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Middle East Censorship News

2015: Oct-Dec

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Offsite Article: Artists oppose Erdogan's censorship...

Link Here30th December 2015
Turkey welcomes private investors in the field of art and culture, but many artists feel oppressed by their government. An alternative art scene offers some hope

See article from



Mickey Mouse Justice...

Egyptian man jailed for 3 years over trivial insults, including a Mickey Mouse image of the president

Link Here20th December 2015
An Egyptian man has been jailed for three years after posting a photo-shopped image of the country's president Abdel Fattah El Sisi with an inane grin and  Mickey Mouse ears on Facebook.

Amr Nohan, a law graduate, was serving as a military conscript when he was tried by a military court for sharing satirical posts on social media sites.

He was sentenced to three years behind bars for posting pictures and other anti-establishment messages which were considered inappropriate for a member of the armed forces. These included including trivial insults such as: Down with Sisi , Morsi and Mubarak , which was branded an insult to national figures .

The victim's brother told IBTimes:

We are truly in a Mickey Mouse state. Satire is a way for any people that have a mind of their own to express themselves, be that in a democratic country or not.



Hardly appreciating the tolerance to lampoonery expected of an EU leader...

Erdogan gets nasty with a social media user who spotted a resemblance to Gollum

Link Here 3rd December 2015
Full story: Insulting Turkishness...Insulting Turkishness law used to repress
 Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been showing anything but an appreciation of the qualities of tolerance required of an EU state, but then again, he has Mrs Merkel where he wants her in a rather painful figure four leg lock.

Anyway Erdogan is threatening to jail one of his citizens for a bit of jocular lampooning on social media. The poor unfortunate victim merely posted a couple of images likening Erdogan to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings.

Turkish doctor Bilgin Çiftçi could face a two-year jail sentence if he is found guilty of insulting the state official on social media -- a court has been tasked with deeming whether or not the comparison to Gollum is indeed an insult.



Update: Hunger for Offence...

Posters for Mockingjay Part 2 are censored in Jerusalem for fear of religious extremists

Link Here19th November 2015
Full story: Invisible Women in israel...Women removed from the media lest men get offended
Posters for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, featuring the film's female lead Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss Everdeen, have been hung prominently throughout Israel.

Except for in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak There, the posters only display the fiery crow that forms the background of the poster. The foreground of Jennifer Lawrence with a bow and arrow has been excluded.

The movie's Israeli PR firm acknowledged that the poster had been sanitized for the ultra-Orthodox audience. A spokesman said:

We discovered that public posters with the image of a female are often torn down in Jerusalem, while Bnei Brak does not allow posters with female images.

The Bnei Brak municipality said in a statement that a municipal regulation prevents the hanging of posters of women that might incite the feelings of the city's residents.

The Jerusalem municipality said that it does not limit the appearance of female images in posters, but Liron Suissa, VP marketing of the company responsible for the posters, Nur Star Media, said:

Unfortunately we are subject to unofficial coercion that forces us to be more careful, Suissa said. We have had endless vandalization, and clients prefer not to take the chance. We allow everything, but we recommend hanging another visual when necessary. The decision is the client's.



Religion is way more harmful than a book...

Lebanese comic book Samandal prosecuted over claims of it somehow causing religious strife

Link Here7th November 2015

On December of 2009, and with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture as part of Beirut Book Capital of the World , Samandal put out its 7th anthology in collaboration with the Belgian publishing house, L'employe du Moi, with further support from the French Cultural Center (CCF) in Beirut and the Belgian Ministry of Culture in Brussels. This publication was the fruit of a year-long collaboration between comic artists in Lebanon and their partners in Belgium, spanning several lectures and workshops, and launched at an exhibition at the CCF with the help of the UNESCO fund.

Four months later, three of the four Samandal editors that worked on that book were charged by the public attorney with a) inciting sectarian strife b) denigrating religion c) publishing false news and d) defamation and slander.

After five years of legal proceedings, we were found guilty on the basis of article 25 of the publications law, and on April 28, 2015 we were fined 10,000,000 LL each ($20,000 in total), equal to two years and nine months in jail on failure of payment. This incrimination, instigated by religious institutions and sustained by the state, has crippled Samandal and threatens to bring our decade-long career in comics to an end.

We began Samandal as a volunteer-based, non-profit organization in 2007 because we felt that comics were an underrepresented medium in our part of the world. We wanted to create a platform to tell stories from Lebanon and the Middle East, as well as to bring independent comics from around the world to a local audience. Alongside publishing comics, we also organized countless workshops, comics jams, international artist exchanges, and lectures, opening up the dialogue to include artists from different disciplines, and along with Metropolis Art Cinema have co-founded Beirut Animated, the biennial animation festival in Beirut.

It thus came as a surprise when we found out that the state had charged us with inciting sectarian strife. Our case began with a letter sent by the minister of information to the minister of justice requesting litigation against Samandal on account of Christian personalities finding two panels in two separate comics offensive to religion. The minister of justice in turn referred the case to the public prosecutor at the court of cassation.

The comics themselves address religion only tangentially and deal satirically with completely different subjects. However, a handful of panels were selectively taken out of context as proof of blasphemy (akin to indicting a publisher for having a character in a book use the name of the lord in vain.) We want to present these comics to you in their entirety ( Lebanese Recipes for Revenge by Lena Merhej & Ecce Homo by Valfret) so that you may judge their disruptive natures for yourselves, however we cannot link to them directly for fear of a recurrence of the whole legal debacle. Instead we direct you to our co-publisher's website

Despite our lawyers' airtight legal defense against these claims, the court fell back on the vagaries of an elastic censorship law and a cohort of complacent public servants to criminalize and punish us, in the process committing several legal violations to wit:

  1. The three editors currently have warrants of subjugation issued against them. These illegal warrants, issued by General Security (despite being annulled by the decision of the council of ministers no. 10 dated 24/7/2014), give it the power to delay official transactions, hold passports, and harass subjects at will. Warrants of subjugation are regularly issued against human rights activists, lawyers and authors/artists as a method of intimidation.

  2. The publication law in Lebanon places the legal responsibility for such cases primarily on the authors of the offending story, in this case, Ms. Merhej (also one of the editors of Samandal) and Valfret, and then on the publisher, Samandal Association in this case. Instead, the legal proceedings ignored these laws and targeted three of the four editors personally, incurring triple the charges and triple the fines.

  3. The editors were never allowed to testify at the cassation court, even after repeated official requests were made. The same court rejected our request to summon the authors as witnesses.

The assumption that we built a platform such as Samandal to take cheap shots at religious institutions is absurd, and the richness of our publications speaks for themselves. We respect all religions equally and have no interest in targeting any single one for ridicule. However, we have no respect, and in fact much contempt, for those who use religion as a way of exercising their power and tightly policing public discourse.

The assertion that Samandal is insulting the Christian faith is an attempt to pit Samandal against Christianity and religion as a whole, when in fact it is a few individuals in power who are purposefully misreading the work in order to monopolize the conversation and deflect from their own incompetence at state legislation and their own incitement of sectarian strife when it suits them to do so. It is an unfortunate irony that a non-profit publishing platform for comics was prosecuted for crimes that continue to be committed daily by various politicians and their respective news outlets. Religion has been wrested from the hands of worshippers and into the chokehold of state institutions, stifling conversation and reducing all debate to a reductive binary of with us or against us. We refuse to be a part of that exchange. In fact, Samandal was created precisely to provide an alternative space for a different kind of dialogue, one much richer in language and nuanced in its discussions of the subtleties of the world around us.

Far from being an isolated incident, the Samandal case is simply one iteration within a longstanding practice of arbitrary and unjust state censorship and silencing of artistic production. There is a pressing need to strike a balance between the dangers of censorship on artistic freedom to that of the rights of the plaintiff and other religious sensitivities. This balance becomes even more imperative when the defendant is an artist, while the plaintiff is the public prosecution, or a powerful economic or religious figure, who stands to lose little or nothing in return.

Today Samandal is threatened with imminent collapse because of the capricious and biased application of an antiquated censorship law. The upcoming release of Geographia will be the final issue we can publish as Samandal's finances have been crippled by the damages of the lawsuit forcing our organization to shut down.

However, our love of comics and our ambitions to publish more have not been dampened by this incident and we hope to protest this ruling by continuing to publish, improve and expand Samandal with your continued solidarity. Samandal has survived and thrived because of the involvement and support of its public, and we now call on you to help us relaunch the publication. We hope that a crowdfunding campaign will help us get back on our feet and furthermore publish two new anthologies of Samandal comics. If you would like to help us in our push back, please donate at our online crowdfunding campaign.



Abusing Life...

Egyptian authorities prosecute writer of top literary magazine for being sexy

Link Here2nd November 2015

Egypt will prosecute the editor-in-chief and a writer for Egypt's top literary magazine for publishing sexually explicit material and allegedly violating public morals.

Mahmoud Othman, a lawyer representing writer Ahmed Naji, said prosecution officials had told him that Naji and editor Tarek el-Taher's case had been designated as a misdemeanour. The first court session is slated for 14 November.

Naji said the story began when Akhbar al-Adab magazine published an excerpt from Naji's novel The Guide for Using Life in August 2014. It contains explicit sex acts and references to habitual cannabis use by the characters.

Naji says his book, printed in Beirut, has already been approved by Egyptian censors. The novel is available in local bookstores, and is rated 3.5 out of five stars on

The Use Of Life is an experimental graphic novel in which Naji casually observes the lives of Cairenes in absurdist tones. It leans heavily on explicit sexual imagery from wife-swapping in lower middle-class suburbs to drug sellers in brothels in ghettos. The comic strips add to the surrealist aesthetic Naji is trying to convey and that is why he is going to trial on 14 November.

The plaintiff initiating thcase against Naji argues that he suffered cardiac arrhythmia, fatigue and low blood pressure when he read the novel excerpt from its graphic depictions in August 2014 when it was published.



Hardly accession material...

Turkey bans satellite TV stations that are critical of the government

Link Here26th October 2015
An official from the US State Department has expressed concern over the decision by the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) to stop broadcasting TV channels that are critical of the government, calling on Turkey to respect media freedoms. The official said:

We have seen reports of the ban on certain TV channels. As we've said before, we are concerned by the increasing number of investigations into media outlets for criticism of the government and for accusations of allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda. We are also concerned by the aggressive use of judicial inquiries to curb free speech.

We call on Turkey to respect media freedoms and due process protections that are enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. They are key elements in every healthy democracy. It is particularly important to allow different voices and viewpoints to be expressed during the [election] campaign period," the US official added.

TV stations Irmak TV, Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, which are known for their critical stance toward the government, were recently notified by Türksat that their contracts will not be renewed as of November. The stations were told to remove their platforms from Türksat's infrastructure by the end of October.

Türksat's move to drop these channels is the latest instance of TV streaming platforms removing stations critical of the government and means viewers will not be able to tune in to the stations on any platform, with the exception of the stations' own online streaming applications.



Update: Snoopers bang on the back door...

Iran blocks Telegram encrypted comms app when the company won't provide snooping tools

Link Here24th October 2015
Full story: Iranian Internet Censorship...Extensive internet blocking
Iran has  been facing off with the Telegram encrypted comms app over a dispute about granting the repressive state rights to snoop on users' communications.

Iran has demanded snooping rights but has been generating a public outcry when applying temporary blocks to the app.

Pavel Durov, founder and chief executive officer for the app Telegram, took to Twitter to defend the app after Iran decided to block it because he wouldn't allow the government to spy on its users. Durov tweeted:

Iranian officials want to use @telegram to spy on their citizens. We can not and will not help them with that.

Iranian ministry of ICT demanded that @telegram provided them with spying and censorship tools. We ignored the demand, they blocked us.

According to Durov, ICT completely blocked the app in Iran for two hours Tuesday and partially blocked it for more than a week.



Updated: Ongoing censorship...

Saudi Arabia and Iran still seeking to ban Sir Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses

Link Here13th October 2015
Full story: Satanic Verses...Salman Rushdie irritation of the muslim world
Saudi Arabia has summoned the Czech ambassador over a new translation of Sir Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses .

Saudi expressed its condemnation and disapproval of translating the book , which it claims is offensive to Islam, and hopes the Prague government will ban the publication of the work. It was reported that Saudi demanded that religion and cultures not be insulted in any way or form.

But Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told his country's CTK news agency:

We have no reason to interfere in any way because we have freedom of the press and expression.

Meanwhile Iran has announced that it is boycotting a Frankfurt book fair after organisers invited Rushdie as a guest speaker. The foreign ministry said the fair had:

Under the pretext of freedom of expression, invited a person who is hated in the Islamic world and create the opportunity for Salman Rushdie ... to make a speech.

The ministry also called on other Muslim nations to join its boycott. Deputy culture minister Abbas Salehi said:

Fair officials chose the theme of freedom of expression, but they invited someone who has insulted our beliefs.

Update: Censors Rebuffed

13th October 2015. See  article from

The Frankfurt Book Fair has said that freedom of expression is non-negotiable , in response to the Iranian Ministry of Culture's confirmed boycott of this week's fair over the presence of keynote speaker Salman Rushdie. Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, said:

We very much regret the Iranian Ministry of Culture's cancellation. Frankfurt Book Fair is a place of dialogue. At the same time, we hope that this year's cancellation is just a brief interruption in the existing conversations and that we can continue to expand on the established relationships. Nevertheless, for us, freedom of expression is non-negotiable. We must not forget that Rushdie is still being threatened with death for his work.

The Frankfurt Book Fair has said it hopes for further dialogue with the Iranian Ministry of Censorship.



Update: Censorship Buzz...

Gay film WASP banned from the Beirut International Film Festival

Link Here12th October 2015
Full story: Banned Films in Lebanon...Beirut Hotel
Wasp is a 2015 UK / France / Switzerland / Lebanon drama by Philippe Audi-Dor.
Starring Hugo Bolton, Elly Condron and Simon Haycock. Youtube linkBBFC link IMDb

British film WASP was about to play at the Beirut International Film Festival, when it was banned by the Lebanese Censorship Bureau. Director Philippe Audi-Dor commented:

I am very disappointed that Wasp won't be screening at the renowned Beirut International Film Festival because of its LGBT content. That said, I do understand that the film touches upon a delicate subject, and do respect the censorship bureau's decision. I do think however that the cancelling of the movie emphasizes just how relevant a film like Wasp is in today's world.

LGBT films have been shown at the Beirut International Film Festival before without issue.

BBFC Insight about the sex content

Passed 15 uncut for strong language, sex, sex references

A couple are seen having rear entry sex, with close up shots of flesh and facial expressions. There are also strong sex references, with dialogue relating to role-play sex and several frank conversations about sexuality and infidelity.

There is brief natural breast nudity as a woman changes her clothes in the company of another character.

Promotional Material

Having left England for a romantic escapade in the south of France, Olivier and James invite Caroline along at the very last minute. She was just left by her long-time boyfriend and is in need of a change of scenery. The trio arrives in a little Provencal village, somewhat cut off from the world. Though everything seems calm between the pool, sunshine and a village visit, Olivier finds himself more and more intrigued by Caroline. A tension of sexual jealousy and possessiveness will escalade between the three.



Indecent Proposal...

Oh dear, Egyptian TV star suggests that men without the money to marry should cool down by watching porn

Link Here11th October 2015
Egyptian actress Entissar, who plays comic roles in TV serials, has sparked a bit of a controversy in Egyot, after she encouraged young people, who cannot afford high marriage costs, to watch sex films. She said on a TV show Nafsana (Giving Vent to Feelings):

He who fears falling into a [sexual] sin prohibited by religion can cool down by watching porn films. These films are useful for men, especially those who have no pre-marriage sex experience.

Everyone should be free in watching porn films if they want.

A pro-government group, calling itself Who Loves Egypt has lodged a legal complaint with the country's chief prosecutor, requesting Entissar be questioned for allegedly inciting debauchery, an offence punishable by up to one year in prison. But no legal action has been taken against the actress so far.

Update: Acquitted

25th January 2016. See  article from

An Egyptian court has now junked the lawsuit filed against the actress. The Nasr City Misdemeanour Court in Cairo ruled that the lawyer who filed the lawsuit against Entissar did not suffer any personal and criminal damage from the actress.

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