Doha Centre for Media Freedom has condemned the violence which has erupted over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammed in a film entitled “Innocence of Muslims,” while also condemning the makers of the film itself for abusing their right to freely express themselves.
Protests over the film have continued over the weekend, resulting in a number of deaths and prompting the US to urge its citizens to return from countries including Tunisia and Sudan.
Anger sparked by the video which has been broadcast on YouTube, led to the deaths of four US diplomats, including the US ambassador Chris Stevens, in Libya, and have resulted in deaths in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon and Tunisia.
The British and German embassies in Khartoum were also attacked by protestors in Sudan.
Protests have spread across the Middle East and people have been participating in demonstrations in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, Iran, Morocco, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, Kuwait and other countries.
Action has now spread further afield and demonstrations have taken place in Europe and Australia.
Local protestors also gathered at the US embassy in Qatar on Friday afternoon, where they took part in a peaceful protest which was monitored and organised by Ministry of Interior officials.
Attacks receive international condemnation
The violence has received widespread condemnation from governments and organisations across the globe.
The United Nations Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council: "The United Nations rejects defamation of religion in all forms, but there is no justification for violence such as occurred in Benghazi."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described the mebassy attacks as against "the rules of the civilised world."
"Nothing justifies these kinds of attacks," he said.
During his recent visit to Qatar, the British Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond said: “We condemn the violence that was displayed and we will support the authorities in getting to the bottom of who is responsible and ensuring they are brought to justice in a proper way.”
A representative from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs similarly condemned the attacks, saying: “The Qatari government has expressed its denunciation and rejection of the attack and of any similar assault, regardless of its type and source:”
The official reiterated the government’s stance in rejecting anything which could be deemed offensive to Islam or other religions.
Questions over freedom of speech in digital age
The impact of the film and the subsequent international response has led to questions over whether it contravenes YouTube’s guidelines and whether tighter restrictions should be applied to what is broadcast over the internet in general.
The White House has reportedly asked YouTube to look into whether broadcasting the film constitutes a breach of its own guidelines, which state: “We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we do not permit hate speech."
YouTube’s owners, Google have responded by saying that the video stays “clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube."
However, access to YouTube has been restricted in countries such as Libya, Indonesia, India and Egypt because of the particularly volatile response that it has already provoked from viewers.
Constitutional protection of the freedom of expression means that the US authorities are powerless to punish those responsible for the film for anything related to its creation or broadcasting.
Professor Eugene Volokh, twho teaches free speech at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), told AFP: “The US government is powerless in the specific sense that the constitution allows Americans to speak this way without fear of being thrown in prison because some people find what they say blasphemous."
"Even advocacy of violence is protected and this isn't advocacy of violence, this is just parody of and criticism of religion," he said, adding “if you give thugs the power to suppress speech by essentially saying that once your speech angers thugs you have to stop speaking, the consequence will just be more thuggery."
But the case has led to serious concerns over the fact that anyone based in the US, intent on provoking hatred and violence, now has the technical means and the political justification to create and broadcast work which would have never have been as accessible in the past.
Doha Centre for Media Freedom believes that freedom of expression is a basic human right which needs to be protected at all times. However, with the right to expression come certain responsibilities, and DCMF also believes that expression which purposefully aims to incite hatred and could result in loss of life or other violent acts should be criminalised.
At the same time, violence is not an acceptable form of expression in itself, and can never be justified as such.
These principals form the basis of DCMF’s position towards the current situation regarding the “Innocence of Islam” film and the subsequent violence. Production of such a film and its transmission on such a wide scale is irresponsible and cannot be justified under freedom of expression.
Similarly the acts of violence which have taken place in recent days are equally unjustifiable and the perpetrators of both should be brought to justice.
Unfortunately, much more damage has been done to the image of Islam through the violence and loss of life which has taken place in recent days than the production of what is nothing more than a low quality, disgusting and entirely reprehensible film.
Source: DCMF, AFP