A couple of weeks ago I gave an interview to journalism student Elizabeth Perlman about the work of English PEN and my approach to free speech. Elizabeth has uploaded an excerpt from the interview to the Hack Freedom website. Continue reading Gushing about PEN and free speech to Hack Freedom
The news is hideous. 298 people died when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian separatists. Meanwhile, almost as many people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes, in response to Hamas firing rockets into Israel.
In both cases, the news reports emphasise the number of children killed. It’s a common journalistic practice that we take for granted, which is actually quite curious.
What is being communicated? Is it that a child’s death is somehow more tragic, because they have not had a chance to properly experience life? If so, what about all the dead adults who have still not achieved their potential?
Vladimir Putin has this week signed into a law some measures to ban swearing in films, books and music. Films with obscene content will not be granted a distribution certificate and exisiting books and music with foul language will have to be sold in special wrapping.
I spoke to Alison Flood of the Guardian about the new law, and what it says about the state of Russian politics:
Writers’ group English PEN has already condemned the move. Robert Sharp, its head of campaigns, says: “Swear words exist in every language and are part of everyday speech. Russian artists will no longer be able reflect genuine, everyday speech. Instead, they will have to sacrifice authenticity in order to please a committee of censors. This new law sends the signal that law-makers want to sanitise and silence the voice of ordinary Russians.”
In recent years, Sharp adds, we have witnessed Russia’s slow slide into authoritarianism, with impunity for the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the prosecution of Pussy Riot, and the ban on discussing homosexuality. “These things have all squeezed the space for free speech in Russia. The government claims it is ‘protecting and developing culture’, but the effect will be to ensure that culture becomes staid, uniform and boring.”
My social media stream is full of people praising Google for taking a ‘brave’ stand against the Russian state. Why? Well, today’s Google Doodle is a rainbow themed Winter Olympics Graphic.
The Russian Government has recently passed blasphemy laws and other measures that restrict freedom of expression. They have also passed a ‘gay propaganda’ law which bans discussion of homosexuality around minors – an attack on the already embattled homosexual community in Russia.
Continue reading Google's Sochi Rainbow Doodle is Not All That
Is a church an appropriate place for political messages? There are two aspects to this question. The first is whether activists should protest in a Church. Was the uninvited ‘hooliganism’ of Pussy Riot justified? I cited the example of Jesus himself, who caused havoc in the Temple in what was surely a political as well as spiritual protest (see, for example, Mark 11-15). Continue reading On Politics, Power and the Pulpit
Yesterday in a Moscow court-room, two of the three Pussy Riot convictions were upheld. Nadezha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina will serve a two year sentence for hooliganism. The appeal of Yekaterina Samutsevich was granted and she was released.
The three members of the Pussy Riot punk art collective had previously been convicted on a charge of hooliganism, for a political protest staged in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The English PEN website has more detailed information and suggested actions to take in support of the two imprisoned women.
The Russia Legal Information Agency published a live-blog of the appeal hearing yesterday. One entry stands out:
13:11 [Prosecutor] Alexei Taratukhin is up. He negatively assessed the request for a special ruling to restrict President Putin from expressing sentiments about the trial. “Everyone has the freedoms of thought and speech. Should we force the highest official in the country to give up his opinion?”
So: The prosecutor in a trial seeking to suppress protest cites the value of free expression, but only when applied to the President. The hypocrisy here is breathtaking. Continue reading Two Pussy Riot Convictions Upheld