Friday, June 20, 2008

Banning Books – Did Oman ban the June 14th Edition of The Economist?

I read the Economist regularly. It appeals to my libertarian ethics, and offers a reasonably independent and socially liberal analysis of events. And I think its really well written. But I noticed last weeks edition didn’t seem to be available. Ah well, maybe late. But no, the week dragged on, and no new edition surfaced.

So I searched the on line edition, and, behold, the June 14th-20th Edition had an interesting article in it that indeed refered to Oman – on the US State Dept report on Human Trafficking.

The report, copied below, does mention Oman, although only in a cursory way along with the other GCC countries. The report itself seems pretty innocuous in general, and about Oman in particular. But is this why the edition seems to have been stopped at the border? Weird. It was hardly a state secret that Oman again was listed as Tier 3 and that the Government strongly objected. Afterall, it was the lead story from the Oman News Agency, and the fact of Omans reported Tier 3 status was in the official ONA release. So why ban the Economist? Did it just sell out really quickly and I missed it? Anyone else see this Economist for sale?

If the edition was banned, I wonder why? Is someone getting a little bit paranoid about this report issue?

I really hate book banning, or book burning for that matter. It always strikes me as the ultimate closed mindedness and is most patronising to the people. Stopping people reading ideas by physically removing the printed word makes me think of intellectual repression in Germany or China, or South Carolina for that matter.

The coloring in of the cleavages and occasional nipple is a practice I find quaint, and at least somewhat consistent with the legal code. But if this is true ... rather OTT I think. Someone was really feeling sensitive...
Human trafficking. A horrible business
Jun 14th 2008 From The Economist print edition

The modern slave trade is thriving

CONSIDERING it is a business that has provoked wars in centuries past, scant attention is paid to the modern slave trade. But one way to track the trade in people is the recently released annual report on trafficking in persons from America’s State Department. And it makes for gloomy reading. Though there have been improvements of late, the numbers of people involved are still appallingly high. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders each year and millions more are traded domestically. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are at least 2.5m people in forced labour at any one time, including sexual exploitation, as a result of trafficking.

Efforts to wipe out this modern slave trade are hampered because human trafficking is a big business. It is impossible to know the exact sums involved but recent estimates of the value of the global trafficking trade have put it as high as $32 billion. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking describes it as a high-reward and low-risk crime. People come cheap and many countries lack the necessary laws to target traffickers, or they are not properly enforced. Worse still, it is often the victims of the traffickers that are treated as criminals.

Women suffer most in this respect: the report estimates that 80% of victims of international trafficking are women forced into some form of prostitution. Women are involved in trafficking too, though this is less common. In Europe and Central and south Asia women are often recruited by other women who were themselves the victims of trafficking. In part to avoid detection by the authorities, traffickers grant victims limited freedom while simultaneously coercing them to return home to recruit other women to replace them.

The report also casts a light on the increasingly important role that technology is playing in the trade, both in combating it and its perpetration. The internet helps to identify and track down the perpetrators but increasingly it is becoming part of the problem. Chatrooms are used to exchange information about sex-tourism sites; people are targeted through social-networking sites where pornographic records of sex trafficking are also bought and sold; victims are ensnared through instant messaging.

There are a few bright spots. Ethiopia is commended for its efforts to combat the trafficking of children by establishing child-protection units across the country. Romania’s creation of a national database to identify and respond quickly to trends in trafficking is also praised as is Madagascar’s campaign to wipe out sex tourism.

The report ranks countries into 3 tiers determined by how compliant they are deemed to be with America’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Predictably, some countries listed in tier 3, the worst offenders, have responded to the accusations with outrage. But these are not the only countries that have a problem. There is also “special watch list” of tier-2 countries that need careful monitoring.

The foreign ministry of Cuba, a country the report places in tier 3, firmly denied that the report had any value and used the opportunity for a customary jibe at America, saying that “the government of the United States has a lot to do in its own country to combat the rampant phenomenon there of prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labour and the trafficking of people.”

Of the six Gulf states, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were listed as Tier 3 and Bahrain crept up to the tier-2 watch list. Only the United Arab Emirates made it to tier 2 on the basis of its efforts to combat abuse against foreign domestic servants and construction workers. Foreign ministers from the Gulf Co-operation Council simply said that the information in the report was wrong. They claim that America “aims to practise unjustified pressure for political ends”.

And there is some evidence they could use to back up this assertion. One country exempt from the rankings is America itself. Self-analysis is always difficult but the report, though comprehensive, might have more force if America were to turn the spotlight fully on itself.

Copywrite The Economist.


  1. Of course, if it was banned, the most likely explanation is that right at the start of the reaction HE from the Foreign Ministry said something about 'and no articles about the report are to be let into Oman', and some underling took him at his word, even though the text of the article is not that derogatory.

    Or it wasn't banned and I just missed it.

  2. I've seen examples of, if not banning, at least a kind of selective availability before - the most common that I've noticed being the omission of "Friday" magazine out of "Gulf News." Since "Friday" is the most innocuous magazine on earth, my guess is that their fashion feature goes a little over the edge cleavage-wise now and then.

  3. muscato - seriously? Friday out of Gulf News omitted? How much more conservative than, let's say, Abu Dhabi, is Muscat :) ?

  4. Update: I saw a copy today. So, maybe it was just delayed by total coincidence! (didn't get a chance to flick through it to see if any pages were missing tho'...)


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