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human rights legislation violation - first courtcase against a municipal government

category antrim | rights, freedoms and repression | press release author Tuesday September 06, 2005 03:23author by micauthor address +44 28 9033 0893 Report this post to the editors

A potentially landmark Human Rights case resulting from a year-long dispute between Belfast City Council and the free cultural newspaper The Vacuum is due to take place on Tuesday 13th September 2005.

This is the first courtcase against a municipal government on violation of the human rights legislation put in place from the peace process - and its not happening along traditional sectarian lines. Just the opposite- nonsectarians stood up for themselves and political parties across sectarian lines in the Belfast City Council voted to censor them. Now the whole snarl is going to court as free expression and human rights in the North square off against bipartisan bigotry .

HISTORIC CENSORSHIP BATTLE SET FOR HIGH COURT

A potentially landmark Human Rights case resulting from a year-long dispute between Belfast City Council and the free cultural newspaper The Vacuum is due to take place on Tuesday 13th September 2005.

The Council’s demand that the publication provide an apology to ‘citizens of the city’ and ‘members of the Council’ for offence caused in previous issues is being challenged in the High Court by one of the paper’s editors, Richard West, as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. If successful, this will be the first time, since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, that a local authority will have been held to be in breach of an individual or organisation's right to freedom of expression as protected under the legislation.

The legal showdown comes amidst heated debate over the new Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill and its potential to curtail free expression. It also follows the debate about the play ‘Behzti’ (Dishonour) which was closed after violent protests by the Sikh community and the BBC received unprecedented numbers of complaints about the broadcast of 'Jerry Springer the Opera'.

The Belfast controversy arose from a single complaint from a member of the public concerning ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ themed issues of The Vacuum published in June 2004. Councillors reacted by describing it as ‘filth’, claiming that it was ‘encouraging devil worship’ and voting 24-12 to withhold an agreed funding allocation of £3,300 until an apology was provided. This prompted The Vacuum to hold a satirical 'Sorry Day' in December ridiculing the council's demand for an apology, but also raising serious questions about censorship and freedom of speech.

In stark contrast to the attitude of the city authorities towards The Vacuum, its publishers, Factotum, have been selected as part of a delegation of artists to represent Northern Ireland at the Venice Biennale this summer. They have also been nominated for the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Award and received commissions to produce new publications in London and Dublin. The paper currently has a circulation of 15,000, concentrated in Belfast where it is available to pick up in cafes, bars, libraries, galleries, cinemas and hotels, and is lauded for making a valuable contribution to cultural life in the city.













Information for editors
The Vacuum is a monthly newspaper it contains articles around themed subjects such as Culture, Education, Sex and Danger. Contributors to previous issues have included Roy Foster, Bill Drummond and Glenn Patterson.

Richard West is represented by Higgins Hollywood Deazley, Michael Lavery QC and Mary Higgins BL. The solicitor Matthew Higgins can be contacted
at +44 2890 770770

To see the content of previous issues go to:
http://www.thevacuum.org.uk/

For background information about the case see:
http://www.sorryday.com/main/background.html

For press coverage of the story before it went to court:
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1361333,00.html
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1258750,00.html
http://www.indexonline.org/en/news/articles/2004/4/n.ireland-magazine-s-penance-in-defence-of-f.shtml
It was also covered on the Today Programme, The Sun, the Media Guardian, Radio Ulster and GMTV

To contact the editors email this address or phone:
+44 28 9033 0893 or +44 28 90 329691

Related Link: http://www.thevacuum.org.uk/
author by Objective Readerpublication date Wed Dec 19, 2007 17:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Incitement to hatred is not free speech - if you think so, then you obviously support the rights of racists to terrorise ethnic minorities. Likewise, you support the rights of loyalists to terrorise nationalists. You don't support tolerance, but intolerance.

It is essential that legislation be introduced to ban incitement to religious hatred, because racists will "dress up" their attacks as "criticism" of Islam and other faiths.

author by Subjective readerpublication date Wed Dec 19, 2007 19:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Why do so many people who consider themselves 'readers' seem incapable of understanding
that art is something that is there to provoke reaction, to make us question and to read at a level
that is not literal?

Understandably politicians who make their money from copperfastening segregationism
need to read and understand literally- its the nature of the beast and there would be no
profit in it for them otherwise- thats why some of 'em had a 'Love Ulster' march that
led to a riot... but honestly what has happened to this country that the above commentator
cannot read without subjecting everything to literal interpretation. theres death and war
in literalism and in theocractic interpretations- it must just suit some to have phoney
wars and excuses to hate others....

author by Actual Readerpublication date Wed Dec 19, 2007 20:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Reading through the back issues of the magazine, there are no examples of incitement to hatred. That's not what this article is about. It only briefly mentions the debated legislation as a side issue.

 
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