Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The warning by Indonesia came as the U.N.'s primary human rights watchdog ended a month-long session amid allegations by Western member-states and non-governmental organizations that Islamic nations are working to curtail free speech.
Geert Wilder's 16-minute film linking Islam's revered text with terrorism has sparked protests in a number of countries. It also drew criticism from the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the European Union.
In Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, Information Minister Mohammad Nuh told a press briefing in Jakarta Tuesday he had sent a letter to YouTube demanding the film, "Fitna," be removed. If it did not comply, he said, the government in cooperation with Internet service providers would block the site.
But the film has been uploaded on YouTube by multiple users and can still be found with a simple search in both its English and Dutch versions.
In response to queries, a YouTube spokesperson said the site allows people "to express themselves and to communicate with a global audience."
"The diversity of the world in which we live -- spanning the vast dimensions of ethnicity, religion, nationality, language, political opinion, gender, and sexual orientation, to name a few -- means that some of the beliefs and views of some individuals may offend others," she said.
Videos that breach YouTube guidelines are removed, and some graphic material is restricted if not suitable for all audiences, the spokesperson added.
Wilders first uploaded Fitna late last week on a British video-sharing site, LiveLeak, where several million views were recorded before the company took it down, citing threats against its staff.
LiveLeak later lifted the suspension, saying it had tightened security measures, only to have Wilders himself withdraw the film, saying he planned to edit it because of copyright infringement complaints, and would upload an amended version later.
By then, however, the film - which includes a mix of images of terror attacks, verses from the Koran, and menacing quotes by radical clerics and others - was already available on numerous other sites on the Internet, including YouTube.
In a third consecutive day of small-scale protests in Indonesia, Muslims demonstrated outside the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta on Tuesday, some of them calling for Wilders to be killed for insulting Islam, according to the official news agency Antara.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has banned Wilders from entering the country, urged Indonesians to remain calm, but also said world leaders had a moral obligation to prevent religious or cultural defamation.
The Dutch government has repeatedly distanced itself from the film, while noting that the country's constitution protects freedom of expression. It has posted statements to that effect on the Web sites of a number of its diplomatic missions, including the embassy in Jakarta.
But Indonesia's Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a party with strong Islamic credentials that supports Yudhoyono, said that unless the Netherlands apologizes to the world's Islamic countries, Muslims everywhere should boycott Dutch products (similar calls have been made in neighboring Malaysia and other Muslim countries.)
'From protecting rights to eroding them'
PKS lawmaker Al Muzzammil Yusuf also said the Indonesian government should take a more proactive role in efforts at the U.N. to set up a convention outlawing harassment of a religion.
Moves towards that goal, lent impetus by the 2006 uproar over the publication of newspaper cartoons satirizing Mohammed, are being led in the world body by the OIC.
Last December the 57-member Islamic bloc succeeded in getting the U.N. General Assembly to pass a first-ever resolution on the "defamation" of religion.
And last week in Geneva, as Fitna hit the Internet, the U.N.'s Human Rights Council passed an OIC-led resolution expressing concern about attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, and urging countries to pass anti-defamation laws to protect Muslims.
Even more controversially, the council on Friday also amended the mandate of a special investigator on the freedom of expression, requiring him now also to report on cases "in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination."
Further, it adopted another amendment to the mandate -- put forward by Cuba -- referring to the importance of media reporting information "in a fair and impartial manner."
As the council ended its month-long session on Tuesday, the issue again exposed sharp differences between Islamic member states and Western ones, which had abstained in last week's vote.
U.S. envoy Warren Tichenor -- speaking as an observer, as the U.S. is not a member -- said in a closing statement that the resolution changing the investigator's role would have the effect of criminalizing free expression.
"It is a sad day when the Human Rights Council turns from protecting rights to eroding them," he said.
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the OIC, said the resolution was an attempt to require people to exercise free speech responsibly. He denied that it would curtail freedom of expression.
The U.N.'s freedom of expression investigator is a Kenyan jurist, Ambeyi Ligabo.
The change to his mandate came two weeks after he delivered a report to the 47-member council in which he voiced concern about attempts to expand the scope of defamation laws beyond the protection of individuals, for instance to cover religion.
At the time, some Islamic member states reprimanded Ligabo, suggesting that he was not taking the religion issue sufficiently seriously.
The council's amendments to the freedom of expression mandate drew strong criticism from several NGOs.
Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders called the changes "dramatic" and said the growing influence of the OIC in the Human Rights Council was "disturbing."
"All of the council's decisions are nowadays determined by the interests of the Muslim countries or powerful states such as China or Russia that know how to surround themselves with allies," it said.
The free speech non-governmental organization Article 19 joined with an Egypt-based rights group, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in a joint statement saying the council process was being repeatedly misused "to push for an agenda that has nothing to do with strengthening human rights and everything to do with protecting autocracies and political point scoring."
"For the first time in the 60 year history of U.N. human rights bodies, a fundamental human right has been limited simply because of the possible violent reaction by the enemies of human rights," said Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.
And Human Rights Watch said the changes to the mandate "clearly calls into question the very essence of media freedom and independence."
The OIC and its allies effectively dominate the Human Rights Council, as 26 of the 47 seats are earmarked for African and Asian countries.
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