Inter Press Service » Press Freedom http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Journalists Honoured for their Courage, Resolvehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 03:18:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148004 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient Christiane Amanpour with IPFA honorees Malini Subramaniam, Óscar Martínez, and Can Dündar at the International Press Freedom Awards. Nov. 22, 2016, New York. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke.

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient Christiane Amanpour with IPFA honorees Malini Subramaniam, Óscar Martínez, and Can Dündar at the International Press Freedom Awards. Nov. 22, 2016, New York. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Journalism has become one of the world’s most dangerous professions, making the courageous achievements of this year’s four International Press Freedom Award winners particularly meaningful.

The four winners from El Salvador, India, Turkey and Egypt were honoured for their courageous achievements by the Committee to Protect Journalists at the 26th International Press Freedom Awards on November 21.

“These awardees are truly remarkable journalists, all of whom have carried out their work with the knowledge that doing so puts them in real danger,” said CPJ’s Board Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe.

“It is heartening to see such resolve, and to know that even under the most threatening conditions, journalists will always find a way to do their job,” she continued.

Since 1992, CPJ found that 1220 journalists have been killed, the majority of whom were murdered with complete impunity. In 2015 alone, nearly 200 journalists were also imprisoned worldwide.

Can Dündar, one of the awardees and chief editor of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, was arrested in November 2015 and sentenced to 6 years in prison after publishing a report claiming Turkey’s intelligence service’s plans to send weapons to Syrian rebel groups.

“It is our right to write, and the people’s right to know. We are not only defending a profession, but we are defending the people’s right to be informed,” -- Can Dündar.

Dündar, who was arrested on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage and aiding a terrorist group, told IPS of the importance of press freedom.

“It is our right to write, and the people’s right to know. We are not only defending a profession, but we are defending the people’s right to be informed,” he said.

“This award is a kind of message from the world to us that they are aware of our struggle,” Dündar continued.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries. Since the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2014, more than 1800 cases were opened against journalists and cartoonists for insulting the leader.

The country’s media crackdown has only deepened since the coup attempt in July as the Turkish government has allegedly used its state of emergency and anti-terror laws to shut down over 100 news agencies and imprison approximately 120 journalists.

Óscar Martínez, another awardee and investigative reporter from El Salvador, also highlighted the important role of media to IPS, stating: “Only in countries where the press can exercise its right to freely inform is it possible to illuminate those dark corners [of societies] that would otherwise stay in the dark.”

One such dark corner is the ongoing violence in El Salvador. The Central American nation is now the world’s most violent country that is not at war, with over 6,500 murders in 2015 alone. After reporting on extrajudicial killings by police, Martínez received death threats and was forced to temporarily flee the country.

Though CPJ’s award can help the press freedom cause, Martínez added that governments must ensure and provide real protection for journalists.

Malini Subramaniam similarly reports on abuses by police and security forces and extrajudicial killings, but in India’s “Red Corridor” where a five-decade long conflict between Maoists and the government has persisted.

Working in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh, first as a development worker then as a journalist, Subramaniam told IPS that she saw indigenous residents, known as adivasis, caught in the crossfire without essential services or a voice.

“These stories were not coming out…I realised that these stories need to be told,” Subramaniam told IPS, adding that the dangers of telling the story did not matter to her.

Due to her critical reports on human rights abuses, Subramaniam has had to cope with numerous instances of police interrogation and harassment, eventually forcing Subramaniam to leave the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.

However, Subramaniam noted that she is just one of the journalists that faced such perils there. According to CPJ, at least four journalists are imprisoned in the Central Indian state, and other journalists including a BBC correspondent have been forced to flee the area for fear of reprisal.

“It’s not just about an individual, it is about the larger field,” Subramaniam told IPS.

“This award will sort of amplify the situation that is there in Bastar as far as reporting is concerned, what’s happening to the journalists that are there and as a message to the government of India to wake up,” she continued.

CPJ also honoured Mahmoud Abou Zeid, an Egyptian photojournalist who has been in prison since August 2013.

Zeid, who is also known as Shawkan, was arrested while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Among the charges he faces is weapons possession, illegal assembly and murder.

Egypt is the second largest jailer of journalists in the world, only second to China, CPJ found.

Attending the awards ceremony on behalf of Shawkan was his childhood friend Ahmed Abu Seif.

“I still sometimes want to wake up and for somebody to tell me that it is just a dream,” Seif told IPS, adding that it hurts him that Shawkan is not there himself to receive CPJ’s award.

“This award means a lot for recognising a journalist behind bars. It’s also a sign to tell the Egyptian government that…even if you don’t recognise him as a journalist, we do,” he continued.

The fight for press freedom is not limited to countries like Egypt and Turkey, but also continues to remain an issue in the United States.

Receiving the Burton Benjamin Memorial award was Christiane Amanpour who pointed to the perils American journalists face and may continue to face after President-elect Trump assumes office.

“I never in a million years thought I would be up here on stage appealing for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home,” she told attendees, pointing to a tweet by President-elect Trump that said “professional protesters” were “incited by the media.”

She particularly noted the issues U.S. media faced while reporting the presidential campaigns in balancing neutrality and truth, but said that this cannot continue.

“I learned long ago, covering the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia, never to equate victim with aggressor, never to create a false moral or factual equivalence, because then you are an accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences. I believe in being truthful, not neutral and I believe we must stop banalising the truth,” she said.

She added that the media can either contribute to a more functional system or to deepen the political dysfunction.

“This above all is an appeal to protect journalism itself…we have to stand up together–for divided we will all fall,” she concluded.

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Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:38:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147989 Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It was in the wee hours of the morning on October 19 when journalist Ricardo Matute, from Corporación Televicentro’s morning newscast, was out on the beat in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras.

He heard about a vehicle that had rolled and was the first on the scene of the accident. When he saw four men in the car, he called the emergency number, for help. Little did he know that they were members of a powerful “mara” or gang.

Furious that he was making the phone call, they shot and wounded him, and forced him to get back into the TV station’s van, along with the cameraman and driver, and drove off with them.

But other journalists who also patrol the city streets each night saw the kidnapping and chased the van until the gang members crashed it and fled. If they hadn’t been “rescued” this way, the three men would very likely have been killed, because the criminals had already identified Matute and they generally do not leave loose ends, the journalists involved in the incident told IPS.“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affect the country’s groups of power, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection” -- Juan Carlos Sierra

Matute, who is part of TV5´s so-called Night Patrol, was wounded in the neck with an Ak-47. The reporters lamented that in spite of the fact that the accident occurred near military installations and that they asked for help, the military failed to respond.

“The state does not protect us, but rather attacks us,” one journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Now Matute, a young reporter who was working for Televicentro, the biggest broadcasting corporation in Honduras, is safeguarded by a government protection programme, under a new law for the protection of human rights activists, journalists, social communicators and justice system employees.

Some 10 journalists, according to official figures, have benefited from the so-called Protection Law, in force for less than a year.

Matute sought protection under the programme after the authorities released, a day after the accident, a video showing the gang members who attacked him, captured by a local security camera. They were members of Mara 18 and carried AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

Mara 18 and MS-13 are the largest gangs in Honduras. Mara 18 is the most violent of the two. Through turf wars they have basically divvied up large towns and cities for their contract killing operations, drug dealing, kidnappings, money laundering and extortions, among other criminal activity.

The authorities recommended that Matute take refuge under the protection programme and leave his job, since after the video was broadcast, the gang members felt exposed and could act against him in retaliation.

The young reporter Mai Ling Coto, who patrolled with Matute in search of night-time news scoops, told IPS that reporting in Honduras is no longer a “normal” job but is now a dangerous occupation.

This is especially true in a belt that includes at least eight of the country’s 18 departments or provinces, according to the Violence Observatory of the Public National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Now the only thing that is left is to entrust ourselves to God. We used to report normally without a problem, but now things have changed, especially for those of us who work at night. We have to learn new codes to move around danger zones in the city and the outskirts,” she said.

“If we go to gang territory, we have to roll down our windows and flash our headlights; we move around in groups so they see that we are not alone,“ said Coto from San Pedro Sula, describing some of the security protocols they follow.

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

San Pedro Sula, 250 kilometres from the capital, is the city with the most developed economy in Honduras. It has a population of 742,000, and in 2015 had a homicide rate of 110 per 100,000 people.

This Central American nation of 8.8 million people is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

The Commission for Free Expression (C-Libre), a coalition of journalists and humanitarian organisations, reported that between 2001 and 2015 63 journalists, rural communicators and social communicators were murdered.

In 2015 alone, C-libre identified 11 murders of people working in the media: the owner of a media outlet, a director of a news programme, four camerapersons, a control operator, three entertainment broadcasters, and one announcer of a religious programme. Most of them occurred outside of Tegucigalpa.

Ana Ortega, director of C-Libre, believes that journalism is not only a victim of violence, but also of laws and impunity.

She stated this in the group’s annual report on freedom of expression, observing that a secrecy law obstructs the right of information, while new reforms to the criminal code are planned with references to the press.

“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affects the country’s power groups, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection,” Juan Carlos Sierra, director of the news broadcast where Matute worked, told IPS in Tegucigalpa.

Another journalist from San Pedro Sula who asked to remain anonymous added: “We are helpless because we cannot trust the authorities, the police or the public prosecutors, since when they see us, they attack us and sometimes send us as cannon fodder to certain scenes, and they arrive afterwards.”

“We feel like neither the state nor the authorities respect us,” he said.

The state, Sierra added, “has not had any interest, now or before, in resolving murders of journalists, let alone violations of freedom of expression.”

For human rights defender and former judge Nery Velázquez, the vulnerability faced by reporters, “far from dissipating, is growing, and we have come to accept tacitly that the impunity surrounding these murders becomes the norm, while freedom of the press is restricted.”

Of the 63 documented murders, legal proceedings began in just four cases, and of these, only two made it to the last stage – an oral public trial – and ended with the conviction of the direct perpetrators, but not of the masterminds who ordered the murders.

“Investigation in Honduras is a failure, everything is left in prima facie evidence, and not only the press is trapped here by violence, but also human rights activists and lawyers,” Velázquez told IPS.

According to reports by human rights groups, corruption and organised crime are the main threats to freedom of speech in Honduras, where being a journalist has become a high-risk occupation over the last decade.

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Australian Activists, Dissenters and Whistleblowers Feeling the Heathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 11:44:38 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147934 Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

For Australian activist Samantha Castro, it was her association with the non-profit publishing organisation Wikileaks that brought her to the attention of the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

She says she’s been followed, her car has been searched, and that the AFP has filmed and photographed her, along with her children, at protests. She believes that authorities have hacked her email account and computer and are responsible for wiping contacts from her phone.Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like." -- Associate Professor Sarah Maddison

“They are putting all this time and effort into psychologically disrupting me in the hope that I will stop doing what I’m doing,” says Castro, an operations coordinator at Friends of the Earth who co-founded the Wikileaks Australian Citizens Alliance in 2010 to support the work of Wikileaks.

Wikileaks works to disseminate official and censored documents and files related to war, spying and corruption. While it has won a range of media freedom awards, its release of sensitive material has raised the ire of governments around the world, including Australia’s.

Castro explains that working with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – an Australian who remains holed-up in Ecuador’s London embassy, fearing extradition to the United States – resulted in significant attention from authorities.

It was these links with Assange’s organisation which, she believes, led to her house being broken into in 2014. She is adamant that the AFP was behind the break-in.

“The reason for that was information and knowledge from when I was with Wikileaks,” Castro, who did not report the matter to police, told IPS.

She says that although nothing was taken from the house, her keys were lined up on the kitchen table alongside a phone that had been opened up. She took the carefully displayed items to mean that she was being monitored.

“I knew straight away. It was a very clear symbol that they wanted me to know that they knew,” says Castro, adding that she spent “a lot of time” searching her house for bugs.

While the AFP does not comment on ongoing operations, a warrant is required to place a person under surveillance. IPS understands that further court approval is needed to enter a premises to covertly plant a listening device.

“I have felt the wrath of the surveillance state since we founded WACA,” says Castro, whose group changed its name in 2014 to Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance in recognition of a broadening movement.

It is not only activists from non-governmental organisations like WACA who are feeling under pressure. There is a growing sense here that space for the broader civil society to express dissent or call out abuse is being squeezed. Those who speak out risk public vilification, financial loss and jail time.

On his visit to Australia in October, the United Nations special rapporteur, Michel Forst, expressed surprise at the situation. “I was astonished to observe mounting evidence of a range of cumulative measures that have concurrently levied enormous pressure on Australian civil society,” he said.

Among the issues Forst pointed to were the defunding of environmental and indigenous bodies in response to litigation or advocacy work, anti-protest legislation and intensified secrecy laws, “particularly in the areas of immigration and national security.”

Attorney-General George Brandis last year took aim at environmentalists using legal action to further their cause, labelling them “radical green activists” who “engage in vigilante litigation to stop important economic projects.”

The island state of Tasmania has, according to Forst, “prioritized business and government resource interests over the democratic rights of individuals to peacefully protest”. Similarly, legislation passed in March in New South Wales state means that protestors face up to seven years in jail for interfering with mining operations.

Mandatory data retention laws were introduced just over a year ago, purportedly for national security reasons, under which service providers must retain the metadata of Australians’ telecommunications activities for two years.

Twenty-one government agencies can access the data and all can apply for a Journalist Information Warrant in order to identify a reporter’s confidential source.

Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, a journalists’ union, says the profession’s ethics require journalists to protect the identity of their sources.

“Journalists must work smarter to ensure that brave people can tell their stories in confidence and public interest journalism can continue to play its vital role in a healthy, functioning democracy,” he argues.

Those in the higher levels of statutory bodies have not been spared.

Professor Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s independent Human Rights Commission, has faced ongoing criticism from government ministers since the release in 2015 of her report into the mental and physical health of children in immigration detention.

Then-prime minister Tony Abbott called the report politically motivated and said the commission “should be ashamed of itself”, while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that much of the content was “either dated or questionable”.

In October, another cabinet minister urged Triggs “to stay out of politics and stick with human rights”, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Nov.16 that Triggs’ contract will not be renewed when it expires in mid-2017.

Despite the vitriol, Triggs has continued to fight back, a fact that Professor Brian Martin, a long-time whistleblowing activist, says may well inspire others “who might want to resist.”

But there’s a flipside: “You could say that overt attacks, like on Gillian Triggs, provide a warning to others that they better be careful,” says Martin.

Last year also saw the implementation of the controversial Border Force Act, legislation that Forst describes as “stifling”.

In June, a psychologist with extensive experience in the offshore processing centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru had his contract immediately cancelled after speaking out on the atrocious conditions in the camps.

Although no charges in relation to the Act have been laid, the secrecy provisions of the law allow for a two-year prison term for any immigration and border protection worker who discloses “protected information”, covering all information a worker obtains in the course of their employment.

Some exceptions apply, such in cases of child or sexual abuse, although whistleblowers are responsible for ensuring that any abuse is serious enough to warrant disclosure.

And in what is being seen here as a significant step for transparency into the plight of asylum seekers held indefinitely in the offshore centres, an amendment to the legislation was quietly posted on the website of Australia’s immigration department in mid-October.

The amendment frees doctors and other health professionals, including nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, from the law’s secrecy provisions.

The government’s concession “is an enormous democratic win,” says Associate Professor Sarah Maddison, co-editor of the 2007 book ‘Silencing Dissent’.

“Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like,” she adds.

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Will Free Expression Equal Terrorism in Zimbabwe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/will-free-expression-equal-terrorism-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-free-expression-equal-terrorism-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/will-free-expression-equal-terrorism-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:09:18 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147693 Journalists from the weekly Sunday Mail as they were arrested on Nov. 4, 2015 on charges of reporting falsehoods. Pictured from left to right in handcuffs are the journalists, who included the Sunday Mail reporter Tinashe Farawo, the paper's investigations editor Brian Chitemba and The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Journalists from the weekly Sunday Mail as they were arrested on Nov. 4, 2015 on charges of reporting falsehoods. Pictured from left to right in handcuffs are the journalists, who included the Sunday Mail reporter Tinashe Farawo, the paper's investigations editor Brian Chitemba and The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Busani Bafana
HARARE, Nov 9 2016 (IPS)

Four years ago, a faceless writer using the nom de guerre Baba Jukwa set Facebook agog with detailed exposes of machinations within the ruling Zimbabwe National People’s Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF).

Garnering over 400,000 followers on Facebook, Jukwa pierced the veil over freedom of expression in a conservative Zimbabwe. The enigmatic character, thought to be a mole within ZANU PF, remains unknown and has never been caught."The government is afraid the social media might be used the same manner it was used during the Arab Spring revolutions.” -- Njabulo Ncube, chair of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum

Now the government – with a history of intolerance to dissent – is not taking chances with social media ‘dissidents’ in the ilk of Baba Jukwa. It is crafting a bill to clamp down on cybercrime and terrorism, but journalists fear the bill will trample the fragile freedoms of the press and expression in the country.

Should it become law, the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill will ensure that ‘abusers of social media’ are stopped dead in their tracks if statements by the government, the police and the army are anything to go by.

Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, Lieutenant General Valerio Sibanda, recently told the government-run Herald newspaper that the army was training its officers to deal with “cyber warfare where weapons – not necessarily guns but basic information and communication technology – are being used to mobilise people to do wrong things.”

The country’s Information Media and Broadcasting Services Minister, Chris Mushowe, has dismissed fears that the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill will be a death knell for press freedom, but his threats reflect the opposite.

“This Bill is not intended to kill freedom of expression, it is not intended to silence people…If anything, this is intended to ensure we join other nations in fighting the threat of terrorism,” Mushowe told the local media following a briefing with the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing in August. “We do not want information to be transited through Zimbabwe or information here that threatens the national security of other countries.”

Despite guaranteeing freedoms of expression and of the press under its new Constitution, Zimbabwe is not the most conducive of places for journalists to do their jobs freely, especially those working for the independent press.

The Washington-based media advocacy organisation Freedom House named Zimbabwe, alongside Bangladesh, Turkey, Burundi, France, Serbia, Yemen, Egypt and Macedonia, as countries which suffered the largest declines in press freedom in 2015 in its Freedom of the Press report for 2016.

Already burdened by a raft of laws that restrict access to information, journalists have reason to worry. The Computer and Cyber Crime Bill could be the biggest and meanest strategic weapon the government has yet unleashed on free expression and press freedom.

Information has become the political currency for self-expression. Social media, especially Facebook and WhatsApp, has given Zimbabweans an affordable platform to gather and share information, vent about their daily grind and even organise public actions against a deteriorating economic and political situation at home.
Crippled by a severe drought, Zimbabwe has made a global appeal for 1.6 billion dollars for food and other humanitarian aid as more than four million people will need food until the next harvest season in March 2017. Fears abound about a worsening economic situation when government introduces its own bond notes later this month as a measure to ease the current shortage of cash since dumping the Zimbabwe dollar and introducing a multi-currency regime in September 2009.

Editor of the privately owned Zimbabwe Independent weekly Dumisani Muleya says life in the globalised and technology-driven 21st century presents two great challenges to governments across the world: thwarting terrorism and protecting national liberties. Technology, Muleya says, has played a part in making these challenges tougher, necessitating governments to balance security and liberty.

“The Zimbabwe government, which has a history of stifling political and civil liberties, particularly media freedom, must do the same,” Muleya told IPS. “The current Computer and Cyber Crime Bill must thus not be used as tool to snoop on citizens unduly and reinforce Zimbabwe’s image as a police state, but mainly protect people’s rights.”

Making a joke about President Mugabe, who is now 92, is no laughing matter in Zimbabwe and can land you in court or jail. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has represented more than 150 defendants since 2010 charged with insulting President Mugabe. In most cases the charges were dropped. Videos pocking fun at President Mugabe have gone viral, prompting the government to denounce ‘the gutter journalism’ on social media it says should not be allowed in the mainstream media.

“Government is aware of activists in the country collaborating with the diaspora cyber terrorists. They must be warned that the long arm of the law is encircling them,” Mushowe told the Zimbabwean press.

Acting chairman Zimbabwe National Editors Forum and past Chairman of the Media Institute for Southern Africa- Zimbabwe Njabulo Ncube describes the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill as a nullification of press freedom.

“The future looks bleak with the seemingly proliferation of harsh media laws that seek to criminalise the practice of the journalism profession in Zimbabwe,” Ncube told IPS. “The government is afraid the social media might be used the same manner it was used during the Arab Spring revolutions.”

Ncube believes government has muddied the waters by creating the impression that cyber terrorism is the production of subversive, inflammatory and inciting messages shared through the social media, which was in fact misconduct online or abuse of social media in breach of the country’s contentious laws such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), the Interception of Communications Act and Postal and Telecommunications Act (PTA).

“This continuous misleading of the citizenry on what constitutes cyber terrorism is aimed at instilling fear and self-censorship among citizens when exercising their rights to free expression, access to information and freedom of conscience,” Ncube said.

Despite government underplaying its effectiveness, social media has given Zimbabweans a loud voice to amplify their struggles. The crackdown on the social media is meant to deal with activists calling for reforms within the government, Executive Director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and Secretary-General of the World Association of Press Councils, Loughty Dube, argued.

“If the government intends to use the law to curb internet crimes there should be a clear demarcation that should show that there are no sinister intentions by the state to snoop on citizen communications and to criminalise those that are using internet platforms to seek reforms and expose government excesses.”

Last August and two months after the online campaign led by Pastor Evans Mawawire using the #This Flag successfully mobilized Zimbabweans to stay away from work, Zimbabwe passed the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy. The policy which allows government to snoop on its citizens and control cyberspace by putting all internet gateways and infrastructure under a single company it controls.

It is the cohesive power of social media that the Zimbabwe government seeks to weaken through a carte blanche law to snoop on and even shut down social media. While it may raise the cost of accessing social media, block its operation and resort to threats, government cannot control social media, argues, lawyer and political strategist, Alex Magaisa.

“In physical spaces, the state can always deploy anti-riot police and use physical force to drive away demonstrators expressing their view,” Magaisa wrote on his blog, The Big Saturday Read. “However, on social media, the state is not well equipped to handle users…Social media presents a new terrain over which the state has no control.

Magaisa said the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill would create very wide, vague and indeterminate offences in respect of social media activity, while giving police extensive search and seizure powers. Measured against the Constitution, which protects freedoms of communication and the right to privacy, Magaisa said the Bill falls woefully short and a number of its provisions in the present form could be stuck down by the Constitutional Court if challenged.

“While some of the purported reasons for introducing the Bill, such as protecting children, preventing racial and ethnic hatred sound noble, most critics believe the real motive which has promoted the rapid response is political. This is the cause of the citizen’s mistrust, suspicion and resistance in respect of the Bill,” wrote Magaisa.

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The Perils of Writing about Toilets in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-perils-of-writing-about-toilets-in-india/#comments Sun, 06 Nov 2016 03:02:38 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147650 Paul interviews Dalit women in Hamirpur - a district in Northern India. All of these women have been abandoned by their husbands who fled to escape drought. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS.

Paul interviews Dalit women in Hamirpur - a district in Northern India. All of these women have been abandoned by their husbands who fled to escape drought. Credit: Stella Paul / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK, Nov 6 2016 (IPS)

Journalist Stella Paul was midway through an interview about toilets when she found herself, and the women she was speaking to, under attack from four angry men.

“This man, he comes and he just grabs this woman by her hair and he starts dragging her on the ground and kicking her at the same time,” Paul told IPS.

She remembers thinking, “what is happening,” as another three men followed, beating the women, including Paul who was hit in the face.

“They are blindly just beating this woman.”

“Why? Because how dare you talk about getting a toilet when you are untouchable, you are Dalit.”

The attack took place while Paul – a 2016 recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and IPS contributor – was researching a story about women forced into dual slavery in illegal mines in South-East, India.

The women Paul was interviewing had been forced to work unpaid in the mines, but were trying to escape, some of them were attending school, and they had now found out they were potentially going to have their own toilet under a government sanitation scheme.

“They employ the poorest of the people, and they bring in a lot of women that are from the untouchable section – Dalit – and the extremely marginalised classes in India.”

“It was revealed that the whole industry was illegal – no license taken from the government – and they were taking out iron ore and selling it to China.”

“The whole day they force them to work in the mine and at night they force themselves on these women, they force them to serve them sexually.”

“So it’s dual slavery, they don’t get paid, and they have to allow these men to sleep with them, and their daughters.”

Paul, who comes from North-Eastern India, travels her home country talking to some of the poorest people in India and unearthing stories of unbelievable exploitation and corruption in places where other journalists often think not to look.

She often spends her time listening to the stories of untouchables – people who other Indians don’t consider worthy of having opinions.

“When you are untouchables your life is no better than a dog’s life. Your job is to go there and defecate in the open, because that is how you have always done and that is how you will always do.”

“Honestly I don’t feel anybody will tell these stories of these women of dual slavery, of (the) little changes that they are making in the face of huge threats.”

“I don’t see these stories anywhere, I don’t think anybody will tell them and how can I not tell their stories? So that’s my choice to go there and tell it.”

But Paul believes that although her kind of journalism often comes with little recognition she is also constantly rewarded.

“Once you start going there, meeting these people you can never become a bitter cynical skeptical person who will look down on poor people,” she says.

Listening to these stories has helped her grow in empathy and become a better person, she says.

“That is the best bonus of being a journalist, that there is this huge growth potential, internal growth.”

Yet by listening to the disenfranchised, Paul often finds herself getting into trouble, as was the case when her interviews with the women about toilets uncovered local corruption.

Paul with forest women she interviewed in Anantagiri, Inida about solar energy. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Paul with forest women she interviewed in Anantagiri, Inida about solar energy. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

“It was a positive story on how a section of these women are now coming out of (slavery).”

“I was there in a village and there was a group of women (telling me) they have started going to school … they are going to rebuild their lives.”

Yet by daring to talk about having their own toilets the women had stepped into dangerous territory.

The government of India had allotted funds to the state as part of an anti-defecation drive.

More than 500 million people in India, almost half of the total population, still defecate in the open. According to UNICEF open defecation is a serious threat to public health and an underlying reason why 188,000 children under five die from diarrhea every year in India.

“There is a lot of money that is coming in and these men, the local government, they are actually stealing this money,” said Paul.

This is why the women talking to Paul about toilets was met with violence.

After getting punched again while rescuing a girl she had asked to take photos for her, Paul marched straight to the office of a senior local official.

But the commissioner sat behind a transparent window clearly unoccupied while his receptionist told Paul he was too busy to see her.

Paul didn’t give up, returning the next day.

“We finally got to meet him, but what I wanted was not to complain about what happened to me but to interview him about … the sanitation project because I wanted to get my story first.” she said.

The commissioner pretended not to understand Paul’s English or Hindi.

“Finally he gave me one sentence and I could complete my story.”

Paul herself comes from a part of India officially designated as a “disturbed region.”

“My home province is in the North Eastern part of India, which borders China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.”

“The army has a special power act and under a law they are legally authorised to go and take special action against people there.”

“Therefore security forces (can go) to anybody’s home without a warrant at any time of the night or the day.”

“There is rampant gender violence there committed by the army.”

“Very few male reporters actually report that – it’s the women reporters who report these things.”

Paul says that even in apparently peaceful parts of India, gender violence “is rampant” and “women reporters are specifically targeted.”

“A guy reporter never has to worry about being touched inappropriately, groped, assaulted, molested or raped.”

She says that reporting on development issues like gender violence or gender inequality is difficult because a lot of people, including government officials, don’t believe these issues are important.

“Without these issues being solved there is no real progress, no real development so we have to report on them, but then there are people who believe that these issues do not matter which makes you feel very lonely.”

Paul herself almost did not survive childhood because she was born a girl. When she was 2 years old, and sick with diptheria, part of her family did not see it as worth treating her, because she was a girl. She survived because her mother fought to save her.

Preference for male sons has led to a ratio of 919 girls to every 1000 boys in India, according to the 2011 census.

Paul has gone on to write about infanticide for IPS.

Courage in journalism often focuses on reporting on war zones, but reporting on gender violence is also a form of war reporting, Chi Yvonne Leina, a journalist from Cameroon and Africa Lead at World Pulse told IPS.

“Violence against women is the longest most continuous and the most dangerous war we are having on earth.”

“Stories like what (Stella) tells – people don’t necessarily know until they dig through in the community,” said Leina.

But this digging can lead to negative reactions, says Leina.

“When you are attacking a culture, you are alone… when soldiers go to war they are going in numbers but when you as a reporter are in face of a culture coming against the culture alone, you are alone against a whole community.”

“Anything can happen and maybe you can disappear, where I come from journalists disappear, they don’t die they disappear.”

Paul has received threats both anonymous and to her face that she too will be made to disappear. While reporting on brick kilns using child labour in her home state a man grabbed her phone and threw it in the river.

“He said: ‘do you see that phone it didn’t take seconds to disappear in the river we make people disappear just like that,’ and then he was snapping his fingers,” Paul described.

Paul is one of three 2016 recipients of the Courage in Journalism Award, alongside Janine di Giovanni, Middle East Editor of Newsweek and Mabel Cáceres Editor-in-chief of El Búho Magazine.

The awards were presented at ceremonies held in New York and Los Angeles in late October. Reeyot Alemu, of Ethiopia the 2012 recipient of the award was also honoured at the ceremony – she was previously unable to attend after being jailed for 1963 days.

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Journalist Murders: The Ultimate Form of Censorshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalist-murders-the-ultimate-form-of-censorship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalist-murders-the-ultimate-form-of-censorship http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalist-murders-the-ultimate-form-of-censorship/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 20:34:56 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147595 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalist-murders-the-ultimate-form-of-censorship/feed/ 0 Social Media Becomes Mugabe’s Nightmarehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/social-media-becomes-mugabes-nightmare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-media-becomes-mugabes-nightmare http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/social-media-becomes-mugabes-nightmare/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:18:40 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147501 President Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English/cc by 2.0

President Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English/cc by 2.0

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Oct 25 2016 (IPS)

In a WhatsApp video that went viral in September, a middle-aged Zimbabwean man addresses President Robert Mugabe, telling him that 90 percent of the people in the country are unemployed and do not contribute to the economy because Mugabe cannot provide jobs.

You are assaulting children for expressing their heartfelt disappointment because of your misrule. We are tired of that,“ the man continues, speaking about high-level corruption, injustice and police brutality, and deteriorating social service delivery.

He asks Mugabe: “You wear spectacles, but you can’t see. How many spectacles do you need to see that you are destroying the country?

In a country that reportedly suppresses the traditional media, Zimbabweans have found another way to communicate their frustrations towards the government.

Social media platforms as well as texting services such as WhatsApp have become steadily more popular as means to criticise, but also address Mugabe, who appears to not be easily accessible to ordinary citizens.

The use of social media has especially increased after evangelical pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video earlier this year in April in which he appeared with the national flag around his neck, criticizing the government’s economic strategy.

The video led to the larger social media campaign #ThisFlag in which thousands of Zimbabweans participated, bringing the situation the country into the international spotlight and reaching millions of people on a global level, much to the displeasure of Mugabe.

By using the internet to communicate, Zimbabweans become empowered to relatively safely speak out against the government, and at the same time, state propaganda starts to lose its effectiveness.

The worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe has led to multiple protests against the president and his government. Depending on the source, estimates of Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate range from 4 per cent to 95 per cent, many of the figures not being backed up by reliable data.

Given the precarious state of the economy, unemployment levels however are certainly high.

Economic growth decreased from 3.8 per cent in 2014 to an estimated 1.5 per cent in 2015. Large public expenditures, underperformance of domestic revenues and low export figures have increased the state dept and have had a negative effect on urban development such as housing and transport, as well as social services.

In July, countless Zimbabweans gathered to protest against these issues. Since then, unrest has spread across the whole country.

The Zimbabwean government in return has been accused of blocking social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp to prevent people from gathering to protest.

Zimbabwe, constitutionally a republic, has been under the control of President Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) since the country’s independence in 1980. While the latest presidential and parliamentary elections were held without violence, the process remained neither fair nor credible.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mugabe’s government has been accused of routinely violating human rights. Abduction, arrest, torture and harassment, as well as restrictions on civil liberties such as freedom of expression are daily practices, Human Rights Watch says.

Under Mugabe’s regime, hundreds of civil society activists and members of opposition parties have been arrested for holding meetings or participating in peaceful protests. Newspapers viewed as critical of the government are repressed, journalists silenced, and the ‘Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act’ established, making the practice of journalism without accreditation a criminal offence which can be punished by up to two years in prison.

The Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper with a critical view of Mugabe’s government, had to shut down in 2001 after a bomb exploded in its printing plant, and it failed to receive a government licence needed to publish content legally.

Acknowledging the threat social media poses to his government, Mugabe has activated laws that limit the free flow of information and subject private communication to state surveillance.

At the same time, he warns his citizens against abusing social media, threatening that all SIM cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user, and perpetrators could easily be identified. Any person caught in possession of, generating or passing on what Mugabe calls abusive, threatening or offensive content aimed at creating unrest or inciting violence will be arrested.

Wanting to use social media to his own advantage, Mugabe has called on the youth of his ZANU-PF to promote the ruling party using social media platforms: “Brand Zimbabwe, the image of Zimbabwe, a Zimbabwe that is democratic, hardworking and peaceful.”

The dissemination of regime-critical content through social media, however, appears to be a Pandora’s Box that may prove impossible to close.

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Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147449 Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit: Garapa.org

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit: Garapa.org

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Unexpected Eritrean Journalistic Voice Rises in Ethiopiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/unexpected-eritrean-journalistic-voice-rises-in-ethiopia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unexpected-eritrean-journalistic-voice-rises-in-ethiopia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/unexpected-eritrean-journalistic-voice-rises-in-ethiopia/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2016 09:33:30 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147251 Eritrean journalist Estifo displaying Tsilal, the magazine he edits, which deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Eritrean journalist Estifo displaying Tsilal, the magazine he edits, which deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 6 2016 (IPS)

It took Eritrean journalist Estifo* seven years to save up enough money to pay a fixer to get him and his family from the capital, Asmara, to the shared border with Ethiopia. After they crossed the border by foot, they turned themselves in to the Ethiopian authorities and claimed asylum as refugees.

Now Estifo is one of thousands of Eritreans living in Addis Ababa, where he edits a magazine that aims to dissuade other Eritreans in the Ethiopian capital and dotted around the country in refugee camps from attempting to make the risky journey north through Libya and across the Mediterranean toward Europe.“You had no rights as a journalist and it was risky even if you were working for the State TV. If you did something they didn’t like, they would call the police.” -- Beyene, an Eritrean journalist

“The magazine deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe,” says Estifo, the magazine’s editor. “Also once you are in Europe you can’t come back—things change too much. Whereas in Addis there’s more in common, and it’s easier to one day go back to Eritrea.”

Ever since Ethiopia’s late long-term ruler Meles Zenawi established an open-door policy toward refugees, the country’s refugee population has grown to about 700,000, the largest in Africa.

And that open door policy even extends to accepting refugees from a country viewed by Ethiopia as its arch nemesis since a catastrophic two-year war between the two that ended in 2000 but left matters unresolved and mutual antipathy only stronger.

It’s hardly surprising that among those going south over the shared border are journalists. A list compiled in 2015 by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted ranks Eritrea as the most censored country in the world and Africa’s worst jailer of journalists.

The crackdown on media in Eritrea began in earnest in 2001, reportedly taking advantage of when the world was distracted by the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“In September they shut down private news channels and most of my colleagues were arrested,” says Estifo, who as a sports writer avoided arrest (a friend had previously advised him to take the position to avoid undue attention).

Still fearing for his safety, however, he joined the military media operating at Sawa, the desert base where Eritrean Defence Forces recruits and national service conscripts are sent for basic military training.

Living conditions were bad, Estifo says, and he was paid only 600 Eritrean nakfa (38 dollars) a month, leaving little after his 500 nakfa rent.

Then in 2007 he managed to get paternity leave with his wife pregnant, and afterwards rather than him returning to Sawa, they went into hiding. For two years Estifo never left his home, he says.

Once he deemed it safe enough, he started to venture out and began selling shoes with the help of his wife, slowly saving money for the escape to the border. Eventually it was time.

“We didn’t sell any of our possessions before we left in case people got suspicious,” he says. “We reached the border around 2 a.m. but we waited until dawn to cross otherwise we might have been shot by patrols.”

Eritrean journalists Estifo and Beyene discussing the contents of their magazine Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Eritrean journalists Estifo and Beyene discussing the contents of their magazine Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Beyene is another refugee journalist working with Estifo on the magazine who recalls the arrest of 40 journalists in 2009, accused of leaking news about Eritrea to foreign media.

“You had no rights as a journalist and it was risky even if you were working for the State TV,” Beyene says. “If you did something they didn’t like, they would call the police.”

Arrests sometimes happened as journalists were relaxing in the communal tea room.

“They wanted you to see it so you became afraid,” Estifo says.

Repression of media and its means is all-consuming in Eritrean society. Fearing the spread of an Arab Spring-type uprising, Eritrea scrapped plans in 2011 to provide mobile Internet for its citizens, making it even harder to access independent information.

Internet is available but only through slow dial-up connections, and fewer than 1 percent of the population goes online, according to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures. Eritrea also has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.

“For the young there’s no chance to do your own thing, you can’t do anything for your family, everything pushes you to leave,” says Yonathon, 31, who left Eritrea in 2011 and spent a year in an Ethiopia-based refugee camp before relocation to Addis Ababa. “No one can stand for justice there—before you start they will capture you; such efforts are good for nothing.”

Eritrea’s authoritarian government employs a vast spying and detention network. Yonathon, while clearly not sympathetic to those involved, appreciates the realities: “It’s a matter of survival, to feed their families—the situation forces them to spy.”

Yonathon and 29-year-old Teklu sitting next to him have Eritrean friends who attempted the Mediterranean crossing from Libya. Fortunately, no one they know died. But thousands have.

And a 20-year-old niece of Yonathon died in Libya waiting to make the crossing; he doesn’t know the cause. Teklu has relatives who were kidnapped during their northward overland travels and released after ransoms were paid.

“Of course it has come to my mind,” Yonathon says of trying to make the crossing. “I’ve been here four years: what is my future going to be if I stay here?”

Such frustrations are addressed in the magazine, called Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella, and chosen because refugees are under the umbrella of another country’s protection, Estifo says.

Its production is funded by the Norwegian Refugee Council, and it comes out once every two months with a circulation of about 3,000 free copies, of which about 600 go to refugee camps. Each of the seven journalists working on the magazine is paid 750 birr (31 dollars) per month.

“The money’s not enough but we have to do it or we won’t be heard,” Estifo says, adding it’s important to illustrate how the reality of living in Europe is often a far cry from the more glamourous version seen on social media by young Eritreans.

The magazine also features more encouraging articles about Eritrean artists and entrepreneurial activities, while it avoids contentious issues such as politics and religion so as not to put itself and the Norwegian Refugee Council in an awkward position. Ethiopia also has its own struggles with press freedom—the same CJR survey of restricted press placed Ethiopia at number four.

“Currently we just cover soft issues but we want to go beyond to those issues we feel are more important,” Estifo says. “But we’re restrained by our funding. If we got other funding we could write independently about more topics.”

Another problem is not having enough resources to enable reporters to visit camps and talk to Eritreans there. The three largest camps—May Aini, Adi Harush and Hitsats refugee camps—are all the way in the northwest of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, close to the borders with Eritrea and Sudan, hundreds of kilometers away from Addis Ababa.

And the magazine has no office, rather it is put together on laptops in cafes with notably Italian-sounding names that have been opened by Eritreans—Eritrea used to be an Italian colony.

“Sometimes I spend the whole day in a café working on the laptop, drinking tea and eating some shiro at lunch,” Yonathon says.

But despite the Tigrayan voices amid cafes with Italian names, Addis Ababa can never replace being back in Eritrea.

“Life is difficult here, you can’t replicate home, and people’s behaviour changes here,” Yonathon says.

Hence the importance of never forgetting about Eritrea’s ongoing troubles and those left behind. Estifo harbours ambitions of one day starting a radio station that could be picked up by those in Eritrea.

“Getting out of Eritrea is one way of demonstrating against the government,” Estifo says. “But while in places like Ethiopia, Eritreans must ask themselves how they can bring about freedom with our own resources.”

*Only first names are used in this article due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. 

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UN Resolution on Journalist Safety Passed, But Long Way to Gohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-resolution-on-journalist-safety-passed-but-long-way-to-go/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-resolution-on-journalist-safety-passed-but-long-way-to-go http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-resolution-on-journalist-safety-passed-but-long-way-to-go/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 19:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147172 Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression in 2012. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression in 2012. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) advanced its commitment to the safety of journalists after adopting a groundbreaking resolution with measures for states to ensure journalist protection. But this is only the first step, many note.

Though the UNHRC has adopted resolutions on the safety of journalists in the past, some note that this year’s resolution is more comprehensive in protecting the rights of freedom of expression and the press.For the first time, UNHRC called for states to release arbitrarily detained journalists and to reform laws that are misused to hinder their work.

“[The resolution] brings up these issues more explicitly than it has been brought up in other resolutions,” Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

She stressed that the resolution acknowledges the role that states play in committing violence against journalists and in creating a permissive environment for the safety of journalists.

“It is not simply enough to talk about the safety of journalist without also addressing the need to create an environment in which freedom of expression and press freedom can flourish,” she stated.

Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Advocacy and Communications Officer Margaux Ewen echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the resolution is a “wonderful reiteration” which calls on member states to implement their international obligations.

For the first time, UNHRC called for states to release arbitrarily detained journalists and to reform laws that are misused to hinder their work.

According to CPJ, approximately 200 journalists were imprisoned worldwide in 2015. The organisation recorded the highest number of such arrests in China, where 49 journalists were imprisoned. Most recently, Chinese journalists Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were detained in June 2016 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” They had been documenting and reporting on protests across the East Asian nation since 2012.

China is among the members of UNHRC.

The newly adopted resolution also affirms the right of journalists to use encryption and anonymity tools. Journalists often rely on such mechanisms to safely impart information anonymously online. They are also used to encrypt their communications in order to protect their contacts and sources.

Radsch noted that these tools are essential for journalists “to do their job in the 21st century.”

The resolution also addresses the specific risks that women journalists face in their work, condemning all gender-based attacks.

Earlier in September, freelance journalist Gretchen Malalad and Al Jazeera Correspondent Jamela Alindogan-Caudron were subject to severe social media attacks, receiving threats of rape and death due to their coverage of the Philippine government’s controversial anti-drug war.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NJUP) Ryan Rosauro expressed his dismay of the state of journalism in the country, stating: “We will never take any threats, whether of physical harm or to silence us, lightly for we have lost far too many of our colleagues and hardly seen justice for them,” he said.

In a joint statement with NJUP, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) stated that the government must take social media threats to journalists seriously and should penalise perpetrators to ensure the safety of journalists.

In their 2016 World Press Freedom Index, RSF ranked the Philippines 138th out of 180 countries in press freedom making it one of the most dangerous countries for practicing journalists.

As in previous years, the UNHRC also highlighted the need to end violence against journalists and to combat impunity for attacks.

CPJ found that over 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1992, the majority of whom were murdered with complete impunity. Other organisations speculate that the numbers are higher, with IFJ reporting that at least 2,300 journalists and media staff have been killed since 1990.

In 2009, prominent Sri Lankan journalist and editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was beaten to death after his car was pulled over by eight helmeted men on motorcycles. Often critical of the government and its conduct in the country’s civil war, the editor had been attacked before and received death threats for months prior to his death. He even anticipated his own fate, writing an essay shortly before his death about free media in the South Asian nation.

“In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last,” Wickramatunga wrote.

Most recently, Jordanian journalist Nahed Hattar was shot dead while on his way to face charges for sharing a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam.

“The killing of Mr. Hattar is appalling, and it is unacceptable that no protection measures had been put in place to ensure his safety, particularly when the threats against him were well known to the authorities,” said UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye.

Kaye urged authorities to bring the perpetrator to justice and to ensure legislation that allows a culture of diverse expression.

However, both Radsch and Ewen noted that the resolution is only the first step as it must be translated to action on the ground.

“We continue to see the failure of states to adequate investigate the murders of journalists…so while resolutions are important, we need to see actual concrete actions to accompany these normative statements,” Radsch told IPS.

Ewen stated that UN resolutions are “strong and strongly worded” but it still remains to be seen for states to implement measures to protect journalists and the right of freedom of expression. She pointed to RSF’s campaign to create a Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General for the safety of journalists as a way to ensure states comply with their international obligations.

Led by RSF, the Protect Journalists campaign has brought together over a 100 media organisations and human rights organisations including CPJ, the Guardian and the United Nations Correspondents Association to push for the establishment of a special representative.

During a press conference, RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire noted that a special representative could act as an early warning and rapid response mechanism to give journalists, when threatened, access to authorities and protective measures as laid out in the resolution. He also added that a special representative with political weight can make sure the safety of journalists is integrated in all UN programs and operations.

“Every week, there are new names on new graves in journalist cemeteries…we cannot let anymore journalists be killed because of this lack of political will,” Deloire told press.

The 47-member state council adopted the resolution on the safety of journalists by consensus, expressing a deep concern for the increased number of journalists and media workers who have been killed, tortured and detained. Nations beyond the UNHRC including Austria and the United States also joined the initiative as cosponsors.

 

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Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/murders-crackdown-create-lingering-climate-of-fear-in-bangladesh/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147144 Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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UN Shaky on Protection of Journalists and Right to Informationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-shaky-on-protection-of-journalists-and-right-to-information/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-shaky-on-protection-of-journalists-and-right-to-information http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/un-shaky-on-protection-of-journalists-and-right-to-information/#comments Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:11:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146896 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 2016 (IPS)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, one of the strongest advocates of press freedom, is facing two politically-sensitive issues which are beyond his decision-making jurisdiction: a proposal for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) aimed at providing journalists with the right to access information, and the creation of a UN Special Envoy ensuring the safety of journalists worldwide.

Asked about the FOIA, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “The Secretary-General supports the idea of transparency. But this would be an issue for member states.”

Under applicable Staff Regulations and UN policies, disclosure statements are confidential and will be accessible to, and used by the Secretary-General, the Ethics Office or by offices or persons specifically authorized in writing by the Secretary-General, according to the United Nations.

Still, the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is mandated to oversee press freedom, defines Freedom of Information (FOI) as the right to access information held by public bodies.

According to UNESCO, the FOI is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

FOI has also been enshrined as a “freedom of expression” in other major international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the American Convention on Human Rights (1969), says UNESCO.

Asked about the proposal for a UN Special Envoy to deal with the safety of journalists, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told IPS that In order to appoint such a person, the General Assembly or the Security Council would have to give the Secretary-General a mandate.

“I know that a number of non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) have spoken to member states about the drafting of such a resolution,” he added.

But since most member states remain undecided, there has been little progress on either of the two proposals, according to diplomatic sources.

In a letter to the Secretary-General, a coalition of over 100 NGOs has said, a Special Envoy, if approved by the General Assembly, “would bring added attention to the risks faced by journalists and, by working closely with the Secretary-General, would have the political weight and legitimacy to take concrete action to protect journalists and to hold U.N. agencies accountable for integrating the action plan into their work.

The media and human rights organizations in the coalition include the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Freedom House, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists, Media Watch and World Federation of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Asked if there are any member states who have openly declared their support for the proposal for a Special Envoy, Delphine Halgand, US Director for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS: “Yes, we met a lot of member states these last few months.”

“A permanent group of friends of UN Ambassadors was created in the Spring and are now working continuously on the proposal”. This Group is co-chaired by France, Greece and Lithuania. “And that’s an important step.”

Spain declared its support publicly but many others have supported it in private, Halgand said.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS while impunity is one of the managerial prerogatives of senior UN officials, Freedom of Information will be honoured as much in the breach as the observance—whatever the official policy.

Time and time again the response of UN bodies like the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to the release of embarrassing information has been to launch an investigation into who leaked the news, he noted.

“And it has not been to honour them for efforts for FOI. Nonetheless, it should be repeated as often as possible to remove any excuses,” he added.

“The Haitian cholera debacle should be a warning that keeping the lid on often just builds up steam and causes explosions,” said Williams, who was President of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) in 1995 and 1996 and who is planning to release his next book titled “UNtold: the Real Story of the UN.”

But even then, there would be exclusions, he pointed out. Successful diplomacy, for example, depends upon exchanges of hypothetical offers, which could easily be derailed, if the details are leaked.

“But while it is a diplomat or UN official’s job to keep things secret, it is the media’s job to deliver information, so there will always be a tension. There are personnel matters that should be confidential, but preserving staff confidentiality should not be½ a cover for hiding unethical or criminal behavior, said Williams, who also writes for Salon, AlterNet and MaximsNews, among many others.

Jim Wurst, a former president of UNCA and author of the newly-released book titled ‘The UN Association-USA: A Little Known History of Advocacy and Action,’” told IPS FOIA is a good idea because the UN, like other large institutions, has serious transparency problems.

“Anything that forces the UN to fulfill its obligations to the people of the world is worth pursuing,” he added

On the proposal for a UN Special Envoy, Wurst said: “I’m torn on this one.”

He said journalists — like so many other non-combatants including medical professionals and aid workers — are increasingly being deliberately targeted by combatants. “It’s not a new problem but it is getting worse. It’s basically become standard behavior.”

On the other hand, anything that gives off the whiff of outsiders manipulating the actions of journalists is a non-starter. “I trust CPJ and RSF will always put the integrity of journalists first,” said Wurst.

According to the New York-based CPJ, 1,189 journalists have been killed since 1992, the five deadliest countries being Iraq (174 killed), Syria (94), the Philippines (77), Algeria (60) and Somalia (59).

Still, says CPJ, the killers of journalists go free nine times out of 10 – “a statistic that has scarcely budged since 2012.” The killings have been attributed not only to rebel forces and terrorist groups but also to governments in power.

Chakravarthi Raghavan, a veteran journalist and a former UN Bureau Chief for Press Trust of India (PTI), told IPS FOIA raises the question whether it is to apply to the UN Secretariat, or all UN organs, and the UN system as a whole.

If it applies to all UN organs, he pointed out that the UN Security Council (UNSC) has its own rules of procedures – for public sessions, meetings only of members, and its actions under Chapters VI and VII (decisions and actions under VII is binding on all members, and non-members) of the charter are independent of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Would an FOIA try to encompass UN System, UN Specialised Agencies, and those with some ambiguous status vis-a-vis the UN (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the World Trade Organisation?, he asked.

An FOIA (whether in the US, or in India where there is a right to information law, or UK etc) comes with some judicial authority getting jurisdiction to ensure observance when information is not provided, said the Geneva-based Raghavan, editor-emeritus, South-North Development Monitor SUNS, who has been covering trade, finance and development issues since 1978.

And who will be the authority to ensure that the UN Secretariat observes the FOIA, and adjudicate on the disputes?, he asked.

As for a UN Special Envoy to ensure safety of journalists, he said, such an envoy could raise the profile and draw and mobilise public attention and that of all governments – and will undoubtedly be of some utility.

But it also raises the question how the institution will recognise and distinguish between genuine journalists and those engaged in other activities under the guise of journalists, and whether it will involve some kind of license to practise journalism?, said Raghavan.

“These were questions that arose here a few years back when the idea of ‘protecting’ journalists, and issuing them badges or some identification to recognise a “journalist” arose.”

These are difficult questions, and one has to take care that either initiative does not end up in fact as a barrier or problem for the professionals, he warned.

However, a UN Special Envoy, focussing on these issues and reporting to the UNGA, and to the Human Rights Council will provide high visibility, particularly if the media, in its own self-interest, reports on and publicises them.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Addressing the Dangers of Freelance Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:38:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146694 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/feed/ 0 UN Spotlight for Dark Shadow over Civil Society Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Tor Hodenfield http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146372 Tor Hodenfield works on the Policy and Research Team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance - @Tor_Hodenfield]]> Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Tor Hodenfield
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

With more and more governments narrowing space for dissent and activism, the UN has emerged as a key platform to air concerns about acute rights violations and develop protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups.

The core freedoms that enable civil society to conduct its work are under threat across the world. A report recently released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries. Individual activists and journalists are also increasingly being targeted to prevent them from exercising their legitimate rights and undertaking their vital work. In 2015, Global witness documented the killing of three environmental activists per week – while the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 199 journalists who were behind bars at the end of 2015.

Worryingly, restrictions on the exercise of civil society freedoms are being experienced in democracies as well as authoritarian states. In the US, Black Lives Matter demonstrators are facing serious challenges to their right to protest peacefully both from overzealous law enforcement agents as well as from divisive right wing politicians. In South Korea, security forces have violently repressed popular protests and judicially harassed civil society and union leaders advocating for greater transparency of the government’s ongoing investigation of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. On July 4th, the President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in organizing the protests.

Ethiopia’s totalitarian state apparatus has brutally suppressed grievances about access to land, adequate health services and education in the Oromia region, precipitating mass protests since November 2015. Over 400 protestors, including scores of children have been killed in one of the most egregious crackdowns on the right to protest in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century. In Bahrain, the absolute monarchy continues to imprison human rights defenders, revoke the citizenship of outspoken critics and prevent activists from attending UN human rights conferences.

Due to the narrowing of political space in many countries around the world, there are fewer and fewer avenues available to individuals and groups to express their grievances at home. This makes the United Nations (UN) an important arena to highlight the importance of rights and to articulate international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, which recently concluded its 32nd Session in Geneva, took a number of critical steps to address restrictions on human rights and expand protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups. Notably, over the course of this three-week session, the UN decided to appoint the first-ever independent expert to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity rights, renewed the appointment of a similar expert to report on violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and adopted a landmark resolution on the key principles necessary to protect and promote the work of civil society.

Last month at UN headquarters in New York, civil society, businesses and governments met to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 universal goals provide an important platform for civil society to frame their government’s development and policies for the next 15 years and mitigates against many government’s reluctance to engage with civil society at the national level. The design of the goals has been lauded for its unprecedented levels of public participation and the recognition that civil society must be a co-partner in the delivery of international development agreements.

However, despite the admirable steps taken by the UN to address civic space restrictions and create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to engage on important human rights issues, states are replicating repressive tactics to undermine the access and potency of civil society at the UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a civil society organisation mandated to document violations against press freedom, was recently granted consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which allows NGOs to formally address UN bodies and processes, only after a decision to block them for the fourth year running was overturned. In another worrying attempt to suppress civil society participation at the UN, weeks earlier dozens of member states blocked over 20 LGBTI advocacy groups from attending the UN Global Aids Summit.

While the UN has emerged as an increasingly vital nexus to ensure that civic society grievances are considered, concerted efforts among the UN, States and civil society need to be made to ensure that decisions and norms the UN develops reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The UN, and its allies in civil society, must work together to help demystify the work of the UN and ensure that countries across the world are domesticating and delivering on these important human rights initiatives.

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Small Win for NGOs as UN Members Try to Exclude Critical Voiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:08:28 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146330 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices/feed/ 0 Kashmir on Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/kashmir-on-fire-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-on-fire-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/kashmir-on-fire-2/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 16:10:17 +0000 TAIMUR ZULFIQAR http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146147 By Taimur Zulfiqar, second secretary embassy of Pakistan Manila
Jul 19 2016 (Manila Times)

Kashmir is bleeding once again. Many innocent civilians have been brutally killed and many more injured by the Indian security forces. Surprisingly, there is a deafening silence in the local media. No views, no comments whatsoever have appeared. Strangely, the media, which is otherwise very active and springs into action on the slightest violation of human rights, kept mum as if Kashmiris are not human, their blood carries no importance and is cheaper than water. Many nowadays are voicing serious concerns about the rights of drug addicts killed by the police but not a single word for Kashmiris.

Views and opinions apart, there was a complete blackout in the local print media about the recent incidents of human rights violations in the Indian-occupied Kashmir by the Indian military and paramilitary forces against those protesting the killing of Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani, who was extremely popular among the masses. As a result, dozens of innocent Kashmiris were killed, over 2,100 have been injured, 400 of whom critically. People have been denied access to basic emergency services and right to health. There have been incidents of violence, harassment and shelling of teargas in hospitals to prevent access to hospitals and restrict the movement of ambulances. The brutality can be gauged from the fact that Indian Security Forces used pellet guns above waist-height, resulting in many injured, including those who lost their eyesight.

The use of excessive force against innocent civilians, protesting over extrajudicial killings, is deplorable and a blatant violation of the right to life, right to freedom of expression and opinion, right to peaceful protest and assembly, and other fundamental human rights. In fact, Indian forces have since long employed various draconian laws like the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act in killing the Kashmiri people, and for the arbitrary arrest of any individual for an indefinite period.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out grave human rights violations in the Indian-controlled Kashmir. In its July 2, 2015 report, Amnesty International highlighted extrajudicial killings of the innocent persons at the hands of Indian security forces in the Indian-held Kashmir. The report points out, “Tens of thousands of security forces are deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir … the Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows troops to shoot to kill suspected militants or arrest them without a warrant … not a single member of the armed forces has been tried in a civilian court for violating human rights in Kashmir … this lack of accountability has in turn facilitated other serious abuses … India has martyred 100,000 people. More than 8,000 disappeared (while) in the custody of army and state police.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, after his visit to India in March 2012, called on the government of India to continue to take measures to fight impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings. In his report he stated, “Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country … the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force.” A high level of impunity enjoyed by police and armed forces exacerbate such a situation, owing to the requirement that any prosecutions require sanction from the central government—something that is rarely granted. “The main difficulty in my view has been these high levels of impunity,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

India has been justifying these atrocities under various pretexts, such as by portraying these as internal affairs, stating that Kashmir is part of India. In addition, it tries to equate Kashmiris’ struggle with terrorism and blames Pakistan for fomenting militancy.

India is wrong on both counts. First of all, Kashmir is not and had never been part of India. It is a disputed territory with numerous UN Security Council Resolutions outstanding on its agenda. A series of UNSC Resolutions have been issued reiterating the initial ones issued in 1948 and 1949. Calling it an internal matter to India is a violation of UNSC Resolutions. The current situation in the Indian Occupied Kashmir and the indigenous movement for self-determination, which is going on for a long time in IOK, is a manifestation of what the Kashmiris want. They are resisting against the Indian occupation of their territory and want to exercise their right to self-determination. They want UNSC to implement Resolutions on the Kashmir dispute and fulfill their promise.

In addition, the disputed status of Kashmir is also supported by the Indian leadership in the past. Prime Minister Nehru, of India, in his Statement on All India Radio on Nov. 3, 1947, said: “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. The pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

Later, while addressing the Indian Parliament, on Aug. 7, 1952, he said, “I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir. It is not that we have merely said that to the United Nations and to the people of Kashmir; it is our conviction and one that is borne out by the policy that we have pursued, not only in Kashmir but everywhere. …

“I started with the presumption that it is for the people of Kashmir to decide their own future. We will not compel them. In that sense, the people of Kashmir are sovereign.”

There are plenty of statements by Indian leadership and the UN to the effect that Kashmir is a disputed territory and its future is to be decided by seeking the wishes of the Kashmiris through a plebiscite under the auspices of the UN.

India’s portrayal of Kashmiri’s struggle as terrorism is another farce, which unfortunately has been taken at face value by the international community. Most probably, such a stand is driven by economic/commercial and other similar interests in total disregard of the moral principles contained in their Constitutions, the UN Charter, etc.

None seem to have asked India as to what necessitates deployment of more than 600,000-strong army in the occupied Kashmir with a population of 10 million, i.e., one soldier for every 16.6 natives. And why such a huge deployment, despite its repressive policies, has been unable to check the freedom struggle. As per some estimates, more than 80,000 have died and thousands are missing since 1989. Moreover, it is a fact that every year, when India celebrates Independence Day on Aug. 15, Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control and the world over observe it as Black Day, to convey the message to the international community that India continues to usurp their inalienable right to self- determination. This very day is being marked by complete shutdown, as deserted streets, closed businesses and security patrolling the streets could be seen in the Indian-held Kashmir. To express solidarity with Pakistan, Kashmiris hoist the Pakistani flag on Aug. 14, the Pakistan Independence Day. Indian-occupation authorities often impose stringent restrictions in Srinagar and other towns, and deploy heavy contingents of police and troops to prevent people from holding anti-India demonstrations on these days. All this is a clear manifestation that the struggle is predominantly indigenous, and equating it with terrorism is nothing but a gross injustice on the part of India. India should realize that such tactics would never be able to change the basis of the just struggle that has been waged by the Kashmiri people since 1947. Had India fulfilled its duties toward the Kashmiri people, all these killings would have been avoided.

Pakistan unequivocally extends political, diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiris in their struggle for self-determination. Pakistan’s principled position on the issue of Kashmir is that it should be resolved according to UN Resolutions. Kashmir is a universally recognized dispute with numerous UNSC Resolutions outstanding for almost seven decades. Wars have not succeeded in resolving the issue of Kashmir. Dialogue is the best option to amicably resolve all issues between India and Pakistan, including the dispute of Kashmir. Pakistan remains ready for dialogue. It is for the international community to urge India to resolve issues through dialogue.

Kashmiris are resisting against the Indian occupation of their territory and want to exercise their right to self-determination. Nothing can deter the Kashmiris’ resolve to continue their struggle. For a people alienated and wronged for decades, any provocation will set them aflame. India should realize that the Kashmir dispute will not vanish unless their aspirations are met. Oppressive brutalities and inhuman measures cannot stop them from claiming their right to self-determination, in accordance with the UNSC Resolutions.

The international community should rise from its slumber and tell India that the treatment being meted out to the Kashmiris is simply unacceptable. India should honor its human rights obligations, as well as its commitments under the UNSC Resolutions to resolve the Kashmir dispute in a peaceful manner.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Civil Society Organizations Worried About Declining Involvementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 02:48:29 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/feed/ 0 Journalists Face Unprecedented Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/journalists-face-unprecedented-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-face-unprecedented-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/journalists-face-unprecedented-violence/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 21:41:33 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145845 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/journalists-face-unprecedented-violence/feed/ 0 From Somalia to Afghanistan: The Dangers Local Journalists Facehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/from-somalia-to-afghanistan-the-dangers-local-journalists-face/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-somalia-to-afghanistan-the-dangers-local-journalists-face http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/from-somalia-to-afghanistan-the-dangers-local-journalists-face/#comments Sat, 11 Jun 2016 00:22:33 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145595 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/from-somalia-to-afghanistan-the-dangers-local-journalists-face/feed/ 0 Of GPA 5 and Journalistic Ethicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/of-gpa-5-and-journalistic-ethics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-gpa-5-and-journalistic-ethics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/of-gpa-5-and-journalistic-ethics/#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2016 14:37:27 +0000 Akhtar Sultana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145486 By Akhtar Sultana
Jun 7 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

We can all agree that in recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of Bangladeshi students who achieved GPA 5 in both the secondary and higher secondary school level. It is no doubt heartening to see that our young people are doing so well in their studies, but it also raises a pertinent question as to the standard of education that is being imparted in our schools and colleges. The question that has been frequently asked is “Do so many deserve GPA 5 or is it being handed out to them?” This issue undoubtedly requires serious reflection.

journalism_and_gpa__A few days ago, a well-known television channel carried a report on GPA-5 achievers and their level of knowledge on various topics. The reporter picked a handful of GPA 5 achievers and asked them general knowledge questions, both on national and international topics, which most of the students were unable to answer. My question today, however, is not about these students and their level of knowledge or lack thereof – rather it is about how this was portrayed in the media. The reporter asked students questions in quick succession, “rapid fire” style. While the reporter hammered on, these young people avoided making eye contact with the camera, clearly embarrassed about their inability to answer the questions. The topics were without doubt very relevant and appropriate, but these children were humiliated on national television for all of Bangladesh to see on the 7 o’clock news.

Here arises the important question regarding the ethics of journalism. Does the TV channel, or any media for that matter, have the right to humiliate anyone, especially children, in a public domain? Was the reporter aware of the damage he was causing to these children, both emotionally and psychologically and the embarrassment, taunting and humiliation they would have to face among their peers? These youngsters perhaps agreed to be interviewed, hoping to tell their friends and family that they were featured on television, absolutely unaware of what was to follow.

My question is to the television channel that aired this report. How could a responsible television channel air this report? Shouldn’t it have been edited? As I watched the six and a half minute long video, I kept wondering what the reporter was trying to establish. Was it the GPA 5 achievers’ lack of knowledge, their inability to answer general knowledge questions or the standard of education that is being imparted in our schools? The reporter perhaps had good intentions, but the way it was carried out was far from right.

Students alone cannot be held responsible for their lack of knowledge. We have to dig deeper into the issue. It is the education system that is responsible, and as long as we do not pay heed to changing our system, this will not end. Our education system emphasises memorisation, rather than active learning and creativity. Attending coaching classes and running around from tutor to tutor has become the norm. Our society cares more for the scores you have obtained in an exam rather than the knowledge you have gained in the long run. As a result, parents, teachers, private tutors and schools all focus on students achieving higher GPAs. The schools are rated with the students’ GPA – the higher the GPA, the better the school or the coaching centre is thought to be. When a school’s students score GPA 5, they proudly display this information – and why shouldn’t they? This is the parameter by which the success of the school is decided. As a result, parents too, are forced to give in to this pressure to get their youngsters into a college where GPA matters most. This is a toxic cycle from which we all need to break free. For the sake of better education, a better system, and most of all, for the sake of the youth of Bangladesh.

Whatever the cause, it needs to be addressed but not in a manner which humiliates young people in front of the nation. The youth have the right to their privacy which must be respected. It is time for our reporters to pay more heed to the ethics of journalism, and high time for our media to be more conscious of the content and the people they are portraying.

The writer is Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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