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This page provides occasional items, linked to the original articles, as we attempt to keep up with the rapidly changing situation on civil liberties.
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Has Norway criminalised blasphemy?

Posted by James Hammerton @ 5:22 pm on 16 February, 2006.
Categories political liberties.
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Further to my previous article, I was a bit suspicious that I could only find the story at Islam Online, without it being reported in any other source, except this one which references the Islam Online article.

This discussion on the usenet group uk.religion.islam and this article at Harry’s Place cast doubt on the story’s authenticity.

In short, Norway has had a law against blasphemy since 1902, but it hasn’t been used since the 1930s, there have been calls for a new law since the cartoons controversy blew up but the only suggestion of a change in the law seems to come from the Islam Online article and other reports about the meeting between the Norwegian government and Muslims do not mention any new changes in the law. Possibly there might have been talk of reviving the 1902 law for use against the cartoons, but that’s about as far as it gets.

Norway reported to have criminalised blasphemy

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:26 pm on 15 February, 2006.
Categories political liberties.
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The latest casualty in the Danish cartoons controversy appears to be the Norwegians’ freedom of speech:

DOHA, February, 15 2006, (IslamOnline.net) – The Norwegian parliament has amended the Penal Code to criminalize blasphemy in the wake of the republication of Danish cartoons that lampooned Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) by a Norwegian magazine, Christian and Muslim leaders in Norway said on Tuesday, February 14.

“Law 150-A, which has been approved by parliament, criminalizes blasphemy and clearly prohibits despising others or lampooning religions in any form of expression, including the use of photographs,” Norway’s Deputy Archbishop Oliva Howika told reporters after a meeting in Doha with Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

Howika was among a Norwegian delegation that also included the chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in Norway, Mohamed Hamdan.

“Under the new law, the crime of blasphemy will be punished either by a fine or imprisonment,” Howika said, promising Qaradawi to fax him a copy of the law after being published in the country’s official gazette.

Hamdan regretted the burning of the Norwegian embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus, but said the government had blamed the magazine for the violent reaction.

Why sunset clauses are useless

Posted by James Hammerton @ 7:59 pm on .
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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The Prevention of Terrorism Act 1973 was continually renewed until it was replaced by the Terrorism Act 2000.

Now, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 has been renewed “on the nod” in a poorly attended 90 minute debate.

Do you remember the Parliamentary “ping pong” which the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 entailed about this time last year? Debates into the late hours, much gnashing of teeth and cries of “Habeas Corpus” and “European Convention on Human Rights” etc. and “hundreds” of people who pose an “Immediate Terrorist Threat”?

There was a promise to review the legislation in the early part of 2006, the so called “sunset clause” concession by the Government. Well, the “sunset clause” is no more, it has been passed without a vote

The motion to accept the continuation of this dreadful legislation has been passed, “on the nod” , without a vote, by the House of Commons, after a mere 90 minites of debate, attended, at one point by only 13 Members of Parliament.(Some typos have been corrected in this quotation)

It is worth reading the whole thing.

Getting the cattle to tag themselves

Posted by James Hammerton @ 2:45 pm on 11 February, 2006.
Categories privacy and surveillance.
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Fancy a pint? You’ll need to give your fingerpint…

According to this report in the Times:

WITH 45 pubs and half a dozen clubs, the centre of Yeovil in Somerset can seem like the Wild South West on a Saturday night.

Groups of young people make their way from Globetrotters to The Beach or the Chicago Rock Café. If they are refused entry to one they can always try another.

Not any longer. Yeovil is to become the first town in Britain to install “biometric” fingerprint scanners in pubs and clubs that will instantly identify potential troublemakers. If it is successful, the government-backed scheme could be extended to other towns.

Five clubs, including those mentioned above, have so far signed up for the trial, which is being backed by Avon and Somerset police. The scheme’s backers hope that the rest of the town’s licensed premises will join “within months”.

Clubbers and drinkers will be asked to register by providing proof of ID and personal information including name, address, date of birth and a photograph. They will then have the print of their right index finger scanned on to a computer.

Each time a person enters premises in the scheme his or her finger will be scanned, bringing up a list of personal details. In return for participating, people will no longer have to produce means of identification on entry to nightclubs.

Although a few venues elsewhere in Britain have introduced fingerprint scanners, this is the first time they have been “networked”. If someone is identified as a troublemaker his or her details can be flashed to other licensed premises within seconds, giving doormen warning to look out for them.

And if fingerprints don’t work, I fear there is an alternative:

The old excuse ‘I’ve left my wallet at home’ will soon no longer hold when it’s your round. A nightclub is about to offer its regulars the option of having a microchip implanted in their arm that will obviate the need to carry cash or plastic.

Queuing for entry or a drink at the bar would also become a thing of the past when the ‘digital wallet’ is introduced by Bar Soba in Glasgow. The chip is already proving popular with VIP members at two nightclubs in Barcelona and Rotterdam.

While the concept strikes critics as Orwellian, others believe that, as we stride ever-closer towards a cashless society, it is only a matter of time before the chip becomes a method of fraud-proof common currency.

Brad Stevens, owner of Bar Soba, said his motivation for introducing the technology was to be cutting-edge and to reward loyal customers. He said he had received a surprisingly enthusiastic response from regulars.

Meanwhile, the British government wants to rule by decree

Posted by James Hammerton @ 2:02 am on .
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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The government recently published the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

This bill gives Ministers the power to alter any Act of Parliament or subordinate legislation for the purposes of “reforming legislation” or “implementing the recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions, with or without change”, via parliamentary order, subject to the following constraints:

  • They cannot impose, increase or decrease taxes.
  • They cannot create new offences carrying more than 2 years in prison as a punishment or increase punishments for existing offences beyond 2 years in prison.
  • They cannot make provision in areas of legislation devolved to the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly.
  • They must have a consultation first with people the Minister specifies.
  • Either of the Houses of Parliament can insist on both Houses having to approve of the order first, but are required to do so within 21 days of the order being placed.

Thus the government wants to be able to alter any primary legislation by parliamentary order, including being able to create new criminal offences carrying upto 2 yrs imprisonment. Note that as things stand the bill itself could be modified this way (e.g. to make it even easier to alter legislation). Note also that at best, there’s a single vote on the order and amendments cannot be tabled (though the Minister can produce a revised order under the “super-affirmative” procedure).

See spy.org.uk for more discussion.

British Muslim group calls for ban on depictions of Mohammed

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:34 am on .
Categories political liberties.
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The Guardian reports that a group called the Muslim Action Committee wants a ban on depictions of the prophet Mohammed:

Imams from across the United Kingdom today demanded changes to the Race Relations Act and a bar on British newspapers printing images of Muhammad.

The Muslim scholars said that Muslims should be given the same legal rights as Sikhs and Jews, and that the Press Complaints Commission’s code of conduct should be tightened to prevent the publication of potentially offensive images of Islam’s prophet.

The logic behind this call is interesting, according to the BBC’s report on the same matter:

Mr Saddiqi said they had concluded they wanted the Race Relations Act modified to give Muslims the same protection as Sikhs or Jews.

He also said the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct should be tightened to prevent publication of any images of Muhammad, but added the clerics accepted criticism and discussion of Islam should be allowed.

He said the code was a voluntary code to ensure the media treated people with respect and called for that respect to be shown to Muslims, whose religion forbids any pictorial depiction of Muhammad.

Mr Saddiqi said: “That act in itself is deeply offensive, it’s akin to someone standing up in your face and abusing your mum, your sister, your dad, and it’s akin to a deliberate act of provocation.”

Thus we’re being told that if we do not observe the Muslims’ ban on depicting Mohammed, i.e. obey a particular tenet of their religion, Muslims will take this as a deliberate act of provocation as if we’d just insulted their entire family. This is an attack on both freedom of speech and religious freedom.

Protestors in London call for those who depict Mohammed to be beheaded

Posted by James Hammerton @ 12:32 am on 4 February, 2006.
Categories political liberties.
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[This is a reproduction of an article at my other blog]

Channel 4’s special report in the Danish cartoon row features a protest outside Regents Park Mosque. The protestors can be clearly heard chanting “Denmark, USA, 7/7 on its way”, the placards features slogans such as “Behead the one who insults the Prophet”, “Annihilate those who insult Islam” and “Freedom of expression can go to hell”. Click on the video link on this page to see the report.

Here are some photos of the placards. One reads “Be prepared for the real Holocaust”. Another reads “Freedom go to Hell”.

If anyone wants to know who some of the enemies of the open society are, look no further.

Is this a remotely sane or reasonable response to the publication of these cartoons?

What we have here is a group of militant religious fundamentalists trying to dictate what we can and cannot print in our newspapers, on the basis that if we violate a particular tenet of their religion, they will feel offended and insulted. They are trying to make us obey a tenet of their religion whether we subscribe to that religion or not. They are also calling for the death of those who dare to depict Mohammed, and some seem to be calling for a holocaust.

If we decide to give in on this, what will the religious zealots claim insult for next? The drinking of alcohol? The eating of non Halal food? Women who dare to dress in anything more revealing than a burqa?

I sincerely hope most Muslims have nothing to do with people like the protestors above. It is worth noting that some Muslims are bravely standing up for free speech. We should give them our support and stand up for free speech ourselves.

On freedom of speech and causing offence

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:48 am on 2 February, 2006.
Categories political liberties.
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Over on my other blog I’ve been discussing the Danish cartoons controversy. To quote the most pertinent point I wished to make:

One of the criticisms I’ve seen levelled at those who have published the cartoons is that by publishing the cartoons they were offending/insulting Muslims. I have, for example, seen (via a comment at Samizdata — a comment robustly responded to by other commenters and the editors of Samizadata, e.g. see the link above) the newspapers’ actions compared with shouting insults at someone in the street and freedom of speech described as the freedom to insult.

It is worth considering why freedom of speech is important, including considering why even the right to cause offence should be protected. Fundamentally, in a society where you have freedom of speech, it means that you can say what you believe to be true without reprisal.

It is no good to say, “you are allowed to express yourself so long as you do not offend or insult anyone” for one simple reason: those who would feel (or claim to feel) insulted or offended by the truth would be able to suppress the truth if mere offence or insult was a sufficient reason to prosecute someone. A society which prohibits mere offence, stifles freedom of expression.

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