Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Free Speech Watch: Gagging in Britain

I have taken the liberty of borrowing the Center for Inquiry’s blog entry headline of two days ago because I believe it’s applicable to Declan and me. As I have said, on 8 May SiteGround wrote to Prof. James Fetzer confirming that the NAC website “has been hacked” (see blog of 9 May “SiteGround confirms our website has been hacked”). (Prof. Fetzer bought the domain name and web hosting with SiteGround of New York.) Since 25 April, organised hacker attacks have been used to scramble or jam online content.

We have now started emailing British journalists who might take this up. In fact, yesterday I sent close to 40 emails into the Times, the Guardian, the Independent and the BBC; next I will be selecting journalists associated to the Index on Censorship, Reporters Without Borders, and others. We got responses and auto-replies from the first batch of 10 emails, then nothing. This is how I know that the emails are probably being dumped into spam boxes, the same place where Declan’s emails to scientists and academics inviting them to sign his petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning go, and despite that it has been signed by 24 Nobel Laureates (see blog of 14 March 2008 “SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer”).

Anyway, one of the emails of reply really made my day. Although Declan’s concerns are a bit off this journalist’s beat, he writes: “I am impressed by some of the interesting ideas you have put forward and by your incredible commitment to promoting something you clearly care deeply about, I wish you the best of luck.” This is the email we are trying to get through (links not included here):

Subject: Public understanding of science

Dear [Personalised],

I am writing to you as someone interested in the public's understanding of science.

My web host has confirmed in writing that my website for the promotion of the scientific perspective on public policy issues at religionandmorality.net "has been hacked". My wife's blog of 9 May, "SiteGround confirms our website has been hacked", makes the case that a government organisation may very well be behind the organised hacker attacks that have been used to scramble or jam online content since late April.

The website, sponsored by Distinguished McKnight Prof. James Fetzer of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, is being built from London in support of my petition to the United Nations on therapeutic cloning, which to date has been signed by 591 scientists and academics, who include recognised authorities from the world’s leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates.

I know that you are a strong advocate of freedom of speech and opinions, and wonder if perhaps you might take this up, or even suggest someone who may be of any help.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

John Shook, research associate in philosophy at the University at Buffalo and vice president and senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry Transnational in Amherst, NY, comments in his Center for Inquiry blog on sixteen controversial people who were banned from entering the United Kingdom earlier this month. He concludes: “Congratulation, Britain. Not only are you making ideas into enemies, you have echoed Stalin and confirmed fundamentalist Islam’s logic of repression.”

I have another recent piece from the Times titled “Shami Chakrabarti was target in police search” that also exposes the sorry state of freedom of speech in the UK. Chakrabarti is Britain’s leading civil liberties campaigner and director of the pressure group Liberty. The paper reveals that police who arrested the Conservative frontbencher Damian Green in April trawled his private emails looking for information on her. The Tory immigration spokesman said that Chakrabarti’s name had been one of the keywords used to go through emails and computer documents going back several years. “This feels to me like a fishing expedition on somebody who embarrasses the government of the day,” he said. “That’s very disturbing.”