Mum’s the word in much of the world

A report by the World Press Freedom Committee indicates that in spite of strides toward democracy and freedom worldwide, "insult laws" are still widespread. These laws make it a crime to insult public officials, or in some cases, to insult any individual, group or religion – a chilling influence on discourse worldwide, says USA Today.

The study was funded by Danish media leaders, including Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper at the centre of the prophet Mohammed cartoon controversy, and subsequent lawsuit brought by Danish Muslim groups, citing blasphemy laws. The lawsuit failed, but publishers elsewhere were not so lucky:

  • In Egypt, blogger Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman is serving a four-year jail term for insulting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and for "contempt of religion."

  • The Philippines' Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has sued more than 40 Philippine journalists under insult laws; he even sued one columnist for describing him as "the fat spouse," which Arroyo said was "obviously meant to denigrate me for my rotundity."

  • In Russia, when Kursiv, an Internet publication, joked that President Vladimir Putin was "Russia's phallic symbol" because of his campaign to boost the birth rate, investigators raided its offices and shut it down, fining the editor under Russia's insult law.


  • Laws that make defamation and insult a crime persist in France, Germany and Austria; French media critic Philippe Karsenty was fined last year for defaming the honour of a state-owned TV station.

  • Journalist Hrant Dink was murdered in Istanbul in January after being prosecuted repeatedly under a Turkish law that makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness."

    Source: Tony Mauro, World's 'insult laws' ensure that mum's still the word, USA Today, April 11, 2007.

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    For more on International Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 17 April 2007
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