriateness. Ms Ladda’s new post is analyst and supervisor of the southern cultural policy, an appointment that has sparked an impromptu joke about the South bearing the brunt, once again, of Central prejudices and conservatism.

 One of Ms Ladda’s last campaigns was against the fad of planking.

Whether or not there’s a political angle to this move is a moot point, one can never judge the depths of such a labyrinth. Ms Ladda’s latest involvement was to push for the new bill to drum up the funding for “safe and creative media” – a name that evokes either easy optimism or necessary caution, for “safe”, in linguistic cartwheeling can be a euphemism for censorship. The details of the law, which has been proposed to parliament, are not available, but the earlier draft contains a clause that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission should inject money into the fund which will be distributed to “producers of safe content”, whatever that means. It was widely expected that Ms Ladda, a senior officer, would supervise the funding once the law had been passed. But now, no more.

While parliament, which has recently adopted the lively bar-room brawl and thuggish tournament style, is embroiled in the reconciliation mess, the “safe media” bill is likely to wait. But let’s make sure we keep an eye on it. Not that we don’t want safe TV, but we shouldn’t confuse precaution with prohibition, and protection with moral paranoia.

That last term is what we often attribute to a surveillance agency. Ms Ladda’s transfer ended her long tenure at the cultural watchdog marred by resentment, scandals, and even T-shirts bearing her infamous quote. To be honest, there have been sighs of relief at the news of her move. But to be fair, Ms Ladda, to whom I talked personally on a few occasions, is a steadfast believer in her cause: to protect the nobility of Thai culture and weed out unpleasant surprises, from short skirts to TV bitchfests. She’s a crusader on the eternal horseback to Jerusalem – her war cry is authentic, and her dogmatism is transparent. Her run-ins with the more liberal sections of society illustrate the wider contest to own, or define, the meaning of Thai culture in the 21st century.

It’d take hours to revisit her high-profile outcries at media “indecency’, but here are the two most infamous cases: in 2008, Ms Ladda gave an interview to Time magazine [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1670261,00.html] and described Thai film audiences as “uneducated” and thus needing parenting from the ministry (somebody made T-shirts featuring the quote); then last year, she angered many by speaking out against a hit soap series and the portrayal of its men-lusting female lead, which led to an episode of national hysteria.

Lost in translation: Many Westerners believe their dogs to be enlightened. Ladda banned this image!

Symptomatic though not necessarily emblematic, Ms Ladda is easily villainised, sometimes unfairly. The problem is not her; the problem is the fact that the government blithely believes that something called the Cultural Surveillance Office is even necessary. As if we were a mansion so susceptible to cultural vandalism, or a terminal patient in need of 24-hour vigilance, or an ungodly girl under perpetual threat of demonic possession. The fact that we still need to spend tax money on this agency is an issue worthy of public hearing. And that the government still relies on the watchdog’s (dis) service betrays the feudal mindset that it believes the people are so weak they can’t think for themselves.

Society should be trusted to be its own watchdog. Top-down control isn’t working any more in the new environment of great flux, of rapid advances in technology, and of heady, global interconnectedness that keeps redefining “culture”. Civic bodies, consumers organisations, industry associations – say, TV producers or filmmakers – and the audiences themselves should be encouraged to have the power to control the media’s performance and to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not in an organic way. Governmental parenting is as dated as last week’s football results, and the Culture Ministry is too valuable to spend its time, like East German thought police, carrying out surveillance on the people. It’s a shame that they still don’t realise this at this hour.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post

An atheist pianist is charged with insulting Islam.

Oray Egin

Newsweek: June 11, 2012 1:00 AM EDT

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/06/10/turkish-pianist-fazil-say-charged-with-insulting-islam.html

[Emily Flake]

Fazil Say, a 42-year-old Turkish pianist and composer, was only 17 when he moved to Germany to study music. At 21 he was teaching at the Berlin Academy. His success carried him to New York, where he lived for seven years; during that time he performed with major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic. He eventually moved back to Turkey, “partly because I missed my country, and partly because I wanted to contribute to the art environment there,” he wrote in an email.

Yet he did not find peace at home. Last week the Turkish court accepted an indictment against him for allegations of insulting Islam. About two months ago, the openly atheist Say wrote a tweet mocking the muezzin, a person who leads the call to prayer in a mosque. “The muezzin finished the azan in 22 seconds. What’s the rush? A lover? A raki table?” he asked. He also retweeted a verse attributed to the 11th-century poet Omar Khayyám: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern for you? You say two houris await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?”

He no longer tweets and recently disabled his account. “First I have to clear these charges against me. I’ve been libeled,” he says. “I did not insult Islam. I just retweeted a verse that I thought was funny. 165 others retweeted that verse the same night but I am the only one being tried.”

The Say incident did not spark a much-needed freedom-of-expression debate in Turkey due to the systematic disparaging of the pianist by many pro-government commentators. But he received support from international media and pro-secular Turkish columnists, and a Turkish classical-music magazine organized a petition. Say, a persona non grata in the eyes of the followers of the AKP, the hugely popular governing party, is no stranger to isolation in Turkey. In 2007, when the AKP came into power for a second term, he announced his plans to leave the country. AKP officials often target him, and most recently one Parliament member wrote on Twitter: “Which brothel were you born in Say?”

 Fazil Say has got religion!

At the same time, Say is a superstar among secularists in Turkey’s highly polarized environment. In 2010, when his Istanbul Symphony debuted in Istanbul, the crowd cheered him with a 17-minute standing ovation. His political comments and occasional flings with famous women polish his celebrity status, while classical-music experts admire his talent. He tours approximately 250 days of the year. But he did mark on his calendar Oct. 17—the date his trial is to begin—to be in Istanbul.

“Everybody knows that separating musicians from an instrument for more than three-four months will ruin their career,” he says about the possibility of imprisonment. “But I don’t want to think about it now.” Would he consider leaving Turkey again? “I’ve lived abroad for 17 years, and perhaps it’s time to move on,” he responds. “Moving to Tokyo is a possibility, I think living in the Far East will be good for me.”

Like The Daily Beast on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.

Oray Egin is a Turkish journalist based in New York. His latest book was published in April 2011 in Turkey.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at editorial@thedailybeast.com.

Agence France-Presse: June 19, 2012

http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/SEAsia/Story/STIStory_812672.html

Irshad Manji: https://www.irshadmanji.com/

A Malaysian Islamic court on Tuesday charged a bookstore manager with selling a book by a Canadian Muslim lesbian activist that was recently banned in the South-east Asian country.

Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz, who manages the bookstore chain outlet in the capital Kuala Lumpur, is accused of distributing Irshad Manji’s Allah, Liberty And Love. The Home Ministry banned the book last month after it was deemed offensive to Islam, contained ‘elements that could mislead the public’, and was ‘detrimental to public order’.

According to Manji’s website, the book ‘shows all of us how to reconcile faith and freedom in a world seething with repressive dogmas’.

Nik Raina faces up to two years in jail and a fine if the Islamic court finds her guilty, her lawyer Rosli Dahlan said. No plea was recorded on Tuesday with the next court date set for Sept 19.

Tunisia: Salafis Run Amok over ‘Blasphemous’ Art Works

Ahmed Medien

Global Voices: June 21, 2012

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/06/21/tunisia-salafis-run-amok-over-blasphemous-art-works/

 Tunis Cous-cous-slama by Wassid Ghozlani

A group of Salafists attacked an art exhibition, Le Printemps des Arts, in La Marsa, (north suburb of Tunis) destroying some of the art works deemed blasphemous to Islam. The small, yet grave incident, soon grew in proportion when hundreds of Salafists – or thugs – attacked a police station in La Marsa, burnt a tribunal in Sidi Hussein (south of Tunis) and stopped police and firefighters from intervening. Clashes with police were reported in two neighborhoods throughout metropolitan Tunis and coastal city Sousse.

The aftermath led to a curfew, starting from Monday, June 12th, after the escalation of violence, in Metropolitan Tunis, Sousse, Monastir, Tabarka, and in other inland regions, including Gabes and Ben Guerdane.

An Interior Ministry official was quoted by the media as saying 162 people had been detained and 65 members of the security forces wounded in the incident.

Since a photography exhibition started such unprecedented hatred and upheaval in the country, the course of the events will be reported in photographs as well. Dozens of pictures were shared among Tunisian citizens who couldn’t hide their astonishment – or perhaps amusement – regarding this strange incident.

The controversial photos

Netizens shared the photographs, deemed both blasphemous and insulting to Muslims in Tunisia, on social networks. Their exhibition permitted some hardline Islamists to call for the murder of the young artists who created them. Another fatwa (religious edict) was also issued to murder prominent politicians.

The Aftermath

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni captured the damages created by the Salafi riot on two police stations in La Marsa and Carthage Byrsa.

The government condoned the allegations against the artists, fueling more tension and division among the Tunisian society. The minister of culture reiterated that there were indeed art works, offensive to Islam, and criticized the artists “lack of knowledge” and “amateurishness”. He publicly undermined the meaningfulness and beauty of the photos at the exhibitions. Meanwhile, calls for more protests and violence did not stop.

Netizen Reaction

The government’s reaction triggered the outcry of Tunisian netizens who preferred to express themselves with caricatures and photos.

Willis Fromtunis, shared caricatures to stress the irony of the situation:

Cat n°1: What are the charges against the exposition? Cat n°2: Disturbing public order

The irony in these two lines is while artists – or writers – accused of blasphemy in the Muslim world are often tried under charges such as disturbing public order, it is usually other people who cause this trouble to the public order and who go unpunished.

Man Cat: I knew that there was a catch in 40 euros for Hotel + airfare + food for two persons!

Other citizens couldn’t hide their frustration with the government, the current situation, and the increasing Salafi phenomena.

Mehdi Mabrouk: Minster of non-Culture and Ignorance. [Caroline Law]

[Facebook page “United Pages for Gossip.”]

We wish a safe trip to he/she, that wishes for the Saudi/Afghan model. We are in Tunisia here.

Have you ever seen…? Wait, you’re Tunisian. You’ve seen it all. [Ghaith Jelassi]  The image is in reference to the French show, have you ever seen..?.

Salafi n°1: AAA, How ugly! This painting hurts my feelings! Destroy it now! Salafi n°2: Boss, it’s a mirror. [Facebook page Flask.]

[Facebook page VTV Villains TV]

Reconciliation. The tension escalated over a couple of days, until netizens spreadheaded a new message of reconciliation entitled “There aren’t two Tunisias.”

A new flash mob has reappeared in social media. The flash mob was originally made some months before by two Tunisian civil society associations, Engagement Citoyens and ACTIF.

Il n’y a pas “deux” Tunisie (flash mob)

وحدة – ثورة – انتصا

Il n’y a pas “deux” Tunisie (flash mob) by mirelle67

There are not two Tunisias; One for the rich and one for the poor.

There are no two Tunisias; One for the youth and the other for the elderly.

There are no two Tunisias; One for the university graduates and another for those who don’t have university degrees.

There aren’t two Tunisias; One of the coastal regions and another of the inland regions.

There aren’t two Tunisias; One for the liberals and another for the conservatives.

There aren’t two Tunisias; One for the employed and another for the unemployed.

One for those who live in Tunisia and another for those who live abroad.

One for the governors and another for the governed.

There aren’t two Tunisias; One for Men and one for women.

Women’s rights in Tunisia is a prerequisite.

Halt to division.

Today, we need to fight for the right of employment, freedom and dignity.

The video exists in both French and Arabic.

Other photos have appeared to reunite Tunisians, those who are religious and those who aren’t.

If you pray, good for you. If you don’t, then may God help you. However, don’t forget; Tunisia is for me and you.

The curfew was lifted on Friday, June 15th, and the situation is now under control.

Conservatives strike blow for freedom

Tories yank Section 13 of human rights act like noxious weed

Ezra Levant

QMI Agency: June 11, 2012

http://www.calgarysun.com/2012/06/11/conservatives-strike-blow-for-freedom

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH9v-jqWGwQ

 

To understand how Canada got an Internet censorship law, also known as Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, you must go back in time to 1913.

That’s when John Ross Taylor was born in Toronto.

Something about Taylor just wasn’t right. In his 20s, as the world lurched towards the Second World War, Taylor openly sided with the Nazis. He was interned during the war. After the war, despite the absolute repudiation of Nazism, Taylor didn’t give up hope. He continued to call for Canadians to throw off our liberal democracy in favour of dictatorship. And, of course, he seasoned that with a dose of anti-Semitism and anti-black racism, too.

It was pitiful: He’d print up some pamphlets, climb to the top of an office tower, and dump them off the roof, like confetti, hoping that would foment a revolution. What a deluded loser. But Taylor was never violent. If you turn the sound off when watching reels of him on the news, you’d mistake him for a banker — always dressed in a three-piece suit, the kind of thing you’d expect from the grandson of a Toronto alderman. But he just wanted an all-white Reich here in Canada.

Obviously this bothered right-minded people after the war, especially Jews in Canada, many of whom were survivors of the Holocaust. Canada’s Official Jews — the bosses of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress — pressed their friends in the Liberal Party for laws banning Taylor’s anti-Semitic rants. And in 1966, a committee appointed by the justice minister proposed new laws to ban hateful speech. The Cohen Commission specifically mentioned Taylor by name as a rationale.

Using this harmless buffoon as an excuse, they recommended infringing on freedom of speech for all Canadians. “There is an evident distinction between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ public discussion, and the state has as great an obligation to discourage the latter as it has to maintain the former,” they wrote.

So in 1977, Parliament passed the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Section 13 made it illegal to publish anything “… likely to expose a person … to hatred or contempt.”

Well, around that time, telephone answering machines were all the rage. And Taylor, now a senior citizen, saw this as his magic weapon for convincing Canadians to go fascist. He would stand around street corners in Toronto, handing out cards inviting people to get a racist message by calling his answering machine. Seriously.

Taylor was charged — and convicted — of having a mean answering machine message. He appealed it all the way to the Supreme Court — which heard the case in 1990, when he was 80. They ruled against him, four to three.

Gentle reader, do you think after such a stubborn life Taylor complied and unplugged his answering machine? He did not. And thus he served nine months in jail — more than most Canadian rapists do.

For more than 30 years, Section 13 had a 100% conviction rate for the thought crime of hurting someone’s feelings.

What an abusive law. What an un-Canadian law. What a ridiculous law in the age of the Internet.

Last week that law was pulled out, like a noxious weed. In 20 years time, I predict it will be regarded as one of the Conservatives’ greatest legacies: Freedom.

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