The Washington Post reports: Twitter filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking the court to prevent the department from taking steps to unmask the user behind an account critical of the Trump administration.
The tech company said that allowing DHS access to that information would produce a “grave chilling effect on the speech of that account,” as well as other accounts critical of the U.S. government. The case sets up a potential showdown over free speech between Silicon Valley and Washington.
According to Twitter’s court filings, Homeland Security is “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool” to find out who is behind the @ALT_USCIS account. Its Twitter feed has publicly criticized the administration’s immigration policies, particularly the actions of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division of Homeland Security. [Continue reading…]
Amanda Erickson writes: The right to protest is fundamental to American democracy. The country was born, after all, out of decades of civil disobedience by people angry about taxation without representation. (In Washington, FWIW, we are still angry.)
But according to United Nations human rights investigators, this very basic principle is under attack. Over the past few months, on the heels of a fresh wave of organizing by liberals, at least 19 states have introduced measures that would criminalize peaceful protest. In places such as Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, Republican lawmakers have proposed laws that would stiffen penalties for demonstrators who block traffic. In North Dakota, GOP leaders are pushing a bill that would allow motorists to run over and kill agitators, as long as the crash was accidental. In Indiana, conservatives want to instruct police to use “any means necessary” to remove activists from a roadway. Opponents worry this could lead to more brutal police response.
Colorado lawmakers are considering a big increase in penalties for environmental protesters. Activists who tamper with oil or gas equipment could be, under the measure, face felony charges and be punished with up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000. A bill pending in the Virginia state legislature would dramatically increase punishment for people who “unlawfully” assemble after “having been lawfully warned to disperse.” Those who do so could face a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
In Missouri, some lawmakers want to make it illegal to wear a robe, mask or disguise (remarkably, a hoodie would count) to a protest. Lawmakers in North Carolina want to make it a crime to heckle lawmakers.
The events leading up to the video are as follows. One of the student groups at Middlebury College is called The American Enterprise Club. According to its website, the Club aims “to promote … free enterprise, a limited federal government, a strong national defense.” In other words, it’s a group for political conservatives.
This year, the AEI Club invited Dr. Charles Murray to speak. That’s crucial to understanding what followed. When leftists protest right-wing speakers on campus, they often deny that they are infringing upon free speech. Free speech, they insist, does not require their university to give a platform to people with offensive views. That was the argument of the people who earlier this year tried to prevent ex-Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley. And it was the argument of those who opposed Murray’s lecture at Middlebury. “This is not an issue of freedom of speech,” declared a letter signed by more than 450 Middlebury alums. “Why has such a person been granted a platform at Middlebury?”
The answer is that Middlebury granted Murray a platform because a group of its students invited him. Those students constitute a small ideological minority. They hold views that many of their classmates oppose, even loathe. But the administrators who run Middlebury, like the administrators who run Berkeley, consider themselves obligated to protect the right of small, unpopular, minorities to bring in speakers of their choice. Denying them that right—giving progressive students a veto over who conservative students can invite—comes perilously close to giving progressive students a veto over what conservative students can say. If it is legitimate for campus progressives to block speeches by Milo Yiannopoulos or Charles Murray, why can’t they block speeches by fellow students who hold Yiannopoulos or Murray’s views? [Continue reading…]
Human Rights Watch reports: A court in Russia has sentenced Alexei Kungurov, a 38-year-old blogger from Tyumen, Western Siberia, to two-and-a-half years in prison for “justification of terrorism.” His crime? A blog post he wrote in October 2015, after Russian warplanes conducted their first airstrikes in Syria.
In the post, Kungurov offered his analysis of the Syria conflict and vehemently criticized Russia’s intervention. In the opening paragraph, he wrote that the post set out to “debunk” several “myths” created by “Putin’s regime” and delivered to the public through “zombie-boxes” by pro-Kremlin media. He strongly disagreed with the official argument that Russia’s involvement in Syria was preventive and aimed at fighting terrorists to stop them from eventually coming to Russia. Rather than fighting terrorists in Syria, Kungurov argued, Russia was “helping them.”
During pretrial investigation, the regional department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) sent requests to journalists and media outlets in Tyumen asking for information on any other “defamatory” or “extremist” materials published by Kungurov. This fall, his family received anonymous threats and his LiveJournal account was hacked. At Kungurov’s trial, the prosecution failed to adequately explain which specific phrases or expressions were “justifying” terrorism.
Under Russian law, the maximum punishment for this offense is five years in prison, but the court took into consideration that Kungurov has two small children and no criminal record.
One can agree or disagree with Kungurov’s opinion. His post, however, contains no calls for violence but is a criticism of Russia’s Syria policy. It is a case of officials attempting to shut down public debate on an important foreign policy issue under the pretext of “combating terrorism.” It is also part and parcel of Russia’s ongoing crackdown on free speech, especially online. [Continue reading…]
Iran Human Rights Activist sentenced to 7 years in prison for writing a story – that was not even published: https://t.co/PJfk8ri3q4
— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) October 22, 2016
IranWire reports: On Tuesday, October 4, writer and human rights activist Golrokh Ebrahimi received a strange phone call ordering her to present herself at Evin Prison by noon on Wednesday evening to start serving her prison sentence. By law, authorities much convey such an order by way of a written summons. But that was not the only unusual thing about the call.
“The arresting officer used the phone of Navid Kamran, a codefendant of mine,” Ebrahimi told IranWire hours before presenting herself at Evin. “They had gone to his shop to arrest him and used his phone. When I answered the call, the man who introduced himself as an agent of the Centre for the Implementation of Sentences said that I must present myself to serve the sentence. I said that I had received no official summons or a call from Evin Court. ‘You are using my friend’s phone to call me and it might be a joke,’ I said. ‘I don’t know you and I have no idea who is talking to me.’ He answered back that ‘you might think this is a joke but we are here to arrest your friend and you must present yourself at Evin’s court right away.’ I said that I could not get there by the end of business hours but perhaps I could do it the next day. He said that I would be arrested if I did not present myself by the next day.”
Ebrahimi’s ordeal began when the Revolutionary Guards arrested her along with her husband, Arash Sadeghi, at his workplace in Tehran on September 6, 2014. The Guards had no arrest warrant, but took the couple to their home, ransacked the place, and confiscated their computers, CDs, and notes. Among the confiscated items was a story about the punishment, under Islamic law, of death by stoning. According to a report from Amnesty International, “The story describes the emotional reaction of a young woman who watches the film, The Stoning of Soraya M, which tells the true story of a young woman stoned to death for adultery — and becomes so enraged that she burns a copy of the Quran.” [Continue reading…]
If worries about extremism in 2016 show no signs of abating, then neither does the debate over how to counter it in the UK. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, is the latest in a long line to raise concerns over government policy to tackle extremism. Although the government has promised to introduce a counter-extremism bill, none has yet been forthcoming.
In a report released on July 22, the committee flagged up a number of concerns about the government’s extremism strategy. These include the lack of a precise definition of extremism, the potential impact on universities, and the potential for religious discrimination. It also criticised the false premise of an “escalator” model in which there is a progression from holding conservative religious ideals to violent extremism.
The committee, made up of MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, called on the government to “reconsider” its counter-extremism strategy.
But the government may be reluctant to backtrack on an issue it has kept raising over the last few years. Since a 2011 speech in Munich warning against extremism by then-prime minister, David Cameron, the government has repeatedly pledged to target it. This year’s Queen’s speech continued the trend with promises to “tackle extremism in all its forms”, “provide stronger powers to disrupt extremists”, and “enable the government and law enforcement to protect the public against the most dangerous extremists.”
The New York Times reports: Last September, Chancellor Angela Merkel was widely seen as an idealist, charitably welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees to Germany in the face of stiff opposition at home and from European allies. But the influx swiftly became too much to handle.
Fast forward, and this year it is a rather different Angela Merkel at the helm, with an approach toughened by experience. This is the pragmatic Angela Merkel, who entered a calculated deal with an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to try to stanch the migrant flow.
Ms. Merkel now stands accused by a new chorus of critics of not only betraying her ideals on immigration but also of jeopardizing core European values, as the costs of doing business with Mr. Erdogan become painfully clearer by the week.
Mr. Erdogan, who has stifled the news media at home and shown little tolerance for criticism, has used his new leverage in Europe to extend his brand of censorship to Germany, employing diplomatic threats, and now a private lawsuit, to try to silence a German comedian who skewered him.
The satirist, Jan Böhmermann, had earned plaudits but also criticism when, on his TV show two weeks ago, he read a crude poem, which he himself labeled “abusive criticism,” and accused Mr. Erdogan of lewd behavior and fierce political repression.
That case has now become Exhibit A in the unpalatable bargains Ms. Merkel has made in pursuit of security and political survival, or what might be known as realpolitik version 2016. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Chancellor Angela Merkel, caught in a bind by Turkey’s bid to silence a German satirist who lampooned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Friday that her government would allow the case to go forward, but that the outdated law that permits it would be repealed with effect from 2018.
Announcing the decision to allow the court case against Jan Böhmermann, the comic, to proceed, Ms. Merkel repeatedly insisted that Germany backs the freedom of press, opinion and culture and believes in the rule of law. “Not the government, but the courts and the legal system will have the last word,” she said.
Pointedly referring to Turkey as a partner and a NATO ally, Ms. Merkel said that Germany expects the government in Ankara to heed democratic norms and that Berlin has observed attempts to restrict freedom of media and the justice system in Turkey “with great concern.” [Continue reading…]
Anna Sauerbrey writes: Though it’s a fact often overlooked by the rest of the world, Germany is a funny place — seriously. Long before Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee redefined topical American humor, comedians here perfected the art of sharp political satire.
For the most part, German politicians get the joke. But now politics and comedy are colliding in a new way — a collision that exposes the tragicomedy of modern European politics in a way that no late-night monologue ever could. [Continue reading…]
Karen Turner reports: A new study shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online. The research offers a sobering look at the oft-touted “democratizing” effect of social media and Internet access that bolsters minority opinion.
The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects of subtle reminders of mass surveillance on its subjects. The majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be in the minority. This research illustrates the silencing effect of participants’ dissenting opinions in the wake of widespread knowledge of government surveillance, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship. [Continue reading…]
David Shulman writes: Israeli human rights activists and what is left of the Israeli peace groups, including joint Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations, are under attack. In a sense, this is nothing very new; organizations such as B’Tselem, the most prominent and effective in the area of human rights, and Breaking the Silence, which specializes in soldiers’ firsthand testimony about what they have seen and done in the occupied territories and in Gaza, have always been anathema to the Israeli right, which regards them as treasonous. But open attacks on the Israeli left have now assumed a far more sinister and ruthless character; some of them are being played out in the interrogation rooms of Israeli prisons. Clearly, there is an ongoing coordinated campaign involving the government, members of the Knesset, the police, various semiautonomous right-wing groups, and the public media. Politically driven harassment, including violent and illegal arrest, interrogation, denial of legal support, virulent incitement, smear campaigns, even death threats issued by proxy — all this has become part of the repertoire of the far right, which dominates the present government and sets the tone for its policies.
There is now a palpable sense of danger, and also an accelerating decline into a situation of incipient everyday state terror. Palestinians have lived with the reality of state terror for decades — it is the very stuff of the occupation — but it has now seeped into the texture of life inside the Green Line, as many on the left have warned that it would. Israelis with a memory going back to the 1960s sometimes liken the current campaign to the violent actions of the extreme right in Greece before the colonels took power, as famously depicted in the still-canonical film Z.
The witch-hunt began this time with a targeting of the ex-soldiers’ organization Breaking the Silence by a strident chorus on the right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and other members of the cabinet, but also including prominent politicians and journalists from the wishy-washy center, including the highly popular Haaretz correspondent Ari Shavit. There have been calls to outlaw the organization entirely. [Continue reading…]