Syria’s Rebel Press Is Fighting Back Against Jihadists
Rami Al Razzouk was traveling between Raqqa and Tabaqa in northeastern Syria when he was kidnapped at a checkpoint by ISIS. The al Qaeda offshoot seized him as he was on his way to conduct an interview as part of his work as a journalist on ANA Radio. After he was taken, ISIS used his key to raid the premises of the Raqqa-based radio station later that same day. Two weeks after that, they broke in again and confiscated all of the station’s equipment and data. Apparently there isn’t much space for a free press in the Islamic caliphate that ISIS are trying to create.
Outraged, the ANA New Media Association—the network behind the station—has decided to go head to head with the extremist group’s “deliberate strategy to crush press freedom and impose censorship upon the Syrian people.” As ISIS continues to oppress the fledgling media landscape in the north and east of Syria, ANA has pledged to whip up a storm of protest every time a journalist or activist is targeted by the jihadis. This is a pretty brave step considering ISIS has beheaded so many of their enemies that they recently got confused and beheaded one of their allies.
On Monday, the network launched a campaign backed by 21 Syrian media organizations and 50 international organizations, encouraging the continued growth of Syria’s burgeoning free press. Astatement from the campaign read, “We demand the immediate release of all detained journalists and citizen journalists held by the regime, ISIS or any other group. Additionally, we call on international media and those organizations in support of press freedom to join this initiative and to take relevant action for the safety of journalists and freedom of speech in Syria.”
Why Was Vietnam Elected to the UN Human Rights Council?
Last week, the UN elected serial human rights repressor Vietnam to its 47-seat Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Despite operating a single party communist regime—under which freedom of speech, right to protest, and many other liberties are routinely denied—Vietnam received the most votes from UN members out of the 14 newly elected countries (184 out of 192). Which is kind of ironic when you consider that voting is a practice not many of the country’s 90 million citizens are too familiar with.
The result is just as hypocritical as it is confusing; in the past, Vietnam’s Hanoi regime has stubbornly refused permission for the UNHRC to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. Over 50 dissidents have been imprisoned already this year for exercising their right to free speech, while others are routinely beaten, harassed, and intimidated. Uprisings from minorities and religious groups aren’t tolerated either, and are often crushed with completely unnecessary force. For example, a small group of Catholic protesters in Nghe An Province were recently met bya reported 3,000 police and soldiers wielding guns, batons, and grenades.
Facebook and Censorship’s Slippery Slope
The First Amendment is great, huh? It gives people the right to (mostly) say whatever they like, because the lawyers and landholders who wrote the Constitution recognized that democracy requires people to debate and share opinions without worrying about reprisals or censorship from the government. The cost of this is that you have to allow people to hold racist protests and draw pictures of animals with human sex parts and so on, but allowing people to hold and share beliefs that most people find abhorrent or stupid is how we know we are free. Ayn Rand once said, by way of defending pornography, “Every infringement of human rights has begun with a suppression of a given right’s least attractive practitioners.” We should be free to write and say whatever we want, even if we’re pornographers, racists, or fans of Ayn Rand’s books.
We don’t have those same rights on Facebook, however.
Facebook isn’t just a cool place for you to hang out and chat with your buddies and share hot new content you found surfing the World Wide Web. It’s a platform owned by a massive corporation that makes money off of advertising and can do pretty much whatever it likes with the stuff you post on it. Which isn’t to say Facebook is evil, exactly, but it’s not your friend, and it’s not under any legal obligation to protect speech or use its site to say whatever you like. Zuckerberg and company get to decide what is and is not permissible on their property, and since they own the internet’s second-most-popular site, that gives them a lot of power.
In practice, Facebook uses this power to make itself as advertiser-friendly as possible. This means they suspend users for posting NSFW content and remove photos of “offensive” body parts like dicks and female nipples. They’ve also taken down aggressively racist content and videos of extreme violence. The arguments for banning these kinds of content are simple—Facebook is used by children and millions of users who are offended by that nasty stuff, and the website is supposed to be a place that “helps you connect and share with the people in your life,” not a free-for-all where hate groups can organize and broadcast their poison.
Why Is the Guy Behind 2 Girls 1 Cup Going to Jail?
You probably don’t know the name Ira Issacs, but I bet you can remember the first time you saw a girl poop into a cup on camera, hand it to another girl who started eating the poop and vomiting, then the girls kissed a bunch and poop went everywhere. Right? Well, Ira Issacs is the guy who produced and distributed the infamous 2 Girls 1 Cup, and he’s been sentenced to 48 months in jail for “producing and selling obscene videos and distributing obscene videos.” According to the United States’ Department of Justice, Ira was also charged in relation to another 37 minute video wherein “a female engaged in sex acts with animals.” The jury stated that Ira’s work had no “literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Well, yeah, no shit.
For a lot of you reading this, it may seem a bit strange that the production of a video where two girls poop and kiss can be deemed illegal, let alone worthy of four years in jail. Who was hurt? There’s nothing in any of the Department of Justice reports that say these girls were being filmed against their will, so who cares? Apparently, Ira’s case was initiated by the Department of Justice’s “Obscenity Prosecution Task Force,” (OPTF for short) a group that was founded in 2005 during George Dubya’s administration at the behest of conservative religious groups.
Ira Issacs is not the only target that has gone down at the hands of the OPTF. In 2005, Max Hardcore, a controversial pornographer who has depicted women over the age of 18 as underage girls, had his offices raided while he was at a porno convention in Barcelona. He was charged with five counts of obscenity andsent to jail for 46 months. While the content of Max Hardcore’s porn probably makes a lot of people feel nauseous, and it definitely makes the OPTF feel angry, confused, and ready to prosecute, it’s hard to rationalize why his work would warrant jail time. Clearly, the OPTF’s prosecutions are based on subjective conservative morals and are placing limits on the capabilities of free speech, however gross and grotesque free speech may get.
Cops are dicks. This has always been one of the immutable laws of civilization, from that asshole who point-blank pepper-sprayed those kids at UC Davis to the jerks who hammered Christ onto the cross and then went out to drink passum or whatever. Maybe getting a badge and a little bit of power turns regular people into dicks, or maybe there’s a self-selection process by which assholes and bullies are naturally drawn to a career that lets them hassle people—that’s one of those chicken-or-egg questions that we could argue forever.