Amid Russia’s conservative turn, a new brand of conservative civil society is mobilising against freedom of expression.Русский
Anton Belikov walks through the Direct Look exhibition, and attacks work by Sergei Loiko and Alexander Vasukovich. Video: Elena Balakireva.
On Wednesday evening, Anton Belikov, an artist and lecturer at Moscow’s Surikov Academy of Arts, walked through an exhibition of photographs documenting the war in eastern Ukraine, and threw paint over them. Having ruined and torn up the pictures as “war propaganda”, Belikov then turned to one of the photographers and the curator to say: “You wanted civil society? Well, now you’ve got it.”
These photographs by photographer Alexander Vasukovich and journalist Sergei Loiko were exhibited in Moscow’s Sakharov Center as part of the Direct Look photography prize. As a result of this attack, the Sakharov Center decided not to close the exhibition, but instead to hang posters detailing what took place on 28 September in place of the damaged works.
The majority of Filipino internet users and media groups opposed the passage of the Philippine Cybercrime Law because of provisions that potentially curtail media freedom and other civil liberties. But prior to the insertion of online libel and other last minute amendments, the bill was actually quietly supported by many people.
In fact, it remains popular among business groups, computer security experts, and advocates of safe cyberspace, even after the Supreme Court issued an order to suspend its implementation for the next 120 days.
The Department of Justice – the main agency in charge of implementing the law – insists that the measure is necessary to stop global cybercrimes:
Not many countries on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2009 have reason to celebrate. The index sees many countries like Iran and Israel, quite predictably, slip as a consequence of protests, wars and crackdowns in the past year.
While it may not be a surprise that reporters in conflict zones or in countries that are slipping deeper into authoritarianism face severe restrictions and harassment, countries that have always prided themselves on their freedom and openness are slipping down the ranks at an alarming rate.
As the accompanying analysis suggests, several EU members, most notably France and Italy, have slipped down the index and now find themselves ranked in places 43 and 49, respectively, well below countries like Jamaica, South Africa, Mali, Uruguay and Macedonia; countries that may not always have been associated with the concept of free press. In Berlusconi’s fiefdom this is no surprise, but why is France almost as badly off as Italy? And, one might add, why is Spain ranked just one below France at place 44? What is wrong with the grand old dames of Europe?
There are 2.6 million registered personal computers linked to the internet in Turkey today. For a country with 70 million inhabitants this does not appear to be an impressive figure. But in fact, internet use is more widely spread than it seems. Most of Turkey’s users access computers in their working places, internet cafés and in schools.
But who is active in the Turkish Civil Society 2.0?
Ertuğrul Kürkçü, journalist and coordinator of the BIANET project explains that the public use of the internet plays a very important role in the lives of Turkey’s young and old. Kürkçü’s website is based on this premise. It represents a unique project that approaches Turkish issues from the point of view of human rights, encompassing children’s rights, gender issues and minority issues. BIANET is not only available in Turkish: it also translates news from local media into English.
Next on the list of countries notorious for clever intimidation techniques are the Middle East and North Africa candidates: Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
I’ve just returned from Egypt, ranked 10th on the CPJ list. After my Cairo conversations with young journalists and artists, I also realized how difficult it still is to walk the thin line between the state and religious authorities in this country. Even with this, bloggers and internet artists dare to voice what they think.
Take Mohammed A. Fahmy for example, leader of the Ganzeer art project in Cairo. In his work he does not refrain from criticizing both the government and the societal or religious constraints ruling his country. Referring to a cover from a December 2004 Cairo youth magazine, illustrating the many “fine” inventions of Arab civilization, one of which is the “presidential monarchy,” I asked Mohammed: “How critical can you afford to be?”
“As critical as it gets,” he said.
Citizen journalism and artistic creation presuppose freedom of speech. Bloggers report, artists depict. Mohammed is one of those young critical voices that won’t be intimidated.
And yet, the role of intimidation remains strong in Egypt; in every aspect of life where opinions are to be voiced. A few fall prey to the oppressive state mechanisms: detention, hearings and weeks under state observation. These serve as warnings for all other critical voices out there.
As the CPJ report points out, in these countries it is enough to jail a few bloggers to intimidate the rest. It’s an oblation given for criticism and analysis to continue.
Yet even in these countries, censorship rules will not prevail. Technological advances are with the young and connected. Therefore, censors will lose the race.