Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fair and Independent Courts conference

A two-day conference on "Fair and Independent Courts: A Conference on the State of the Judiciary" convened in Washington D.C. Sept. 28-29, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Various justices of the U.S. and state supreme courts spoke, along with academics and some politicians. Chief Justice John Roberts said "attacks on judicial independence come from all parts of the political spectrum." Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also spoke, declaring that the U.S. Constitution "provides the Courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during war."

Webcasts and transcripts of most of the panels and talks are available at the conference website.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal and interviewed in Time, O'Connor discussed her concerns over current threats to an independent judiciary and how that erodes our democracy and system of checks and balances. In the Time interview, she noted:

"It matters enormously to a successful democratic society like ours that we have three branches of government, each with some independence and some control over the other two. That's set out in the Constitution. The framers of the Constitution were so clear in the federalist papers and elsewhere that they felt an independent judiciary was critical to the success of the nation. Now you are seeing proposals in Congress to cut budgets of courts in an effort to in effect punish them for things the legislators don't like. There's a resolution pending to give grounds for impeachment if a judge cites a foreign judgment. You see a proposal for an inspector general for judges. You see a proposal on the ballot in November in North Dakota called Jail for Judges that would remove judicial independence and set up a mechanism to punish judges criminally and civilly for erroneous decisions. This is pretty scary stuff."

Meanwhile, in today's New York Times Scott Schane and Adam Liptak report that the power of the executive branch has been expanded at the expense of the judicial branch in the detainee treatment bill just passed, allowing President Bush considerable leeway in defining how he will interpret the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners:

"Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them -- albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment -- beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

"...The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation."

Friday, September 29, 2006

Mozart opera cancelled for fear of violence

The Berlin opera company Deutsche Oper has cancelled a production by Hans Neuenfels of Mozart's Idomeneo because it fears a scene will provoke a violent reaction. The offending scene of this three-year old production shows the severed head not only of the Greek god of the sea Poseidon, but also of Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha, intended by Neunfels as a statement against organized religion. The director of the company said the decision was made on the advice of security officials, but that she will reconsider if security of the staff and theater can be guaranteed. The fear is from Islamic extremists, although some Muslim leaders have also said they support the right of the company to show this production. German political leaders from the chancellor down, as well as human rights groups and news media around the world have also protested this decision. A Vienna opera company has expressed an interest in showing the production.

David Durant of the Heretical Librarian notes:

"The most disturbing thing about the Deutsche Oper affair is that this was an act of preemptive self-censorship. The opera house's production of 'Idomeneo' had yet to attract the attention of Islamist ideologues and professional grievance mongers. However, such is the impact of the previous Islamist campaigns against free expression that one anonymous threat was enough to persuade the Deutsche Oper to cancel its production."

Terry Gross of the PBS radio show Fresh Air interviewed on Sept. 26 Ian Buruma, author of the newly published book, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, on long-standing tensions between native-born Dutch and Muslim immigrants in Holland.

Online forum on international press issues

The Washington Post has created a new online forum, PostGlobal, hosted by David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria, in which a panel of journalists address international topics. Readers who sign up can participate in the discussions. This week's topic is press censorship. Highly recommended for the variety of views and perspectives presented. Here is how this week's question is posed:

"China has just passed a restrictive new press law; the mullahs in Iran recently closed the country's leading liberal newspaper; a coup in Thailand threatens press freedom there.
How free are journalists in your country? Even where there isn't outright censorship, how much self-censorship goes on? How can journalists work together to protect each other and our common goal of open communications?"

A variety of journalists from around the world address this question.

Note: The forum has now moved to another topic, who should be the next United Nations Secretary General? For the press censorship topic, go toward the bottom of the page where it is listed under Past Questions.

Two European newspapers banned in Egypt

Egypt has banned editions of the French newspaper Le Figaro and the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung because they both carried op-ed pieces critical of Islam and describing violence in its history. The decree was issued by Information Minister Anas el-Feki, who said "he would not allow any publication that insults the Islamic religion or calls for hatred or contempt of any religion to be distributed inside Egypt." Index on Censorship notes "a similar ban is now in place in Tunisia and most Muslim states are expected to follow suit."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vietnam detains two cyber-dissidents

Vietnamese authorities arrested two cyber-dissidents Sept. 21, for distributing pamphlets and posting political documents online, according to Reporters Without Borders. The two are Le Nguyen Sang (pen name Nguyen Hoang Long), a 48-year-old doctor; and Huyen Nguyen Dao (pen name Huynh Viet Lang), a 38-year-old journalist. They are presently detained in Ho Chi Minh City. Reporters Without Borders has asked the Canadian Prime Minister to raise their cases at the Francophone Summit in Bucharest Sept. 28-29, along with that of two other cyber-dissidents, Nguyen Vu Binh and Truong Quoc Huy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Privacy International survey released

The U.K. based Privacy International has released its report on Freedom of Information Around the World 2006: a Global Survey of Access to Government Information Laws, David Banisar being the primary author/researcher. A wide range of countries have adopted some form of freedom of information legislation, ranging from western democracies to some of the most repressive regimes of the world, such as Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. In the case of Uzbekistan, Banisar says freedom of access to government information exists in its legal proclamation but not in reality (as the legislation is full of double-speak); while in Zimbabwe the government uses FOI legislation to enhance its repression, by giving "the government extensive powers to control the media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the 'abuse of free expression.'"

Regarding the United States, Banisar says there has been a substantial expansion of classification in recent years, while "declassification has substantially decreased with only 28.4 million pages released in 2004 (down 34 percent from 2003);" and that over 55,000 pages of previously declassified documents were reclassified. He also notes that while 1986 legislation requires companies to inform the federal government when they release of toxic chemicals into the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency has "proposed reducing the amount of information available by making the reporting bi-annual and increasing the threshold for chemicals that need to be reported."

Note: This report is nearly 3 MB in PDF format. To view the press release and summary, click here.

580 journalists killed in last 15 years

A Sept. 20 report of the Committee to Protect Journalists estimates 580 journalists have been killed around the world over the last 15 years for performing their work, "many on the orders of government and military officials." It says most of the victims are local beat reporters, editors, and photojournalists.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Thailand attempts to stop book on its king

In today's New York Times, Jane Perlez reports on unsuccessful efforts by the Thai government to dissuade Yale University from publishing The King Never Smiles, a critical book about Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Written by Paul Handley, a journalist who worked 13 years in Thailand, the book is complementary in many respects toward the 80-year-old king, describing him as "earnest, hardworking, gentle, with an impeccably simple lifestyle.'' But Handley also describes the son as irresponsible, and says the King has shown during his 60-year-reign a preference for order over democracy. Handley also notes (in Perlez's words) that "the king sided with a brutal army takeover in 1976, and in 1992 waited three days before stopping a four-star general from ordering troops to fire on demonstrators."

Perlez reports heavy pressure from Thailand on Yale University Press to stop publication. This includes a visit to Yale by a delegation of high ranking Thai officials; contacting Yale University Press; and seeking help from former President and Yale alum George H.W. Bush (no word on how that went), as well as an American law firm, which told Thai officials it would be impossible to prevent its publication. Yale did agree to correct a few minor errors and delay its publication slightly so its release would not coincide with celebrations of the King's 80th birthday in June. The book is now on sale in Asian capitals, but banned in Thailand.

Meanwhile, press restrictions have been imposed in the wake of the military coup last week, which received the King's blessing. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance headlines a report: "Thai media situation deteriorating: Broadcasting regulated, Internet webmasters warned. Community radio stations shut down. Self-censorship on the rise."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Banned books around the world

World Literature Today of Oklahoma University lists in its September-October issue recently banned books around the world, as compiled by David Shook:

"Paulo Coelho (Brazil), O Zahir (2005; Eng. The Zahir,
2005), banned in Iran
Duong Thu Huong, Chon vang (Eng. No Man’s Land,
2005), banned in Vietnam [see review on page 58 of
this issue]
Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution
and Hope (2006), banned in Iran [winner of the Nobel
Peace Prize in 2003]
Nuruddin Farah, From a Crooked Rib (1970, 2006), banned
in Somalia
Ismail Kadare, Pasardhësi (2003; Eng. The Successor,
2005), banned in Albania
Ma Jian, Stick Out Your Tongue (2006), banned in China
[see review on page 65 of this issue]
Mian Mian, Tang (2000; Eng. Candy, 2003), banned in
Pierre Mujomba, La dernière envelope (2003; The last
envelope), banned in Congo
Taslima Nasrin, Shei Shab Andhakar (2004; All that darkness),
banned in Bangladesh
Stanley Parks (England), FIFA 192: The True Story Behind
the Legend of the Brunei National Football Team (2004),
banned in Brunei
Raúl Rivero, Vida y oficios: Los poemas de la cárcel (2006),
banned in Cuba
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Tjerita dari Blora (1963; Eng. All
That Is Gone, 2004), banned in Indonesia [see review
on page 60 of this issue]
Yan Lianke, Serve the People (2006), banned in China
Müslüm Yücel, Kına ve Ayna (2003; Henna and mirror),
banned in Turkey"

The issue contains several articles on censorship and freedom of expression.

Note: Thanks to Elaine Anderson, whose entry in her blog Farenheit 451: Banned Books brought this journal to my attention. Anderson also notes an article from the Committee to Protect Journalists last May in which it described repression under the ten most censored countries of the world: North Korea, Burma, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria and Belarus.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Banned books week

September 23-30 is Banned Books Week, a time to celebrate our intellectual freedom but also to protest attempts to ban books and other literature. Within the United States this protest is focused against efforts to remove certain books from school curriculum and public libraries. According to the American Library Association, one of the co-sponsors of the annual observance, there were 405 book challenges last year, a challenge defined as "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." Most of the challenges were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International USA is urging letters be written for six persecuted writers around the world, in conjunction with Banned Books Week:

- Aloys Kabura, a Burundi journalist arrested June 1 for comments he made criticizing an attack by police against a group of 30 journalists six weeks earlier.

- Shi Tao, 36, a journalist in China who was arrested in November 2004, and sentenced to ten years in prison for "divulging state secrets," that is, for emailing text abroad. He had written articles critical of social problems in the country and participated in online pro-democracy forums.

- Serkalem Fasil, 26, an Ethiopian publisher on trial for treason, along with 20 other journalists, "six newspaper publishing companies, four political parties, leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), and various human rights defenders." Pregnant when arrested, she gave birth in prison.

- Arzhang Davoodi, an Iranian filmmaker serving a 15 year prison sentence, arrested in October 2003 after helping to make "Forbidden Iran", a television documentary that criticized Iranian authorities.

- Stanislav Dmitrievskii, Director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society in Russia and editor of of the newspaper Rights Defender. He received four years probation plus a two year suspended sentence after he published articles urging a peaceful resolution to the Chechen conflict.

- Mohammed Abbou, a Tunisian lawyer and human rights defender who was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment in an April 2005 trial, largely for publishing two articles in his internet newspaper critical of Tunisian authorities and denouncing torture in the country.

Turkish novelist acquited

Novelist Elif Shafak has been acquited of "insulting Turkishness" under Article 301 of the country's criminal code. The offending passage in her novel, which has sold 50,000 copies so far, contained a reference to the massacre of Armenians in Turkey, in which as many as 1.5 million were killed between 1915 and 1917. An assistant professor at the University of Arizona, Shafak, age 35, was unable to attend the trial as she was giving birth, but expressed satisfaction with its outcome and urged greater freedom and tolerance for writers. Outside the courtroom, a small group of anti-EU nationalists protested, defacing and stamping upon the European Union flag, and burning a photograph of Mrs. Shafak

The European Union has warned that the punishment of writers and journalists under this article hampers Turkey's efforts to join the bloc. The manner in which the article has been enforced "is not in line with the European Court of Human Rights and European standards of freedom of expression," said EU spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy.

AsiaNews of Italy reports a mixed picture of continued repression yet more tolerance than before of criticism of Turkey's past, particularly regarding its treatment of Armenians. The famous writer Orhan Pamuk "received death threats after admitting to a German newspaper that a million Armenians had been killed in Turkey." He was charged under Article 301 but acquited last January.

Turks of Armenian origin have spoken out more strongly about their background, and in some cases have been able to do so. For example, lawyer Fethiye Cetin wrote a book "about Anneannem (My Grandmother), she tells the story of her grandmother who was born in an Armenian village in Elazig province, eastern Turkey. Based on the old woman’s recollections of her life, the tragic events of 1915, the massacre of the men of her village, the deportation of the women, her own adoption by a Muslim family and conversion come alive again. The book has sold 12,000 copies and is in its 7th printing."

See also August 23 entry of this blog for an earlier story.

Church defies IRS over investigation

All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena California, one of the few liberal megachurches in the country, with a membership of around 3,500, has refused to comply with the IRS in its investigation of the church's tax exempt status. The investigation began after a guest priest delivered a sermon critical of President Bush two days before the presidential election in 2004.

The sermon, delivered by the former rector of the church George F. Regas, was presented in the mode of the evangelical slogan "what would Jesus do," in this case, what would Jesus say if he were in a debate with George Bush and John Kerry. During the course of the sermon Regas criticized the war in Iraq and economic inequalities in the U.S., but also emphasized to the congregation that he would respect their choices, whether it be for Bush or Kerry. The Episcopal faith, he said, "calls us to speak to the issues of war and poverty, bigotry, torture, and all forms of terrorism … always stopping short of supporting or opposing political parties or candidates for public office."

The IRS has issued a summons demanding the church turn over by Sept. 29 all materials, such as newsletters and sermons, produced during the 2004 election year with political references. Church authorities have replied that this is not possible.

All Saints has placed at its website various documents related to the controversy, including the offending sermon and correspondence with the IRS.

In other church-state news, the Ninth Circuit court ruled in a 2-1 decision that the Antioch public library of Contra Costa country, California did not violate religious freedom when it barred religious services in its meeting rooms. The decision declared that while the Faith Center Church Evangelistic Ministries had the right to hold religious discussions in a room that was open to other community groups, the library could bar religious services on the grounds that it may interfere with the its "primary function as a sanctuary for reading, writing and quiet contemplation." Dissenting was Judge Richard Tallman, who said: "Separating religious worship from other religious speech inevitably leads to state entanglement in religion" and is beyond the government's authority.

And a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting a Southeast Missouri school district from allowing the free distribution by the Gideon Society of Bibles to fifth graders. The case is being appealed to the Eighth Circuit court.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

FCC to probe suppression of two reports

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin announced Monday he has appointed an inspector general to investigate why two draft reports prepared for the FCC were never made public. One report, completed in 2004, suggested locally owned television stations produced more news coverage of local issues (average increase of over five minutes in a 30 minute broadcast). The other report, dated 2003, showed that while the number of commercial stations had increased by nearly six percent, the number of radio station owners had fallen by 35 percent; and that Clear Channel Communications went from owning 62 stations in 1996 to 1,233 in 2003.

Copies of the 2004 report were ordered destroyed, according to a report of the Associated Press:

Adam Candeub, now a law professor at Michigan State University, said senior managers at the agency ordered that "every last piece” of the report be destroyed. “The whole project was just stopped - end of discussion,” he said. Candeub was a lawyer in the FCC’s Media Bureau at the time the report was written and communicated frequently with its authors, he said.

Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR) notes:

At the same time that it has suppressed reports that undermine Commission members' push to further deregulate the industry, in recent years the FCC has publicized reports it has commissioned that have supported its deregulation agenda—raising the question of whether the FCC was cherry-picking publication of its publicly-funded studies. In 2002, the FCC released twelve studies that suggested that media consolidation did not in fact hurt diversity or localism (LA Times, 10/2/02). The next year the FCC, chaired by Michael Powell, voted to loosen media ownership rules, which were overturned by an appeals court.

The revelation of these suppresed reports was brought to light by Senator Barbara Boxer in hearings last week, based on information leaked to her, including a copy of the 2004 report. Martin, who was an FCC member but not its chairman until March 2005, denies any prior knowledge of this matter. So does Michael Powell, who was its chairman at the time. Martin says the FCC will post both reports at its website.

In a letter written to Martin, Boxer said she
"will ask the Inspector General of the FCC to thoroughly investigate not only the draft 2003 Review of the Radio Industry and the 2004 localism study, but also to examine whether it was then or is now the practice of the FCC to suppress facts that are contrary to a desired outcome."

Note: Thanks to Rory Litwin, whose Library Juice blog originally brought this to my attention.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Indonesia investigates textbook authors

Prosecutors in Indonesia have questioned several historians and education ministry officials involved with the 2004 publication of school textbooks that presented alternative views on the 1965 coup, according to a Reuters report. The action was provoked by complaints from nationalist and Muslim activists. During his 32 year rule, the accepted version under General Suharto was to place full responsibility on the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI). But that view began to erode after Suharto's downfall in 1998.

Education ministry spokesperson Teguh Juwarno said the controversial books, printed by private publications, were based on a trial curriculum introduced in 2004.

"The publication of the books should be seen in the context of the 2004 curriculum, which is competence-based. Students are encouraged to explore other literature and not stick to textbooks," he said.

The PKI was banned from 1965 until 2004 when the Constitutional Court revoked a law banning former PKI members from running for parliament. In the aftermath of the 1965 coup around 500,000 Indonesians were killed by the military and by Muslim mobs because of their suspected ties with the PKI or their Chinese ethnicity.

China bans AIDS novel

China has banned a novel about AIDS, on grounds that the topic is too sensitive, reports Kyodo news service. The novel, titled Dingzhuangmeng ("The Dream of Ding Village"), was written by prizewinning author Yan Lianke and deals with AIDS infections among peasants triggered by sales of their blood. It was published in Shanghai and had been sold in bookstores of major urban areas since earlier this year.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

International religious freedom report released

The U.S. State Department has released its annual country-by-country report on the state of religious freedom around the world. Confiscation of religious literature or laws against import and distribution of such literature are among the forms of religious repression in some countries.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Oriana Fallaci dies of cancer

Oriana Fallaci died today after a ten year battle with cancer, at age 77. She was known as a controversial journalist and war correspondent who first gained fame for her lengthy and often adversarial interviews with prominent figures such as Henry Kissinger, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meier. In the post 9-11 era she wrote three books denouncing Islam. Charges had been filed against her in an Italian court for vilifying a religion recognized by the state, following the 2005 publication of her book, La forza della ragione (The force of reason) in which she denounced Islamic immigrants in Europe. But the case was not brought to court due to her poor health.

Press freedom curtailed in Sudan

Press freedom in Sudan has been sharply curtailed over the last month, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists:

"Security forces in Khartoum seized the entire print-run of Ra’y Al-Shaab, an opposition Arabic-language daily for the Popular National Congress party, on Thursday, a source told CPJ. Censors from the security services blocked so many articles destined for Thursday’s edition of Al-Sudani, an independent Arabic language daily, that the paper was unable to publish that issue, the source said.

"The authorities told editors the issues were censored to avoid compromising an investigation into the murder of newspaper editor Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed. He was kidnapped and beheaded September 5 in Khartoum. See CPJ’s news alert:

"Local journalists quoted by Reuters disputed this. They said the censored editions contained articles about the lack of democratic transformation in Sudan, and the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations against price rises for fuel and sugar..."

Reporters Without Borders states the "wave of government censorship that has affected four Arabic-language daily newspapers - Al-Ayam, Al-Sahafa, Al-Sudani and Rai-al-Shaab - in the past week is without precedent since President Omar Al Bashir announced the lifting of state of emergency laws in July 2005."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Iran closes four publications

The Iranian government has closed four publications including the reformist daily Shargh, or East (circulation 100,000), which was shut down indefinitely because the newspaper refused to replace its director and because it published a cartoon considered offensive to the government. Also closed was Nameh, or Letter, a journal published by religious nationalistic opposition groups, with no reason given for its closure. The two other journals closed were Hafez and Khatereh. According to the New York Times, "Hafez was a literary and historical monthly that had published articles about a former monarch of Iran." The Iranian news media has come under increasing pressure since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election a year ago.

Monday, September 11, 2006

China restricts foreign press operations

China's official news agency Xinhua has issued new restrictions demanding that foreign press agencies censor news and information distributed in China and barring them from dealing directly with local clients. The new guidelines prohibit international news agencies such as Reuters from distributing content that "harms China's national security or honour", "disturbs the Chinese economy or social order", "promotes superstition" or "hurts ethnic feelings". The new rules also apply to Hong Kong, which up to now has enjoyed more press freedom than the rest of the country. These rules are seen partly as ideologically driven censorship, but also as a power grab by Xinhua against the competing foreign press agencies.

In recent weeks China has jailed two journalists: Zhao Yan, detained since Sept. 2004, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, originally accused of "revealing state secrets" after a New York Times on leadership change; the charge later changed to fraud. Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong journalist who worked for the Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, was sentenced to five years in prison in a closed trial after allegedly selling state secrets to Taiwan.

On August 24, Reporters without Borders protested the treatment of
Zhuang Daohe, "who has received no pay for seven months and has been suspended from his editorial job at the Zhejiang University publishing house in southeastern China for writing a book about the way the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) disciplines its members."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Anti-Gandhi book banned in India

The Harvadi state government of India has banned Mahatma Gandhi - a curse for Bharat, written in Hindu and English by Anand Prakash Madana, a book which is said to contain derogatory references to Mahatma Gandhi that could stir up strife and enmity among different communities. According to the Hindustan Times, an official spokesman said "the action was taken under Section 95 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (power to declare publications forfeited and to search warrants for it) and a case would soon be registered against the author."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Kurdish film banned in Iran

The film "Half-Moon" by award winning Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi has been banned in Iran, just as it was to premier at a Toronto film festival. As described by Agence France:

The film ("Niwemang" in Farsi) follows an iconic, but aging Kurdish musician Mamo (Ismail Ghaffari) in poor health who leads his sons and a woman with a "celestial voice" from Iran to Iraq for a concert to celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein and the end of his censorship of Kurdish music.

The film is based on true events, but is "not political", Ghobadi insists.

However, it apparently flouts Iranian law, which forbids Kurds and women in mixed company from singing in public since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979.

Wikipedia won't bow to China

The online, open source encyclopedia Wikipedia has refused to bow to Chinese censorship pressure, said its ite’s founder Jimmy Wales Aug. 26, while speaking to a Hong Kong conference of all-China Wikipedia users. China has blocked the site since last October because it refused to change or remove articles on controversial topics such as the Tiananmen massacre. Mainland China users instead have "had to rely on a similar, but heavily censored clone, put together by Chinese Web portal Baidu, which puts a positive spin on events politically sensitive to Beijing such as the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989," writes Raymond Ma of the South China Morning Post.

Asia News/SCMP reports:

The Chinese-language version of Wikipedia is one of the most extensive: it has more than 85,000 articles, 2.7 million web pages and 15,000 images. Although it is censored, and inaccessible to a large portion of the Chinese-speaking world, it is still growing at a rate of 9% per month and is expected to exceed the 100,000-article mark before the year is out, and 250,000 by 2007. The English version of the encyclopaedia is the largest, with more than 1.3 million articles. Around 80 volunteers maintain more than half the Chinese edition.

Wales described the censorship of Wikipedia in China as a "huge mistake" because the majority of articles were on “neutral” topics such as art, history and technical facts. The vast majority of contributors who wrote and published information are not too interested in politics; rather they want to create dialogue between different viewpoints. So blocking the entire site to prevent people from reading anything deemed “sensitive”, also denied the participation of all China to this global website, continued Wales. This led to a mutual loss for the Chinese people on the one hand and the world community.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Scientists want creationist book on Grand Canyon removed

Science organizations have asked the National Park Service to remove from the Grand Canyon bookstore Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail, who claims the Grand Canyon was created 4,500 years ago with Noah's flood, not millions of years ago as commonly believed by geologists. Brad Wallis, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Association, said he believed "divergent viewpoints" on the Grand Canyon's creation is the "best model because then people can reach their own conclusions, rather than being given only one alternative." On the other hand, Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said, "The issue here is that in these park service-maintained stores, they are only supposed to approve material that supports the interpretive theme, and is accurate. And according to their rules, this book shouldn't be sold."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Brazilian court confiscates magazine, bans web photos

A judge in southeastern Brazil has ordered the seizure of an issue of Revista del Observatorio Social because of an article in it denouncing the use of child labor in the region's talc mines. The judge declared the photos of child laborers were published without the parents' permission. The magazine was also ordered to remove the photos from its web page. By the time court officials showed up June 30 at the magazine's headquarters to confiscate the offending publication, however, 90 percent of the 10,000 copies had already been distributed as it was published last February. IFEX is asking supporters to write to Brazilian authorities urging reversal of the court decision.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Durham pastor urges book burning

Baptist minister Rev. Paul Scott of Durham is urging city residents to burn this weekend what he describes as street literature that glorifies the criminal lifestyle. Scott says the urban literture "cheapens the whole idea of what black literature is supposed to be about."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

CBS 9/11 documentary censored?

Several CBS affiliates have decided to replace "9/11", a powerful CBS documentary on the tragedy, due to concerns over profane language used by firefighters. The documentary, narrated by Robert DeNiro was originally intended to be about the typical day of a rookie NYC firefighter, but was filmed on the day of the attacks. Originally aired in March 2002, it received Emmy and Peabody awards. This is an updated version.

"We don't think it's appropriate to sanitize the reality of the hell of Sept. 11th," said Martin Franks, CBS executive vice president. "It shows the incredible stress that these heroes were under. To sanitize it in some way robs it of the horror they faced."

So far a dozen affiliates have decided not to show the documentary, scheduled to be aired Sept. 10 from 8-10 p.m., while a dozen others have decided to show it later in the evening; and two dozen others have yet to decide.

The concern is over increased FCC fines for "indeceny" and pressure from groups such as American Family Association, which says it will mobilize its three million members to flood CBS and the FCC with complaints after the documentary is aired.

A Delco Times editorial complained that the protestors "will flood the FCC with thousands of complaints, tying it up for years and costing millions of taxpayers’ dollars until the matter is resolved."

Malaysia bans 18 more books

The Malaysian Internal Security Ministry has banned 18 more books, according to a July 10 press release of Article 19. Six of the books are in English while the others are in Malaysian. The banned books include John Esposito’s What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam and Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Malaysia has banned 45 books since 2003. The ministry is given wide discretion to regulate publications under the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Writer Naguib Mahfouz dies

Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988, passed away Aug. 30 at the age of 95. The UK Guardian notes he was best known for the novels he wrote on "Egyptian life as he knew it - particularly the urban life of Cairo's traditional neighbourhoods, where he was born and raised.... But even if Mahfouz shunned controversy, he could do little to avoid it. His support for the Camp David treaty caused his books to be banned in some Arab countries. Islamist fundamentalists judged his works blasphemous and caused some of his books to be banned in Egypt. In 1995 one young extremist stabbed him in a café, which caused him to lose the use of his writing hand. Perplexingly, when his Children of Gabalawi, long banned in Egypt by religious authorities, was finally published in Cairo earlier this year Mahfouz was against it. He said he didn't want to stir up more trouble than he already had."

EPA closes libraries

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun to close down its regional network of libraries, in response to the President's FY 2007 budget which proposes $2 million in cuts to the EPA library system, and in anticipation that Congress will not restore these cuts. A press release of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reports that regional libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City will be closed by Sept. 30, while regional library hours and services will be gradually reduced; public access to EPA libraries and collections will end as soon as possible; and as "many as 80,000 original documents which are not electronically available will be boxed up ('put their collections into stasis,' in the words of the EPA memo) and shipped for eventual “'digitizing.'”

A letter written by union presidents representing approximately 10,000 EPA employees denounced the planned closure as "one more example of the Bush Administration’s efforts to suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics while cloaking these actions under the guise of 'fiscal responsibility.'”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Two jihad books banned in Australia

The July 2006 banning of two books in Australia is discussed by political science professor Norman Abjorensen in a paper issued this month by Democrat Audit of Australia of Australian National University. The two books banned -- Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan -- are both by the late Sheik Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian- born Islamic radical who was assassinated in 1989. The two books, among eight submitted for review to Australia's Classification Review Board, are the first books to be banned in Australia for many years, and separates Australia -- which does not yet have a bill of rights -- from other western nations that have not yet banned such books. Abjorensen criticized this decision, noting:

"It is difficult to see just what such drastic measures as banning these books are aimed at achieving, apart from being seen to respond to a populist and intemperate clamour for action out of all proportion to the perceived threat."

The decision is being challenged in the Australian Federal Court by the NSW Council of Civil Liberties.

Update: These two books, along with a third with a similar Jihad theme, The Lofty Mountain, have been removed from the Melbourne University library. Mark Dunn of the Herald Sun reports: "An honours student requesting access to one of the books has already been refused permission to borrow or even view it." Dunn also quotes the university's deputy vice chancellor who says academic research will suffer as a result of this legislation: "It contravenes a fundamental principle of academic life that students and academics need to be able to access research materials."