Update: After consulting with its Finnish members, ICLA has corrected the text of its presentation on Jussi Halla-aho. The original text below has been struck through, but left in place.
The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) is meeting in Warsaw this week, and once again the International Civil Liberties Alliance is on hand to remind the other organizations represented there what liberty is all about.
This week’s emphasis is on implementing the “Human Dimension”, and yesterday’s session focused on “Fundamental Freedoms”. In their presentation, ICLA representatives pointed out where fundamental freedoms are at risk in Europe, as civil liberties are being rolled back, restricted, erode, and destroyed in many member states of the OSCE.
Here’s the complete report from ICLA on yesterday’s doings in Warsaw:
ICLA and allied organizations gather at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
Warsaw, 29 September, 2009
ICLA and its allied organizations Pax Europa, Mission Europa and Wiener Akademikerbund attended today’s sessions on Fundamental Freedoms — including Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief — as well as a follow-up to the Vienna Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting. The afternoon session included topics on Freedom of Assembly and Association, Freedom of Movement, and others.
In activities surrounding the meeting, ICLA and its allied organizations worked to contribute to the broader debate and attempted to foster understanding and mutual respect between the counterjihad and other interested parties and stakeholders in these important areas of concern. ICLA officially issued the following statement at the meeting:
Use of intimidation to curb civil liberties
Recent cases in the OSCE area
We are concerned about the increasing use of intimidation to curb the exercise of civil liberties in the OSCE area. This covers fundamental liberties such as freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and, not least, freedom of expression. Here we present recent cases on the matter, and our recommendations for political initiatives to counter this trend.
Modern, secular society was built with centuries of relevant criticism of religion, in particular by questioning religious authority. No form of intimidation can make us abandon our fundamental values of critical thinking and free speech. We expect our institutions and elected politicians to protect these, to take the relevant precautions as well as any risks involved in doing so.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing a slow but steady decline in the state of civil liberties. This decline is to a great extent due to intimidations, threats or even violence from non-state actors, aided and abetted by our police, courts and other authorities not standing up to the challenges. We need to identify the new challenges and adapt our approaches, so that we are able to counter repressive activity from non-state actors and loosely organized groups in order to preserve freedom and diversity.
Dr. Jussi Halla-aho is a Helsinki city councilman, a linguist with a PhD in Slavic studies, and a web columnist who maintains a very popular (and controversial) blog called Scripta. He is best known for being a consistent critic of the problems created by mass immigration and multicultural policies in Finland. After his December 2008 election to the city council of Helsinki, he was accused of ‘racist writings’, due to an article he had written about the increasing number of rape cases by immigrants against Finnish women. The investigation was launched at the request of the Women’s organization of the Green Party, who filed a complaint concerning the last paragraph of text in a blog post of his, and sought the police to investigate to help determine whether the paragraph constitutes incitement to rape.
This investigation was abolished on technical grounds, but later Jussi Halla-aho was convicted and fined for “breaching the sanctity of religion” and “inciting hatred against an ethnic group”This investigation was abolished on technical grounds. The court dismissed the charge of incitement to hatred against an ethnic group, but convicted and fined Dr. Halla-aho for “breaching the sanctity of religion” due to his critical articles about Islam.
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On January 10th 2009, a legal and peaceful pro-Israel demonstration was held in the town square of Copenhagen, Denmark, in support of Israel against Hamas. Counter-demonstrators disrupted the demonstration with a siren, then assembled with shouts of “Heil Hitler”, “Kill the Jews “, “Allahu Akhbar” and more, accompanied by Hitler salutes. After the pro-Israel demonstration had ended, the pro-Palestine demonstration marched the square with shouts of “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yahoud, Jaish Muhammad sauf ya’ud “ (“Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, Muhammad’s army will return”), a reference to Muhammad’s violent assault on the Jewish settlement of Khaybar, Medina, and thus an implied threat of violence against Jews. Gülay Kocbay and Havva Kocbay participated in the counter-demonstration, using the siren and holding a speech. They were at the time members of the organisation Muslimer i Dialog (“Muslims in Dialogue”), but resigned due to the siren incident. The open display of anti-Semitism was not mentioned in their resignation announcement. Danish authorities investigated the matter, but decided not to press charges of racism, citing difficulties in identifying the participants.
Copenhagen, August 28th 2009
In August 2009, SIOE organized a demonstration against plans for an Iranian-funded mosque in Copenhagen, Denmark, citing concerns that the mosque would be a front for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and that its real purpose was to enable the Iranian regime to keep track of dissidents and to radicalize Muslims in Denmark. The Danish authorities did not permit the demonstration at the desired location in Nørrebro, relegating it instead to be held in front of the Danish parliament. Here, left-wing radicals turned up in order to loudly disrupt the demonstration, and were successful in dissuading many from participating. When the SIOE organizers requested the police to call the counter-demonstration to order, the police officer cited “freedom of expression” as justification for not intervening against the disturbances.
On 19 September 2008, an approved rally by citizens’ group Pro Köln to protest against the construction of a mosque complex to dwarf the cathedral of Cologne in Germany was brought to an abrupt end when the speaker system was pulled and the people who had managed to access the Heumarkt were besieged and surrounded by aggressive groups of black-clad Antifa activists. Many others who had wished to join the protest were prevented from reaching the rally and blocked at railway stations, or even physically assaulted. The rally was repeated on May 9th 2009 but not allowed to take place in central Cologne. Once again, the Pro-Köln supporters were subjected to harassment and abuse at the hands of Antifa activists and Muslims.
One of the most worrisome developments in the United Kingdom was the ban on entry for Dutch MP Geert Wilders, known for his short movie Fitna about Islam and terrorism. He was barred entry to the UK on grounds that his entry “would threaten community harmony and therefore public security”, even though Wilders has never advocated the use of violence or threatened anyone. On the other hand, Britain’s Muslim peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed, threatened to mobilize 10,000 Muslims to protest Wilders’ appearance and the showing of Fitna in the British Parliament. Rather than reprimanding Muslim peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed, threatened to mobilize 10,000 Muslims to protest Wilders’ appearance and the showing of Fitna in the British Parliament. Rather than reprimand Lord Ahmed for this act of intimidation, the British government chose to ban Wilders from entering Britain, returning him upon his arrival to Heathrow Airport. This constitutes not only giving in to intimidation, but is also an abuse of the law guaranteeing freedom of movement within the European Union.
Libel tourism is the exploitation of poorly written libel laws in one country to silence critical voices in others. The libel laws of Great Britain have been used extensively for this purpose, due to the fact that the burden of proof in British law is reversed compared to comparable law in other countries. Under British law, an author or journalist sued for libel will have to prove his statements true in order to avoid sentence. Using this approach, persons with deep pockets can silence critical voices. Such a lawsuit was filed in a British court by Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz against American author Rachel Ehrenfeld for her 2003 book “Funding Evil”, even though the book was never published in Britain. Ms. Ehrenfeld was convicted a fine of $225,000 and destruction of her book. As a reaction, in order to protect freedom of press in the United States, US lawmakers passed legislation making the UK law unenforceable in the United States. This protects US authors, but not others. Relevant books, such as Alms for Jihad by Burr & Collins, have been withdrawn or even remained unpublished due to the fear of libel suits. Such books can be found published Samizdat-style on the Internet. The legal problem in Britain still exists, and publishers shy away from critical titles due to the risk of expensive lawsuits. In order to protect authors and journalists, and to live up to modern standards for freedom of press, British law needs to be amended.
In 2002 in Switzerland the Islamic Center and the Somal Association of Geneva, SOS Racisme of Lausanne, along with a private citizen, sued Italian author Oriana Fallaci for the allegedly “racist” content of The Rage and The Pride. In May 2005, Adel Smith, president of the Union of Italian Muslims, launched a lawsuit against Fallaci charging that “some of the things she said in her book The Force of Reason are offensive to Islam.” Smith’s attorney cited 18 phrases, most notably a phrase that referred to Islam as “a pool that never purifies.” Consequently an Italian judge ordered Fallaci to stand trial set for June, 2006 in Bergamo on charges of “defaming Islam.” The preliminary trial began on 12 June in Bergamo and on 25 June Judge Beatrice Siccardi decided that Oriana Fallaci should indeed stand trial beginning on 18 December. Fallaci accused the judge of having disregarded the fact that Smith called for her murder and defamed Christianity.
Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist behind the most famous of the 12 Muhammad cartoons in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, has been living with around-the-clock police protection since a plot to assassinate him was uncovered on February 12th, 2008. This threat has not caused him to repent or apologize for his drawings, and he now proceeds to speak up for freedom of speech, and keeps drawing as well. On August 29th 2009, an exhibition of his latest drawings, including a reproduction of his famous Muhammad cartoon. The OIC spokesman said that the exhibition of the cartoon could incite hatred and intolerance and hurt the sentiments of Muslims worldwide, and wanted it removed. This, of course, is an implicit reference to the violent riots that took place in January/February 2006, a few months after the original publication of the cartoons. Kurt Westergaard, who at the age of 74 states that he is too old to worry about getting killed, refused to give in to intimidation and the exhibition proceeded as planned.
More attempts to shut down ‘offensive’ art exhibitions are listed here.
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The International Civil Liberties Alliance sees quite a lot of work ahead before our civil liberties are again sufficiently secured. Governments must be significantly more assertive and effective in protecting the liberties we have long taken for granted. To that end, we recommend the following:
- The authorities must defend our civil liberties using whatever resources are necessary. Lack of equipment or fear of tying up police personnel is not a sufficient reason to abandon the fundamental obligation of the police to protect demonstrators, protesters, and all others who gather peacefully and legally in public.
- The government must urgently revise British libel law. The burden of proof must be reversed to prevent misuse of these laws against authors and journalists, who must be free to conduct and publish investigative work without fear of frivolous and costly court cases.
- Our leaders must make it clear that truth is an absolute defence. No matter how offensive it may feel to some, speaking verifiable truth must never be made punishable.
- Lawmakers and courts must make it clear that criticism of religion does not constitute racism, and thus is not subject to punishment under any form of hate speech law. Furthermore, only individual may be defame. Defamation does not apply to religions or ideologies.
- Laws which attempt to resolve conflict by banning expression of negative sentiment (‘hate speech’ laws) are legally problematic, because any such regulations are limitations on our fundamental liberties, and serve to cover up conflicts rather than to solve them. Such broad articles are subject to abuse, when authorities and courts come under pressure from various parties, as occurred with similar laws in the Soviet Union. Due to the dangers inherent in such laws, ICLA recommends that it is in the interest of our freedom to abolish such laws entirely.
In addition, statements were made by ICLA and Pax Europa during the plenary session of the working group on Fundamental Freedom.
Session 3 Freedom of Movement
The International Civil Liberties Alliance would like to raise the issue of Dutch MP Geert Wilders being denied entry into the United Kingdom earlier this year.
He was barred entry to the UK on grounds that his entry “would threaten community harmony and therefore public security”, even though he has never advocated the use of violence or threatened anyone. On the other hand, a member of the House of Lords, Lord Nazir Ahmed, threatened to mobilize 10,000 Muslims to protest Mr Wilders’ appearance and the showing of his short film Fitna in the British Parliament. Rather than reprimanding Lord Ahmed for this act of intimidation, the British government chose to ban Mr Wilders from entering Britain, returning him to the Netherlands on his arrival at Heathrow Airport.
This constitutes not only giving in to intimidation, but is also in our opinion an abuse of the law guaranteeing freedom of movement within the European Union.
The International Civil Liberties Alliance therefore calls upon the OSCE to encourage Participating States to refrain from restricting movement on such whimsical and transparently politically-motivated grounds.
Session 3 Freedom of Assembly
Pax Europa would like to draw attention to the OSCE guidelines to Freedom of Assembly which specify that “The state has a positive duty to actively protect peaceful assemblies.” Furthermore, “the state is required to protect participants of a peaceful demonstration from any person or group that attempts to disrupt (…) it in any way.”
These guidelines were not adhered to during the peaceful demonstrations that took place in Copenhagen in January and August 2009.
In January, a legal and peaceful demonstration in support of Israel was disrupted by counter-demonstrators shouting “Heil Hitler” and “Kill the Jews” and other similar references. Danish authorities investigated the matter, but decided not to press charges of racism, citing difficulties identifying the participants.
In August, a demonstration against an Iranian-funded mosque was loudly disrupted by left-wing radicals, who were also successful in dissuading many from participating in the demonstration. A request to the police to call the counter-demonstration to order was fruitless when the police officer cited “freedom of expression” as justification for not intervening against the disturbances.
We call on the OSCE Participating States to ensure that the OSCE guidelines pertaining to Freedom of Assembly are adhered to by member governments in all instances, thereby ensuring the continued right to the very freedoms that make up democracy.
ICLA and its allied organizations remain committed to engaging in the OSCE process, in particular in the area of the Human Dimension.