The 6 Weirdest Free Speech Issues Around The World
It seems like every time we read about a freedom of speech case in the news, it's about either porn, racism or talking smack about the government. Now all of those are enjoyable things, but think about it. Speech is such a broad, unlimited medium, so why is it that when people are fighting for the infinite possibilities allowed by this freedom, it always ends up being about boobs and politics?
It's never about, like, pies or something.
Can't we have legal controversies over sillier and more anticlimactic speech issues? Well, it turns out we can. If we Americans can stop being so self-centered for a moment and look around abroad, we can find a wealth of weird old free speech issues, like:
Going to Jail For Bad Restaurant Reviews
Just the other week, a Taiwanese blogger was sentenced to 30 days detention, two years probation and about $7,000 USD in fines for ripping into a shitty restaurant on her blog.
Now, a couple of caveats -- she probably will get out of the jail time, and the verdict wasn't mainly about her review of the food so much as the fact she exaggerated how unsanitary the conditions were. However, the judge actually took into consideration in his ruling the fact that it was unfair for her to claim the restaurant's food was too salty since she only tried one dish, which sounds like something a mom should be saying, not a judge.
"And you didn't even eat any of the vegetables!"
A lot of people have been blogging about this and lumping it in with other cases where people have been sued for bad restaurant reviews, which is really unfair to Taiwan, because in all those other cases it was a civil suit filed by the restaurant owner (and almost never won by the restaurant), whereas this was a criminal case with the cops and the jail and everything. Taiwan's actual government has actually arrested and convicted someone for saying a restaurant was a filthy shithole with oversalted dishes, and I think that's something few other governments can brag about.
Yep, that's a challenge, Singapore.
Ireland came close when a restaurant owner sued The Irish News over a restaurant review and won. The law apparently only protects negative opinions if they're "honestly held," and they managed to prove somehow (polygraph? truth serum?) that the critic didn't honestly think the food was shitty.
But again, that was a civil suit, and moreover, one that was overturned on appeal, once the case went in front of somebody sane.
So Taiwan remains the leader here, although I think America can beat them if we find some excuse to jail Armond "Transformers 2 Was Better Than Toy Story 3" White, which really is just a noble goal in itself.
You Can't Name Your Baby That
Here in the U.S., if you want to name your baby Kal-El or Pilot Inspektor or Moxie Crimefighter or Moon Unit or Jermajesty or Miller Lyte or ESPN or GoldenPalaceDotCom, you can go right on ahead.
Is that a good thing? I'll leave that to the politicians and crazy celebrities. The point is that you don't face any penalties other than the entire country laughing at you.
And if they're already doing that anyway, who cares?
But it's not the same deal in other countries, especially in many European countries, where I guess a child's right not to be laughed at for the rest of their lives trumps a parent's right to free speech.
In Germany, you can't give a kid an invented name, and you can't name it something gender-ambiguous. If we had a law like that, you'd have to say goodbye to all the Terrys and Caseys and Peytons, as well as your DeShawns and Latonyas and Rainbow Sunbeams, and celebrities would probably stop having (or adopting) children.
Prince Amukamara, the New York Giants' first round draft pick, would have been shot at birth. I think. I assume that's how the law works.
Other countries reject any name that would be "stupid" or make your child a "laughingstock" (well, the laws technically consist of some legalese that basically says that), or would offend people. New Zealand rejected 4Real on those grounds. Sweden rejected Ikea and Metallica, but later caved on Metallica (a girl if you were wondering).
And why not? Metallica is a great way for kids to get started on metal.
Denmark is even more Orwellian, with a list of 7,000 approved names you have to pick from, and anything outside that list requires approval by both the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs, which honestly, sound like Harry Potter government offices. Apparently this labyrinthine system was created in the 1960s when someone tried to name their daughter "Tessa," and someone else noted that it sounded like "tisse," the Danish word for piss. There was a big to-do, somebody made some laws and now you have to name your kid off a list.
On the one hand, that sounds rigid as hell. On the other hand, it would have prevented Moxie Crimefighter. Tough call.
You Can't Say "Le Marketing" in French Marketing
Americans and other English speakers are accustomed to carte blanche when incorporating a melange of new words and foreign words into the language, making use of other languages to describe genres of art like film noir or art deco or avant-garde, or roles like chef or fiancee. Don't expect that kind of laissez-faire attitude in France, which goes to great lengths to keep foreign words from creeping into the French language where they would no doubt steal jobs from hard-working French words.
Word immigrants are pretty sneaky.
The French Word Police isn't going to break down people's doors and stop them from saying "cool" or "le week-end" (that's real French slang, by the way), but they forbid foreign words from being used in official documents, science papers, advertising, radio and television, and fine companies from $150 to $1,000 for making such a faux pas.
Sacre bleu! Someone's getting fined.
In 2008, they showed they were "with it" and banning things that mattered to the French youth of today by letting everyone know it was not OK to say email, blog or podcast, so that hip French podcasters would have to ask people to download their "diffusion pour baladeur," and sound like a dork. And instead of using "corner," sportscasters were expected to use the pithy phrase "coup de pied de coin," by which time the goal would already be scored and everyone would be on the other side of the field.
I'm referring to soccer, of course, or as the Europeans call it, "cricket."
The reason behind all these laws is that France wants to protect its language from a barrage of invading foreign words, and "make sure [French] does not disappear from the international world of business, economics and science." Because once you start letting foreign words into your language, that's pretty much the coup de grace for your culture, since historically, all languages that have incorporated foreign words have, de facto, disappeared into irrelevance. C'est la vie, I guess.
Death (or Steep Fines) to Blasphemers!
Now we expect draconian blasphemy laws from places like Pakistan, which is supporting the Taliban for Pete's sakes. And they certainly live up to expectations, sentencing a lady to death last November for insulting Muhammad and cheering the assassination of a governor who said, hey, maybe we should think about changing these stupid laws.
Everybody would totally have assassinated him themselves but they were too busy looking at porn.
But that's supposed to be a crazy, backward kind of law that only happens in scary places like Pakistan. If you go to a place like Western Europe, where half the people don't even believe in God and pretty much nobody goes to church, blasphemy laws have got to be as outdated as witch burnings.
I don't remember how those cartoons went exactly, I'm assuming something like this.
They failed, but in Italy, this Muslim-hating lady actually went to trial on charges of offending a religion, for writing a rambling rant shitting all over Islam and Muslims. She did get out of the charge, but only by dying.
And probably the most bizarre use of German anti-blasphemy law was as recent as 1994, when a musical comedy was banned for ridiculing the Immaculate Conception using crucified pigs for some reason. I guess you just had to be there.
Calling an Enemy Of the State "Mister"
Now, Turkey is kind of a weird place, and not just because it is named after a delicious bird. It is both physically and metaphorically sitting right between Europe and the Middle East, trying to figure out how much of its identity is which, like a biracial child or something. Sometimes it's all, "We totally want to join the European Union, we even banned the hijab, and we're cool with Israel and everything," and sometimes it's all, "Fuck Israel! Leave Iran alone!"
When that happens in individuals, we call it "bipolar disorder," or "adolescence."
So straddling that line means that they put people in jail for calling someone "mister," if that mister happens to be a Kurdish rebel leader. Understandably the Turkish government isn't very fond of Abdullah Ocalan, since he led armed attacks against them where 30,000 people died, but it's like Abraham Lincoln putting someone in jail for referring to "Mr. Jefferson Davis" or "Mr. Robert E. Lee."
The Kurd thing is actually a really big deal over there because Turkey also bans certain letters, like "q" and "w," which aren't used in Turkish but can be used in Kurdish.
See you in jail, Kermit.
The law wasn't created with Kurds in mind, but when the Kurd problem popped up, they had it handy, so why not? So when a Turkish mayor (who happened to be a Kurd) sent out Happy New Year cards that spelled Happy New Year the Kurdish way ("Newroz Piroz be") -- with a "w"! -- they brought him into court. It wasn't random of course -- the mayor was a Kurdish rights activist and they were trying to harass him to shut him up. Still, couldn't they have found a broken taillight or something less stupid?
"Oh what a shame this happened to you on the way to the Free Kurdistan rally."
China Bans TV Shows of "Low Taste"
Now I know you might see "China" and think, "Of course they ban things. They're China." And it's true, they're always busy banning criticism of the government and Google and people talking about other people that criticized the government and possibly people that talk about people that talk about people that criticized the government.
Censoring things is REALLY confusing sometimes!
And that's horrible. But in other areas, China might actually be more advanced than us in the area of human rights, like the noble war they are waging against reality television. Last year, they banned China's equivalent of The Bachelor, which, like The Bachelor, showcased shallow people trying to hook up with other shallow people on the basis of whether the other person could offer them, in one woman's case at least, a BMW.
Another contestant defended her from charges of being a gold-digger, saying, "She just asked for a BMW; she didn't ask for a Benz or Ferrari." Which I'm betting is the sort of thing you would hear on The Hills or one of those other spoiled-people shows.
They're not still making that Super Sweet 16 abomination, are they? I try not to keep up.
The government also banned a show that sounds like a combination of American Idol and The Real World (or Big Brother for you young kids), where you basically compete on American Idol to see who wins the prize of starring in the next season of The Real World.
Doesn't that kind of "creativity" give you a sort of Dr. Moreau vibe? Or is it just me?
Is banning really so wrong in this case? I mean, I know people are always going on about slippery slopes, and how if you don't speak up for your Jersey Shore shows, the government will come after your time travel shows, and then after that, it's labor camps and disappearances for everyone who criticizes the government. Which is a serious consideration on the one hand. But on the other hand, no more Jersey Shore.
Again, tough call.
For more from Christina, check out 5 'Unspoiled' Locations That Are Actually Pretty Spoiled and 5 Things That Are Apparently OK To Do in the Name of Sports.