University of Chicago weighs free speech vs crackdown on heklers

Demonstrators stand outside UIC Pavilion before Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago

By David Ingram

(Reuters) – Disruption of a local prosecutor’s speech at the University of Chicago by hecklers unhappy with her handling of a police shooting may have been the last straw for administrators at one of the country’s most prestigious schools.

After years of tolerating dissenters who shouted down unpopular speakers on campus, the school is now considering a policy of meting out suspensions, expulsions or other punishment for those it sees as violating free speech rights.

“I think the university is now signaling that we mean business here,” said Jerry Coyne, an ecology and evolution professor and an outspoken critic of dissident students who he says are acting “entitled.”

“What they’re basically saying is, ‘We have the right to harass anybody we don’t like,'” Coyne, who is not a member of the faculty committee, said about the disrupters.

University rules already bar interfering with campus activities, but faculty and students said they could not recall them ever being enforced.

The panel is seeking ways to streamline a “cumbersome” student disciplinary system that dates back to the era of Vietnam War protests, according to a memo sent to faculty in June. The aim is to protect “freedom of expression, inquiry and debate” from interference, the memo says.

The proposal is the latest volley in a battle on U.S. university campuses over what constitutes free speech in an academic environment.

When does a student have a right to heckle and shout down someone with an offensive point of view? Should a school cancel a speech that generates too much controversy? Does a student have a right to be warned before attending an academic lecture that may prove upsetting?

On the last question, the University of Chicago came out strongly last month in favor of giving faculty the right to decide if and when to warn students whenever lecture material might upset or offend some of them.

Students, for instance, have been known to object to lectures on novels containing scenes of sexual assault. In August the dean of students, Jay Ellison, sent a letter to incoming students saying that such “trigger warnings” were strictly optional.

He vowed the university would not cancel a talk or presentation no matter how much controversy it generated or how strongly some students objected.

Some students defend their right to heckle speakers they consider morally objectionable. They say that authority figures such as the prosecutor who spoke in February at the University of Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, have many opportunities to speak their minds.

Alvarez, who took more than a year to charge a white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager in 2014, has drawn harsh criticism in Chicago from Black Lives Matter supporters.

“In a world that is consistently silencing black voices, I think it’s important to make ourselves heard in a way that we cannot be ignored,” said Mary Blair, a University of Chicago sophomore who was part of the Alvarez protest.

In March, Alvarez lost a primary election. Her office did not respond to interview requests.

Located in the third-largest U.S. city, the University of Chicago, which dates to 1890, is highly ranked academically, lending its name to the “Chicago School” of economics.

President Barack Obama, who taught law there, has stood up for campuses hosting divisive speakers.

“If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions,” Obama told Rutgers University’s commencement in May. He said students should not “shut your ears off because you’re too fragile.”

Rutgers in New Jersey is one of many U.S. schools that have canceled speeches in the face of protests in recent years. In March, hecklers shut down an event for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

At the University of Chicago, the chairman of the faculty committee, due to make recommendations by Dec. 15, said he is keeping an open mind about how to change the disciplinary system.

“We’re not opposed to protest. We’re opposed to disruption,” said Randal Picker, a law professor. “These are university campuses; there should be a lot of activity on them.”

Some students blasted the creation of the committee, calling it an attempt to discourage left-leaning causes.

“It comes from a place of reputation management, of wanting to preserve the university’s image to alumni, to parents, and to try to control the issues that are on the university’s agenda,” said Cosmo Albrecht, a member of student government and a junior from San Antonio, Texas.

Maurice Farber, a senior who is president of the university’s Israel Engagement Association, supports getting tough with disrupters but would not rule out heckling someone who denied the Holocaust, for example.

“It’s very difficult for me to say that I wouldn’t try to shut someone down who was spreading a message of hate,” he said.

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and David Gregorio)

Turkey’s arrest of prominent activists stirs protest

Turkey Protest

By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Supporters of a pro-Kurdish newspaper on Tuesday protested against the arrest of three prominent activists facing terrorism charges in Turkey and said the government was tightening its grip on independent media in a case being watched by the European Union.

About 200 people chanted “The free press cannot be silenced” as riot police stood by outside daily Ozgur Gundem, a day after a court arrested Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative Erol Onderoglu, author Ahmet Nesin and Sebnem Korur Fincanci, president of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation.

The three had joined a “solidarity campaign” with nearly 50 other journalists to guest-edit the paper for a day each. Ozgur Gundem focuses on the Kurdish conflict and has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of a dozen correspondents since 2014. Other guest editors are also being investigated or prosecuted on terrorism-related charges.

“The court, directed by the palace and acting on its orders, once again has signed its name to a shameful decision and arrested our three friends,” editor Inan Kizilkaya said, referring to President Tayyip Erdogan’s office.

The presidency said it would not comment on court cases.

The arrests are a headache for the European Union, trying to keep a deal with Turkey on track to stop the flow of migrants to Europe, despite criticism from rights groups and concern from some European leaders about Turkey’s record on rights.

The EU, which Turkey seeks to join, said the arrests violated Ankara’s commitment to fundamental rights.

Turkey ranks 151 out of 180 nations on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. It accuses Erdogan, Turkey’s most popular leader in a half-century, of an “offensive against Turkey’s media” that includes censorship and harassment.

“The jailing of Onderoglu and (Fincanci), two of Turkey’s most respected rights defenders, is a chilling sign human rights groups are the next target,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Fincanci, 57, a professor of forensic medicine, is particularly well-known, having won the first International Medical Peace Award for helping establish U.N. principles for detecting and documenting torture.


Erdogan has vowed to stamp out a three-decade insurgency by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants that flared anew a year ago after peace talks he spearheaded collapsed.

Left-wing Ozgur Gundem, which has a circulation of 7,500, has featured the writings of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s jailed leader, and has published columns by senior rebel commanders. Turkey, the U.S. and EU list the PKK as a terrorist group.

The Index on Censorship says 20 journalists have been detained in Turkey this year. Most are Kurds working in the strife-hit southeast.

“The West, with its entire focus on the refugee crisis, has paved the way for Erdogan’s authoritarianism,” said Garo Paylan, a lawmaker in the Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP), which has Kurdish roots and is the third biggest party in parliament.

Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper which is often at odds with Ozgur Gundem’s pro-Kurdish stance, on Tuesday took on the symbolic role of editor-in-chief.

Dundar was jailed for five years last month over coverage of alleged Turkish arms shipments to Syrian rebels, but is free pending appeal. He is aware he could be prosecuted again after his stint at the helm of Ozgur Gundem.

“If we don’t stand together, we will all lose. The time is now to support each other,” he told Reuters.

(Editing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Proposals to curb online speech viewed as threat to open internet

Anonymous members protesting censorship of Internet usage

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Alastair Sharp

SAN FRANCISCO/ TORONTO (Reuters) – At least a dozen countries are considering or have enacted laws restricting online speech, a trend that is alarming policymakers and others who see the internet as a valuable medium for debate and expression.

Such curbs are called out as a threat to the open internet in a report on internet governance set to be released today at an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

The report, reviewed by Reuters, warns of dangers for the global internet, including intrusive surveillance, rising cybercrime and fragmentation as governments exert control of online content.

It was prepared by the London-based Chatham House think tank and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, founded by former BlackBerry Ltd co-chief Jim Balsillie.

China and Iran long have restricted online speech. Now limitations are under discussion in countries that have had a more open approach to speech, including Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bolivia, Kenya and Nigeria.

Advocates said some of the proposals would criminalize conversations online that otherwise would be protected under the countries’ constitutions. Some use broad language to outlaw online postings that “disturb the public order” or “convey false statements” – formulations that could enable crackdowns on political speech, critics said.

“Free expression is one of the foundational elements of the internet,” said Michael Chertoff, former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and a co-author of the internet governance report. “It shouldn’t be protecting the political interests of the ruling party or something of that sort.”

Turkey and Thailand also have cracked down on online speech, and a number of developing world countries have unplugged social media sites altogether during elections and other sensitive moments. In the U.S. as well, some have called for restrictions on Internet communications.

Speech limitations create business and ethical conflicts for companies like Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, platforms for debate and political organizing.

“This is the next evolution of political suppression,” said Richard Forno, assistant director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Center for Cybersecurity. “Technology facilitates freedom of expression, and politicians don’t like that.”


Tanzania and Ethiopia have passed laws restricting online speech. In others, including Pakistan, Brazil, Bolivia and Kenya, proposals are under discussion or under legislative consideration, according to a review of laws by Reuters and reports by Internet activist groups.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales earlier this year said that the country needs to “regulate the social networks.” A bill has been drafted and is ready for introduction in the legislature, said Leonardo Loza, head of one of Bolivia’s coca growers unions, a supporter of the proposal.

“It is aimed at educating and disciplining people, particularly young Bolivians, and fighting delinquency on social networks,” Loza said. “Freedom of expression can’t be lying to the people or insulting citizens and politicians.”

A bill in Pakistan would allow the government to block internet content to protect the “integrity, security or defense” of the state. The legislation, which has passed a vote in Pakistan’s lower house of parliament, is supposed to target terrorism, but critics said the language is broad.

It comes after Pakistan blocked YouTube in 2012 when a video it deemed inflammatory sparked protests across the country and much of the Muslim world.

Earlier this year, YouTube, which is owned by Google, agreed to launch a local version of its site in the country. But now, the internet report said, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority can ask the company to remove any material it finds offensive.


U.S. internet companies have faced mounting pressure in recent years to restrict content. Companies’ terms of service lay out what users can and cannot post, and they said they apply a single standard globally. They aim to comply with local laws, but often confront demands to remove even legal content.

The new laws threaten to raise a whole new set of compliance and enforcement issues.

“There’s a technical question, which is, could you comply if you wanted to, and then the bigger meta question is why would you want to cooperate with this politicized drive to suppress freedom of expression,” said Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s former director of global policy and now leading content organization at Medium.

Facebook, Twitter and Google declined to comment for this story.

(Reporting By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Alastair Sharp; Additional reporting by Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Bolivia; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Lisa Girion)

Street Preacher Case To Be Reviewed By U.S. Appeals Court

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals voted to review a case that claims police officers in Dearborn, Michigan failed to protect the freedom of speech for Christian preachers.

The court had ruled in August in a 2-1 decision the police did not violate the free speech rights of “Bible Believers” but voted in favor of a review, which is “intended to bring to the attention of the entire court a precedent setting error of exceptional public importance.”

Ruben Israel, a street preacher who organized the Dearborn outreach, told the Christian Post the review is about protecting free speech in America.

“We had to get [the case] out of Dearborn and we had to get it out of Detroit. Now, since the circuit has picked it up, we believe and trust that they will set the record straight,” Israel said in an interview with The Christian Post. “Free speech sometimes may not be very gracious. But there is something called ‘the hecklers veto.’ That is when you can say something very unpopular and it is protected. We believe that since the circuit wants to and has gone ahead and picked it up, now we believe that we have a pulse. We are thankful for our court system that we still have the appeal case and that’s working.”

The group was blocked by police from preaching in the majority Muslim town outside of a Muslim street festival.

“I told [the police officer] that we were already getting pelted with water bottles and he says ‘oh that’s Ok, we will keep an eye out for you.’ He turned around and he walked away. Of course, that was it,” Israel said. “The police did confront us several times. Every time they came to talk to us and tell us that we had to leave, everything got stopped. Once they walked away, it just turned around and did the same thing all over again.