Public displays of affection frequently plague our public transport systems. Many recoil when affronted with couples tongue wrestling, nose rubbing or ear nuzzling on the train, so in response to passenger complaints, Vienna’s rail officials launched a video campaign last week to warn the public off kissing on public transport.
Despite the caution, public kissing remains legal in Vienna, and attitudinal shifts towards sex continue to develop. Last week in Sweden, where public nudity is widely accepted, a judge ruled that a man caught masturbating in public could be spared sentencing, since the offending item wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular. Unfortunately for some, the rumour that communal self-love is now legal has been dismissed by the Swedish courts.
But more serious limitations on romantic freedom are enforced across the globe, often in countries with deplorable human rights records. Religion, culture and politics remain an influence over sexual and romantic freedom, posing a serious threat to freedom of expression as a result. Here’s the top five instances of romantic censorship in 2013, to remind us all that love will prevail...unless the censors have anything to do with it.
In February, British play producer David Cecil was deported from Uganda following his arrest for screening a homosexual-themed play in 2012. Cecil faced two years in jail or deportation for showing The River and the Mountain twice last year without permission from the country’s Media Council, who claimed the play “promoted homosexuality”. The play depicted a successful businessman being killed by his own employees for being gay. Charges were dropped in January 2013 after the prosecution failed to submit any evidence, but Cecil was rearrested on 6 February by immigration officials and deported days later. His Ugandan girlfriend and their two children remain in the capital Kampala. Uganda’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in 2009 and originally prescribed the death penalty for “repeat offences”, later reduced to life imprisonment following international admonishment.
Although a time of joy for some, Valentine’s Day meets controversy each year, and 2013 was no different. The holiday is banned entirely in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and although technically legal in other countries, Valentine’s Day remains somewhat controversial. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, the Pakistani government warned the media to avoid reporting on or broadcasting material associated with the “depraving, corrupting and injuring” holiday. In Malaysia, Muslims, who make up 60% of the population are forbidden from celebrating Valentine’s Day entirely. In India this year, activists of the Shiv Sena Hindu right-wing group staged protests in an attempt to dampen romantic spirits across the country. Indonesian officials and clerics see the public holiday as nothing more than an excuse for illicit sex – consequentially, some areas of the country have seen anti-Valentines protests and a ban on the sale of novelty gifts.
On 25 May, around 100 people gathered in Ankara’s main subway station to hold a ‘kissing protest’, after subway officials who captured CCTV footage of a couple kissing warned passengers to “act in accordance with moral rules.” A group of pro-Islamists assumed position opposite the protesters to form their own counter demonstration. The protests prompted a wider debate about whether subway officials are authorised to impose such demands. The kissing incident, as well as a law restricting the sale of alcohol has allegedly caused concern over whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has allowed religion to influence an otherwise secular political system.
When a stranger accidentally called Salaka Djikke in 2012, she formed a relationship with the man in question and the two quickly fell in love. Their love became the reason she was persecuted during the Islamist militant invasion of Mali earlier this year, after Salaka was caught riding on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle. He escaped and fled from their village, but Salaka was captured and sentenced to 95 public lashings. Tales of a similar nature were prevalent throughout the occupation of Northern Mali by rebel Islamists, intent on imposing a harsh version of Sharia law onto the public. An impoverished couple working as farmers were publically stoned to death for having children out of wedlock, and public floggings of women like Salaka happened on an almost daily basis.
Homophobic sentiment in Russia is hardly a new phenomenon, but anti-gay laws imposed by Stalin in the 1930s were revoked in 1993, decriminalising homosexuality and allowing relative freedom regardless of sexuality. But despite the LGBT community being protected by constitutional rights, an anti-gay bill was passed by the State Duma on 30 June, prohibiting the dissemination of “homosexual propaganda”. The purpose of the law, according to President Vladimir Putin, is to prevent the corruption of minors and protect them from gay ideology. The bill was foreshadowed by a series of ludicrous cases relating to the promotion of homosexuality, including anti gay-rights groups reporting a dairy company to prosecutors for using a rainbow symbol on milk cartons. Attacks and protests against homosexuals have heightened in the months since the bill was passed, and pro-gay rights demonstrations have been banned in Moscow for the next 100 years. According to a recent survey, 86% of Russians would support a ban on homosexual propaganda.