Freedom Book Fair Report 2017

From 24 February to 27 February 2017, The Hague Freedom Book Fair took place in Het Nutshuis in The Hague. With the participation of 15 publishing houses and book shops from Netherlands, Bangladesh, Turkey and Somalia, the book fair attracted hundreds of people. The book fair showcased censored books from Bangladesh and Turkey, books on censorship in different countries written by persecuted and censored writers themselves, and other regular books. Click here to read the report of the Freedom Book Fair 2017.

During the four days of the book fair, we also held four different panel discussions related to freedom of expression, one Somali and one Bengali poetry night. On 26 February, we also commemorated Avijit Roy (it was the anniversary of his death), along with other Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and publishers who were murdered in recent years. The panel discussions were about freedom of expression in Bangladesh and Turkey, the contemporary debate regarding freedom of expression and hate speech and LGBT freedom in religious societies. Experts from
Bangladesh, Turkey, Netherlands, UK and USA were present as panelists in these discussions. More than 500 people physically attended the discussions, and we were able to reach an audience of more than 90 thousand people via Facebook livestream.

The book fair successfully brought together diverse group of individuals, publishers and organizations to address the recent global crisis of freedom of expression. The event can be considered as laying down the foundation of a crucial network that can uphold and promote a dialogical method in solving the crisis of freedom of expression in the current world.

Report: Voices of Dissent: Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh

On Sunday 26th February 2017, The Hague Peace Projects, held a discussion titled “the Voices of Dissent; Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh”, as part of the Hague Freedom Book Fair in Het Nutshuis in Den Haag.  The event was well attended with over 60 participants.

The event began with a documentary from Frontline Defenders titled Victim Blaming, Bangladesh’s Failure to Protect Human Rights Defenders. This short film was a comprehensive introduction into the difficulties surrounding freedom of expression in Bangladesh. The panel featured Bob Churchill, the Director of Communications for the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Bob has had a long-standing interest in secularism, humanism, ethics and epistemology. He previously worked at both the British Humanist Association and Ugandan Humanist Association. Caroline Suransky, who is a board member of the organization Humanistisch Verbond, and professor at the Universiteit Voor Humanistiek. Caroline was previously also a board member for the Foundation for Humanist Education Formation. Her interests lie in strengthening inter connections between partners in the Humanist Alliance. Her time in South Africa formed her world views regarding the personal and political side of ‘human dignity’ and ‘living a humane life’ in a world with differences and inequalities. Olof Blomqvist, who works for Amnesty International as a researcher on Bangladesh and the Maldives. He was previously a press officer for the Asia Pacific region, has worked in Afghanistan for Amnesty International, worked for Doctors Without Borders and The International Crisis Group. Our final panelist Erin Kilbride is a journalist, human rights activist and media coordinator at Front Line Defenders. She works with HRDs to create protection strategies utilizing digital print and film projects. She was previously a gender and juvenile justice researcher in Bahrain, the Gulf & Yemen, Editor at Muftah.org alongside a community organizer with the Iraqi refugee population in the US.

The discussion began with Bob calling upon Bangladeshi bloggers Parvez Alam, Asif Muhudin and Nastikaer Dhormokotha sharing their personal accounts of their struggles with freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Parvez spoke of living low profile and described the increased victim blaming from both the police and government. He explained that the civil society in Bangladesh is failing to unite together against censorship due to deep ideological differences. The situation is unlikely to change for the public until adequate laws are put into place by the judiciary. He urged that there should be increased dialogue to protect the freedom of expression. Asif explained he was one of the first bloggers to be attacked in 2013 and stabbed nine times in the shoulders and back. He was punished for blasphemy by the government for his blog and was imprisoned for three and a half months. Whilst in prison, he had the strange experience of meeting his attackers and soon came to the realization that they were victims of Islamic extremism. His attackers had in fact never read his blogs and acted solely upon the word of their religious leader who told them Asif was anti-Islam. He is still suffering from psychological damage alongside pain in his shoulder. Finally Nastiker spoke of maintaining a very low profile, which involved discontinuing his writing and controlling his movements, as he was aware his name was on the hit list. His panic escalated with every murder he read about, to the point he was scared to leave his house alone. When he heard of Neeloy Neel’s murder, he decided to leave the country. He first moved to Myanmar and then the Netherlands. He described how his trauma is still prevalent, as when he sees large groups of people he still gets nervous. He felt it was vital to explain that he does not categorize Muslims as terrorists as he believes they have been subject to Islamic fundamentalism and are victim themselves. He expressed concern for the numerous Bangladeshi bloggers who have currently fled the country and are in limbo, with no idea of what their future hold with ever decreasing aid from NGO’s. He believes the international community’s attention should be focused on helping these people.

Consequently the panel discussion began with the panelists introducing themselves. The three main topics of discussion were the ICT Prosecutions Act, the phenomena of rising extremism and suggestions on how NGO’s and the international community could do more to put pressure on domestic and international governments on the blogger issue. The ICT Prosecutions Act was explained to be passed by the BNP government in Bangladesh and a text book example of how repressive law works. It was described to have very strange and vague wording about hurting religious sentiments and could be interpreted by anyone to mean anything. It has been used on numerous journalists, civil society activists and even a case where citizens were sharing songs, which were perceived to be anti Islamic and thus ended up in jail for seven years under this act. Initially it was very rarely used but recently its use has sky rocketed. Over the last year there has been some acknowledgment for the need for change regarding this act. The government is considering replacement of this act with a new digital security act, however this is perceived by the international community to have even worse implications than the current act. The panel suggested that the solution would be to push the Bangladeshi government to make a law that meets international standards.

The link between different extremist nationalism was broken down to into two questions, reasons and explanations for what is happening worldwide and why there is more political repression within civil society. The panel explained that reason behind the increasing repression by the authoritarian regimes worldwide is partly due to globalization. Governments fear the bloggers because of their wide readership, national and international connections. To the Government, bloggers are consequently undermining their own national agendas. It would be interesting for the international community to think about the consequences of such actions against activism and the media in their own countries. Erin also spoke of the over simplification of what it means to be an atheist in the Bangladeshi context. She explained that the very strong intellectual and rational rights based justifications that writers are presenting have been largely ignored. The notion of being an atheist or a human rights activist has been blurred into one category, when they should remain separate. She mentioned how the ICT Act is the clearest example in which we can call out the hypocrisy of the Bangladeshi government, as they state they want to eradicate extremist groups however is implementing legislation with the exact stated objectives of extremist groups, resulting in restricted open spaces for persecuted religious minorities.

The discussion ended with the moderator asking the panel for suggestions on how NGOs and the international community could do more to put pressure on Bangladeshi and international governments to protect freedom of expression in Bangladesh. The panelists were united in suggesting that the removal of the ICT Act is necessary, which they believe has criminalized the freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Additionally it was suggested that NGO’s and western governments could do more to promote and further support Bangladeshi activists and the citizens of Bangladesh. Finally it was highlighted that the relation between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia needs to be addressed as it is having a ripple effect on the crackdown of human rights activists in Bangladesh.

Photo’s: Ugo Boss Photography ©

 

 

 

 

 

Report of the discussion “Freedom of Expression in Turkey: Challenges for Dialogue and Peace”

On 25th of February we held a discussion about freedom of expression in Turkey which was part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. In the light of the recent events in Turkey we found it necessary to have a discussion over journalistic freedom, democratic liberties and the overall situation in Turkey.

The discussion panel was supposed to consist of six prominent speakers, but apparently one of them – Hüda Kaya (a writer, civil rights activist and a member of the parliament for the HDP) – was not able to attend the discussion. She was recently arrested in Turkey for unknown reasons. Even though now she is released, she is still not able to leave the country. This illustrates perfectly the necessity of addressing the problem.

Luckily all other panelists could make their way to The Hague. The panel consisted of Uğur Üngör (a historian who teaches at the Department of History at Utrecht University), Muhammed Cihad Ebrari (a researcher at the political and social research centre SAMER and human rights activist affiliated with the
“anti-capitalist Muslims”, also known as the “Muslim left’”), Marloes de Koning (a journalist for the Dutch paper NRC, who used to work in Turkey for 3 years), Ragip Zarakolu (a Turkish writer and publisher, Nobel Prize nominee in 2012 and iconic advocate for the freedom to publish and write in Turkey and beyond) and Varduhi Balyan (a journalist working for the weekly Turkish-Armenian newspaper AGOS).

Compared to some other very passionate discussions held during The Hague Freedom Book Fair, where the panelists and the audience did not always agree with each other, the discussion about freedom of expression in Turkey was more of the one where at least in the beginning everyone seemed to agree.

First, Uğur Üngör gave a great overview of the main issues on media in the history of Turkey. Then the current situation in Turkey was discussed and every panelist was also sharing their own story. It was interesting, but also rather emotional to hear what each of the panelist has experienced.

Ragip Zarakolu shared how he has been arrested in the past for his activities as a chair of Freedom to Publish Committee and is now living in Sweden. Muhammed Cihad Ebrari told even more detailed how he and his family was detained and how they even experienced torture committed by the police while prisoned.

On the other hand, Varduhi Balyan expressed very hopefully and beautifully that she is trying to use the language of peace to fill the gap and create the dialogue. Marloes de Koning told her personal experiences as a Dutch journalist in Turkey and shared the practical problems of it: how it was hard to find people to work with you as they do not want to be seen with you, they do not want to talk with you and do not want to show their faces. But she also expressed a more optimistic opinion about Turkey: It is a very dynamic country with a very young population. Right now it is an immature democracy, but it can definitely have a brighter future.

Besides the journalistic freedom the situation of academics were also discussed, as both – the journalists and academics – are seen in Turkey as a danger to the society. Academics are fired for carrying political opinion and this has caused a brain drain, because the academics flee abroad, even these who work in natural science and their work is beyond the politics. They are actually the brightest minds who can contribute to the development of Turkey, but they are rather seen as a real threat to the society.

Also, the background of the problem was discussed. If this regime is causing so many problems to the Turkish society, how come it is still elected and supported by the people? Is it because of the fear? In the view of these questions the status of democracy was discussed. It was concluded that nowadays very often democracy is used to destroy the democracy: the society is democratic during the elections but afterwards the real democracy ends. Also, it was discussed whether the peace process was put in fridge or rather in freezer or whether it was just a fake game.

After a while everyone seemed to agree at least in the fact that the situation in Turkey is serious and something needs to be done. Therefore, the audience and the panelists were invited to come up with ideas and solutions to the problem. Many solutions were actually named. Protest is definitely one thing to do, but there should also be a legal and political process. One idea shared was giving up the identity politics. Anyone who is in the political arena in Turkey is currently fighting for one identity: Islamist, Kurdish Islamist, Turkish Islamist etc. The simple answer is to give up defending your position and rather trying to see the power from other perspective. Furthermore, the power needs to redefined and find out how the power influences people. There is a need for transparency in the society. Last but not least, there should be more public debate.

It seemed that basically everyone attending the event was pleased to end the discussion with the thought that at least this one evening we were all contributing to the better future of Turkey, as we were discussing the problem and having open debate about it.

Photo’s: Ugo Boss Photography ©

Report of the discussion “Freedom of Speech vs Hate Speech”

At the first night of The Hague Freedom Book Fair, on 24th of February, a passionate and controversial discussion on the relationship between freedom of speech and hate speech was held. The panel consisted of Paul Cliteur (Professor of Philosophy of Law at Leiden university), Marloes van Noorloos (Assistant Professor and hate speech expert at Tilburg University) and Leon Willems (director of Free Press Unlimited).

First of all, the speakers gave speeches that included an overview of themselves and the topic in general. Paul Cliteur introduced the Dutch legislation regarding hate speech and stated that the core problem with free speech in contemporary world is the incitement to violence on the basis what people believe, have said etc. He also raised the question what has to be done. We have to promote tolerance and learn to live in a world where people have fundamentally different ideas. Problems should be discussed openly in a way of dialogue.

Marloes van Noorloos tried to explain the real meaning of hate speech. According to her, the power relation between groups should be taken in account while defining hate speech. It is not just an objective criticism. It is a speech against people, not against a religion or an ideology. This difference can be hard to make, but it is necessary to do it. Even though we have the right to freedom of expression, hate speech should be prohibited. But there should always be a good reason to criminalize a certain speech. The reason for criminalizing hate speech is the negative imagining. If you constantly spread negative information about a certain group then it may result in violence and discrimination. Hate speech laws are meant to protect the powerless minority groups against powerful groups. It is very difficult to say what is powerless and what is powerless group. For instance, Muslims are so diverse – some leaders within religion might be very powerful, but it does not mean that everyone is. Freedom of expression is the marketplace for ideas and should be as open as possible.

Leon Willems presented some pragmatic observations from his work. The freedom of expression is an inalienable human right, but the protection of it through the courts can take many years. He addressed the question of dissent. Dissent is deeply rooted in the Dutch society, because it is multicultural and people have the right to have different thoughts. The dissent is the decision to disagree, but still respect other person’s opinion. And this is a very big problem nowadays in many places. He emphasized that words do cause violence and harm people, but violence is not the necessary outcome of a debate. Once violence starts, it creates trauma and breeds violence.

After the speeches a very passionate discussion started. One problem brought up against freedom expression in the current world was religious fundamentalism. By Paul Cliteur it was seen as one of the biggest challenges and a major threat we face right now. There is a need of more religious criticism, critical analysis of the fundamental dogmas of the world religions. For instance, Catholic church used to have severe sanctions, now such sanctions are more prominent in the Muslim world. In the history courageous people have challenged the problems of Catholic church. Therefore, nowadays we have to help free thinkers in problematic societies.

The audience referred that the panelists forgot to define Islamic fundamentalism before addressing the problem. The person stating this considers herself an Islamic fundamentalist and for her it means going back to the fundamentals of Islam. It was of course a misunderstanding between the panelists and the audience, because the panelists found that in Islamic fundamentalism everything is accepted what god commands. If god commands death, it is justified. But this causes constant danger to the society in general. Leon Willems noted that even if you go back to the fundamentals, you still have to do it with critical mind.

By the audience it was also criticized that the problem of the current discussion and also in Dutch society is that people tend to generalize and concentrate only on the extreme forms of Islam.

Last but not least, the solutions to hate speech were discussed. Problematic societies should move towards a society where different opinions are peacefully spread, but where also critical thinking exists. There has to be exchange of thought and debate about problems. The Netherlands is a good example of a very productive society with different opinions.

Leon Willems addressed the problem of dissent and stated that we should have movement against Facebook and ask them to get things in order. Facebook is making profit over free content and is spreading hate. It is not being corrected.

Marloes van Noorloos stated that all people should realize that freedom of expression is also important for these persons we do not agree with. Very often people call it out only for their own opinion, but not for others. Leon Willems agreed that the true meaning of freedom of speech comes also with respect and with the space for critical thinking of minorities. This space for critical thinking is shrinking everywhere in the world.

In conclusion, it was agreed by everyone that the solution against hate speech is more speech. Law is not the best way to deal with hate speech and legal solution should be the last resort. It does not only mean a friendly discussion, but also a critical debate where people do not agree with each other, but still respect each other’s opinions.

Photo’s: Ugo Boss Photography ©

 

Review of Freedom Book Fair 2017

When the doors of Het Nutshuis in The Hague were opened at the 24th of February 2017 at 1 o´clock in the afternoon, the second edition of the Freedom Book Fair had started. The focus was on authors who are censored or forbidden in their home countries and books who deal with freedom of expression and freedom of press in general. Besides all the books and publications we hosted 6 panel discussions on freedom of speech in different countries and its different forms.

Through these events, that were completely sold out, we were able to put freedom of expression on the agenda and to show our deepest solidarity to people who are putting their lives on the line for it.

The Book Fair started with an introductory panel discussion on Friday evening: “Free speech versus Hate Speech: where the world is heading”, followed by the Somali Poetry Night. In the weekend there were discussions on freedom of expression in Turkey and Bangladesh. Moreover, a documentary and a panel discussion on Saturday evening was dedicated to the LGBT-movement in religious societies.

Every panel was distinguished by the presence of charismatic experts, some of which were personally involved with the subject, trying to give an accurate overview of the current situation in conflict regions and to answer the questions of the audience. Because of this the debates were heated and continued well after the official finishing time, with people exchanging perspectives, opinions and contact details. All events were accompanied by a Facebook live stream, which is still available on the Facebook page of The Hague Peace Projects. We want to say thank you again to everyone who contributed in the organisation, in the events and in the audience to create a successful event. Freedom of expression can never be protected and promoted enough.

Writers & Publishers @ Freedom Book Fair

The Hague Peace Projects is organizing “The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017” from 24th until 27th of February in order to peacefully fight for an essential human right – freedom of expression – and show our deepest solidarity to people who are putting their lives on the line for it.

During the Freedom Book Fair we will present books and publications from all over the world, related to the topic of freedom of expression. The Book Fair is open every day from 1 pm until the last event.

We are proud to present books from writers and publishers all over the world. Banned books from Turkey, work from Bangladeshi writers in exile, Somali publishers, Dutch books related to freedom of expression and much much more! Take a look at the website of the Freedom Book Fair to get an idea and visit our Book Fair, from 24 till 27 February from 1 PM till our last event!

Freedom of Expression in Bangladesh

fb-event-cover-photo-bangladesh-discussion

The discussion “Freedom of Expression, Dialogue and Conflict Resolution in Bangladesh” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event will take place at Monday 27 February from 6:30 until 8:30 at the Nutshuis, Riviermarkt 5, Den Haag.

For the last few years, Bangladesh is facing unprecedented crisis of democracy and freedom of expression. Human rights violations have reached sky high. The country is now deeply divided in ideological and political line. After the 2014 troubled national election, the country has become effectively a one party regime. On the other hand rise of radical forms of Islamism, terrorism and violent tactics of some of the government opposition have made the country both unstable and also provided legitimacy to the iron rule of the current regime. An increasing conflict between the Secularists and Islamists that claimed many lives also provided opportunity to the Government in passing several draconian censorship laws. Murder of secular writers, police crackdown on bloggers, activists, writers, publishers, ban on books, newspapers and other forms of media have become regularity. With the conflict between religious, ethnic and political lines escalating, and with the arrival of international terrorist outfits such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, diversity of ideas, opinions and origin have never faced a stiffer challenge in the history of the country. How do we want to shape the future of our country?

The panel consists op the following speakers:
Sultana Kamal
Kaberi Gayen
Rafida Ahmed

You are very welcome to join the discussion! Entrance is free but registration required.

See more about The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017:https://www.facebook.com/events/1229206560520102/

Freedom Book Fair: Voices of Dissent in Bangladesh

fb-event-cover-photo-bangladesh-voices-of-dissentThe discussion “Voices of Dissent; Persecuted Non-Religiosity and Threatened Religious Diversity in Bangladesh” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event is organised by The Hague Peace Projects, Mukto-Mona and Humanistisch Verbond. It will take place at Sunday 26 February from 3 PM to 5:30 PM at Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5 Den Haag.

Bangladesh is a secular Muslim country. However, citizens who have questioned religion, have recurrently been targeted by Islamic extremists. For bloggers, intellectuals and writers who have openly critiqued religious conservatism in their writings, the consequences were severe. Since 2013, there have been deaths of dozens of bloggers and activists, to name a few, Rajshahi University professor AKM Shafiul Islam, literary publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, and bloggers Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman Bubu, Ananta Bijoy Das and Niloy Neel. The death of these bloggers and activists not only caused grief but also created a well-connected community of Bangladeshi bloggers who seek for constitutional change in Bangladesh. The need for change is necessary from the core of Bangladesh citizens, democracy and for the safety of those who are putting their lives on the line for freedom of expression.

This event is a commemoration in solidarity with the Bangladeshi people who died because of their critical stance.

Speakers:
Bob Churchill – IHEU (moderator)
Caroline Suransky- Humanistisch Verbond
Olof Blomqvist – Amnesty International

Documentary: Razor’s Edge made by Mukto-Mona.

You are welcome to join us. Entrance is free, but registration required.

See more about The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017:www.freedombookfair.com

Freedom Book Fair: Somali Poetry Night – SOLD OUT

somali-poetry-pngPeace and War through Spoken Word

From Sayid Abdullah also known as the Mad Mullah by the British, to modern day poets as Hadraawi and Idaajaa, all have used poetry as the main method of communication in times of War and Peace.

This evening we will talk about the various forms and uses poetry has in bringing together a community. We will certainly not just talk, but mostly enjoy different forms of poetry such as Gabay, Geraar, Buraanbur, Heeso and much more. No idea what those are? All the more reason to come and be properly introduced to Somali Poetry!

Where: Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5, Den Haag
When: 24 February
What time: 9PM – 11PM

Speakers:

Zaynab A J Dahir: Educationalist and author of several children books and educational books. Zaynab is an activist and promoter of the Somali language among Somali children raised in the UK. She runs her own organisation, Galool Somali, which publishes teaching materials for learning Somali.

Abdirahman Mohammed Abtidoon: Abtidoon is a promoter and an activist of the Somali language, art, storytelling and educationist as well as the writer of several books. He is an avid linguist and grammarian as well poetry reader.

Poets:

Susu Amina
Malique Mohamud
Qali Nur

Entrance is free, but registration is required.

Check this website for more information about the Freedom Book Fair The Hague

Publicist with books available on the Book Fair:

Looh Press aims to provide excellent selection of Islamic/African Studies books, with special focus on Somali Studies. Our special mission is to provide high quality literature on the history, culture, politics of the Somalis. At Looh Press we have a motto of preserving the classics by reprinting and representing to a modern generation. History is not only in the past for us, it is here, in the now. In the Islamic Studies field, we provide some of the best publications of some of the best books in the Islamic Sciences, focusing on the classical text with a modern editorial touch.

Looh Press is a  small press with self funded publications and was founded by Mohammed Abdullah Artan. For further details please contact them at Admin@LoohPress.com

Challenges of LGBT-Activism in Religious Societies

fb-event-cover-photo-lgbtThe discussion “Challenges of LGBT-Activism in Religious Societies” is part of The Hague Freedom Book Fair 2017. This event is organised is cooperation with The Hague Peace Projects and Maruf.
Where: Nutshuis, Riviervismarkt 5, Den Haag
When: Satyrday 26 February
What time: 7PM – 9PM
You are very welcome to join the discussion! Entrance is free but registration is required.
The reason to organize this panel discussion was the recent killings of LGT activist in Bangladesh by Al-Qaeda as well as the arrest of members of the organization ‘Boys of Bangladesh’ for organizing a Rainbow Rally. These event however, are not isolated incidents. In many religious societies LGTBI people are facing intolerance and a shrinking civic space.

In many Muslim countries, The LGBT-rights movement is being painted as an anti-Islamic western conspiracy to destroy Islamic moral values by the Islamic extremists; as if homo-sexuality never existed in the Muslim world. Also in traditional christian societies, homosexuals and transgenders are facing enormous challenges and existential crisis.

In this event we want to discuss the current challenges of rising intolerance all over the world and its effect on the LGBTI movements. We want to counter the essentialization of Islam and Muslim culture as homophobic so that the Muslim LGBTI do not become more estranged from their own culture. What spaces and loopholes do exist to use existing social tolerance in the world to promote LGBT rights?

Speakers are from Bangladesh and Uganda. Names will be announced soon!