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Protecting the elites from insult, how big a crime is it to insult a public official?

Marianne Azizi photo
Marianne AziziIsrael
Protecting the elites from insult, how big a crime is it to insult a public official?
In the wake of personal insults flying between North Korea and USA, just how illegal is it to actually insult an official, and what is classed as an insult?



This is a recent quote from Amnesty International, who have stepped in to voice disapproval in the current trial of Egyptian bloggers who insulted their judiciary:

This trial is an attempt to silence criticism of a judiciary that has itself become a source of human rights violations


Across the world, it is classed as an offence to insult judges or public officials. Mostly it is a civil matter, but surprisingly there are many countries who punish those who speak out against what they may see as criminal behaviour of those in authority. Here are some examples:

GERMANY.

Art. 30: provides that defamation of the courts, armed forces, established bodies and public administrations, by a means listed in Art. 23, is punishable by a fine of 45,000 euros (approx. US$58,500). Prison sentences of up to 5 years can also apply in certain circumstances.

HUNGARY

Penal Code Act IV of 1978, Sect. 179: Misdemeanour for stating a fact that may be construed to hurt another’s reputation, or uses an expression directly referring to such a fact. Punishable by up to one year in prison, community service, or a fine. Up to two years in prison if the defamation is committed for a base reason, before a large crowd, or causes considerable injury.

ITALY

Penal Code Art. 594 provides that anyone who offends the honor or dignity of a person shall be punished by imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to 516 euros (approx. US$670). This may be increased to up to one year in jail and a fine of 1,032 euros (approx. US$1,340) if the offense involves attributing a specific fact. The penalty may be increased if the offense is committed in the presence of several persons. Art. 595 provides that anyone who, when communicating with more than one person, harms the reputation of another, and the case is not covered by the preceding article, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to 1,032 euros (approx. US$1,340). When the offense consists of attributing a specific fact, the penalty provides for imprisonment up to two years or a fine of up to 2,065 euros (approx. US$2,685). If the offense is committed via the press or any other means of publicity, or at a public demonstration, the penalty is imprisonment of six months to three years or a fine of no less than 516 euros (approx. US$670). The law further provides that the penalty shall be increased if the offense targets a political, administrative or judicial body, or one of its representatives.

Slovakia

Relevant Laws Penal Code While civil defamation suits have been the main threat to Slovak media. defamation remains a criminal offense under Sect, 373 of the Penal Code of 2006. It provides for prison terms of up to two years, up to eight years in cases of severe harm.

Turkey

Relevant Laws Penal Code Art. 125 (Defamation): 1. A person who makes an allegation of an act or concrete fact undermining or attacking another person’s honor, reputation, dignity or prestige shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months to two years 30 or a judicial fine will be imposed. Where an insult was made in the absence of the victim, the act must have been witnessed by at least three persons for a conviction. 2. If the act is committed by means of an oral, written or visual message addressing the victim, the perpetrator shall be sentenced to the penalties above. 3. If the offense of defamation is committed in the following circumstances, the minimum sentence imposed is one year: a) against a public official or a person performing a public service and the allegation is connected with his public status or the public service he provides; b) because of the expression, change, or efforts for expansion of one’s religious, political, social or philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, or one’s compliance with religious rules and prohibitions; c) through mentioning the holy values of the religion of which the person is a member. 4. When the defamation is committed publicly, the penalty shall be increased by one-sixth. 5. In case of insults to public officials working on a committee, because of their duties, the offense shall be deemed to have been committed against all committee members. …

Azerberjhan

Art. 148 Insult: Insult is the deliberate humiliation of a person’s honor and dignity, expressed in unacceptable terms in a public statement or in materials circulated in the public domain or the mass media. It is punishable by a fine of 300 to 1,000 nominal financial units, or community service for up to 240 hours, or by corrective labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to six months.

Belarus

An insult made in a public speech, or in a printed or publicly performed work or in the mass media is punishable by a fine, or corrective labor for up to two years, or detention for up to three months, or limitation of freedom for up to three years, or a prison sentence for up to two years

Kasakstahn.

Relevant Laws Penal Code Art. 129 (Libel and Slander): 1. Libel, that is the distribution of deliberately false information which is defaming to the honor and dignity or another person, or which undermines his reputation, shall be punished by a fine in an amount from 100 up to 250 minimum monthly wages, or in an amount of wages or other income of a given convict for up to two months, or by engagement in public work for from 120 up to 180 hours, or by correctional labor for up to one year. 2. Slander which is contained in a public speech, or in a publicly displayed work, or in mass information media, shall be punished by a fine in an amount from 200 up to 500 minimum monthly wages, or in an amount of wages or other income of a given convict for from two to five months, or by engagement in public work for from 180 up to 240 hours, or by correctional labor for from one year up to two years, or by restriction of freedom for up to two years, or detention under arrest for up to six months.

Russia

.The same deed, expressed as an insult of a judge, juror, or any other person participating in the dispensation of justice, shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 200 to 500 minimum wages, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of two to five months, or by corrective labor for a term of one to two years, or by arrest for a term of four to six months.

Uzbekistan

140 criminalizes insult, defined as “intentional grievous degrading of the honor and dignity of a person.” Where an offender has previously received an administrative penalty for this offense, the applicable punishment consists of a fine of up to 50 minimum monthly wages or correctional labor of up to one year. If the insult is committed via a printed or other copied text, or the mass media, the applicable punishment consists of a fine of 50 to 100 minimum monthly wages or correctional labor of one to two years. Where the insult is aimed at someone in connection with their performance of a professional or civil duty, or a repeat offender is involved, the applicable penalty consists of a fine of 100 to 150 minimum monthly wages, correctional labor of two to three years, or arrest of up to six months

Burundi

Art. 381 specifies that, where the insult is addressed to the Head of State, a parliamentarian, a government official, a magistrate, an officer or agent of public authority or law enforcement officials in the course of or in connection with the exercise of their duties, the perpetrator is punished by six months to two years in prison and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Burundi francs (approx. US$41-82), or one of these penalties.

Cameroon

Sect. 154: Contempt (a) of any court, any of the armed forces, or “any public body or public administration”; or (b) “in relation to his office or position, of any member of a government or assembly, federal or federated, or of any public servant,” punishable by 10 days to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of 20,000 to 20 million CFA francs (approx. US$45-45,000). Truth is a defense in defamation cases.

Ethiopia.

Pre trial detention is illegal. Art. 173: Publication, dissemination, disclosure, or reproduction by any means whatever, of false news, fabricated or falsified pieces, or falsely attributed to others, is punishable by imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of 500,000 to 5 million CFA francs (approx. US$1,130-11,300), if it results or can result in disobedience to laws, affronts public morals or discredits institutions or their functions.

Mauritania

Art. 206: prohibits insults by any means against all ministerial officers or agents, or citizens charged with public duties, during the exercise thereof. Such insults are punishable by imprisonment of 10 days to one month, and a fine of 5,000 to 30,000 ouguiya (approx. US$19-115), or only one of these penalties. Art. 208: criminalizes publicly casting discredit on a judicial decision, by acts words or writings, in a manner as to undermine the authority or independence of a judicial authority. It is punishable by imprisonment of one to six months, and a fine of 5,000 to 200,000 ouguiya (approx. US$19-760), or one of these penalties.

Brazil

Art. 331: Insulting a public official in the exercise of his duties or as a result of them is punishable by a fine or six months to two years in prison.

Cuba

Penal Code Art. 144.1 prohibits insulting, defaming or otherwise offending, verbally or in writing, the dignity or decorum of a public authority or official, or their agents or assistants, in the exercise of their functions or because of the exercise thereof. Desacato – contempt -- is punishable by imprisonment of three months to one year or a fine.

Peru

blogger Jose Alejandro Godoy was handed a stiff sentence in October for articles on his web site Desde el Tercer Piso (From the Third Floor) alleging government corruption. Godoy got a three-year suspended sentence, 120 days of community service, and ordered to pay damages of more than $100,000. Media NGOs were outraged by the ruling. Freedom House issued a statement, saying that “such criminalization is incompatible with the obligations to protect freedom of expression” in the American Human Rights Convention.

Uruguay

Channel 10 reporters Ignacio Alvarez and Gabriel Pereira were ordered to pay $5,000 damages to a judge after conviction for causing her “moral harm.” The case was over a 2005 report titled “The Other Side of Child Abuse.” The court claimed it used “improper” words in reviewing a case tried by the judge.

Venezuela

Penal Code (2005) Art. 147 penalizes offending, in writing, speech, or by any other means, the President of the Republic (or whoever is fulfilling the President’s duties). The punishment consists of imprisonment of six to 30 months if the offense is considered serious, and of three to 15 months if considered minor. When the offense is committed in public, the penalty is increased by one third. Art. 148 penalizes the same offense against the Vice President, any of the Supreme Court justices, a Cabinet Minister, state governor, National Assembly deputy, the metropolitan mayor, National Electoral Council rector, the Ombudsman or Attorney General, the Comptroller General, or any members of the Military High Command. The applicable penalties are half of those specified in the preceding article, and one third when mayors are targeted.

Afghanistan

Art. 246 imposes imprisonment of three months to one year, a fine, or both, for insulting the Grand Assembly, Parliament, government, the armed forces, courts or other state authorities. Arts. 248 and 294 both prohibit publicly insulting public officials in connection with or during the performance of their duties. The offense is punishable by imprisonment of three to six months, a fine, or both.

Cambodia

Art. 529: Insulting a Judge: Insult, as specified in Art. 511 of this Code, against a judge in office or during the exercise of his/her functions, is punishable by imprisonment from six days to one month and a fine from 10,000-100,000 riel (approx. US$2-24).

Indonesia

Art. 207: Any person who with deliberate intent in public, orally or in writing, insults an authority or a public body set up in Indonesia, shall be punished by a maximum imprisonment of one year and six months or a maximum fine of 300 rupiahs

Malaysia

Sect. 501 (Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory): Whoever prints or engraves any matter, knowing or having good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory of any person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.

Singapore

Sedition Act The Sedition Act prohibits, among others, acts that have seditious tendency, the uttering of seditious words, as well as the publishing, sale or distribution of seditious publications. “Seditious tendency” is broadly defined to include a tendency to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government or the administration of justice, and to raise discontent or disaffection among the citizens or residents of Singapore. First-time offenders face a fine of up to 5,000 Singapore dollars (about US$3,600), imprisonment of up to three years, or both.

Thailand

The Offenses Relating to Computers Act of 2007 addresses topics such as hacking and the distribution of pornography. Sect. 14 prohibits entering information into a computer system that constitutes an offense related to national security. It is punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to 100,000 baht (approx. US$3,000), or both. Sect. 20 permits authorities to seek court orders prohibiting distribution of information via a computer that could affect national security or contrary to public order or good morals. Since lèse majesté offenses are treated as national security violations, these provisions allow authorities to block sites deemed insulting to the monarchy. They have often been used against bloggers. General defamation is also an offense under the Penal Code, punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to 20,000 baht (approx. US$600), or both. Since 1992, when the statement is published or broadcast to a wider audience, the maximum penalties are two years’ prison and a fine of 200,000 baht (approx. US$6,000). For newspapers, liability is limited to the authors of texts, and editors and publishers are no longer liable for defamation by their reporters. Sect. 198: Whoever insults the court or the judge in a trial or adjudication of a case, or obstructs the trial or adjudication of the court, shall be punished with imprisonment of four to seven years or fined between 2,000 and 14,000 baht (approx. US$60-420) or both.

Vietnam

Art. 122 Slander: 1. Those who trump up or spread stories knowing them to be fabricated to infringe the honor or damage the legitimate rights and interests of other persons or fabricate claims of committed crimes against others and wrongly denounce them before the competent agencies shall be subject to warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years or a prison term ranging from three months to two years. 2. Where the crime is committed in one of the following circumstances, the offenders shall be sentenced to imprisonment ranging from one to seven years: a) In an organized manner; b) Abusing their positions and powers; c) Against more than one person; d) Against their own grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers or persons who teach, nurture, look after, educate and/or medically treat them; e) Against persons who are performing their official duties; f) Slandering other persons about committing very serious or particularly serious crimes. 3. Offenders may also be subjected to a fine ranging from 1 million to 10 million dong (about US$54-540), a ban from holding certain posts, practicing certain occupations or carrying out certain jobs for one to five years.

Algeria

Penal Code Art. 144: Anyone who insults, with the intent to affront the honor or respect of their authority, a magistrate, public official or officer, police officer in the exercise of their duties or in connection therewith, by words, gestures, threats, drawings or writings even not rendered public, is punishable by imprisonment of two months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 500,000 dinars (approx. US$14- 7,000) or one of these penalties. When the insult is committed against one or more magistrates or associate judges at a court or tribunal hearing, imprisonment ranges from one to two years.

Bahrain

Art. 244: A punishment of imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 100 dinars (approx. US$260) shall be imposed on anyone who prejudices by way of publication the status of a judge, his prestige or his authority with respect to any legal action.

Iraq

Art. 226: Anyone who publicly insults the National Assembly or the government or the courts or the armed forces or any other constitutional body or the public 157 authorities or official or semi-official agencies or departments is punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven years of detention or a fine. Art. 229: Anyone who insults or threatens an official or other public employee or council or official body, in the execution of their duties or as a consequence of those duties, is punishable by a period of detention not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding 200 dinars (approx. US$.20). The penalty will be a period of detention not exceeding three years plus a fine or one of those penalties if such insult or threat is directed at a judge or legal or administrative court or council carrying out a legal function in the execution of their duties or as a consequence of those duties.

Kuwait

The case that surely drew the most attention was that of freelance journalist Mohammed Al-Jassem, hounded with lawsuits throughout the year. By the end of 2010, there were no 18 suits pending against him, mostly for allegedly insulting public officials. In April, a lower court sentenced him to six months in jail and a fine of $17,400 for an article in 2009 accusing government-backed media outlets of inflaming tensions between Muslim factions. The conviction was overturned in July. Meanwhile, al-Jassem was rearrested in May on various charges, including “slighting the person of the Emir.” In June, the journalist posted $7,000 bail and was released. But in November, Al-Jassem was again convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. He was charged with “criminal defamation” of the prime minister for a blog post accusing him of a number of crimes, including embezzlement and money laundering. The sentence was reduced to three months on appeal.

Lebanon

Three Facebook users were charged with “criminal libel,” “defamation” and “insulting the President” for posting comments critical of President Michel Suleiman on the site. They faced up to two years in prison. Na'im Hanna created a Facebook group to denounce the President for interfering in local elections. A few weeks later, security forces arrested Hanna. They had with them a printout of the comments he had made online. Days later, Antoine Ramia and Shebel Kassab were also arrested for comments they made in the online group.

Also, police surrounded Al Jadeed TV station and arrested Ghada Eid, the host of the program “Corruption.” She was charged with “slandering” a judge in one of the episodes. She was sentenced to three months in prison and fined $20,000. She was also forced to read the accusations against her during her first broadcast after her release from jail.

Morocco

Art. 46: The same penalties may be applied in cases of defamation by the same means against persons due to their function as minister(s), officer, trustee or agent of public authority, and all persons charged with a temporary or permanent public function or mandate, an assessor or a witness for giving testimony. Defamation of these persons concerning their private lives is punishable by the penalties provided in Art. 47 hereunder. Art. 47: Defamation against persons by one of the means specified in Art. 38 is punishable by a term of imprisonment of one month to six months, by a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 dirhams (approx. US$1,270-$6,350) or both.

Tunisia

independent journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was freed from prison after serving a six-month sentence for several convictions, including defamation. All charges were related to articles in French news outlets, in which Ben Brik criticized the government. An appeals court upheld the sentence.

UAE

In another case involving web site comments, an appeals court upheld the defamation conviction of Hetta online editor Ahmed bin Gharib, who was ordered to pay a fine of $8,100 and close the site for a month. The Abu Dhabi Media Company sued bin Gharib for comments posted by readers alleging corruption. Art. 84: It is forbidden to contest the work of a public functionary or a person of a public parliamentary capacity or charged with a public function with defamation. The writer is exempt from liability if it is proved that he in good faith believed that the facts attributed to such an individual were true and that this belief was reasonable. Art. 86: Anyone who violates . . . Arts. 71 to 85 of the present law shall be punished by imprisonment ranging from one month to six months, a fine ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 dirhams (approx. US$270-1,360), or only one of these. In addition to the punishment stipulated in the previous paragraph, the court shall, depending on the situation, order the suspension of the journal or closure of the show house for up to one month.

Israel.

The bloggers incarcerated in Israel are facing a raft of charges – so far 91 with at least 20 to 30 more being prepared. Since the wave of arrests in February 2017, three are held in detention until the end of proceedings now in their 8th month of incarceration. The trial is delayed and unknown for a start date, expected to last 6 months. The detainees are held in illegal detention due to their level of dangerousness to the public. There are over 300 witnesses, comprised of judges, social workers, police and others. Insulting a public official can bring a sentence of 6 months in prison or a fine of up to $5000.

A recent post on Reddit shows the insult laws at 2015 in Europe.

The question must be – if Amnesty International can be so vociferous in criticising the Egyptian government for the same travesty of justice, then where are they for exactly the same scenario which is happening in the democratic State of Israel?

Insulting’ public institutions or officials is not a criminal offence under international law, and no one should stand trial - let alone face imprisonment - for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

“Instead of punishing Alaa Abdel Fattah and the 23 other defendants for expressing their opinions, the authorities should drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release them.”

When approached, Amnesty have remained silent in supporting the same freedom of speech in Israel for a case of the same size and severity, coupled with overwhelming evidence of judicial corruption.


#Insulting a Judge in Israel, #Insulting public officials in Israel, #Israeli bloggers held 7 months in detention, #Cyber terrorism

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