March 8, 2007 — -- Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's movie "Borat" may have been a box office hit in the United States, but the actor who plays the irreverent and misguided fictional Kazakh journalist Borat drew the ire of Kazakhstan's government for his Web site and ultimately, according to a recent U.S. State Department report, was a victim of human rights abuse.
Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country of more than 15 million people, revoked Baron Cohen's use of a .kz domain in 2006 after the comedian used it to slam the former Soviet republic's totalitarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev and promote satirical sexist and incestuous misconceptions about the Kazakh people.
For example, Borat claims that Kazakhs enjoy shooting dogs, drinking fermented horse urine and persecuting Jews. Baron Cohen himself is an observant Jew.
Baron Cohen's case was one of several cited as censorship of the Internet and other media in the State Department's recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The report says these cases are restrictions on Internet and free speech around the world.
"In December 2005 the government [of Kazakhstan] deemed as offensive the content of a satirical Web site controlled by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and revoked the .kz domain," the report said.
In February, 2006 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice established the Global Internet Freedom Task Force to address challenges to the freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet.
"Despite international commitments to freedom of expression, numerous governments around the world seek to blunt the Internet's transformational power and restrict the rights of their citizens to participate in the online exchange of information, ideas and ideals," said Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for Democracy and Global Affairs, when presenting the report earlier this week.
"We will continue to defend Internet freedom, including by addressing Internet repression directly with the foreign governments involved and seeking to persuade foreign officials that restricting Internet freedom is contrary to their own interests and that of their countries. The new information in this year's reports will make an important contribution," she added.
When asked about the State Department report's reference to Kazakhstan's censorship of Sasha Baron Cohen's work, Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, said, "It's an issue of free speech. No matter what the instance is, it comes down to free speech." Morton also added, "Free speech is an important part of human rights."
Other films that were popular in the United States in recent years, like the award-winning gay cowboy flick "Brokeback Mountain," were also barred in other countries.
That film was banned in the Bahamas by the country's Plays and Films Control Board, who determined the movie "lacked public value" according to the State Department report.
The movie adaptation of Dan Brown's best selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" stirred up controversy in the United States over its portrayal of the Catholic Church, but Egypt's Ministry of Culture seized 2,000 copies of the movie on DVD "on grounds that it insulted religion" according to the State Department.