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Middle East Censorship News

2013: Oct-Dec

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Update: Sword of Damocles...

Turkey Suspends, but does not drop, the prosecution of a classic French erotic novel

Link Here18th December 2013
Full story: Book Censorship in Turkey...Freedom of speech under duress
An Istanbul court has suspended the trial of a Turkish publisher and a translator accused of supposedly corrupting public morals over a French book written over a century ago.

The prosecution of the novel, The Exploits of a Young Don Juan, by French surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire is the latest in a series of trials restricting freedom of expression in Turkey.

The court suspended the case against publisher Irfan Sanci and translator Ismail Yerguz for three years, citing a technicality in the Turkish penal code.

But the ruling disappointed the defendants and their lawyers, who said they were expecting a full acquittal. Sanci's lawyer Adem Sakal told AFP that the defendants are considering taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Sanci vowed that he would continue publishing the book, but said:

This decision is like the Sword of Damocles over my head.

In 2009, a local court in Istanbul filed a complaint over the obscene content in the book, which chronicles the sexual awakening of a 15-year-old boy. The complaint was dismissed when a committee of academics concluded that the book should be considered a genuine work of literature, but in August, an appeals court overturned the decision, ruling that it lacked any artistic or literary value .



Update: Challenging the Red Lines...

Government Steps Up Efforts to Silence Saudis Empowered by New Media

Link Here18th December 2013
Full story: Blogging in Saudi...Saudi bloggers arrested and imprisoned

Activists in Saudi Arabia face a repressive and intolerant government as they advocate popular political participation, judicial reform, and an end to discrimination against women and minorities, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Authorities have responded by arresting, prosecuting, and attempting to silence rights defenders and to quash their calls for change.

The 48-page report, Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia, presents the stories of 11 prominent Saudi social and political rights activists and their struggles to resist government efforts to suppress them. The activists have used new media, including news websites and blogs, and social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, to build relationships with one another, discuss ideas and strategies for change, and develop public platforms to disseminate their reform message.

Saudi activists are using new media to take their government to task for rampant rights abuses, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. The Saudi authorities think they can use intimidation and prison terms to stop the criticism, but the activists are finding ways to voice their concerns until they are heard.



Update: Bravely Defiant...

Man gets 4 years in prison and 300 lashes for calling for democracy in Saudi

Link Here17th December 2013
Full story: Blogging in Saudi...Saudi bloggers arrested and imprisoned
A Saudi judge has sentenced a political activist to 300 lashes and four years in prison for calling for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia, his rights group said.

Omar al-Saeed is the fourth member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) to be jailed this year after the group issued statements attacking the ruling family over its human rights record and calling for democracy.

Saeed, who has also been issued with a worldwide travel ban for his so-called transgressions, did not have legal representation at the secret hearing when he was sentenced, ACPRA said in a statement on its website. And he has issued a scathing attack on the ruling elite who exacted the medieval punishment:

I am the proud prisoner Omar Mohammed al-Saed. I read out to you the motives and causes of my imprisonment: my hatred of injustice, the fabrication of pain and misery, taking advantage of passive attitudes, treating them as if they were fools, and denying them their livelihoods for brutal personal ambition.

This unjust sentence is an honour and pride to Omar al-Saed and a disgrace and shame to Judge Issa al-Matrudi.



Family Secrets...

Egyptian film cut by the censor just because it addresses homosexuality

Link Here7th December 2013
Creators of the first film to come out of Egypt which directly tackles gay issues have been told they must delete a large chunk of scenes, despite that the film contains no sexually explicit content.

The censors demanded that thirteen scenes be cut from Family Secrets directed by Hany Fawzy.

The director said deleting such a high volume of scenes would remove vital segments of the plot, and damage it artistically. One of the scenes sees the gay protagonist come out to his sister, and in another he accuses his father of being responsible for his sexual orientation .

The censorship comes after the head of the censor board Ahmed Awad, told the AFP last month that the film would not be censored just because it addresses homosexuality ... [BUT] ...

Update: Gay film without the gay

12th January 2013. See  Egyptian debut director Hany Fawzy fears for film on homosexuality from

When Hany Fawzy finished editing Family Secrets , he thought he had made one of the first Egyptian films to focus primarily on homosexuality. Then Egypt s censors watched it. After 13 requested changes, Fawzy fears their edits will turn the protagonist's love affair with another man into a romance-free friendship.

His relationship will seem like a heterosexual relationship, said Fawzy, a seasoned screenwriter making his directorial debut with Family Secrets. It'll mess up the film. You won't be able to understand the psychological dilemma of the character, or his relationship with others.

Family Secrets tells the story of Marwan, a young man who visits five psychiatrists in an attempt to cure himself of what society has led him to consider a disease. Those who come out to their families in Egypt are often encouraged by their parents to do the same.

According to Fawzy, there are no sexually explicit scenes in the film but censors want to cut 13 details, including shots of Marwan resting his head on another man's shoulder in a cinema, and a crucial conversation about homosexuality between the pair in bed. They are also uncomfortable with a scene where a psychiatrist asks him if he wants to sleep with one of his male colleagues.

Rare though the film is, its plot has nevertheless also angered many gay Egyptians, who expect it to imply that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of. From what I have read, it deals with homosexuality in the way that everyone does -- that it's a disease, and that we are not pleased with ourselves, that we want a cure, said Ramy Youssef, known as the first Egyptian to come out on Twitter . This isn't something that can be presented as a disease, said Mahmoud, an activist concerned with gender issues. It's what concerns me most -- that this false psychiatry, the idea of converting people from gay to straight, which has been copied from the west, is recognised as therapy.



Update: Saudi Religious Police Recommend...

the Sci-Fi novel H W J N by Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt

Link Here3rd December 2013
Full story: Religious Police in Saudi...A law unto themselves
A top selling Saudi Arabian science fiction novel has been removed from book shops across the country.

The religious police have raided several bookshops selling the novel H W J N by Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt, demanding it'd be taken off the shelves. The book is a fantasy, sci-fi romance about a genie who falls in love with a human, and is a best-seller in Saudi Arabia.

It seems that authorities have accused the book of blasphemy, devil-worshiping, referencing jinn [genies] and leading teenage girls to experiment with Ouija boards .



Update: Dangerous Humour...

American national jailed in UAE for posting a satirical YouTube video

Link Here29th November 2013

An American citizen is being held in a maximum-security prison in the United Arab Emirates after posting a satirical YouTube video. He is the first foreign national to be charged with the country's draconian cybercrimes decree.

Shezanne Cassim posted a mock documentary spoofing youth culture in Dubai. For this he has been charged, among other things, with violating Article 28 of the cybercrimes law. This bans using information technology to publish caricatures that are 'liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order'

Rori Donaghy, Director of the Emirates Centre for Human rights said in a statement that the case has:

Worrying implications for all expatriates living and working in the UAE.

Cassim has been thrown in prison for posting a silly video on YouTube and authorities must immediately release him as he has clearly not endangered state security in any way.

Update: 1 year sentence

25th December 2013. See  article from

An American consultant living in the United Arab Emirates has begun a one-year sentence in a maximum security prison after a spoof video was ludicrously ruled a threat to national security.

Shezanne Cassim from Minnesota, is behind bars in an Emirates federal prison in the desert outside Abu Dhabi, while family members, lawyers and politicians in the US work diplomatic and legal channels in their attempts to free him.

He was sentenced for allegedly threatening UAE security and endangering public order with an online satirical video mocking affluent Emirates youth who mimic gangster street behaviour while actually enjoying pampered lifestyles.



Harming the Reputation of the UAE and Kuwait...

Extreme punishments handed out for trivial tweets

Link Here20th November 2013
A Kuwaiti activist has been sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of insulting the religious character Mohammed. Musaab Shamsah was charged after posting a message on Twitter deemed offensive to religious characters.

Shamsah plans to appeal the ruling. Shamsah wrote on Twitter that Hassan and Hussein, who were the sons of Mohammad's cousin, Ali, were more honest than Mohammed himself, comparing him unfavorably to the two.

Meanwhile Waleed al-Shehhi, an activist from the United Arab Emirates, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 500,000 Dirhams ( £ 84,500) for tweeting about the trial of a group of human rights defenders known as the UEA 94?.

The 94 activists, many of which were arrested in September 2012, were charged in January for seeking to seize power. Al-Shehhi tweeted about the authorities failure to investigate alleged torture against political prisoners, and called for the release of activists he believed had been detained for taking part in the pro-democracy movement.



Update: Don't Mention the Coup...

TV satirist Bassem Youssef gets in trouble for jokes about the Egyptian military rulers

Link Here2nd November 2013
After months away from the small screen, TV satirist Bassem Youssef is back on the air but it is uncertain how long he'll stay. After a four month absence returned to the airwaves last Friday with a new episode of his weekly TV show Al Bernameg (The Programme). The episode sparked a new wave of controversy, reflecting the deepening divisions in Egyptian society.

The Public Prosecutor ordered an investigation into a legal complaint against Youssef, one of several filed by citizens angered by his mockery of the military chief. Others were upset by jibes he made at the former ruling Islamists. Youssef has been accused of inciting chaos, insulting the military and being a threat to national security.

Friday's episode played on the sensitivity about the recent coup.  The word coup was never once mentioned on the programme. In one scene, Youssef is seen putting his hand over the mouth of one of his assistants in an attempt to silence him as he utters the now-taboo word.

Update: Banned

2nd November 2013. See  article from

An Egyptian television station has refused to air the latest episode of its star satirist's comedy series, after his show drew criticism for mocking the current fervour for Egypt s army.

Private channel CBC stopped the Friday night broadcast of Bassem Youssef 's show minutes before its 10pm airtime. Instead, a broadcaster read out a statement claiming that Youssef's production team was involved in a dispute with the channel's board over contractual and content issues.

The channel did not give further details. But earlier this week a CBC newscaster read a statement distancing the channel from Youssef's criticism of Egypt's widespread pro-army sentiment , censuring him for using phrases and innuendos that may lead to mocking national sentiment or symbols of the Egyptian state.

Update: A new job

9th February 2013. See  article from

Bassem Youssef, Egypt's top satirist, has returned to television for the first airing of his show since it was shut down three months ago. The heart surgeon turned comedian sent up the public and media for the adulation heaped on Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief widely expected to be the country's next president.

In taking aim at the frenzy of support Sisi, Youssef went further in his criticism of the army-backed political order than anyone else currently allowed on the airwaves. Pledging not to discuss political issues that got his popular show The Program taken off the air by private broadcaster CBC in November, Youssef showed that all topics in the country lead back to Sisi, who overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

After attempting in a mock game show to explore subjects ranging from cooking to sports, Youssef asked with exasperation: So what are we going to talk about?



Oops in Arabic...

Film censors miss a bit in Escape Plan

Link Here16th October 2013
Moviegoers in the United Arab Emirates saw the screen turn black as frazzled officials broke up the screening of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest action flick after a character was heard cursing in Arabic in the movie.

The National, a state-backed newspaper, reported that the Dubai Media Council asked theaters in the Emirates to halt the screening of the Escape Plan.

Authorities quickly censored the profane words out of the film, and the revised version was back in theaters within hours.



Update: Unfairly Censored...

Iran's minister of book censorship signals an easing of the rules

Link Here9th October 2013
Full story: Book Censors in Iran...Iranian literary censors
Iran's Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati has said that filtering of books in Iran has been too strict and many of the cases have been unfairly expurgated.

He asserted that the current criteria for filtering out book contents are too strict:

Had the holy Quran was not divine, it would have already been censored by the same filters

He further explained that he delayed his pick for the post of cultural deputy of the ministry due to the sensitivity of the post and its significance.



Update: 22 Nations All Waiting to be Easily Offended...

Arab League to consider a cross border prosecution area for a law against the supposed defamation of religion

Link Here5th October 2013
Full story: Defamation of Religion...OIC pushes for global blasphemy laws at UN
Arab countries are working on a draft law that bans the defamation of religions and empowers cross border prosecutions in nations signing up to the law.

The draft, presented by Qatar, is being reviewed by delegates from several Arab countries at the Arab League. Under its provisions, all forms of defamation, derision or denigration of religions and prophets will be considered crimes.

Ebrahim Mousa Al Hitmi, the Qatari justice ministry assistant undersecretary for legal affairs, explained:

The main feature of the draft is that it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country.

All penal laws in Arab countries criminalise defamation of religions but there are no specific sanctions when an abuser is outside the country. Therefore, the main goal of this law is to deter all forms of defamation of religions and give each country that ratifies it the right to file lawsuits against those who offend religions, even if they are not residents.

The draft will be considered by the Arab justice ministers when they convene.



Update: No Stranger...

Stranger by the Lake is banned from the Beirut Film Festival

Link Here4th October 2013
Stranger by the Lake is a 2013 France gay drama by Alain Guiraudie.
With Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou and Patrick d'Assumçao. YouTube iconBBFC link IMDb

Lebanon has banned a French film depicting homosexuality and a local short film about the tradition of temporary marriage among some Shiite Muslims, film festival organisers have said.

The Beirut International Film Festival said it had been informed by censors that L'inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake) , a thriller by Alain Guiraudie about two men who fall in love after meeting at a cruising spot for gay men along the shore of a lake, had been banned. Perhaps unsuprising as the film includes scenes featuring real sex.

The other film is I Offered You Pleasure, by Lebanese director Farah Shaer. It deals with the controversial subject of temporary marriage, or pleasure marriage, a tradition among some Shiites that opponents view as an excuse for sex outside of conventional wedlock, otherwise forbidden by Islam.

A security official said the censorship board, which is attached to the interior ministry, had concluded the two films did not meet its criteria and that the minister would make a final decision on them.



Burning Manuscripts...

Iranian film director has his passport confiscated apparently over a film critical of the government

Link Here3rd October 2013
Earlier this year, Iran was mulling litigation over how it was portrayed in Ben Affleck's Academy Award winner Argo , and it boycotted the 2012 Oscars in protest over the Innocence Of Muslims video that was made in the U.S. Now that a new government led by perceived political moderate Hassan Rouhani is in place, the Argo lawsuit has lost steam. This had led some to wonder if a new era of tolerance for freedom of expression was afoot. But, it has now emerged that Manuscripts Don't Burn director Mohammad Rasoulof had his passport confiscated on a recent return home to Iran, and is still blocked from leaving the country.

Why is Rasoulof landlocked now? People close to the situation are refraining from commenting for fear of complicating matters. But it's suspected that the subject of Manuscripts Don't Burn , Rasoulof's latest film which won a FIPRESCI prize in Cannes' Un Certain Regard last May, could be a factor. It was described by the Toronto Film Festival as an incendiary critique of the Iranian regime that tackles head-on the violent machinations of censorship in Iran.

In 2010, Rasoulof was arrested for propaganda against the regime and received a six-year prison sentence, ultimately reduced to one, and a 20-year ban on filmmaking. The prison sentence has not been enforced and he has continued to travel, recently accompanying Manuscripts to Telluride and Toronto .

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