Imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi will spend his 33rd birthday in a Saudi Arabian prison. He was arrested in June 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on a charge of “insulting Islam.” Among his activities was setting up a website that championed free speech, called the Free Saudi Liberals, which was closed after his arrest.
As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.
— Raif Badawi
Trying to “silence free-thinkers can often become the best way of amplifying their voices,” English PEN writes. They have been holding regular vigils outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London since 2015 to call for his release. To mark Raif Badawi’s 33rd birthday they will hold a special vigil, joined by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and others.
Reporters without borders gallery: Predators of press freedom
Had I a wordsmith’s skills
and my words were stained black and white
by power-hungry, greedy small men
who commanded me
to dress like this
or pray like that
or mute my voice,
as if I were their possession
and the nation’s assets were their wallet,
I pray I would have the courage
to stretch my wings
and let my words fly
Maybe you would hear me
and maybe, if I were silenced,
you would set an empty chair in my place
to put shame on these small men
who cling to their absolutes
and tremble at our words
Then, when I looked at myself
I would see my true colors
(c) Zol H, 2016
Text: Solveig Hansen, 2015
When letters in a pangram start falling off a memorial plaque, the letters are banned, with harsh punishments for those who use the forbidden characters. This is the plot in Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Written in 2001, the story is a commentary on issues like censorship and freedom of speech. It is also a fable for lovers of words.
First, some facts and history: A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of a given alphabet, at least once. A perfect pangram uses each letter only once. The opposite of a pangram is called a lipogram, in which one or more letters are omitted. Today, pangrams are typically used to display samples of typefaces on computer screens.
The best known English pangram is The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, first used at the end of the 19th century as writing practice. Later, it was used to test typewriters and teleprintes.
Another 19th century pangram is Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs, made well known by Mark Dunn in his novel Ella Minnow Pea, in which the search for a shorter pangram is part of the plot.
Ella Minnow Pea
In the novel, the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog is credited to Nevin Nollop, a fictitious inhabitant of the equally fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina. The pangram is written on tiles on his memorial statue. When the letter tiles start falling off, the island’s high council bans the use of the fallen letters from all communication, written and spoken, and enforces a penalty system for using them. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors and report violations to the council.
The story is conveyed through mails and notes sent between various characters, and as the alphabet diminishes, the letters disappear from the novel. When the first letter, z, falls off, the heroine of the novel, Ella Minnow Pea, explains:
“To speak or write any word containing the letter Z, or to be found in possession of any written communication containing this letter, one will receive for a first offense a public oral reprimand… Second offenders will be offered choice between the corporal pain of body-flogging and the public humiliation of headstock upon the public square. For third offense, violators will be banished from the island. Refusal to leave upon order of Council will result in death.”
Then the letter q falls off and is outlawed. Ella writes:
“As luck would have it, there are simply not all that many words in the English language which claim this letter among its constituents.”
However, even the removal of the two least-used letters has its repercussions: the loss of radio and newspaper and recordings of music with lyrics.
When d falls, the days of the weeks are renamed:
In the end, only five letters remain, LMNOP (= Ella Minnow Pea, get it?). “Now onlee 5 remain at 12 o’time. Onlee 5. Onlee 5 remain,” Ella writes to herself in her penultimate letter.
The solution to restore their language and topple Nollop from his godlike stature, is to find a pangram of 32 letters, in contrast to Nollop’s 35. Ella discovers this phrase in one of her father’s letters: Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Read the rest of the book for yourself.
In 2010, 57 journalists were killed, 51 were kidnapped and 535 arrested, according to Reporters Without Borders.
152 bloggers and netizens were arrested. 62 countries were affected by Internet censorship.
In their Freedom of Press Report 2010, headlined Journalists in 2010 targets and bargaining chips, they write.
There are no longer any taboos about online filtering. Censorship is taking new forms: more aggressive online propaganda and increasingly frequent use of cyber-attacks as way to silence bothersome Internet users. Significantly, online censorship is no longer necessarily the work of repressive regimes. Democracies are now examining and adopting new laws that pose a threat to free speech on the Internet.
Reporters Without Borders have also made a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents. Blogs have become an important source of news, often publishing information that the traditional media dare not print. The handbook explains how to blog when online freedom of expression is restricted, and shows how to circumvent censorship.