Showing posts with label freedom of speech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom of speech. Show all posts

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

PM Trudeau Needs to Stand Up For Human Rights


Justin Trudeau has been really busy lately getting elected prime minister and filling his cabinet (with politicians) and getting sworn in and stuff. So I'll let it slide for now that he hasn't mentioned anything recently about Raif Badawi or those dead and almost dead Bangladeshi secular bloggers.

Now, though, he really should start championing human rights and perhaps he should listen to the lawyers over at Lawyers Without Borders.
On the eve of the government's swearing-in, the advocacy group's executive director, Pascal Paradis, held a joint news conference in Montreal with the imprisoned Saudi blogger's wife, Ensaf Haidar.

"Raif Badawi's case is important," Paradis said. "It should rank among the priorities of the new foreign affairs minister, starting Thursday."

"Mr. Trudeau himself has been on Twitter, saying that Canada will stand alongside Raif Badawi."
Remember, you need not like lawyers, but you should always listen to them and try to figure out what they're saying.

Meanwhile, I've discovered that not everyone likes letters in the mail. You see, letters in the mail always thrill me but the Saudis are not interested in 'annoying' unsolicited human rights activists delivering thirty thousand letters in support of Raif Badawi's release.
Supporters of Raif Badawi found themselves up against the closed doors of Saudi Arabia’s embassy Monday as they tried unsuccessfully to deliver 31,000 letters demanding the imprisoned blogger’s release. 
The letters came from 20 different countries - guaranteed to have a wide array of interesting stamps! - but the Saudi embassy just wasn't into it. Perhaps they lack enough letter openers to deal with the volume? Although, Amnesty International is able to sum up the contents of these letters nicely for them in an executive summary if only they would listen.
Vaugrante called it “extremely disappointing, even alarming” that the embassy would not accept the letters, and wondered if it meant communication channels were becoming more rigid. 
My guess is that Saudi officials just don't give a fuck about human rights or freedom of expression. In fact, I really am wondering if they understand the concept at all.

If you would like information on how to reach our new PM, check out a previous post.

(Image source)

Monday, 2 November 2015

Wife of Hacked Bangladeshi Blogger is Canadian & Needs Your Help

Tareq Rahim and Monika Mistry
On May 30th, Bangladeshi secular blogger Tareq Rahim married Canadian citizen Monika Mistry. Because of the long history of brutal attacks on secular bloggers and their associates in this secular democracy, Monika feared for Tareq's life. On Saturday, her worst fears were confirmed. Tareq was slashed and left to bleed to death in a locked office by a pack of raving religious extremists.

CFI Canada has released a statement about Tareq and Monika - neither actual atheists, but rather secularists - imploring us to contact our government, to help Tareq somehow survive a country where even the police seem to drag their feet to protect anyone on the terrorists' hit list.
Monika Mistry is a Canadian citizen who was in contact with CFIC on the day of her spouse’s brutal victimization by people who can only be considered faith-based terrorists.  During a heart-wrenching conversation full of desperate concern and worry, Monika Mistry told us about the couple’s May 30th, 2015 marriage in Bangladesh.  Mistry and Rahim are a mixed-faith marriage – one of the couple being Muslim and the other Hindu. Although here in Canada such mixes are honoured and respected for their ability to spread diversity and tolerance, it is a situation that is often looked down-upon by the community and families in Bangladesh.

With their marriage so recent, Mistry was reluctant to see Rahim remain in unstable and dangerous Bangladesh, but their plan was to make-do until they could complete Immigration Canada’s paperwork that would enable the couple to reunite in Canada. Unfortunately the terrorists found Rahim first.

Mistry has told CFIC, “I am so frightened for Tareq. I am most afraid that when he is released from hospital that there are people waiting in the street to attack him again.”  In the hospital, Tareq Rahim has a modicum of security. On the streets and even in his home, protection is not available.  We know from the murder of Avijit Roy and the brutal assault on Rafida Bonya Ahmed that police and thousands of people will stand by as machete-wielding fanatics kill a target.  We also know from the murder of Niloy Neel that attackers will enter a person’s home to carry out their threats.
The most recent reports I can find, from sources I'm rather uncertain of, say that Rahim is still in critical condition and may lose an arm.

Through all of this, I am stunned at the relative media silence I've come across here in Canada - either in French or English. Meanwhile, we're seeing a protest in London by the Bangladesh Community Blog Alliance.

Publishers in Bangladesh are burning books in protest urging an apparently lethargic government and police force to take real action to prosecute and protect.
Rallies were also held in other cities and towns to demand more protection for publishers, bloggers and writers, some of whom have fled the country or gone into hiding.

“The people who have so far fallen victim to the attacks are thinking people, those who believe in freedom of expression, and those who believe in secular values. A series of killings have taken place but now the focus is on publishers ... I feel absolutely traumatised,” said Mohiuddin Ahmed, a publisher in Dhaka.
What can we do as Canadians? We can write our government and prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau. Remember that it's always better to use your own words, but a letter is always better than no letter, so CFI Canada has provided the following sample letter:
To the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

It has come to my attention that one of the victims of the October 31, 2015 attacks by faith-based terrorists in Dhaka, Bangladesh is the spouse of a Canadian citizen.  Mr. Tareq Rahim, an intellectual and blogger, was attacked for exercising what Canadians enjoy every day – the right to freedom of expression in an open, tolerant and secular society.

Tareq Rahim is married to Canadian citizen and resident, Monika Mistry; they have a mixed-faith marriage and had plans to enjoy their tolerant and diversity-inspired marriage here in Canada once they were able to complete Immigration Canada’s paperwork.  Unfortunately terrorists found Rahim first with an attempt to take his life.  I urge the Canadian government to assist Tareq Rahim and Monika Mistry to expedite this process and bring Tareq to Canada and his family to recover from this brutal attack.

I further ask you to answer the question put to CFI Canada by one of our Bangladeshi friends, “Is it really so hard for a country to provide protection for 40-50 people” targeted by known faith-based terrorists?  Is it really so hard to extend protection to intellectuals, secularists, humanists, atheists who have been strategically targeted to separate a country’s population from its secular foundations?

Prime Minister, let the first days of your new government include an act of compassion and concern for Canadians such as Monika Mistry whose greatest ambition is to enjoy Canada’s diversity, freedom and welcoming community.  Help us to reunite Tareq Rahim with his wife while he recovers from this brutal assault of faith-based terrorism.

Yours Truly,
You'll want to address it:
Justin Trudeau
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
His constituency information is also on that page. It's also likely you could leave him a message or fax it.
Telephone: 613-995-8872
Fax: 613-995-9926
Remember that Justin is plugged in to the Internet, unlike older politicians. So you can also probably send him the letter at justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca or tweet him at https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau.

You can also send a letter to your MP. Just check here.

The blog where many of the victims of these brutal attacks posted, Mukto-Mona, has even reprinted the CFI statement. Their eyes are on Canada and as Canadians, we should take the lead and fight for freedom of expression in Bangladesh. We need to make a counter example - that our country believes in the principles of human rights and is willing to stand up against murderous religiously motivated terrorists.

(Image source)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

CFI Ottawa to Protest Resumption of Raif Badawi's Flogging

Raif Badawi
You've probably heard by now that the Saudis intent on resuming flogging Raif Badawi - a man thrown into prison and beaten simply for blogging about human rights and critiquing the Saudi monarchy.

If you're near Ottawa tomorrow, you can help CFI Ottawa protest this sickening turn of events in front of the Saudi embassy.
Monday, November 2, 2015 - 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Saudi Arabia Embassy
201 Sussex, Ottawa, ON (map)
Badawi also won the Sakharov human rights prize - the most prestigious human rights award the of the European Union.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is awarded each year by the Parliament. It was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Last year the prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege.

Nominations for the Sakharov Prize can be made by political groups or by at least 40 MEPs. Based on the nominations, the foreign affairs and development committees vote on a shortlist of three finalists. After that the Conference of Presidents, made up of the EP President and the leaders of the political groups, select the winner.
During the announcement, European Parliament President Martin Schulz did what Justin Trudeau ought to do soon: denounce the brutal torture and jailing of Badawi.
“The conference of Presidents decided that the Sakharov Prize will go to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi,” said Schulz announcing the 2015 laureate in plenary. “This man, who is an extremely good man and an exemplary good man, has had imposed on him one of the most gruesome penalties that exist in this country which can only be described as brutal torture." The EP President added: “I call on King of Saudi Arabia to stop the execution of this sentence, to release Mr Badawi, to allow him to back to his wife and to allow him to travel here for the December session to receive this prize."
Consider going to the protest and, at the very least, tweeting to Justin Trudeau.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Bangladeshi Islamist Terrorists Hack Atheist Bloggers & Publishers

Slain publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan
Details are still a bit confusing, but it appears as if barbarous religiously motivated murderers have attacked two secular bloggers and two publishers in Bangladesh. All of this happened earlier today, virtually at the same time - which suggests a well orchestrated attack.

Here's what I've been able to figure out so far.

Faisal Arefin Dipan

Faisal was the publisher of Avijit Roy,  who was hacked to death by lunatics in February.  Faisal was cut down today by assailants who have obvious contempt for freedom of speech in his office.
Faisal Arefin Dipan, who ran 'Jagriti Prokashony', was hacked to death in his office on the second floor of Aziz Supermarket at Shahbagh on Saturday, blogger and online activist Mahmudul Haque Munshi told bdnews24.com.
He died at the hospital of his wounds.
'Jagriti Prokashony' manager Md Alauddin told bdnews24.com: " When I entered the office around 5:30pm , Dipan was lying in a pool of blood. There were deep cuts on his neck and upper shoulder."

Ahmedur Rashid Tutul 

Just hours before Dipan was murdered, another publisher, and friend of Avijit Roy, was killed. Two bloggers were with him at the time. All three were locked in the office from the outside and police had to break the lock to recover them.
Witnesses told bdnews24.com that the assailants hacked Tutul before locking up him and a few others in the office from outside.

Ahmedur Rashid Tutul (File Photo) Ahmedur Rashid Tutul (File Photo) Police rushed to spot and rescued three people from the spot and took them to the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, Mohammadpur police OC Jamal Uddin Mir told bdnews24.com.
bdnews24.com’s Liton Haider reported from the spot that bloodstains were found in room. Residents of the building told him they had also heard sounds of firing.

Tutul had filed a complaint with police after being threatened with death on the Facebook following the attack on Roy and his wife earlier this year.
Word on the street is that the Bangladesh police and suspiciously ineffective in protecting these bloggers and publishers, who are clearly at risk.
Some secular groups also blamed the government for failing to provide protection.

Ganajagaran Mancha spokesperson Imran H Sarker said these attacks prove the "law enforcing agencies have totally failed".

"It is also not possible to carry out these attacks without connivance of some in the government," Sarker told reporters at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Last word I've found is that Tutul's condition is critical.

Ranadipam Basu

Blogger Ranadipam Basu was with Rashid Tutul in the office at the time of the attack. He was also badly hacked and posted a grim status update on his Facebook while he, Dipan and another writer were locked in the office, bleeding to death.


“Kubaise ami Tutul bhai ar Tareq” [They hacked us – Tutul, Tareq and me].
Last word I've found on Basu is he's undergoing treatment in the hospital for serious injuries.

Tareque Rahim

Rahim was the second blogger in the office with Tuhul. He was also seriously injured and was brought to hospital. Last word I have on him is he's still in hospital and his condition, like the now deceased Tuhul - is grave.
They all were hacked on the head, said Sentu Das, an assistant sub-inspector of the hospital’s police camp. Among them, the condition of Tutul and Tareque was said to be grave.
It's urgent that these bloggers and their publishers be saved from Bangladesh and brought to safer lands (note: I say safer not safe).

I don't have any more words for this yet, other than that freedom of speech, expression and religion (or lack thereof) in Bangladesh is now being hacked to death by religious zealots and the government there seems completely unable or completely disinterested in saving it.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Saudi Arabia Demands That Completely Different Country Censor 'Satanic Verses'

Illegal Iranian copy of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.
It's been awhile since the announcement that Saudi Arabia will be (be)heading the UN Human Rights Panel, as well as the Saudi Foreign Minister casually informing the UN that his country will reserve the right to disregard any laws giving equal rights to LGBT people - because religion. What else does the Kingdom of Saud have to contribute to the world?

Well, it turns out they're now protesting the printing of books they don't like in other countries - because, naturally, religion.
Saudi Arabia summoned the Czech ambassador to protest against a new translation of Salman Rushdie's book "Satanic Verses", Saudi state media said on Friday, 27 years after the novel triggered mass demonstrations and a death threat against the author.

The kingdom told the ambassador the book insulted both Islam and Muslims and asked him to try and halt its publication, the SPA agency added, citing a source in the Saudi foreign ministry.
Look, the Saudi government would like other countries to get their priorities straight. All these other countries do - along with pesky groups like PEN or Amnesty International - is nag nag nag them about how they jailed bloggers like Raif Badawi and torture him and flog him. Then these other countries whine and moan about how the Kingdom is beheading people at breakneck pace for really important things like being atheist, or being a witch, or saying the wrong thing... or whatever.

So tired of being bothered for trivialities like jailing and torturing people for saying the wrong thing that the Saudis even wrote a letter back to the Quebec government.
While the Kingdom regrets these media outlets' attack against the Kingdom and its Judiciary, it emphasizes that it does not accept any form of interference in its internal affairs, and rejects the encroachment on its sovereign right...
For the Saudi government, though, jailing a guy for having a liberal blog, flogging him and keeping him locked up for it appears to be a minor thing. However, internal affairs of the Czech republic be damned if they're going to publish something that upsets their religious sensibilities.

Surprisingly, (given how much money Saudi Arabia seems to throw around),  the Czech foreign minister apparently came up with some silly excuse about freedom of the press and expression.
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." The first Czech translation of the novel appeared in 1994. Prague's Paseka publishing house issued the latest version.
Well, that's likely to go right over the heads of the Saudi officials.

I wonder which sovereign independent country they will protest for next? Do you think they'll begin requesting that foreign authors be jailed and flogged on their own soil according to Sharia Law?

(Image source)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

ORF & Blasphemy Laws - Bad But Probably Not Contradicting


I cannot believe that the Conservatives are in a dead heat with the Liberals less than a month out from the election. I thought Canadians had more sense, but I guess we don't and we'll get what we deserve. You can already see the NDP's lead evaporate and it will likely continue to shrink until lefties like me either fear vote Liberal (bad) or become once again disenfranchised and drop out completely (worse).

Meanwhile, there is an interesting opinion piece in the Calgary Herald by Derek James From all about what huge hypocrite the country of Canada is with still having an anti-blasphemy law - Section 296 of the Code - (Quebec is trying to put a new bad one in as well), while at the same time instituting an Office of Religious Freedom, which he believes is supposed to criticize anti-blasphemy laws in other countries.
The continued existence of this criminal blasphemy law places Canada in an awkward and hypocritical position when it criticizes other countries of religious intolerance, and more so now that Canada has an Office of Religious Freedom intended to promote religious tolerance.
More specifically, he mentions Stephen Harper's defence of freedom of expression after the Muhammed cartoons ten years back sparked mass riots and even murder.
The cartoons were republished by newspapers around the world and more than 200 people died as protests and riots erupted in response. Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded, saying he regretted that Canadian newspapers had also published the cartoons, but that Canadians had a right to freedom of expression.

Two years ago, the Canadian government opened the Office of Religious Freedom, mandating the new office to protect and advocate for religious minorities, oppose religious hatred and intolerance, and promote the Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance around the world.
He goes on to mention that Canada's blasphemy laws were originally meant to protect Christianity from any criticism, but this has been extended to protect any religion under a recent ruling of Section 296 of the Criminal code.

This is all fine and well, but I think From just needs to follow the money. You'll find some pretty deep silence from the Office of Religious Freedom regarding one of the world's most egregious human rights offenders, Saudi Arabia. You'll find a few peeps here and there - seemingly when it silence could result in a PR issue (Raif Badawi), but for the most part, it's all crickets.

The answer? Follow the money to a 15 billion dollar arms contract with Saudi Arabia.

Note that the persecution in Saudi Arabia is likely directed equality towards all religions, but it's highly likely that the majority of victims are religious and they are dying at the hands of one of the world's most pernicious theocracy whose power is rooted in a strict adherence to Wahhabi Islam.

What about atheists abroad who are being killed and jailed for the very reasons of blaspheming? Well, one need only take a look at the original intention of Canada's blasphemy laws - protect religion and the oft stated goal of the Office of Religious Freedom - protect religion to see the answer. No action need be taken when the victim is not religion/religious, as there is no religion there to protect.

(Image source)

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Guest Post from Veronica Abbass: We Will Fight!


The following is a short guest post from fellow blogger Veronica Abbass, who writes over at Canadian Atheist.

I write this in a safe place: my own house, in my city and in my country. Other bloggers are not so fortunate:
In the past two years, about 10 secular bloggers and their supporters have been killed by religious extremists in Bangladesh because of their writings criticizing religious extremism.

In response to the threats and violence, some have moved abroad.
However, despite the "hitlist of secular bloggers, writers and activists around the world" issued by the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamic militant group in Bangladesh, the secular bloggers are determined to fight against the threat to their lives. Ajanta Deb Roy, a London-based activist with Bangladesh’s Gonojagoron Mancho or National Awakening Platform, has promised,
'We will fight'
“They want us to move away from the path of activism. None of our fellow activists, many of whom are bloggers, will come out from our way of activism. Until our last breath, we will fight for the sake of secularism, freethinking, human rights and religious tolerance."
In a July 1 post on this website, Sean McGuire reflected, how lucky I am to live in a country where it's (still) possible to safely blog about atheism,  the dangers of religion and state-church separation issues. If we were not so lucky, would we be so brave as Bangladeshi blogger Ananya Azad, now living in Germany?
“They want me to stop writing. But I am dead sure that in no situation I can stop writing. With my secular and rationalist belief I shall keep on writing as long as I am alive."

I honestly don't know.

Veronica Abbass is a self-described atheist activist who blogs at Canadian Atheist.

(Image source)

Friday, 25 September 2015

Bangladeshi Terrorists Release New Hit List Targeting International Atheist Bloggers Including One In Canada

Murdered blogger Ananta Bijoy Das
According to the Guardian, a group of insane and barbaric religiously motivated terrorists and murderers, the Islamic militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team - blamed for the killing of at least four atheist bloggers - has publicly released a new hit list of international atheist bloggers they plan on slaughtering.
An Islamic militant group in Bangladesh has issued a hitlist of secular bloggers, writers and activists around the world, saying they will be killed if its demands are not met.

The list will raise fears that Islamic militant violence within the unstable south Asian country could take on an international dimension.

The targets in the list include nine bloggers based in the UK, seven in Germany, two in the US, one in Canada and one in Sweden. Some are Bangladeshi citizens living overseas. Others are dual nationals or citizens of the western nations.
My sense is that these are bloggers who write in Bangla. The following statement seems to support this.
The new list is accompanied by an incoherent demand to strip bloggers of their citizenship. It appears to be addressed to the government of Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina, though many of those on the hitlist have dual nationality or are citizens of Britain, the US or European nations.

“Cancel the Bangladeshi citizenship of enemies of Islam and [Muslim religious] education, atheists, apostates, unbelievers, anti-Islamic ... bloggers, agents of India ... otherwise they will be killed wherever they can be found in the Almighty’s world,” said the statement.
Now apparently it's not good enough to get the bloggers out of Bangladesh - a country where the government and police force appear to only be reluctantly going through the motions to capture and prosecute the terrorists. Now the bloggers appear to be unsafe no matter where they are.

Still, there is some serious question about whether this list is actually authentically from the Bangladeshi group at all. The Guardian even questions its authenticity and they have been unable to get any confirmation from Bangladeshi officials either - so it's still too early to say.

The sad thing is it may not even matter where the list came from. It may still be sufficient for some lunatic or group of lunatics to carry out the work anyway.

AJ+ Releases Great Video About Saudi Arabia Heading UN Human Rights Panel



Here's a great video by Al Jazeera (AJ+) that sums up who stands to lose now that Saudi Arabia is heading the UN Human Rights Panel. Remember you can sign a petition against this here.

Saudi Arabia to Head UN Human-Rights Panel
Saudi Arabia has been picked to head a UN human-rights panel. Perhaps these people would disagree with that choice.
Posted by AJ+ on Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sign This Petition to Get Saudi Arabia Off UN Human Rights Council


My post yesterday about Saudi Arabia being appointed a key role within the UN Human Rights Council was mainly a vent. It didn't have anything you could actually do about this situation.

Well, I still don't have much, but I do have this petition to remove Saudi Arabia from the panel altogether.

It was started just two days ago and has already amassed over 11,000 signatures.

(Image source)

Monday, 21 September 2015

UN Human Rights Council Shamefully Sells Out

Ensaf Haidar and UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer in Sherbooke, QC.
Remember when I felt ill because the UN was totally cool with Saudi Arabia hosting that human rights summit for the UN Human Rights Council over the summer? Well, it turns out that they've given the panel over to the Saudis. I wonder how much that cost this country, with some of the most epic human rights violations in the world?
The United Nations is coming under fire for handing Saudi Arabia a key human rights role even though the Kingdom has “arguably the worst record in the world” on freedoms for women, minorities and dissidents.

Critics, including the wife of imprisoned pro-democracy blogger Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1000 lashes for blogging about free speech – say that the appointment is “scandalous” and means that “oil trumps human rights”.

Mr Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is leading an international campaign to free her husband, said on Facebook that handing the role to Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the UN in Geneva, was effectively “a green light to start flogging [him] again”.
This just literally makes me want to puke. Here's an example of how things may go with the Saudis in charge.


It really does make me lose all faith in the UN and their so-called mandate to protect human rights. It really does seem like they are weak willed and pathetic on this front.
UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said that the appointment, made in June but unreported until now, may have been a consolation prize for the Saudis after they withdrew their bid to head the 47-nation council following international condemnation of the kingdom’s human rights record.

The Saudis’ bid emerged shortly after it posted a job advertisement for eight new executioners, to cope with what Amnesty International branded a “macabre spike” in the use of capital punishment, including beheadings, this year.
We really need to get off oil. Until this happens, you can expect more farcical displays of spinelessness like this one.

The UN is no friend of human rights nor secularists like the jailed Raif Badawi, who's wife, Ensaf Haidar, posted:

The International Community Give A Saudi Green Light To Start flogging #RaifBadawi again
Posted by Raif Badawi on Sunday, 20 September 2015
It really looks like we can no longer take the UNHRC seriously. Perhaps we could hold a fundraiser and buy them back somehow?

Read more about this over at the UN Watch blog.

(Image source)

Friday, 18 September 2015

CFI Canada Expresses Strong Concerns About Proposed 'Anti-Hate' Bill 59


CFI Canada has an excellent post on their blog where they break down what they find disturbing about the proposed Quebec Bill 59, which I've expressed concerned about as well as Jerry Coyne, who is rightly calling it an anti-blasphemy law.

Essentially, the Bill attempts to introduce more severe punishments for hate speech along with a permanent registry of haters that could be accessed by the public. This might not seem too bad at first glance, but the problem is that the legislation seems to be leaving the determination of what does constitute hate speech to the province's human rights commission - rather than the existing criminal code. As I've written before, the head of the commission is a political activist with an agenda to quell any criticism of religion - more specifically Islam.

Even at least three prominent Muslim groups are concerned about the legislation and how the registry could potentially destroy the lives of people - both Muslim and non-Muslim.

After breaking down the reasons for their concern, the CFI concludes:
Bill 59 is a problematic proposal which implements measures that may easily be abused or misused by groups interested to stifle criticism of religion or religious figures. It is important to investigate not only the interplay between sections of the act itself, but also their effect-on and interaction-with the other legislation.  For example, this proposed legislation is subject to precedents and definitions established in prior rulings by The Supreme Court of Canada and other relevant federal legislation.  These legal precedents would be sources on such matters as the definition and scope of hate speech.

Another example of the problematic complexity of this proposed bill is in the interplay of the separate section.  If a person or organization is accused through Sections 2 and/or 3 and has their name added to the list described in Section 17, how might that relate to Section 24′s notation that the organization or person may be “considered to exhibit behaviour that could reasonable pose a threat for the physical or emotional safety of the students.”?
(Image source)

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Raif Badawi Foundation For Freedom Created Here In Montreal

Ensaf Haidar at the foundation's launch in Berlin on Friday.
Ensaf Haidar wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi launched the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom (Fondation Raif Badawi pour la liberté) in Berlin. Friday's event was simulcast to a second opening ceremony in Montreal.
The announcement was made successively in Germany and in Montreal. The President, Mrs. Ensaf Haidar, Mr. Badawi’s spouse, was in Berlin to meet with dignitaries in order to gain their support regarding her husband’s liberation, atop of taking part in the press conference. “I am truly grateful for the support that has emerged across the world for the Foundation. This justifies in my opinion, its very existence and its necessity,” declared Mrs Haidar. “Its goal happens to embody Raif’s values, who would be very happy to see that his struggle is a concern for so many people around the world,” added Mrs. Haidar. It is to be noted that Mr. Badawi will be honorary president of the Foundation.
The foundation's stated mission:
The Foundation serves as a free platform enabling international dialogue as well as a resource centre providing academic research on legal and social topics concerning the Arab World.
You can purchase Raif Badawi's book on the site as well as make donations via Paypal. The foundation has also stated that it will never accept a donation of more than 30% of its total budget so it can remain unbought.

You can follow the latest from the foundation on their Facebook page.

This is awesome and it can do nothing but step up the pressure for cases like Badawi's. I also believe it will help other secular bloggers - the way our Office of Religious Freedom and Department of Foreign Affairs has not.

If you would like to read more, check out Veronica Abbass' and Hemant Mehta's posts on this.

(Image source)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Richard Dawkins Weighs In Against Quebec "Anti-Hate" Bill-59


Back in August, I expressed my grave concerns with a proposed piece of anti-hate legislation here in Quebec, Bill 59. The main problem was its utter failure to define what hate speech was. Instead it left it up to committee - which on its own is the ultimate evil.
But the legislation also faced a lot of criticism, notably for failing to define what “hate speech” is, and leaving it up to the human rights commission to decide how much proof it needs to sanction someone.
That's pretty scary, because these folks aren't Supreme Court judges. In fact, the head of this commission wants to stamp out anti-Islamic speech.
The bill takes its inspiration from recommendations made public by the QHRC in November 2014. Jacques Frémont, the commission’s president, explained that he planned to use the requested powers to sue those critical of certain ideas, “people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.”
Yes, this is really an anti-blasphemy law. And furthermore...
Frémont is an unabashed legal activist, who sees the QHRC’s mandate as “provoking a social change” and “making the law.” (“You will make the law with difficult cases, risky cases,” he said at a March conference at the Université de Montréal.) In support of such stringent censorship he cites resolutions adopted by UN bodies. But the only UN body pressing for this measure is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an Islamist consortium that equates criticism of Islam with hate speech. The OIC’s member nations have nothing to teach any democratic society in the way of “inclusion,” “openness” and “living together,” all justifications for Bill 59 made by Premier Couillard.
We're talking about countries like Saudi Arabia, here.

So today Richard Dawkins expressed his concern as well... as only Richard can.
Okay, so like many of Dawkins' previous tweets, I do not give him points for tact. I'd also like to point out that although this Frémont seems to be taking his cue from the OIC, several Muslim groups in Quebec have expressed the very same concerns I have about the bill's lax definition of hate speech. So the only people who seem to like this are the extremists.

Still, it's nice to see Dawkins shining an international light on this situation. Hopefully this new level of scrutiny will kill this pernicious bill, which as Kyle Shideler in the somewhat dubious looking right wing Town Hall website (to which Dawkins links) reminds us:
In 2013, the Canadian parliament moved to end scrutiny of Internet speech by its Human Right Commissions when it abolished the infamous Section 13, of Canada’s Human Rights Act. The elimination of that odious and censorious clause followed a successful campaign given voice by Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant after the two were targeted for writings and publications which reportedly “offending” Muslims.

But like a zombie rising from the grave, the idea of censoring “blasphemous” speech, continues to come back, no matter how dead it may have appeared.
Indeed, this is not an anti-hate bill, it is an anti-blasphemy bill with teeth. Fines of up to 10,000$ can be levied and you can have your name put onto a permanent public registry as a hater.

(Image source)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Quebec Muslim Groups Also Concerned About Bill 59


Well this is interesting. Remember that new anti-hate-speech Bill 59 that I wrote about a few days ago? My main concern was that a proper definition of hate speech was nowhere to be found in the bill and was left completely up to the Quebec Human Rights commission.

It turns out that several Muslim groups in Quebec also have problems with the bill for the very same reason I do. They are concerned about this definition being left arbitrarily up to some commission.
For Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, the law has its merits. He said the bill can turn out to be positive for Quebec’s society, but it’s not completely clear.

“We are looking for some clarifications of definitions. What exactly is hate speech? We would really like for this to be clarified,” he said.
What's notable about this is that the bill is intended to protect Muslim groups - yet at least three prominent groups have serious problems with it. Listening to them is like hearing myself with my own problems with the bill as a secularist. I guess bad policy can unite us all.
But Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal feels the bill isn't necessary.

“There's no need for a new regulation, especially if we're not using the old one. We already have the right tools in the criminal code,” he said.

And while the anti-hate speech bill is partly an effort to fight Islamophobia, Elmenyawi fears it could end up unfairly targeting the Muslim community.

“A lot is left for the discretion of a civil servant in an administrative process that can destroy somebody's life,” he said.
Precisely. On the one hand, it can destroy the life of some anti-democracy fundamentalist Muslim cleric in Montreal who's got problems with atheists voting or gay people. On the other, it can stigmatize an atheist blogger like me. We should all be allowed to speak our minds so others have a reasonable idea what's going on between our ears and can open the gates of criticism and ridicule if necessary.

If you ask me, I think this bill is nothing more than an attempt to gain political points. Still, it's taking something which already works pretty well - even according to the minority it's primarily supposed to protect - and muddying it up with potentially dangerous consequences for free speech in Quebec.

(Image source)

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Powerful VICE Quebec Interview With Ensaf Haidar

Ensaf Haidar. Fridays are the day of public flogging in Saudi Arabia.
VICE Quebec has released an amazing, informative and powerful interview with Ensaf Haidar jailed Saudi secular blogger Raif Badawi, who is fighting to get her husband out of prison from her new home in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Give this a watch, it will answer any questions you have concerning the situation.


It also goes into the foul hypocrisy of Canada and other nations in one breath condemning Saudi's obvious blatant violations of human rights while in another happily taking billions of riyals for arms deals. She handles the question regarding this with great grace.

(Image source)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Huge IHEU Join Open Letter to Bangladeshi PM & President


I'm proud to have had the opportunity to add my name to an excellent open letter addressed to the Prime Minister and President of Bangladesh from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

This is in the wake of months of apparent Bangladeshi police bungling and apathy when it comes to properly investigating the brutal murder of five atheist bloggers in the past two years. In fact, just days after atheist blogger Niloy Neel had his head and hands hacked off by religious lunatics, the country's highest level policeman - in an action worthy of an asshole of the year prize - advised living atheist bloggers to stop writing against religion, or else face trouble with the law. This behaviour is disgusting and has prompted a petition demanding the police chief's resignation.

The letter itself covers this:
Following the murder of Niladri Chatterjee on 7 August, the Inspector General of Police engaged in victim-blaming, called for self-censorship, and threatened bloggers — the very people who are being murdered — with legal action under the current quasi-blasphemy law. Meanwhile, despite some counter-terrorism operations, the police have comprehensively failed to disrupt the networks that are ordering or carrying out these cowardly attacks. Even with two of the killers caught at the scene (after the murder of Washiqur Rahman) and claims of responsibility made openly on social media and via news outlets, still the attacks go on, and the extremists behind the killings remain at large. Instead of calling for vigilance and evidence against the murderers from the general public, police have instead encouraged the public to report alleged atheistic writings.
Indeed, how can bloggers expect their human rights and safety to be protected if their own government apparently holds them in contempt?
Furthermore, your Cabinet Committee for Law and Order, headed by Minister of Industries Amir Hossain Amu, on their 9 August 2015 meeting decided “to declare Atheist authors as criminals”, thereby making them subject to prosecution, and intelligence agencies have been asked to monitor blogs to find those atheist writers. Even under the current law, such a mass arrest of people who profess non-religious views in their online communications would represent a grave violation of the international human rights obligations to which Bangladesh is committed. The Home Minister in a separate speech was seen repeating the same warning message.
The letter goes on to implore that the president
  • ensure the safety and security of those individuals whose lives are threatened by Islamist extremists, including the witnesses and family members
  • instruct the police to find the killers, not to harass or blame the victims
  • disassociate yourself publicly from those who call for death penalties against non-religious Bangladeshis, and ensure using your executive authority that individuals within your party membership maintain the same standard of respect for freedom of conscience and expression
  • work decisively for legal reform to repeal Section 295A of the Penal Code and section 57 of the ICT Act of 2006, in order to bring the legal system of Bangladesh in line with the  spirit and values of freedom of expression and ‘of conscience’ as enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh, and as per obligations under the international human rights instruments to which Bangladesh is party.

Fellow blogger Veronica Abbass is also on the list of supporters. She points out the Canadian contribution on a recent post over at Canadian Atheist and I'm proud to be on that list.

The full list of supporters is at the bottom of the Bangla version of the letter.

Veronica also points out that things aren't exactly perfect here in Canada either. She points out a post I recently made about the proposed Bill 59 here in Quebec which could threaten our ability as atheist bloggers to question, criticize and otherwise despise religion. More on that in future posts.

(Image source)

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Quebec's Proposed Anti-Hate Speech Bill Is Cause For Concern


I run an atheist, perhaps even anti-theist blog, which would certainly be shut down in a country like Saudi Arabia or Turkey. In Saudi Arabia, they equate atheists with terrorists, while in Egypt atheism is considered a kind of extremism against Islam by authorities.

The Quebec government has tabled Bill 59An Act to enact the Act to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence and to amend various legislative provisions to better protect individuals. This sounds okay, but it's worrisome, because what can constitute hate speech is rather vague.
The Act provides for the prohibition of hate speech and speech inciting violence that are engaged in or disseminated publicly and that target a group of people sharing a common characteristic identified as prohibited grounds for discrimination under section 10 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms. Acting in such a manner as to cause such types of speech to be engaged in or disseminated is also prohibited. The Act introduces a procedure for reporting such speech to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse which includes measures for protecting people who report it, and grants the Commission new powers, including powers of investigation. The Commission is allowed to apply for a court order requiring such speech to cease. New responsibilities are therefore assigned to the Human Rights Tribunal, including the responsibility for determining whether a person has engaged in or disseminated such speech or acted in such a manner as to cause such acts to be committed and, if applicable, to determine the amount of the monetary penalties applicable. If the Tribunal concludes that a person has contravened those prohibitions, the person’s name is entered, for the time determined by the Tribunal, on a list kept by the Commission and available on the Internet. In addition, the Charter of human rights and freedoms is amended to introduce the prohibition against engaging in or disseminating such speech targeting an individual, thus rendering the reporting procedure under the Charter applicable.
In a previous post, I defined hate speech like this:
Now he's getting more flak because he went on television and said some stuff... energetically... well, sort of like someone targeting a specific a-religious minority. You know, it sort of sounded a little bit like a direct call to suppression of and/or violence towards a minority. I guess you might actually call it hate speech, if you're into that sort of thing.
Notice I tend to lean more on the side of inciting violence. I find it worrisome that the bill mentions both separately. I also find it worrisome that similar sorts of prohibition seem to be used in countries like Bangladesh to silence atheist bloggers - because their words apparently incite hate and violence.

There is already a law against hate speech here in Canada. Bill 59 adds extra teeth to this law. I would be able to make a clear decision about whether or not I'm for this law if someone could properly define hate speech for me. I've been looking around the stories concerning Bill 59 and I haven't really seen anything that lays out what hate speech is. It seems to be left to the discretion of the Quebec human rights commission.
But Bill 59 — “to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence” — would introduce a procedure for reporting hate speech to the Quebec human rights commission and would grant the commission new powers, including the power to investigate.
Essentially, the commission can act on a private complaint and themselves determine whether or not something constitutes hate speech.
But the legislation also faced a lot of criticism, notably for failing to define what “hate speech” is, and leaving it up to the human rights commission to decide how much proof it needs to sanction someone.

Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Voltaire could all be found to have incited violence and hatred, said Grey. Should they have been censored?

He and Latour argued that the Bill was dangerous and invasive. It allowed for anonymous complainants and a public list of those found guilty — forever available online.
In fact, the National Post makes an even more disturbing point:
Bill 59, on which consultations are to start next week, is far more worrisome. Bill 59 assigns new powers to the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) to combat hate speech, as well as a variety of other provisions meant to protect against extremism, by censoring speech that promotes “fear of the other.” Ominously, the bill would allow the QHRC to pursue websites that in its estimation describe and denounce Islamism.

The bill takes its inspiration from recommendations made public by the QHRC in November 2014. Jacques Frémont, the commission’s president, explained that he planned to use the requested powers to sue those critical of certain ideas, “people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.”
This is very much not a good thing and it's very much like the situation in some countries I do not wish to live in.
Frémont is an unabashed legal activist, who sees the QHRC’s mandate as “provoking a social change” and “making the law.” (“You will make the law with difficult cases, risky cases,” he said at a March conference at the Université de Montréal.) In support of such stringent censorship he cites resolutions adopted by UN bodies. But the only UN body pressing for this measure is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an Islamist consortium that equates criticism of Islam with hate speech. The OIC’s member nations have nothing to teach any democratic society in the way of “inclusion,” “openness” and “living together,” all justifications for Bill 59 made by Premier Couillard.
I don't know how much of this concern is immediately legitimate, because I've actually agreed with Jacques Fremont when he came down hard on child welfare concerning the Lev Tahor case not long ago. Still, this illustrates an important point. Do we want to leave such an important definition to a commission? This is plenty of power to silence freedom of speech, in the interest of social harmony (like in Singapore) given to a small group.

Lots of minority groups realize that if such a commission is to have such power to determine what's hate and what's not, they had better get on the group or at least help define the parameters.
Some groups are upset that they were not invited to speak at the National Assembly during the hearings. Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said he was alarmed because the current list fails to illustrate the diversity of Quebec.

“It is missing all of the groups,” Majzoub said. “They are Quebecers at the end of the day, but we don’t hear from them at all.”

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, says his organization has launched a special request to be heard. He is concerned that the hearings fail to include minorities who are often the targets of hate speech.
I hope groups like CFI Canada and Atheist Freethinkers also manage to get into this discussion, since I worry that their own websites might someday be shut down by an over-zealous commission.

I'm very worried indeed.

In the end, I want to make it clear that I do not condone violence or discrimination against any minority group - whether they be religious or atheist or any other protected class. It's a good idea on paper, but how can we properly implement such a thing without interfering with people's right to expression? In a civil society, everyone needs the right to criticize the ideas and beliefs of everyone else - this is how a democracy works.

(Image source)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Raif Badawi's Case Being Re-Evaluated By Saudi Supreme Court

Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. (source)
The Independent and a number of other news outlets are reporting that imprisoned Saudi human rights activist blogger Raif Badawi's case has returned to the Supreme Court a second time for another review.
Mr Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar said she had been informed of the development by a senior source in the Saudi Ministry of Justice. The blogger’s family said they were hopeful that the move by the kingdom’s highest court is a “good signal” that his sentence is under reconsideration.
However, the whole process is shrouded with secrecy and so Ensaf is really unsure whether the sentence will be decreased, increased or changed at all. The last time his case was reconsidered by a court, his sentence was increased substantially. So the track record isn't good.
“I cannot say that this is good news, just that I hope it is a good sign. I expect that the flogging could still happen at any time, especially as the court could confirm the verdict then return for more deliberation, and all of this is done in complete secrecy. We do not know even on what basis the court is making its decisions.”
Meanwhile, international pressure has continued unabated and the Saudis have been feeling it. On August 10th, Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Adel Al-Jubeir was forced to reiterate that the country's judiciary would not be interfered with.

Here's hoping that things get better, because when it comes to Saudi Arabia harsh unwarranted punishments, things do seem to always be able to get worse.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Days After Neel's Beheading, Bangladeshi Police Advise Bloggers to 'Stop Hurting Religious Feelings'

Niloy Neel
Just a few days after the fourth atheist blogger this year was murdered by religious lunatics - the blood not yet dry - Bangladeshi police have started up nice round of victim blaming.
Terming hurting one's religious sentiment as crime, Inspector General of Police (IGP) has advised the free thinkers not to hurt religious sentiment in their writings.

IGP AKM Shahidul Haque said: “According to laws if any one hurts one's feelings, he will be punished by the law.”

Advising the free thinkers, IGP said: “None should cross the limit.”
Basically, the eighty or so bloggers on the hit list - who are being killed off methodically - are screwed if they cannot get out a country where their own police force is either deliberated ineffective or completely incompetent.
 Asked about the prior list of the bloggers who might be under threat, he said they had no such list.
The terrorists who suppress freedom of speech and murder atheists need not do anything more - the police have just taken up their cause and have advised bloggers to shut up if they know what's good for themselves.
Before he was murdered on Friday, Niloy wrote in a facebook post that police didn't help him when he sought protection after he suspected that several people were following him.   
This is what the police did. They do not actually seem to help the bloggers, but rather let them get killed off. Then they do a pathetic job investigating the crimes. Now, just days after a blogger had his head chopped off, they are threatening the very ones most at risk with jail time if they speak their minds online.

Law enforcement appears to be either complicit or completely taken hostage.
According to Penal Code and ICT Act, hurting one's religious sentiment is a crime and according to the law one might be punished for 14 years for such offense, said the police chief.  
That just about settles it. Freedom from religion and free expression in Bangladesh are both apparently extinct. The bloggers need to be brought out of that country. Otherwise, we shall watch them be gruesomely murdered, one by one.

Search This Blog