Raja Petra locked up for two years

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 10:54 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, civil rights, Freedom of speech, malaysia, Press freedom | 2 Comments
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Raja Petra Kamarudin, a Malaysian blogger and editor of Malaysia Today, has been detained for two years without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Raja Petra is supposed to have insulted islam. He is going to be sent to Kamunting Detention Center today. A protest rally calling for abolition of the Internal Security Act will take place in Kuala Lumpur at 8 p.m. local time.

Baring in mind that the Malaysian government have a notorious record on harassing bloggers, the accusation of “insulting islam” must be regarded as an excuse to get rid of a political dissident. Religions, islam included, cannot be insulted because they stand above any form of insult. Any religion is god’s word for a believer but totally indifferent for a non-believer. Alas, no insult can possibly take place.

Maybe Malaysia will some day turn in to be a country with something resembling democracy and a civil society. The present corrupt government should be replaced in order to make that happen. Raja Petra and other political prisoners must be immediately released.

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Press freedom the Chinese way

Friday, August 15, 2008 at 21:09 | Posted in China, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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The Chinese understanding of press freedom is that accrediated journalists are free to cover the Olympic events but should close their eyes regarding anything else. If they try to cover anything that the officials do not want reported, they have stepped over the line of the press freedom as it is applied in China.

This footage shows ITV correspondent John Ray getting arrested as he was covering a peaceful demonstration for Tibet in Beijing.

via China Watchblog

Olympic mouth-gag

Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 20:31 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Journalism, Press freedom | 2 Comments
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The IOC has issued what they call Blogging guidelines for the Olympic games (pdf file here, via Barbara). It is a substantial set of very restrictive rules for blogging during the Olympics by Accredited Persons at the Games. It could be best described as a mouth-gag, albeit practically impossible to impose.

At the introduction of the 13 paragraph mouth-gag rules there is a sentence I strongly disagree with:

The IOC considers blogging, in accordance with these Guidelines, as a legitimate form of
personal expression and not as a form of journalism.

That may very well apply for some blogs and bloggers but certainly not all of them. A blog of a journalist, either free lance or affiliated, can include journalistic personal expression or even consist of nothing else but. In that case the blog in question is indeed a platform of journalistic activities.

Many of us, Yours Truly included, publish in our personal blogs some of the material that did not fit in a story published by a main stream media outlet. The content has thus been aqcuired as a journalist and it stays as a jornalistic statement regardless of the media where it appeared. In other words, whether or not blogging is to be regarded as journalism does not depend of the blog format per se but of the status of the blogger and the nature of the contents.

Alas, the restriction imposed to accrediated journalists by the IOC must be regarded as a pathetic attempt to violate the freedom of press. While the so called guidelines also apply to Olympic athletes and there are detailed restrictions about covering Olympic events above the personal experience, it must also be regarded as violating freedom of speech. No interviews or just references to statements of fellow athletes are allowed. There are also extensive limitations to images published and “moving images”, as they call it, are totally banned.

Clauses of commercial material are disputable. If interpreted strictly, the mouth-gag rules could be understood to ban Google Ads in a blog, just to mention one wierd example.

As I mentioned, these so called guidelines are practically impossible to impose, both legally and technically. Dispite the Great Firewall of China, critical contents is leaking out all the time.

An alternative Olympic banner

Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 7:29 | Posted in China, Freedom of speech, Human rights, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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I picked this banner at the Reporters Without Borders web site. If you want to download it in full size, just click here.

Beijing cheated about free web access

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 at 13:53 | Posted in censorship, China, internet, Press freedom | 2 Comments
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When the Chinese Olympic organizers promised that foreign journalists covering the games would have uncensored access to the Internet, I did not believe for a moment that this would actually happen. It was merely a lip service necessary to get their bid for the games approved. I am now being proven right: the Great Firewall of China curtails the Olympic media center.

Web sites like Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch are being blocked as well as a number of pro Tibetan sites and basically most contents critical of the pathetic rulers in Beijing. On this clip you can hear a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman spell out that sites related to Falun Gong are not going to be made accessible. The most outrageous statement is blaming some of the censored sites themselves for being off line. Just click on the links, folks, and see that they are on line.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “IOC probes China censorship claims | …“, posted with vodpod

Among many other sites all of WordPress.com is being censored in China which is why this post can not be read there. Oddly enough, it is possible to post to Blogger in China but not to read Blogger blogs as Blogspot.com is filtered but Blogger.com is not. Totalitarian governments are as inconsistent as they are unreliable.

Granting the Olympic games to China was a huge mistake. The IOC apparently reasoned that the Olympics would prompt China to give in on the human rights issue but we have all way long seen the contrary. It turns out that the IOC themselves have had to give in, according to the BBC:

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, IOC press commission chairman Kevan Gosper apologised for inadvertently misleading journalists over unfettered internet access.

“I’m not backing off what I said. There will be full, open and free internet access during Games time to allow journalists to report on the Olympics,” he told the daily.

“But I have also been advised that some of the IOC officials had negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked.”

Which is another reminder that there is no point in bargaining with totalitarian rezimes as they never keep their promises and always tend to cheat.

Edit: This post has also been published as a guest author’s post in China-Watchblog.

A public service announcement: China-Watchblog helps you improve your understanding of the German language and provides a comprhensive coverage of contemporary China before, during and after the Olympics.

Another public service announcement: A deep analysis on the basic nature of the Chinese society appears daily before and during the Olympics at Sex and Shanghai.

Selective Olympic press freedom

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 12:13 | Posted in China, Journalism, Press freedom | 2 Comments
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The Chinese officicials have promised press freedom for journalists covering the Beijing Olympics. As this fresh RTHK (Hong Kong) report shows, the freedom of press is being applied very selectively. That is, the more pro Beijing you are, the more freedom you enjoy.

Belarus editor on trial for Muhammad toons

Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 10:25 | Posted in censorship, Freedom of speech, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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Berlingske Tidende writes that Aleksander Sdvijkov, editor of Belarus weekly Zgoda is on trial in Minsk for attempting to print the famous  Muhammad cartoons originally published by Jyllands-Posten. He is charged for exhortation to racial hostility which could bring him imprisonment between three and ten years if found guilty. The toons were actually printed but the publisher withdrew the edition and the magazine with the cartoons was never distributed to news stands.

Preliminary investigation against  Sdvijkov was started by prosecutors in February 2006. The magazine was banned in March. Sdvijkov escaped to Russia but was arrested as he returned to Belarus for two months ago.

Allah does not exist (for me)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007 at 15:50 | Posted in Freedom of speech, malaysia, Press freedom | 6 Comments
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Diptychal points to an article in the International Herald Tribune reporting that a senior government official in Malaysia has told Malaysian catholic weekly Herald to drop the word “Allah” in their Malay language section as a condition to have their publishing permit renewed.

The Herald, the organ of Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah” but it is erroneous because Allah refers to the Muslim God, said Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit.

“Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people,” Che Din told The Associated Press.

The weekly should instead, use the word “Tuhan” which is the general term for God, he said.

IHT

In the same IHT article, the Herald editor explains the biblical usage of “Allah” and “Tuhan”:

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the weekly’s use of the word Allah was not intended to offend Muslims.

“We follow the Bible. The Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God and Tuhan for Lord. In our prayers and in church during Malay mass, we use the word Allah,” he told the AP.

Diphytcal refers to a Wikipedia article about Allah which spells out that “Allah” is widely used by Arabic speaking christians and jews as a reference to god. Diphytcal’s conclusion is that Mr. Che Din Yusoff obviously does not know the difference between language and religion.

Personally I could not care less because I have no religious belief at all. God, Allah and Tuhan do not exist for me. However, I am an advocate of freedom of speech and religion. No matter what ignorant officials in the Malaysian or any other government say, everybody must have the right to address the god they believe in whatever way they see fit.

Finnish journalist convicted

Friday, December 21, 2007 at 8:47 | Posted in Finland, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment

A journalist was convicted for insubordination but left without sentence by a Helsinki court yesterday. Staff photographer Markus Pentikäinen of the Finnish weekly Suomen Kuvalehti was covering the violent “SMASH Asem” demonstration in Helsinki in September last year as the police ordered him to leave the spot. Pentikäinen refused to leave and quoted his right as a journalist to cover the event. The ombudsman of the Finnish Parliament ruled in November that the police acted partly unlawfully at the demonstration.

The European Federation of Journalists condemns the court’s ruling:

“This is an appalling decision in a country that enjoys one of the highest standards regarding press freedom. It goes against Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “When a journalist is doing his work during a demonstration that becomes violent, it cannot be that he or she is regarded as acting against the public interest and brought to trial, when they are only doing their job.”

“The government of Finland should carry out a full investigation and reassure all media that they have full access to demonstrations and public happenings,” White said.

Finland has traditionally ranked high in international press freedom comparisons. I have on several occasions pointed out that the self censorship widely applied by Finnish media is not reflected in those statistics because journalists are reluctant to talk about it. Alas, freedom of press in Finland has actually been ranked higher than it deserves. This incident may bring Finland back to reality in the rankings.

FEMA faked a press briefing

Saturday, October 27, 2007 at 5:11 | Posted in Journalism, Media, Press freedom, USA | Leave a comment
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The US Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA desperately needed a PR face lift after their bad handling of Katrina and in view of difficulties faced with the California wildfires. As the Washington Post reports, FEMA decided to organize a televised press conference but just to make sure that no media representatives would show up and spoil their party, they made sure to announce the conference with a 15 minutes notice.

The questions to the deputy administrator Harvey E Johnson were put by FEMA employees faking to be reporters. No need to say that the questions were characterized as soft, without any critical points whatsoever. You can see an extract of the briefing, as broadcast live by FOX at the FOX web site.

As the BBC reports, after being exposed by the Washington Post, FEMA has apologized for their media stunt. The Homeland Security Department were apparently also less than amused:

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the incident “inexcusable and offensive”.

“We have made it clear that stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated,” Laura Keehner said, adding that the department was considering whether or not to reprimand those responsible.

I would not even have expected something like this from Göbbels. Did these guys actually think they would get away with it? How low can an administration sink!

Edit: Here is some C-SPAN footage (via Dandelion Salad) with White House press secretary Dana Perano answering questions (apparently by real reporters) about the incident:

Edit: Also via Dandelion Salad, this footage of E.J. Dionne from the Washington Post discussing the scandal in MSNBC.

Iceland and Norway on top, Ertirea at bottom

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 3:54 | Posted in censorship, Freedom of speech, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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Reporters Without Borders have issued a new World ranking of press freedom. It shows Iceland and Norway sharing the top position of countries with most press freedom, followed by Estonia, Slovakia, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Portugal.

The worse situation has been detected in Eritrea. The runners up (or should I say runners down) are North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran and Cuba. Commenting the bottom rankings, Reporters Without Borders said:

“Even if we are not aware of all the press freedom violations in North Korea and Turkmenistan, which are second and third from last, Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom. The privately-owned press has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime are thrown in prison. We know that four of them have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate.”

The oragnization is also concerned of the situation in Burma and China (6th and 7th from bottom respectively). In view of the 2008 Olympic games, imprisoned Chinese journalists are not likely to be released soon. In Burma, the junta seems to have determined to hang on which is likely to rather increase than ease restrictions of free speech.

Malaysian government shuts up bloggers

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 at 21:15 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, censorship, Freedom of speech, malaysia, Press freedom | 5 Comments

The government controlled Malaysian news agency Bernama writes (via Susan Loone) about the government’s plan to take “tough action against web bloggers who write on sensitive issues which include insulting the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Islam”:

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said the government would not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 121b of the Penal Code against these bloggers.

He said the government had exercised restraint in the matter for a long time and the time had come for it to act according to those laws.

“I want to issue a warning that the time has come for us to take action against them (bloggers who make disparaging statements). We have the right and we will do it. We have been very patient,” he said when winding up debate on the Electronic Government Activities Bill 2007 in the Dewan Negara here. The bill was passed.

As much of the main stream media in Malaysia is under government control there is not much of press freedom as we understand it in the country. Blogs are the only source that could provide a somewhat credible and critical coverage of news and current events in the country. This explains the government’s eagerness to get at critical bloggers.

The owner of the independent news site Malaysia Today, Raja Petra, was taken in for questioning at a police station on Wednesday and released after eight hours. He was faced with accusations that articles and comments posted on his website “insulted the Yang diPertuan Agong and Islam”. Insulting the monarch and religion is a standard phrase commonly used to describe critical web contents.

As Bernama reports, alleged insults of the monarch and islam were also quoted by the coalition senator Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib, who filed the compalint against Malaysia Today. Berasa quotes the senator as saying:

“The liberal writing on the portal can cause young minds to think that there are no rules and sensitivities governing articles and that anyone can write on any matter in the name of individual freedom,” he said.

“At a time when the government is introducing the system of electronic government, there are unhealthy developments in the form of publications on the web such as this, articles which can be read not only by our society but also the whole world and anyone for that matter, even children,” he added.

Anyone writing “on any matter in the name of individual freedom” is called freedom of speech elsewhere, senator. It must be a pain in his senatorial ass that the whole World gets to read this “liberal writing”. It would be so much more comfortable if only one official truth was spread around the World from Malaysia.

This is why the Malaysian government is doing their best to shut up critical bloggers. Which of course will only put lacking press freedom and freedom of speech in Malaysia on focus but I guess the government is unable to understand this.

Edit: Oh dear! It looks like quite a lot of good comments intended to this post have ended up here. I have no idea why this happened. I can just refer to read the comments there.

Futile censorship

Sunday, July 22, 2007 at 19:51 | Posted in absurd, censorship, Freedom of speech, internet, Journalism, Legal, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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A court order in Spain issued by judge Juan del Olmo triggered a police operation to impose a seizure of all copies of the Spanish weekly satirical magazine El Jueves. The El Jueves web site has been down all weekend but I do not know if this is connected with the seizure. Judge del Olmo ruled that this caricature featuring Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia “struck at the honour and the dignity of the people represented”:

In the text the Crown Prince, while banging his wife, says that if she becomes pregnant, it would be the closest to work he will ever have been during his life. The statement makes fun about the Spanish government’s plan to fight declining birth rate by paying 2500 € to parents of every fresh born baby. El Jueves is known for their republican sympathies.

Insulting the Royal Family is prosecutable in Spain. While judge del Olmo obviously had no choice but to grant the court order, I wonder if he and the prosecutors seeking the seizure realize that in this day and age, trying to censor something, especially something which is witty and funny, is bound to backfire. This is the most certain way to guarantee that the cartoon is going to be spread far beyond the boarders of Spain while the printed copies would probably have been forgotten within a week without these futile attempts of censorship.

As the Spanis paper El Mundo puts it:

“The picture, which had been seen by thousands of people, was posted on numerous Web sites in Spain and abroad and will now have been seen by tens of millions of people. Not even the Crown’s worst enemy could have had that effect.”

Sources: The Ink Blog, Aftermath News and Helsingin Sanomat

The fuzz around Estonian KAPO review

Sunday, May 27, 2007 at 2:23 | Posted in censorship, Estonia, information, internet, Journalism, Personal, Press freedom | 8 Comments
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There has been radio silence in this blog for a few days but the site has been busy as you can see in the graphic screen shot above. The otherwise modest statistics for May have two peaks: one just before mid May connected to Hubertus Albers who prefers to appear under his artist name Atze Schröder. Unlike the German TV clown, the other peak these last couple of days associates to a serious topic: the annual review of the Estonian Security Police.

Some of my friends in the wide World have asked me what the fuzz is around the annual review. As I am a part of that fuzz in that the documents were at least partly spread out allover the Internet through my actions, this post is strictly written on my personal point of view. I am referring to some outside sources, most of which, however, are in the Estonian language. I hope you will appreciate that I may not be able to disclose all details in my knowledge partly to protect my sources and partly because the legal situation around publishing the files is contested. So I may need to “take the fifth”, as it were.

As Wolli writes here, the Estonian Public Information Act specifically stipulates that government agencies (both local and national) are under obligation to publish reports about their work and fulfilling their responsibilities in the Internet. They also have to guarantee access through the web as soon as possible to all information obtained or created in course of fulfilling their legal function.

The Estonian KAPO printed their annual report and distributed it to selected media outlets and their partners. The printed copy was also available for free for anybody who would ask. For some reason which can only be speculated, they were not even planning to publish it in the web.

Up untill a couple of days ago, KAPO did not have the earlier editions of the annual review in their web site had the reviews up to 2004 in their web site. They have since hastily uploaded previous editions the 2005 editon but not the review for 2006 which is what we are talking about. Their freshest press releases were three years old and they had a list of wanted persons which was last updated in 2003. Press releases have since been added and at this moment they are almost up to date. The list of wanted persons has been taken down which is obviously good for the persons who were entered there but may not be wanted any more or may even have been found innocent.

These shortcomings in informing the general public through the Internet suggest that KAPO have been concentrating in their actual function which is protecting the country. If you download and read the review, I think you would agree that they are doing that well. Nevertheless, that is not an excuse for failing to interact with the public and make public information accessible through the web.

Many bloggers and IT specialists in Estonia were concerned that the country which has otherwise been praised for its outstanding achievements in the area of e government and e society (the first country in the World to have had a nationwide election with possibility for secure voting over the web) has a security police that does not seem to understand what the Internet is all about. Some of these concerned citizens got hold of pdf files of the annual review prepared for the printing purposes of the book. Their contents were identical to the printed version. Since there is not a single statement in the files restricting the use of them and the documents are public according to the law, some bloggers uploaded the files (Estonian and English) into the Internet.

Each of the bloggers, including Jaanus Kase, were rapidly contacted by the KAPO and asked to remove the files. The bloggers complied the request and for a short while the documents were not available in the web.

Having the two pdf files in my possession (how I got them falls under a journalist’s privilege to protect their sources), I was evaluating the situation in the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd May 2007. I had information that the KAPO was only interested in making the printed copies available. The documents are public and KAPO is under legal obligation (Public Information Act) to specifically make them available in the web.

Colorful parts of the document had been published in media, here a few appetizers by Eesti Päevaleht. There was definitely a public interest to have the files downloadable in the Internet. I judged that the public interest outweighs any other concern. While I understand that people who were asked by KAPO to take the files down did so for personal reasons, I think I would have been a bad journalist if I did not upload and link to them.

At 15.43 local time I published a short post with links to the two pdf files I had uploaded in a secure server. The post has been read during the last three days almost as much as my first post about Atze Schröder during the last 30 days. The interest has been beyond borders, both the Estonian and the English version has been downloaded heavily. (Sorry, I am not releasing download stats at this moment to protect myself legally.)

Within less than an hour and a half after my post was published, a somewhat odd comment appeared in the blog. It was a polite request to “block the downloading access to kapo’s yearbook”. While the Estonian bloggers were contacted by KAPO, this comment was signed by Ms. Evely Ventsli who indicated she was a project manager of Smile Group, the ad agency that had compiled the document for KAPO. Strangely enough, Ms. Ventsly indicated that she was writing “on behalf of” KAPO. No proper reason to the request was given, other than I had no permission from them nor KAPO to publish the documents.

Having made arrangements to secure the files (I thank a number of distinguished members of the blogging community for their kind help, no names obviously) and consulted a number of friends and colleagues, also having informed the board of the Estonian Journalist Union, I wrote to Ms Evlyn Ventsli asking on what grounds and authorization she made the request. I also pointed out that the files were public documents which is why I did not need consent of neither her agency nor KAPO to make them available in the Internet. I sent the letter at 21.35 local time.

At 15.35 the following day (Thursday 24th May) I received a reply to my inquiry. It was anonymously signed “Kaitsepolitseiamet” (the official name of the agency supervising the Security Police) but it was sent from the mail address of Evely Ventsli from the ad agency (evely@smilegroup.ee). This raises a number of questions, obviously.

If a government agency drafts and sends an official letter, it is signed by the appropriate official within the agency who is authorized to do so. They sign it with their own name and rank. Has Ms Ventsli been authorized by the Security Police to act as their mail box or is she a member of KAPO? Who authorized her? Was the authorization legal? Or did Ms Ventsli appear as an agent of the Security Police on her own?

The letter itself was obviously written by somebody with legal education. It was quoting copyrights under sections of the Estonian copyright legislation. It ended with an insinuation that I may be about to commit or have committed an action that could be prosecutable as crime.

As far as I am concerned, I do not regard the anonymously signed letter delivered through an ad agency as the official response of the Security Police. Neither do I recognize that documents that are public under law and should have been published in the Internet by the Security Police themselves would be protectable by copyright. I question if Ms Ventsli had any legal right to act in this matter. I am also asking, who exactly is claiming copyright. The Security Police or the Smile Group?

By now it is just academical whether I take the files down or not. They are already in so many places in the web that they can not be put back to the bottle. Somebody has even made copies in HTML, MS Word, plain text and even Mp3!

For the moment the files stay in my server. I am going to take them down as soon as KAPO puts them up in their own site. That is what they should have done in the first place. Had they done so, none of this fuzz would have happened.

Update: Since KAPO have released the Estonian version on their own web site, I took it down. I am happy that the joint efforts of bloggers in Estonia and elsewhere have contributed to a reconsideration by KAPO. Public documents must be availbale for members of public.

I am happy to take down the English version as well, as soon as KAPO will have it in their web site.

Update: KAPO have now released also the English version. It is downloadable as a pdf file on their web site. Therefore, I am also taking it down as obsolete.

Atze Schröder on stage

Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 20:11 | Posted in Freedom of speech, Germany, Legal, Press freedom | Leave a comment

Since I do not watch TV, I had a look at YouTube to see who the clown called Atze Schröder is.

Hubertus Albers is a German actor who has a popular TV show where he appears as Atze Schröder. His real name is common knowledge in Germany, it appears in a trailer after each episode. However, Mr Albers sued a German paper and was granted a court order gagging the paper from printing his real name an publishing photos of him without the wig he wears as the show character. The court quoted the actor’s right to privacy.

I posted about the topic this morning

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