7.3.07

Freedom of speech

I had almost finished writing a different post when I was reminded of a far more important issue. Freedom of Speech.
One of my most important concerns that arised when Hamas was elected to government was the future of freedom of speech and other civil liberties. When the PA took over, there were several instances of violation of civil liberties, the cause celebre of which is "the Declaration of the Twenty" case in which twenty notable Palestinian politicians, opinion leaders and scholars criticised the PA government, many of these were pursued and some even jailed. In the later years, the government was growing more tolerant of freedom of speech which created hope of a real democracy in the Middle East (since, contrary to common perceptions, there isn't one).
Three days ago, Al-Ayyam published a report criticising an Ministry of Education directive to destory copies of " Qul ya Tair" in Palestinian schools. The book contains a collection of stories from Palestinian heritage. The justification for this is that the book includes phrase that violate the public ethics (translated from the Arabic خدش الحياء العام, to which no acurate English translation exists). This was a reference to certain phrases which hold sexual connotations.
In more that one instance, Hamas proved to be intolerant of difference. In 2005, they stopped an up-and-comming Palestinian singer from holding a concert in Qalqilia, and their Minister of Culture announced last year that he supports censorship on films and other material sold or broadcasted in Palestine.
Another act of censorship came from an unlikely player last month, when Alkasaba Cinematheque stopped the screening of "Da Vinci Code" to avoid falling under criticism from Christian groups.
This article was inspired by the case of Kareem, the Egyptian blogger who was sentenced for four years for criticising religious authorities(3 years) and the president(1 year). Please follow up his case on http://www.freekareem.org.

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