Free speech on Earth, goodwill to men

ASSOCIATED PRESS Shezanne Cassim: Jailed in Dubai for satire.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Shezanne Cassim: Jailed in Dubai for satire.
Posted: December 24, 2013

AS A GOOD PORTION of the world gears up for Christmas, "the war on free speech" got a bit of a present in Russia, of all places, when the last two imprisoned members of punk band Pussy Riot walked out of prison yesterday and then criticized the amnesty measure that released them as a publicity stunt.

Like a noted American duck caller, they won't back down.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human-rights record before the Sochi Games in February.

"I'm calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games," Tolokonnikova said. "What is happening today - releasing people just a few months before their term expires - is a cosmetic measure."

The amnesty and President Vladimir Putin's pardoning last week of onetime oil tycoon and political rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky freed some of the most prominent convicts who were sentenced in politically tainted cases.

Khodorkovsky on Sunday also spoke up, saying at a news conference that his release shouldn't be seen as indicating that there aren't other "political prisoners" in Russia.

Russia's parliament passed the amnesty bill last week, allowing the release of thousands of inmates. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, who were due for release in March, qualified for amnesty because they have small children.

* A court in the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, sentenced eight people including an American to up to a year in prison yesterday after being convicted in connection to a satirical video about youth culture in Dubai.

The video they produced and uploaded to the Internet was a spoof documentary of would-be "gangsta" youth in the Gulf Arab city-state. The state-owned daily the National said they were accused of "defaming the image of United Arab Emirates society abroad." Supporters of the defendants reported that they were charged under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, from Minnesota, became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration following his arrest in April.

Cassim, who was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006, was sentenced yesterday to a year in prison followed by deportation and received a 10,000-dirham ($2,725) fine, according to family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore.

His brother, Shervon, called the ruling "painful and unfair."

* These two cases point out the craziness of those claiming the Phil Robertson case is a free-speech issue.

It isn't.

If the government were opposed to Robertson airing his views, then this would be a censorship/free-speech issue and like the women of Pussy Riot or Shezanne Cassim, he would be in jail.

No one is stopping the wealthy Robertson from earning a living or speaking his mind. He tours the country speaking his mind. He's got books and CDs with his mind on full display. And the quotes that got him into trouble didn't appear in a newsletter at a small Louisiana church; they appeared in the "lamestream" media's GQ magazine.

Being suspended by a TV network is not a denial of one's free speech. Nor is it anything new. Just off the top of Tattle's holiday spirit-filled brain, we recall MSNBC recently firing Alec Baldwin for comments deemed unfriendly to gays and Martin Bashir for comments deemed unfriendly to Sarah Palin.

Paula Deen lost her Food Network cooking show after a deposition in a lawsuit showed off her poorly worded views about her minority employees.

In a case that Robertson should be able to relate to, Gilbert Gottfried lost his role as the Aflac duck, after tweeting jokes thought to be tasteless following the tsunami in Japan.

ABC chose not to renew Isaiah Washington's contract on "Grey's Anatomy" following a gay-slur controversy with co-star T.R. Knight.

Don Imus lost his radio show when he made untoward comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team.

Bill Maher lost his "Politically Incorrect" show on ABC when he made comments following 9/11 that some deemed pro-terrorist.

Pee-wee Herman lost his "Playhouse" after expressing (and exposing) himself in a Sarasota, Fla., adult movie theater.

Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder lost his gig at "The NFL Today" on CBS back in the '80s, when he said that blacks were "bred" to be better athletes than whites.

Al Campanis lost his job with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he aired questionable views on "Nightline" about the dearth of black baseball managers.

In 1969, the Smothers Brothers were fired from CBS for making comments opposed to the Vietnam War on their variety show.

In 1965, Soupy Sales lost his TV show when he jokingly asked his child viewers to send him envelopes with money.

And way back in 1956, right here in Philadelphia, Bob Horn was convicted of a DUI and lost his TV job hosting some new show called "American Bandstand," paving the way for the rise of Dick Clark.

There is a long history of people losing TV jobs for expressing their opinions - saying or doing all kinds of dumb stuff - and their firings have little to do with the networks having some deep-rooted moral/ethical streak.

And on that happy note, Tattle would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

- Daily News wire services

contributed to this report.


Email: gensleh@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5678

On Twitter: @DNTattle

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