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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More from Dubai: Is Censorship an Elephant?

That's Claire Armistead's opinion, writing in the Guardian (which, hmm, generated this whole debate in the first place when it hosted Geraldine Bedell's blog without checking the facts) on Monday. She attended the "hastily arranged censorship debate" convened by the festival. Speakers included Margaret Atwood (via videolink), Ibrahim Nasrallah, Andrei Kurkov, Rachel Billington, PEN secretary Eugene Schoulgin, Rajaa al-Sanea and festival host Mohammed al-Murr.

What appears to have emerged from the debate is that censorship operates on a spectrum across all nations, including those that pride themselves on their openness and multiculturalism, such as Canada, but it carries greater attendant risks - imprisonment, torture, exile - in some countries than others. Andrei Kurkov, from the Ukraine, also alluded to the commercial potential of a whiff of censorship, criticising publishers for seeking out censorship as a "badge."

Perhaps most of interest -- and it's unclear how or whether this relates to the media spotlight on the emirates created by Bedell's blog, or to the presence of the international festival -- is something Armistead reports towards the beginning of her article. After the case of three journalists who were jailed for defamation over something they had written on the internet
Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the emir of Dubai who is also its vice-president and prime minister, has since decreed that no journalist should receive a prison sentence for press-related offences, and the journalists have all been released from jail.

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