Sign up for PM Award Updates!
 
 

“Moderate” Rouhani’s Government Executes Iranian Poet Hashem Shabani


The Iranian government executed by hanging poet and human rights activist Hashem Shabani on January 27 for blasphemy (“speaking against God”). Before his execution 31-year-old Shabani was imprisoned for nearly three years and reportedly tortured.
“The crazy thing is that by the logic of the Iranian government, Shaabani had to be killed. He criticized God and the punishment for blasphemy is clear: death.  Technically, Shaabani criticized the regime by speaking out against repression of ethnic Arabs in the Khuzestan province, but since the regime sees itself as the representative of God on Earth, his fate was sealed,” writes David Keyes for the Daily Beast.

Shabani was an Ahwazi Arab minority, and member of al-Hiwar, an organisation promoting Ahwazi culture among the country’s majority Persians and campaigning for mother tongue education. Al-Hiwar was banned by Iran in May 2005 soon after anti-government riots.
Shabani and four others, including school teacher Hadi Rashedi, were arrested in 2011 and had no access to lawyers or family during the first nine months of their detention. They were also reportedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated says PEN America.
More controversially, a “confession” by Shabani was publicised by Iranian television admitting that he was a member of Popular Resistance, which had ties with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadaffi. “Later, in a letter alleged to have been written by Sha’bani in prison, he denied having used or advocated violence and said that he had been tortured to make his ‘confession’ and that his three attempts to retract his ‘confession’ in front of a judge were ignored” said PEN.
PEN said that Shabani’s relatives had been told the poet had been executed “on charges of ‘enmity against God,’ ‘corruption on earth,’ ‘gathering and colluding against state security,’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the system.'”
Keyes asks how the US and its western allies negotiating a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons programme could claim the regime of President Hassan Rouhani is “moderate” when it executes people like Shabani.
“As world powers attempt to negotiate an accord with Iran, they would do well to keep Shaabani in mind.  What does the hanging of a poet have to do with nuclear negotiations?  Everything. It gets to the heart of the nature of the regime. Can the world trust a government which doesn’t even trust its own people?  Can the West rely on a regime which so fears dissidents that it puts them to death?” asks Keys.
Reacting to Shabani’s hanging, Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said, “While the releases last year of prominent writers such as lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub were welcome, the authorities [in Iran] must show that they are truly committed to respecting freedom of expression and other fundamental rights.”

Study Explores How Different Cultures Deal With Hate Speech


A recent study sponsored by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), of the Washington DC-based think tank the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), explores how different cultures define and interpret freedom of expression. ‘A Clash of Cultures: Hate Speech, Taboos, Blasphemy, and the Role of News Media’ examines the fine line between what speech is proscribed and what is accepted in the digital media of different cultures.
“Among the questions being raised: When virtually anyone, anywhere-often anonymously-can create digital content that exacerbates tensions or is potentially insulting to racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual groups, should such content be banned? Does the right to free speech outweigh a group’s right to freedom from insult, defamation, or religious blasphemy? If not, where does the line get drawn-and by whom? Local governments?  The aggrieved parties? The United Nations or some other international governing body? Or will tech giants such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook essentially become the arbiters of permissible speech around the globe?” asks author of the study Jane Sasseen.
Jane Sasseen is a freelance editorial consultant who has worked with a number of major non-profit and media organizations in recent years. She has written extensively on the media being  editor and co-author of several chapters of  The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism produced by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. She previously worked for Yahoo! News and the Business Week.
You can read the contents here