2014: A year of failing to get the joke

Dancing Iranians. Eating sandwiches. Banning puns. Threatening war for a satire. 2014 was the year of less-than-enlightened world leaders failing to find their funny bones.

1. Baguette me not

Banh-mi eaters had to watch where they snacked this year.

On 20 May, the army in Thailand declared martial law following months of tensions between the government and the opposition. Since the military takeover, any kind of peaceful resistance has been repressed.

Bangkok University students experienced this first-hand when they tried to stage a peaceful protest by eating sandwiches and reading George Orwell’s dystopian depiction of a totalitarian future - ‘1984’.

All were arrested before they could even take a bite.

The humble sandwich has since become a symbol of peaceful resistance. A senior police chief said they would be keeping a close eye on sandwich-eaters in case their bread-based antics were actually a front for political opposition.

2. That’s not punny

In a completely rational move, China’s print and broadcast watchdog decided to ban wordplay in ads, press, TV and radio. Why? Well, such linguistic tomfoolery could create ‘cultural and linguistic chaos’ – chaos I tell you! 

Despite the Chinese language being wonderfully suited to wordplay, the new rules mean all broadcasting outlets must abide by the regulation and avoid changing any characters, phrases and meanings in case it ‘misleads the public, particularly the youth’. 

It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the authorities wanting to crack down on free speech – nope, nada.

3. What would Katniss do?

And we’re back to Thailand for number 3. As well as perverting the use of sandwiches, the country’s military rulers are also fearful of hand gestures – particularly those from sci-fi books.

Dear #HungerGames. We've taken your sign as our own. Our struggle is non-fiction. Thanks. #ThaiCoup #Thailand pic.twitter.com/nGaYJIdj05

— Manik Sethisuwan (@ManikSethisuwan) June 1, 2014

In the summer, five students were detained for flashing the three-fingered salute favoured by the anti-authoritarian heroine Katniss Everdeen in the The Hunger Games trilogy. And just a few weeks ago screenings of Mockingjay Part 1 were cancelled in Bangkok after more three-fingered protests. Katniss and the other rebels use the gesture as a sign of silent dissent against a brutal totalitarian state.

But once again, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha did not find this amusing.

4. Do not watch this movie

Another country, another dictator who doesn’t like Hollywood movies.

This December, Sony Pictures cancelled the release of ‘The Interview’, a comedy about the fictional attempted assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, following a sustained cyber-attack on the company’s execs and threats to cinemas screening the film. The US government claims that North Korea is behind it all.

And while Sony might have caved to those threats, we won’t. Here’s another interview North Korea doesn’t want you to watch – which is exactly why you should.

5. What a load of ******* 

Environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko was arrested ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games for allegedly swearing at a bus stop.

President Vladimir Putin clearly doesn’t like potty mouths as he later introduced a new law banning swear words in anything to do with the arts, culture and entertainment including music and films. WTF?!

6. Dance like nobody the government is watching

Making a homemade tribute video of Pharrell Williams’ song ‘Happy’ and posting it to YouTube was enough for six Iranians to be arrested and sentenced to 91 lashes and one year in prison. 

Iran’s police said the ‘vulgar’ video offended ‘public chastity’. This completely ludicrous sentence shows just how much contempt the Iranian authorities have for freedom of expression.

7. No ball games

It’s illegal for women in Iran to attend live volleyball matches. But it’s all in their best interest – designed to protect women from the lewd behaviour of male fans. Phew  for a moment there I thought those guys might get away with it.

In June, British-Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami took part in a peaceful protest, demanding women be allowed equal access to the stadium. She was arrested, charged with ‘spreading propaganda’ and sentenced to a year in jail.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts