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Pussy Riot-Like Justice Around the World

by Lynn Berry
Tuesday Aug 21, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) - The two-year prison sentence handed down to punk rock band Pussy Riot for a provocative protest inside a Moscow cathedral called attention to just how hard President Vladimir Putin is clamping down on minor displays of dissent.

But Russia isn't the only country where people are punished for offenses that many in the West might consider trivial. People can spend years in prison for insulting the king in Thailand, slaughtering cattle without government permission in Cuba, selling land to Israelis in the West Bank and having gay sex in Ethiopia. A British man was sent to jail for stealing a bottle of water.

While blasphemy is considered a serious crime in much of the Muslim world, a Christian girl in Pakistan has been arrested after furious neighbors accused her of burning pages of the Quran.

Here's a look around the world at crime and punishment:


Vandalism is punishable in Singapore by prison terms and three to eight strokes of the cane, delivered on the buttocks with a thick rattan stick that leaves lifelong scars. In 2010, Swish national Oliver Fricker pleaded guilty to trespassing into a subway train depot and creating graffiti on a car. He got seven months in jail and three strokes of the cane.

Singapore also is famous for the ban it imposed on chewing gum in 1992. Violations carry a fine of several hundred dollars, although no one has been convicted in recent years.



Thailand has some of the harshest lese majeste laws in the world, mandating a jail term of three to five years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king. Among those who have run afoul of the law is Joe Gordon, a Thai-born American sentenced to two and a half years in prison for translating a banned biography about the Thai king and posting it online. He was freed in July by a royal pardon. Amphon Tangnoppakul was not so fortunate. He died in prison in May at age 62, less than a year into a 20-year sentence for sending four defamatory text messages.



Zimbabweans are routinely arrested and fined for insulting President Robert Mugabe under sweeping security laws that prohibit citizens from "undermining the authority of the president." A salesman was held in jail from April to July after being found with satirical cartoons of Mugabe on his mobile phone, including one depicting a naked, skeletal Mugabe sitting on his haunches. His case was eventually dropped on a legal technicality.



Last year, a Muslim mob stormed a courthouse on Java and set three churches on fire to protest what they called a lenient sentence for a Christian convicted of blaspheming Islam. Antonius Richmond Bawengan was found guilty of distributing Christian books and leaflets that "spread hatred about Islam" and was sentenced to five years in prison, the maximum term.



In May, a court in Morocco convicted rapper Mouad Belghouat of attacking the image of the security services in a song about police corruption and sentenced him to a year in prison. His defense team claims the case is a political attack on the pro-democracy activist.



In Lebanon, considered to be one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, insulting religions or sects can lead to a prison sentence of up to three years, a law designed to protect co-existence in a country with 18 religious sects. Insulting the president also is punishable by up to three years in prison, and a couple of years ago three people were arrested for slandering the president in Facebook postings. They received jail sentences, but were released after a few months.



Anyone defaming or vilifying a president, minister, lawmaker or other high official faces up to three years in prison. Journalists and bloggers have been detained for weeks under the law, including one blogger who cursed President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook. Her case was dropped due to public pressure just before trial.

The Palestinians also have tough laws when it comes to dealing with Israel. Since the Palestinian Authority was established two decades ago, 140 people have been charged with selling West Bank land to Israel, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Palestinian officials said it was unknown how many of them were convicted.



Women can face arrest for driving and trying to travel abroad without the permission of their husband or male guardian. Unrelated men and woman can risk arrest for mingling in private or public.

One other rather unique rule in effect throughout much of the Gulf makes bouncing checks a criminal offense, punishable by jail time and/or deportation.



People convicted of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death in Pakistan. Human rights activists complain the blasphemy laws are widely misused to persecute Christians or settle scores in the mostly Muslim country. A Christian girl was arrested last week after hundreds of angry people gathered outside her house in Islamabad and demanded that police investigate reports that she had burned pages of the Islamic holy book, the Quran.



Homosexual acts carry severe penalties in many African countries, including in Ethiopia where those convicted of gay sex can face 10 years in prison.



Some nonpolitical crimes carry surprisingly stiff penalties in Cuba. Farmers who slaughter their own cattle without permission from the government face potential prison terms of four to 10 years, while transporting, selling or even purchasing such beef also can land someone in jail.

In January, six people were given eight- and 10-year sentences for cutting down nine mahogany trees in a botanical reserve.



Tough federal drug laws have mandatory minimum five-year prison terms and up to $5 million in fines for first offense trafficking, and life imprisonment and up to $20 million in fines for third offenses.

The three-strikes laws helped send a California man to prison for 25 years to life for possession of about $10 worth of methamphetamine. His first two convictions were for burglary. Shane Taylor's sentence was appealed to California's Supreme Court.



And then there is Nicolas Robinson, who drew a six-month jail sentence for stealing a water bottle from a London supermarket during the public disorder that swept the country last summer. Even tougher sentences were handed down to Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan for trying to organize riots on Facebook; both received four years in jail despite the fact that no one showed up, aside from police. Judges said the sentences were necessary in the context of the violent unrest.


Contributing to this report were Thanyarat Doksone and Vijay Joshi in Bangkok; Raphael Satter and Raissa Ioussof in London; Peter Orsi in Havana, Cuba; Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe; Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon; Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank; Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad; and Lara Jakes in Baghdad.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  • , 2012-08-22 03:28:46

    Wow I didn’t know any of this. Great article! Thank you.

  • , 2012-08-23 07:10:31


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