Egyptian Criticizes Court Ruling; Charged with Insulting Judiciary

(Original story at The New York Times here.)

Although this was apparently an attempt by the military dictatorship in Egypt to stifle freedom of expression, I would like to remind readers that in some countries, some institutions are beyond reproach. For examples, in Thailand, it is considered lese-majeste (and a very serious crime) to insult the king; in the United States, it is a felony to threaten the President; in Singapore and in Egypt, contempt of court is a serious and punishable offense.

Egypt Says Twitter Post by Liberal Was Crime

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK JAN. 19, 2014

CAIRO — A prosecutor on Sunday charged one of Egypt’s most prominent liberal intellectuals with insulting the judiciary because he posted a message on Twitter criticizing a court ruling against three American nonprofits that promote democracy.

The intellectual, Amr Hamzawy, a political scientist and former lawmaker, was charged along with two dozen others — including liberals, Islamists, and the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Coming a day after the adoption of a new Constitution, the charges offered a glimpse of how the military-led government may apply the Constitution’s porous free-speech provisions and suggested that it may intensify its pressure on dissenters.

The crime of insulting the judiciary is a longstanding element of Egyptian law that inherently violates Western norms of free expression. Mr. Morsi, who is already on trial on several other charges, was charged on Sunday because, in a speech as president, he accused a judge of colluding in electoral fraud.

But the case against Mr. Hamzawy stands out because of his stature as a leading liberal, the ephemeral nature of his Twitter message, and the inconsistency of punishing him for a criticism many others also made.

“It is absurd,” said Samer S. Shehata, an expert on Egyptian politics at the University of Oklahoma. “He is a liberal, longhaired, intellectual type, the best of a particular type of intellectual in Egypt, who poses a threat to no one.”

“This is just another example of the government trying to silence all criticism and dissent in Egypt right now, whether it is Islamist or liberal,” Dr. Shehata said. “Anyone who would question the current rulers is subject to this kind of persecution.”

When a nationalist euphoria gripped Egypt after the military takeover last summer and the new government began a bloody crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters, Mr. Hamzawy was among the few liberals to speak out, even calling the military’s actions a form of fascism.

But the charges filed against him on Sunday date to early June, when a judge convicted 43 employees of five Western-backed nonprofit groups of receiving illegal foreign financing and plotting to destabilize Egypt. Three of the groups — the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House — are financed by the United States government with a mandate to help promote democracy.

The court ruled in June that the groups’ true aim was to “undermine Egypt’s national security and lay out a sectarian, political map that serves United States and Israeli interests.”

“The U.S. — fearing democracy ushered in by Egypt’s popular revolt — has used funding to take the revolution off its path,” it said.

“Funding is a new form of control and dominance and is considered a soft colonialism that is less costly than military arms,” the verdict continued, accusing the United States of seeking “to shake the security and stability of the receiving countries that are meant to be weakened and dismantled.” (All the defendants either fled the country or received suspended jail sentences.)

American officials disputed the charges, noting that the United States spends far more supporting the Egyptian military, $1.3 billion a year, than on nonmilitary aid to Egypt, about $250 million. Also, almost every independent rights group in Egypt has relied on foreign financing in violation of previously unenforced laws.

Mr. Hamzawy scoffed at the ruling. “Verdict in case of foreign funding of CS shocking, transparency lacking, facts undocumented & politicization evident,” he wrote on Twitter, using initials for “civil society.”

Many people who later backed the military takeover made similar statements at the time. And on Sunday, after Mr. Hamzawy was charged, Twitter users began reposting his message in a gesture of solidarity.

Mr. Hamzawy, who has been heavily criticized here for raising alarms about the crackdown on Islamists, responded in newspaper columns, “I am paying the price of being a true liberal.”

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Indonesian First Lady Posts Photos on Instagram; Criticized

(Original story at The Straits Times here.)

Here she is publishing photos to connect with the common man, and there the critics were accusing her of being insensitive to his needs. One even asked her if she was misappropriating state property for her hobby!

Indonesia’s Instagram First Lady’s social media scuffles

Published on Jan 27, 2014
By Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent

TOWARDS the end of her husband’s first term in office, Mrs Ani Yudhoyono realised that, as the President’s wife, she often wound up in spots photographers rarely found themselves.

So she took out a camera and revived an old hobby.

Before long, her pictures of state events and ordinary folk started showing up at exhibitions, winning some praise. She also published a coffee-table book in 2011, that included photos she took on trips across Indonesia and abroad with her husband.

Last April, she started putting her photos on Instagram. That was when the trouble began.

Some Indonesians were critical of certain photos of her family, and Mrs Yudhoyono, 61, who is known to speak her mind, was quick to lash out at them, drawing even more criticism.

Last week, she made international headlines when she apologised to more than 310,000 Instagram followers for a particularly angry outburst. A fan questioned her timing when she uploaded a photo of her grandson playing a toy piano while many Indonesians were fighting to keep their heads above water during severe flooding.

“Why is the anger directed at me?” she wrote, saying people should ask what the wife of the Jakarta governor was doing.

Ibu Ani, as she is popularly known, entered the social media sphere around the same time Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took to Twitter in April last year. Since then, she has been a regular, sharing 725 photos on Instagram so far.

Some might see the negative reactions to her photographs and her Instagram activity as a reflection of the palace’s dip in popularity, but sociologist Musni Umar sees it as a generational issue.

“In the old days, people wouldn’t dare criticise the First Lady,” he told The Straits Times. This is no longer the case.

“A lot of those who criticise her are from the younger generation,” he said.

In contrast, he said Mrs Yudhoyono is from an era when those in authority were rarely, if ever, questioned.

When a follower recently asked whether her camera was personal or state property, she took offence.

“Your question is impolite beyond expectation, but I will answer so it’s clear,” she said.

“Cameras used by the Palace press bureau may be state property. The one I use is of course personal property.”

Screen captures of the exchange went viral. People made fun of the issue.

Yet her photos have also offered fascinating glimpses of places most Indonesians would otherwise not have seen, like the interior of Bali’s Tampaksiring presidential palace and the Yogyakarta sultan’s palace, as well as the first family in more relaxed moments.

Some suggest she turn her camera instead on ordinary Indonesians.

By doing so, she would remind her husband that poverty remained a problem, blogger Ellen Maringka wrote last month on the kompasiana site, linked to major broadsheet Kompas.

“Wouldn’t it be great if your photography hobby brought some joy to those who are poor, to for once smile because they are the target of your camera,” she wrote.

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Indian Minister’s Wife Outs His Affair on Twitter; Found Dead

(Original stories at Yahoo! News here and at Channel News Asia here.)

It appears that this is not the first time that Shashi has got into trouble using Twitter, but this time seems to be the worst.

Angry wife outs Indian minister’s ‘affair’ on Twitter

By Adam Plowright
January 16, 2014 5:39 AM

New Delhi (AFP) – The furious wife of the Indian government’s top-tweeting minister admitted Thursday she had hacked his account to send out messages exposing an alleged affair he was having with a Pakistani journalist.

The scandal was splashed on the front pages of several newspapers after a curious series of messages appeared on the Twitter account of the suave thrice-married human resources minister Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday evening.

They showed private exchanges apparently between 57-year-old Tharoor and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar, 45, in which she professed her love for him and he said his wife had discovered his adultery.

Sunanda Tharoor, a formerly Dubai-based entrepreneur whom the minister married in 2010, confessed to sending the messages and also dragged up a corruption scandal that nearly wrecked her husband’s career.

“That woman pursued and pursued him… men are stupid anyway… for all you know she is a Pakistani agent. Where’s love, where’s loyalty in this world?… I am so distraught,” she was quoted as saying in the Indian Express.

Tharoor (@shashitharoor) posted a message late Wednesday to his two million followers claiming his account had been “hacked” while Tarar (@mehrtarar) denied having an affair with him in a series of messages.

“Our accounts have not been hacked and I have been sending out these tweets,” Sunanda told the Economic Times, while also referring to a cricket scandal in 2010 shortly after her husband entered politics.

The French-speaking former UN diplomat had to resign from his first ministerial post in 2010 after revelations that then-girlfriend Sunanda had been given a free stake in a new Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team.

Opposition parties said the stake, reportedly worth up to 15 million dollars, was for Tharoor’s behind-the-scenes services in putting together a consortium that bought the Kochi franchise, based in his home state of Kerala.

“I took upon myself the crimes of this man during IPL. I will not allow this to be done to me,” Sunanda told the Economic Times.

Tharoor, a father of two adult sons from his first marriage, resigned saying that his conscience was clear, telling parliament he had done “nothing improper or unethical let alone illegal”.

Calls by AFP to his offices and home seeking comment on Thursday were not returned. A source in his parliamentary office in New Delhi said he was unwell and not working.

The politician, author and talented public speaker, who was once in the running to be secretary general of the United Nations, is the most active user of Twitter in the government and he has been instrumental in encouraging colleagues.

But it has damaged him on at least three occasions since he quit his three-decade career in the UN and entered Indian politics in 2008.

The allegations about corruption in the IPL were first exposed on the platform by the competition’s top administrator Lalit Modi and in 2009 Tharoor had to apologise after making a joke about “holy cows” in the cabinet.

He also once landed in hot water for criticising his government’s visa policy.

Sunanda told the Indian Express that she would be seeking a divorce, but then appeared to have relented on Thursday, writing on her Twitter account (@sptvrock) that “Shashi an& I are very happy together”.

India minister’s wife died of “drug overdose”

POSTED: 21 Jan 2014 00:27

NEW DELHI: The wife of Indian minister Shashi Tharoor, found dead in a luxury hotel after accusing her husband of being unfaithful, appeared to have died of drug overdose, news agency Press Trust of India said Monday.

Tharoor, 57, the junior human resources development minister, found his wife Sunanda Pushkar dead on Friday in her five-star hotel room in New Delhi after he returned from a Congress party meeting.

An autopsy report, which was submitted on Monday to a magistrate charged with investigating her death, cited a drug overdose as the cause of death, PTI reported.

According to PTI, Magistrate Alok Sharma refused to elaborate the details of the report, saying he would study it along with recorded statements of others, including that of Tharoor.

“On this basis I will conclude what was the cause of death and submit a report to the police whether a case is made out or not surrounding the death and whether police should carry out further investigation or not,” Sharma was quoted as saying by PTI.

Tharoor recorded his statement on Sunday, hours after he pledged full cooperation with investigations and urged a speedy inquiry into his wife’s death, which came after she exposed his alleged affair on Twitter with a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar.

The death was a tragic twist in a tale of apparent marital strife that has played out in full view of the public’s gaze, both in India’s newspapers and on social media.

Sunanda Pushkar, 52, died an “unnatural, sudden death”, said doctors who performed an autopsy on Saturday, adding that more tests were needed to determine the exact cause.

Pushkar’s body had “some physical injuries”, but it was unclear whether they were related to her death, Sudhir Gupta, one of three doctors who performed the autopsy, had said.

Her body was cremated according to Hindu rites on the weekend.

Accusations of an affair first surfaced on Wednesday when unusual messages appeared on the Twitter account of the thrice-married Tharoor, who is also a novelist, a government spokesman and a prolific tweeter.

They showed private exchanges purportedly between the minister (@shashitharoor) and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar (@mehrtarar), in which she professed her love for him and he said his wife had discovered their relationship.

Tharoor quickly responded by saying his Twitter account had been hacked, but Pushkar told two newspapers that she was the author of the messages.

Tarar strongly denied having an affair with the former high-flying UN diplomat.

Seeking to draw a line under the Twitter row, Tharoor issued a statement Thursday in which he blamed unauthorised tweets and distorted media reports for the “unseemly controversy”.

The statement said the couples were “happily married”.

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