The second day of the 10th gathering for freedom of expression in Istanbul focused on the international community. Conclusion at the end of the day is that Turkey is not the only country with limited freedom of speech. Countries like Romania, Ghana, Malaysia, Russia and Israel also face many problems.
By Laurens Bammens*
‘How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand!’ said Zunar, a Malaysian cartoonist whom is being censored in his home country. He is not allowed to publish any of his cartoons in the country and has been the subject of many raids. He also has been arrested twice. At the gathering for freedom of expression, he motivated the people to speak out against injustice. ‘They can ban my books, they can ban my cartoons, but they cannot ban my mind’, he said.
Rather soon during the day, it became quite clear that not only Turkey is dealing with some severe problems in the case of freedom of speech. While not a secret, Russia has dealt with the media in its own particular way. Speaker from Russia was Oleg Panfilov, whom used to be a journalist, but is now in exile. He emphasised that history repeats itself. First, the Russian people were oppressed by Stalin, and now by Putin. ‘If the people would suddenly receive freedom, they would not know what to do with it’, he said. Describing the image of how the Soviet and Russian leaders have indoctrinated the people.
In Israel, activist Samah Bsoul considers that there are two kinds of people and thus two kinds of freedom of speech. On one side there are the Palestinians and on the other the rest of the civilians. ‘The right-wing government sees Palestinians as a second class citizen’, she said. Bsoul started a street theatre organisation that was meant to improve the freedom of expression in Israel. According to her the initiative was a great success because of the participation of the audience.
Vivian Affoah is a human right’s activist in Ghana. She described the situation in all of West-Africa. The media in that region is very polarised. There is a big problem with hate speech in Ghana. Affoah’s organisation has started many initiatives. One of those initiatives include the observation of all the hate speech in the media. Her organisation takes note of all the hate speech in the media before the elections. Then after the elections, they publish the full list of hate speech. ‘With name and shame’, she added.
‘After the attacks in Brussels, Romania discovered that three million pre-paid telephone cards were being used in Iraq and Syria. Our Prime Minister said he knew this simply because the intelligence services told him so’, said Ioana Avadani, the director of the Independent Journalism Centre. It is just one of many examples to illustrate how the intelligence agencies have a grip on the government in Romania. Romania has had to deal with Big Brother-type legislations with large scale data retention and also the monitoring of gambling habits of users. ‘Because of the governments grip on the media, the journalists are weakened’, said Avadani, ‘The journalists lose their special quality. There were those that even voluntarily abdicated from their right of protection of sources.’ Avadani continued by saying that not many people care for the traditional media. The interest of the people lies in the internet. In the end, Avadani was more optimistic: ‘[Romania] is a nation with a sense of humour. This is how we deal with freedom of expression. Do not touch our internet, otherwise we will make fun of you.’
The balance between hate speech and the freedom of expression is one that continues to fire up discussion. Also at this panel, yet all panellists agreed that everyone is free to publish what they want, regardless if you agree or not. The example that was mentioned were the Danish Mohammed-cartoon
The panellists stressed that all religions value the freedom of speech. It is not Islam or Christianity that polarises this right. If you do not agree, please stand up and correct us.
***Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016