The Washington Post reports on intelligence detailing the Russian president’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign not only to disrupt the U.S. presidential election but also to help elect Donald Trump. On the day the Senate Republicans’ health care bill finally emerges from a secret drafting process and President Trump tweets that he has no tapes of his conversations with the now-fired FBI director, the White House bans live broadcast coverage of the news briefing, another rollback of press – and citizen – access. Capitol police drag away and arrest health care bill protesters, some in wheelchairs. A federal appeals court lifts an injunction on a Mississippi law that allows discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds. And in The Washington Post, PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel looks at the deep risk to free expression rights of treating offensive speech as equivalent to, or a justifiable provocation for, violence. -Dru Menaker, Chief Operating Officer


DARE: Daily Alert on Rights and Expression

The most pressing threats and notable goings-on in free expression today


No, hateful speech is not the same thing as ‘violence’
Recent confrontations around the country reflect a growing tendency to answer speech with violence. But now influential voices and factions from across the political spectrum seem increasingly ready to treat ugly speech as equivalent to, or a justifiable provocation for, violence. In a democracy, the state is supposed to hold a monopoly on violence. If speech is violence, the state could extend its monopoly to control expression as well. Yet our law treats speech in precisely the opposite way, keeping it open to all and protected from government interference. Both right-wing provocateurs and left-wing protesters have a powerful interest in keeping it that way.

Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault
The White House debated various options to punish Russia, but facing obstacles and potential risks, it ultimately failed to exact a heavy toll on the Kremlin for its election meddling. In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

Why are these White House briefings heard but not seen?
“Live coverage banned.” That’s what the graphic said on CNN as the White House daily press briefing was about to begin on Thursday. The White House designated the Q&A as “off-camera” and, at first, prohibited broadcasting audio as well – something it has done several times this month. Then the administration said television and radio networks could air the audio, but only after the briefing was over. It was the latest in a series of evasive maneuvers by the Trump administration, leaving journalists fuming and some Trump supporters cheering. Most importantly, the public was left in the dark.

Dozens arrested after disability advocates protest at McConnell’s office
Several dozen protesters were arrested Thursday after they gathered and chanted outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office over the GOP health care bill. “Many of the demonstrators, as part of their protest activities, removed themselves from their wheelchairs and lay themselves on the floor, obstructing passage through the hallway and into nearby offices,” the police statement read. The 28 female and 15 male protesters who were arrested were transported to Capitol Police headquarters for processing, authorities said.

Court clears Mississippi LGBT objections law; appeal likely
A federal appeals court said Thursday that Mississippi can enforce a law that allows merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples, but opponents of the law immediately pledged to appeal. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s decision that had blocked the law. The law does not take effect immediately. It could affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies.

Johnny Depp, Courting Outrage, Flirts With Idea of Trump Assassination
The actor Johnny Depp is the latest American entertainment figure to suggest — however jokingly, ironically or obliquely — the killing of President Trump. Speaking on Thursday at the Glastonbury arts festival in southwest England, Mr. Depp asked the audience, “Can you bring Trump here?” The remark was met with booing and jeering, and he continued: “You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to clarify: I’m not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it’s been a while and maybe it’s time.” The words were being interpreted as an allusion to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, in 1865.


‘Close al-Jazeera’: Saudi Arabia gives Qatar 13 demands to end blockade
The closure of the Qatar-funded broadcaster al-Jazeera is among 13 wide-ranging demands tabled by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo of Qatar. It also constitutes the first time Saudi Arabia has been prepared to put in writing the demands it is making of Qatar. Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt – have in recent days been put under pressure by the US state department to set out specific demands in an effort to help establish a mediation process.

Germany rejects Turkish office’s criticism of liberal mosque
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said officials were “very surprised” by statements from Turkey’s Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs, and others condemning the mosque where men and women can pray together that opened a week ago in the capital. Schaefer emphasized that, as Germany understands it, the state has “the obligation to protect the freedom of religion along with freedom of opinion and the press.” “I would like to clearly reject statements that obviously aim to deny the right of people in Germany to the free exercise of their religion and limit their right to freedom of expression of opinion,” he said.

Fake news bill imperils freedom of expression
A proposed bill in the Philippines slapping as much as P5-million fine and five-year prison time for peddlers of fake news will endanger citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, lawmakers warned on Friday. Villanueva’s Anti-Fake News bill penalizes “a person who maliciously offers, publishes, distributes, circulates and spreads false news or information or causes the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of the same in print, broadcast or online media and the person having full knowledge that information is false or has reasonable grounds to believe that the same is false.”

Germany wants to fine Facebook over hate speech, raising fears of censorship
Facebook, Twitter, and other web companies are facing increased pressure to remove hate speech, fake news, and other content in Europe, where lawmakers are considering new measures that critics say could infringe on freedom of speech. But nowhere is the pressure more acute than in Germany, where lawmakers are racing to pass new legislation that would impose fines of up to €50 million ($55.8 million) on tech companies that fail to remove hate speech, incitements to violence, and other “obviously illegal” content from their platforms.

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