Inter Press ServicePress Freedom – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:08:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 In Defense of Uganda’s Imprisoned Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/defense-ugandas-imprisoned-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=defense-ugandas-imprisoned-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/defense-ugandas-imprisoned-journalists/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 10:47:16 +0000 Angela Quintal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153544 The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has included eight staffers of the controversial Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper in its 2017 global census of imprisoned journalists. Some may disagree with that decision. After all, Red Pepper arguably endangered the lives of LGBTQ Ugandans by splashing the names of “200 top homos” across its pages back in […]

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Senior editors and directors of Uganda’s Red Pepper tabloid newspaper crowd the dock during.

By Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator
DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has included eight staffers of the controversial Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper in its 2017 global census of imprisoned journalists. Some may disagree with that decision.

After all, Red Pepper arguably endangered the lives of LGBTQ Ugandans by splashing the names of “200 top homos” across its pages back in 2014 when President Yoweri Museveni toughened criminal penalties for gays.

Outside of the country some accused the daily of hate speech but at home the government of course said nothing.

Now the tables are turned. Museveni’s authoritarian administration has cracked down hard on Red Pepper for republishing a story by a Rwandan outlet alleging a Ugandan plot to overthrow Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

Red Pepper‘s critics may view the arrests and prosecution of the eight journalists as poetic justice but that misses the bigger point. The Ugandan media is under tremendous and continuous pressure from an administration that attempts to silence critical and independent voices, and this crackdown is yet another attempt to intimidate the press.

That is why we, the World Association of Newspapers local media and press freedom organizations, as well as competitors and commentators, among others, have condemned the Red Pepper raid.

As the country’s Africa Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has stated: “Our defense of the tabloid is not to endorse its approach to journalism, but rather to highlight what Uganda’s Supreme Court has called ‘the greater danger of smothering alternative views of fact and opinion”.

“Those who are celebrating the silencing of Red Pepper should remember that some of the offences preferred against the directors and editors, such as ‘offensive communication’, are as much a threat to ordinary Ugandans …. If these charges are allowed to stand against Red Pepper, we shall be in trouble because they can easily be preferred and allowed to stand against any of us,” said ACME executive director, Peter Mwesige.

Police accused Red Pepper of publishing information prejudicial to “national security” in its November 20 edition. It reproduced an article by a Rwandan online publication Rushyashya under the headline ” M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame“. M7 is a nickname for Museveni who has ruled Uganda for 31 years.

The original charge of treason was dropped, but the journalists face seven other counts, including offensive communication, libel and disturbing the peace of Museveni, his brother Gen. Salim Saleh and Security Minister Henry Tumukunde.

The police’s anti-terrorism unit raided the offices and some editors’ homes; arrested management and senior staff; confiscated their tools of the trade, including computers and cellphones forced staff to hand over their passwords, sealed the office premises and declared it a crime scene.

More than three weeks after the arrests, Red Pepper has not been allowed to resume publishing, its staff, including those who were not charged, cannot earn a living and the company is unable to conduct business and pay the bills. The eight also remain in jail.

Police spokesman Emilian Kayima rejected criticism that the police were heavy-handed, saying its action was “very proportional and very professionally done”.

The effect of the State’s sledgehammer approach is felt beyond Red Pepper and is widely regarded as a tool to intimidate other journalists into self-censorship and to toe the government line, according to editors interviewed by CPJ, as well statements by media freedom organisations, cited above.

Haruna Kanaabi, the executive secretary of the Independent Media Council of Uganda, told CPJ: “What they (the authorities) did was to take the hammer to beat the mosquito.”

The Daily Monitor’s executive editor Charles Bichachi, said the “state seems to be using the detention to intimidate them, to harass them, and send a message to the rest of the media”.

“That is why we should speak out …because if the government gets away with holding Red Pepper editors, they will come for the rest,” he told CPJ.

However, Information Minister Frank Tumwebaze does not believe that the arrests are a threat to media freedom.

“When people have been charged in courts of law then it means that the state has given them an opportunity to get justice and defend themselves. Nobody is above the law, whether a journalist or any other citizen,” Tumwebaze told CPJ.

The State’s apparent bullying tactics appears to be succeeding. The Observer reported on December 7 that the management of Top Radio & TV had banned opposition politicians & other voices critical of government from all its shows.

Meanwhile, the Uganda Communications Commission, has directed various media houses to suspend programs or dismiss presenters considered critical of government, The Observer reported.

Police have also recently summoned editors of the Monitor publications and New Vision and interrogated them about articles they published.

It is clear that Uganda’s media, not only Red Pepper, is under siege and ordinary Ugandans are the poorer for it.

[Additional reporting by Muthoki Mumo, CPJ East Africa correspondent]

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New Safety Handbook by IAWRThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-safety-handbook-iawrt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-safety-handbook-iawrt http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-safety-handbook-iawrt/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 18:39:24 +0000 Ronalyn Olea and Bibiana Piene http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153309 Female, journalist and caught in a crossfire?

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Female, journalist and caught in a crossfire?

By Ronalyn V. Olea and Bibiana Piene
OSLO, Dec 4 2017 (IPS)

Hopefully female journalists have read it by now “What if…? Safety Handbook for Women Journalists”. The handbook, written by renowned safety trainer Abeer Saady, an Egyptian, and published by The International Association for Women in Radio and Televison (IAWRT), provides hands on tips on what to do when caught in a crossfire , when stopped at checkpoints, arrested during coverage, or kidnapped and held hostage.

Abeer Saady, and Nonee Walsh

Security and safety for journalists, especially females, is often not taught in schools and rarely discussed in newsrooms. Still, a global survey of security risks for women journalists revealed that the majority preferred not to report on gender-based violence for fear of harassment, losing their job or being stigmatized.

More male journalists are killed every year than women, but female journalists are increasingly entering the field of high risk journalism and covering conflicts. In the Philippines twelve women journalists were killed in the line of duty since the restoration of democratic institutions in 1986, four them in the Ampatuan massacre in 2009. None of the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The handbook compiles experiences, not only Saady’s as a journalist with 27 years of experience, but also of other women journalists who have faced different and difficult situations.

Saady underscores the importance of physical, psychosocial and digital safety and security, and points out risk assessment, profile management, situational and digital awareness and a safety plan as crucial tools.

Many of the tips shared in the handbook are practical enough for any journalist or newsroom to follow.

Psychosocial security is something that’s not always attended to. What to do if you as a journalist lose sleep after covering war or violence? The handbook also suggests ways of dealing with trauma.

The handbook provides tips in dealing with online harassment, such as naming and shaming the online harasser and moderating the comments section as well aspreventing people from remaining anonymous, among others.

A Norwegian journalist, interviewed in the book, became a victim of online harassment. She believes that a better solution would be to develop what she calls harassment competence, such as distinguishing between ‘the angry’, ‘the crazy’, and ‘the dangerous’ bullies.

– The ‘angry’ are people you can respond to, and perhaps even make them understand that you’re a person who might get hurt by their utterances. Harassment coming from ‘the crazy’ and ‘the dangerous’ had better be ignored…since a reply often makes the bullying even worse, she says.

In social media women journalists should take precaution in protecting their digital safety and security. Social media accounts and emails can be hacked. The handbook lists tips on how to carry out a digital clean up.

The handbook has a separate section on ethical safety decisions. The main point is to do no harm.

Another section is devoted to legal safety. Knowing one’s rights as a journalist and the libel and other media laws in one’s country is helpful.

The handbook, which can be downloaded from the IAWRT’s website, is a must-read for every female journalist. The aim is to help creating an environment where women journalists can perform their job without fear or danger.

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The Birth of a Dictatorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/the-birth-of-a-dictator/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-birth-of-a-dictator http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/the-birth-of-a-dictator/#respond Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:26:29 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153072 The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest. The Cambodian government […]

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Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest.

The Cambodian government has launched a fierce crackdown on the opposition. For a few months now, politicians, journalist and activists have been harassed to make their work impossible. A new low point was reached on Thursday when the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) ahead of the elections in 2018. Only the CNRP could have competed with the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party), which has been in power for more than three decades. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving prime minister."Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It's a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful." --Mu Sochua, vice president of the CNRP

The official dissolution of the CNRP was just a formality. The president of the Supreme Court is also a top committee member of de CPP and a longtime ally of Hun Sen. In Cambodia, justice is an auxiliary of the government – and the prime minister is pulling all the strings firmly, now more than ever.

“I could easily continue for another 10 years,” the 65-year-old Hun Sen told reporters on Thursday. Consequently, he acknowledged that he doesn’t consider an election as a consultation of the people, but as a way to varnish his dictatorial regime with a thin layer of legitimacy. The CNRP was the last democratic obstacle to his power over the country’s resources, which he needs to buy support from the elite.

Fear of reprisals

Since the government stepped up the crackdown on democracy, few Cambodians dare to speak out in public – certainly since the murder of Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic. That was a turning point. Until then, Cambodians thought that their country would slowly become more democratic. But that hope was buried together with Kem Ley in his hometown Takeo.

His mother is cutting vegetables at the grave of her son. Phauk Se had done that every day since July 2016. Next to the burial site are pictures taken moments after the shooting. Kem Ley is lying between tables and chairs, a puddle of blood under this head. He was killed while he was having his morning coffee in a gas station in Phnom Penh.

The 80-year-old mother receives guest every day with soup and a friendly chat. The grave of her son has become a place of pilgrimage. The gunman is behind bars. “That’s not the real killer,” Phauk Se says in a timid voice. “If the government really wanted, they would have found the real culprit.”

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

No Cambodian believes that the killer acted alone. But nobody dares to express their suspicion. “Who has the real power? There is only one party who can organize such a murder,” says Kem Rithisith, the brother of Kem Ley, without naming it. “There was a second finger on the trigger, and everyone knows whose finger that was.”

Meanwhile at the market of Takeo, business is not good. Shopkeepers are lying in hammocks, waiting for customers. Mao Much Nech, a salesman of cheap jewelry, doesn’t want to say what party he supports. “That’s sensitive. But the government has lost dignity and credit because of the murder. It’s time to wake up and fight back.”

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” a woman says in her stall filled with colorful dresses. “We want change.” Most of the shopkeepers at the market use the same word to express their disappointment with the government.

Blood on the streets

The CPP knows it can’t survive a new popularity test. The CNRP almost won the elections of 2013. It made more progress with the local elections in June. It’s evident that the elections due in July 2018 are causing anxiety at the CPP headquarters. To prevent a defeat, it has started the final assault on the opposition. The CNRP is now dissolved and the party’s president Kem Sokha is in prison. Five thousand mandatories lost their jobs and half of the 55 members of parliament have fled the country.

Mu Sochua is one of them. She is preparing a vegetable soup during the phone call with this reporter. The sound of cutting, chopping and grating makes a fitting backdrop to the combative language of the vice-president of the CNRP.

“The dissolution of the CNRP is a big miscalculation of Hun Sen. The discontent will only continue to rise. Until now the CNRP has channeled this peacefully. But soon people might take their anger to the streets,” Mu says from a Moroccan kitchen. She fled Cambodia after she was tipped off about her impending arrest.

“It needs only one spark to start violent protests, like Tunisia and the Arab Spring,” the politician says while igniting a gas stove. “I’m very afraid of violence. Hun Sen will do anything to stay in power. If people would dare to protest, the tanks will be waiting. Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It’s a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful.”

The exiled Mu Sochua is now traveling the world to find support for the grassroots movement for democracy in Cambodia. “The CNRP is more than a party. We don’t care about the political game. We want democracy in Cambodia, that’s our real job.”

Sanctions please

The offices of the CNRP headquarters echo hollowly. The building is quiet and almost empty. A few guards are watching a Korean soap opera. Lawmaker Kimsour Phirith may get arrested any moment, but he keeps on smiling. “I’m not afraid. I have done nothing wrong. The CPP is afraid – of losing power.”

“We are witnessing the death of democracy in Cambodia,” Kimsour says. “Hun Sen is showing his true face. He is a dictator now. We are counting on the West. Only economic sanctions can help us.”

The Cambodian economy strongly depends on tourism and the garment industry. If the factories stop producing, 700,000 workers will lose their jobs. Hun Sun would have a major crisis on his hands.

The government may think that Beijing will come to rescue. China has proved in recent years that it has the will and the money to back up Phnom Penh. “But that’s not guaranteed,” says Ou Chanrath, who lost his job as a lawmaker on Thursday. “The Chinese are still dependent on the West. The garment factories are Chinese, but the exports go to the West. When sanctions hit Cambodia, they will pack their bags.”

Human rights groups condemned the dissolution of the CNRP and asked the West to act. “The international community cannot stand idly, it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The European Union issued a critical statement in which it linked human rights with access to the European bloc’s reduced and zero tariff trade scheme. The US government decided to discontinue funding for the NEC (the Cambodian election body), in case it still bothered to organise elections.

Prime Minister Hun Sen tried to reassure the nation on Thursday evening. In his speech he said – without any hint of irony – that the government is still deeply committed to democracy. CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann reacted by saying that “they can never remove the CNRP from the heart of the people.”

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Stop Attacking the Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/stop-attacking-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-attacking-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/stop-attacking-media/#respond Fri, 27 Oct 2017 17:46:06 +0000 UNESCO http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152774 UNESCO message for International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, 2 November

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International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

By UNESCO
PARIS, Oct 27 2017 (UNESCO)

Ninety percent of cases concerning the killing of journalists remain unpunished, according to information Member States provided to the Organization in 2017. This is a slight improvement compared to last year, when countries’ answers to UNESCO’s written enquires indicated that only 8% of such cases led to a conviction.

“Justice is a cornerstone of a free society. It dissuades those who threaten freedom of expression and emboldens those who stand to defend it,” said Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. “This is why injustice against journalists is so costly for all societies.”

Between 2006 and 2016, UNESCO condemned the killing of 930 journalists. Of these, 102 journalists were killed in 2016 alone, according to UNESCO’s latest figures, which appear in the forthcoming World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2017/2018.*

The majority of journalists killed in 2016 (94%) were local journalists, reporting local stories. Half of the killings (50%) occurred in countries where there was no armed conflict, compared to 47% in 2015.

The proportion of female journalists killed rose from 5% in 2006 to 10% in 2016. Women also continue to face specific threats, including online harassment.

“Justice is a cornerstone of a free society. It dissuades those who threaten freedom of expression and emboldens those who stand to defend it,” said Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. “This is why injustice against journalists is so costly for all societies.”
In 2017, as part of its efforts to monitor the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, UNESCO invited the 62 Member States where cases remained unresolved to provide information on the status of judicial investigations. Of these, 46 responded (74%), with 41 providing specific information on the status of judicial investigations into the killing of media workers condemned by the Director-General of UNESCO.

These numbers confirm a steady increase in the level of recognition among Member States of UNESCO’s monitoring and reporting mechanism: in 2016, the response rate was 68%, in 2015, 47%, and in 2014, just 27%.

This improvement shows growing willingness on the part of countries to share information on the subject. It is, however, woefully insufficient to achieve the objectives of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI), observed annually on 2 November.

“The news is filled with reports of our colleagues, journalists getting killed, wounded, imprisoned all over the world,” said UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety, Christiane Amanpour. “We, the press, must continue to fight for an end to impunity.”

On the occasion of the Day, on 2 November UNESCO and its partners will launch a global campaign in association with media from all over the world and a social media campaign #MyFightAgainstImpunity.**

On 4 December, UNESCO will hold a one-day seminar to commemorate the Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka, entitled “Reinforcing regional cooperation to promote freedom of expression and the rule of law in Asia through ending impunity for crimes against journalists”.

The event will seek to advance dialogue and define strategies to strengthen regional cooperation on the safety of journalists and ending impunity in Asia. Organized by UNESCO and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, the event will feature the participation of regional stakeholders, including representatives of national human rights commissions.

Regional and local events for the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists will be organized worldwide, including in Italy, Kenya, the Philippines, Senegal, Tunisia, the United States of America and many other countries.

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163, which proclaimed 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, in Mali on 2 November 2013.

Follow the International Day with the hashtags #EndImpunity and #JournoSafe.

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 * Illustrations of the key findings related to the safety of journalists from the forthcoming World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Report: 2017/2018 Global Report are available at https://en.unesco.org/world-media-trends-2017 . The report is supported by the Government of Sweden.

 **More information about, and a media kit for, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists is available on en.unesco.org/endimpunity-2017.

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US Withdrawal from UNESCO: Abandonment of Principleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-withdrawal-unesco-abandonment-principles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-withdrawal-unesco-abandonment-principles http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/us-withdrawal-unesco-abandonment-principles/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:32:52 +0000 Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152575 Anuradha Mittal* is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, a leading US policy think tank.

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Anuradha Mittal* is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, a leading US policy think tank.

By Anuradha Mittal
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, Oct 18 2017 (IPS)

A woman shopkeeper is standing on a plastic chair to avoid knee high swirling rainwater mixed with sewage. “I work with a women’s cooperative selling products made by Palestinian women in my shop. The sewage water has gone into the electric wires, so I have no electricity. Everything in the shop is destroyed. The metal door [that was] installed to protect the settlers prevents the water from flowing out into the main drain. . . . This means we suffer every time it rains. They [the settlers] want us to move from here. This is why they make our life hard,” she cries.

UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France. Credit: UNESCO

The silent rain accompanies wails of those impacted.

This is the Old City of Hebron – the largest city in the West Bank and the only city in the Occupied Palestinian Territory apart from Jerusalem, with illegal settlements inside the city. As the sewage water in the market rises, Palestinian shopkeepers and residents point out the holes in the gate to allow for water to go through. However, cement blocks and sand placed by the settlers have closed the water drainage.

I am reminded of my time in Hebron, with last week’s announcement of US withdrawal from UNESCO, the Paris-based cultural, scientific, and educational organization of the United Nations, accusing it of “anti-Israel bias.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon followed, tweeting, “I welcome @realDonaldTrump’s decision … I have instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from Unesco in parallel with the United States.”

Under Obama administration, United States took similar action in 2012 after Palestine was accepted as a member state of UNESCO. A law from the 1990s apparently prohibits U.S. funding for any U.N. agency that recognizes Palestine as a state.

The recent U.S. pull out has to do with UNESCO’s designation of Hebron’s Old City as Palestinian World Heritage site in danger in July 2017. Condemning the decision, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an annual $1 million cut in membership fees to the United Nations, diverting those funds to a Jewish People’s Heritage Museum in the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron.

Israel’s UNESCO ambassador, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, response was to disdainfully take out his mobile phone and share with the UN members, “It’s my plumber in my apartment in Paris. There is a huge problem in my toilet and it is much more important than the decision you just adopted.”

The UNESCO’s decision was a verdict against the occupation. Following the 1994 riots that erupted in Hebron after an American Jewish settler killed 29 Palestinians in a massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque, Palestinians in the Old City have been living a collective punishment – life in a cage.

Today over 100 physical obstacles, including 18 permanently-staffed checkpoints, 14 partial checkpoints, and various permanent blockades, cut the Old City off from the rest of Hebron. The former lively bustle of Shuhada Street, Hebron’s once main commercial strip and home to the wholesale, gold, and vegetable markets, has drowned behind the green shutters of the boarded up shops, abandoned homes, and empty sidewalks.

In 2015, a third of Palestinian homes in the restricted area (1,105 housing units) were abandoned and an estimated 1,600 businesses closed. Several streets, designated for the exclusive use of settlers, restrict Palestinian traffic and, in some streets, even Palestinian pedestrians are banned.

With innumerable security check points, watchtowers, barricades, soldiers with automatic weapons, revolving gates, deserted streets, and welded shut homes and shops, the Old City of Hebron is a city under siege.

Metal wire mesh and white plastic tarps—littered with garbage and used plastic bottles—form a canopy to prevent Israeli settlers, living in the buildings above, from throwing garbage, dirty dish water, and chemicals down onto Palestinians.

This is everyday life in the Old City of Hebron.

When it comes to Palestine, actions of President Obama and Trump based on a law from over two decades ago, are confusing for the residents of the Old City of Hebron. United States withdraws from the organization it helped establish after World War II to widen access to education and ensure the free flow of ideas, when UNESCO carries out its mandate.

*Anuradha Mittal is also the lead author of “Palestine: For Land & Life” (https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/palestine-for-land-life). And to learn more about Hebron, see “Hebron: City Under Siege” https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/hebron-life-under-siege

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Press Freedom Groups Condemn U.S. Withdrawal from UNESCOhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 14:21:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152552 Civil society groups have called on the United States to reverse its decision to withdraw from a UN body, citing concerns for press freedom and journalists’ safety. Citing anti-Israel bias and concern over the inclusion of Palestine, the Donald Trump Administration announced that it will end its membership in the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 2017 (IPS)

Civil society groups have called on the United States to reverse its decision to withdraw from a UN body, citing concerns for press freedom and journalists’ safety.

Betlehem Isaak, daughter of 2017 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize Laureate receiving the award certificate from the hands of Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Citing anti-Israel bias and concern over the inclusion of Palestine, the Donald Trump Administration announced that it will end its membership in the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by December 2018.

“This anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of UNESCO, that needs to come to an end,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

“If UNESCO wants to get back and wants to reform itself and get back to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education and all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this,” she continued.

Though the North American nation wants to provide input as a nonmember observer, press freedom organizations including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Article 19 called the move a major blow to press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

“Their withdrawal from UNESCO represents an attempt to weaken that organization and that they will no longer provide input or influence on important issues that UNESCO has within its mandate which includes the protection of journalists,” RSF’s Advocacy and Communications Director in North America Margaux Ewen told IPS.

“The fact that the U.S. has now decided to no longer be a part of UNESCO, they essentially no longer want to be a part of this portfolio and that is really discouraging to anyone who is in favor of press freedom and protecting journalists,” she added.

CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch echoed similar sentiments, stating: “UNESCO plays a critical role in promoting the safety of journalists around the world and U.S. withdrawal will weaken UNESCO’s ability to address global press freedom violations, creating a power vacuum that could very well be filled by governments that embrace authoritarian tactics.”

Founded on the ashes of World War II in 1945, UNESCO is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication along with encouraging peace and strengthening ties between nations and societies.

Among its objectives is to promote free, independent, and pluralistic media in order to enhance freedom of expression and information around the world.

Alongside its concern for press freedom, the organization has also paved the way to ensure the safety of journalists.

UNESCO has recorded the killings of almost 1,000 journalists and media workers since 2007 and it is the lead agency tasked with ensuring the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity, a document which lays out measures to strengthen work on such issues.

“Support for UNESCO is therefore intrinsically linked to ensuring that journalists are safe to do their work, including in some of the most dangerous countries,” the press freedom groups said in a statement.

Though it is unclear if it reflects the ongoing trend of rejecting multilateralism and the UN, Ewen noted that the decision is in line with current violations of press freedom within the U.S.

“The current administration has been very locally against press freedom and has attacked media outlets and journalists individually for coverage that the White House doesn’t like, so this kind of seems like an extension of that type of view of press freedom,” she told IPS.

“Protecting free speech and ensuring journalists’ safety, core US values, requires investing in multilateralism, not running away from it,” he added.

Throughout his presidential campaign and since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly described media organisations including the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”

During a rally in Arizona, the President called journalists as “truly dishonest people” and criticised their coverage of his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised the prospect of media subpoenas to reveal leakers, violating journalists’ right to protect their sources.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has criticized President Trump’s anti-media rhetoric, stating: “It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the President himself…to call these news organisations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way—I have to ask the question: is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?”

Already, repercussions of such rhetoric can be seen around the world.

In Cambodia, government spokesperson Phay Siphan threatened to take action against media outlets because they do “not reflect the real situation” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organizations from a White House briefing earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has labeled report of atrocities against the Rohingya community “fake news” that helps terrorists.

Executive Director of Article 19 Thomas Hughes noted that President Trump’s attacks on media are “more than empty rhetoric” and signal a shift away from “championing freedom of expression worldwide.”

“Protecting free speech and ensuring journalists’ safety, core US values, requires investing in multilateralism, not running away from it,” he added.

The press freedom groups called on the U.S. to reconsider its decision.

“[The U.S. is] a key player on the international stage and they have the ability to influence positive change, so we would like them to continue to be a part of this discussion and ongoing campaigns to make sure that journalists are protected while doing their job on the field,” Ewen told IPS.

This is the second time that the U.S. has left UNESCO, having withdrawn in 1984 due to concerns over the Soviet Union’s influence and rejoining in 2003.

In 2011, the U.S. withdrew its funding to the organization as a response to Palestine’s membership.

The recent move came in the midst of UNESCO’s elections for a new Director-General which saw French-Jewish former Minister of Culture Audrey Azoulay rise to the occasion.

In response to the turmoil, Azoulay said that leaving UNESCO is not the answer.

“In this moment of crisis, I believe we must invest in UNESCO more than ever, look to support and reinforce it, and to reform it—and not leave it,” she said.

If confirmed by the 195-member General Assembly in November, Azoulay will succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova.

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A Thorn in the Side of the Regimehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/thorn-side-regime/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thorn-side-regime http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/thorn-side-regime/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 09:03:09 +0000 Erik Larsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152538 Journalist Bülent Kenes has worked as the head of world news, and has launched several newspapers. Now though, he has had to flee from Turkey and lives in Sweden.

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Need for Inclusive Peace Efforts in South Sudan: No More ‘Compassion Fatigue’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:56:29 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152359 “Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN. South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year […]

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An Oxfam staffer helps a woman at UN House in Juba carry home some of the emergency supplies she has just received. Credit: Anita Kattakhuzy/Oxfam

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

“Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year of Peace and Prosperity.’

A mere two years after its split from Sudan, a country plagued by decades-long of ethnic-based civil war between Arab and non-Arab tribes, the independent state of South Sudan erupted in conflict when President Kiir, a Dinka, accused his then vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup.

Amid heightening political tensions, violent skirmishes flared up in the nation’s capital of Juba in mid-December 2013 between loyalist soldiers from both parties. South Sudan has been mired in conflict ever since – much to the dismay of its citizens who hadn’t imagined they would carry the torch of war into their new republic.

Three months into a peace agreement signed by both parties in August 2015, the conflict reached a boiling point in December 2015 when President Kiir dissolved South Sudan’s 10 regional states and established 28 new states, resulting in a surge of violence beyond the capital, to several areas of the country.

A transitional government formed by both parties in April 2016, with the peace agreement as a precursor, failed to temper the violence as clashes continued country-wide. Further, President Kiir’s appointment of General Gai, Machar’s political ally, as his new vice president inflamed Machar and his loyalists, resulting in a split within the opposition – thus fueling the conflict.

A government ceasefire, declared after Machar fled the capital, crumbled shortly thereafter.

With lengthy, arduous peace efforts failing and confidence in ending the conflict flailing, South Sudan is facing its gravest humanitarian situation in years.

“This is the last chance of salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…we must resolve now, both individually and collectively, to do more to end this conflict,” said Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, while addressing the UN Security Council last week.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced by the South Sudan conflict. An estimated 830,000 have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, according to Oxfam America.

Harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists, forced recruitment of child soldiers, widespread sexual violence and restricting movement of UN peacekeepers by both sides characterize the conflict in South Sudan, according to prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“In over 30 years working in South Sudan, Oxfam has never responded to such dire needs under such difficult conditions,” said Oxfam America’s president, Abby Maxman, speaking on South Sudan at the UN.

Asked about the country’s grim situation, Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response, told IPS that, “with the conflict hitting many parts of the country simultaneously, with more access to advanced firepower, with a collapsing economy, with food insecurity and famine on the rise and, most especially, with no resounding commitment from the international community, South Sudan is more vulnerable than it has ever been.”

The suffering of communities in South Sudan has reached unprecedented levels.

“The situation is South Sudan is dire but not hopeless…when a situation is seen as hopeless and when the rhetoric surrounding it makes it seem ‘too complex’ and diminishes on-the-ground efforts, compassion fatigue arises,” said Gottschalk.

Though it is the responsibility of the significant parties in South Sudan to root out the source of the problem, it is the duty of the international community to navigate a peaceful outcome for the sake of 12 million South Sudanese who have not given up.

“We have not given up on them and we have not forgotten them…they have a friend and advocate in the US,” said Haley.

The UN, African Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) recently agreed to pool their efforts to support the revitalization of the political process in South Sudan.

The primary goal in mind, for this joint communiqué, is to adequately represent all significant parties and encourage them to focus on the full implementation of the August 2015 Peace Agreement, under a permanent ceasefire.

“This is the last chance at salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…the different parties to the conflict must use the next several weeks to commit themselves to this process and to conclude it,” said Haley.

Before undertaking these well-intended collective measures, it is important to understand the nature of the conflict in South Sudan.

“To get the country back on its feet, we must first recognize this conflict for what it is and what it isn’t…it’s not a tribal conflict, because ethnic identity doesn’t determine allegiance on the ground, it’s not a military conflict, because civilians, not soldiers, are bearing the brunt of the violence…in many ways it’s not even a political conflict, because that would imply that it’s about competing visions for governing this nation…what it is, is a hostage situation,” said Maxman.

In July this year, the AU Commission, South Sudanese officials, and UN representatives met in Juba to discuss the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan, envisioned under the 2015 Peace Agreement, and agreed on plans to finalize the court’s statute by August, according to Human Rights Watch.

Notably, South Sudan is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As such, its leaders can only be held accountable by the ICC through a request from the Sudanese government or a referral by the UN Security Council.

Though a lack of accountability is a conflict-accelerant, a more immediate focus is required in the inclusive peace efforts geared towards helping the people in South Sudan.

“It’s high time we throw our lot in with the hostages, not the hostage-takers,” said Maxman.

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Finally, Argentina Has a Law on Access to Public Informationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=finally-argentina-law-access-public-information http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/#respond Thu, 28 Sep 2017 23:53:41 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152281 After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information. This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is […]

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The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 28 2017 (IPS)

After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information.

This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is greater transparency on the part of the authorities.

The Law on the Right of Access to Public Information, which considers “all government-held information” to be public, was approved by Congress in September last year and enters into force Friday Sept. 29.

Eduardo Bertoni stressed the importance of the new law. He is the academic appointed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to lead the new Agency for Access to Public Information, which will operate within the executive branch, although “with operational autonomy,” according to the law.

“There are already 113 countries that have right of access to information laws and 90 countries have incorporated it into their constitutions,” Bertoni said during the public hearing where his appointment was discussed.

Bertoni, a lawyer with a great deal of experience regarding the right to information, served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIADH) between 2002 and 2005.

“We must now encourage society to demand more information from the authorities. And it is essential to push for better organisation of the public archives, because if we do not find the information people seek, we will fail,” he added.

The text is broad in terms of the list of institutions legally bound to respond to requests for access to information: besides the various branches of the state, it includes companies, political parties, trade unions, universities and any private entity to which public funds have been allocated, including public service concessionaires.

The Agency was created to ensure compliance with the law. Its functions include advising people who seek public information and assisting them with their request.

“This was clearly a pending issue for Argentina. It is incomprehensible that the governments of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) did not push for approval of this law, which should be an incentive for provinces and municipalities to do the same, since very few have regulations on access to public information,” Guillermo Mastrini, an expert on this question, told IPS.

For Mastrini, a former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, “this does not change the worrying scenario with respect to the right to information, since the government is regulating by decree issues related to audiovisual communication services in a way that does not favor plurality and transparency.”

The bill was sent to Congress by the government a few months after Macri took office in December 2015, and passed with large majorities in both legislative chambers.

Until now, at the national level, there was only decree 1172, signed in 2003 by Kirchner with the aim of “improving the quality of democracy”, which was not only below the status of a law, but only covered the executive branch with regard to the obligation to provide information.

José Crettaz, a journalist and the coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Convergence of Communications, told IPS that “Néstor Kirchner’s decree, which applied to the executive branch, worked very well at first, but then public officials began to leave most requests for information unanswered.”

“Now we are seeing a huge step forward, since the law encompasses all branches of the state, and I see a government with a different attitude. The decisive thing will be how the law is implemented. The only valid criterion should be: if there is public money involved, it is public information,” he said.

The law was passed after dozens of bills on access to information were introduced in Congress in recent years. The first was presented under the government of Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), with the support of a network of civil society organisations, but with little backing from journalists.

The initiative obtained preliminary approval from the lower house of Congress in 2003, passed to the Senate and then the main Argentine media outlets joined the public campaign demanding that it be approved. However, they later distanced themselves from the bill.

They did so, Bertoni recalled in a paper written in 2011 for the World Bank, when a senator warned that the media should also respond to requests for information submitted by any member of the public, as they receive state advertising, which is considered a subsidy.

In 2004, the Senate approved the bill, but with modifications that included private entities among the subjects obligated to provide information, and sent it back to the lower house, where it was shelved. Another bill was passed by the Senate in 2010, but it also failed to prosper.

Now one thing that stood out is that just two days before the law went into effect, the government modified it through a questioned channel: based on “a decree of necessity and urgency”, putting the new Agency in the orbit of the chief of the cabinet of ministers.

“The government thus gave a lower status to the Agency, which according to law was to depend directly on the Presidency of the Nation; the decision, moreover, cannot be taken by decree when Congress is in session,” said Damián Loreti, professor of Right to Information at the University of Buenos Aires.

“That the law is in force is good. But I am concerned about a number of things, such as not including among its objectives a guarantee for the exercise of other rights, such as housing or sexual and reproductive rights. The model law of the Organisation of American States was not followed,” he told IPS.

For Sebastián Lacunza, the last director of the Buenos Aires Herald, a well-respected English-language newspaper that closed this year, “in a country that does not have a culture of transparency, there is a risk that the law will fail.”

“This government promised a regeneration of the country’s institutions, but in some aspects it ended up aggravating the shortcomings of the previous administration, which was not prone to being open with information,” he told IPS.

In his view, “in a context of global crisis in the media industry and a shrinking of plurality of information, the most important thing is that there is an active state that combats the concentration of the media in a few hands.”

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Crisis in Cameroon Spurs Govt Crackdown on Presshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 12:22:02 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152241 “For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian […]

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Police block rioters in front of the Divisional Officers building in Kumba, Southwest Region, Cameroon, amid an ongoing political crisis in the country’s Anglophone region. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

“For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian journalist Elie Smith.

The outspoken journalist told IPS he was forced to resign from Cameroon’s leading private media house following intense pressure from government. The CEO of the station had suspended a talk show, Tough Talk, Smith co-hosted with Divine Ntaryike and Henry Kejang. He said Prime Minister Philemon Yang and Justice Minister Laurent Esso wanted him fired.Journalist Tim Finian Njua was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde.

The trio were accused of being too critical of government, especially during reporting and analysis of an ongoing 11-month-long protest in English-speaking Cameroon. Protesters had adopted civil disobedience as their trump card, keeping schools and courts in the region closed since Nov. 21, 2016.

Smith, who had refused to travel from the financial capital, the port city of Douala, to Yaounde, the country’s political capital, to apologise to the prime minister for being too critical of government, was later told to stick to a program called World Views and refrain from any discussion of domestic politics.

“On Sep. 4 when schools were expected to resume in Cameroon, protests marred the resumption in English-speaking Cameroon. Yet, the CEO asked me to lie on air that resumption was effective in order to please government. I refused. That is when we both realised we can no longer work together,” he told IPS.

Despite losing his job, Smith is among the few journalists who have avoided prison in a government clampdown on reporters since the crisis erupted in English-speaking Cameroon. Others have been jailed and tortured, while some are currently in exile. For the most part, security forces target English-speaking journalists whom government accuses of supporting or sympathising with “terrorists”.

Journalists or terrorists?

Cameroon was first colonised by the Germans in 1884. After the defeat of Germany in World War I, France and Britain shared the territory under a mandate from the League of Nations, with Britain keeping one-fifth of it.  A federation of two states with equal status was declared in 1961, but was abolished in 1972 following a referendum – its conduct remains contested to this day.

Citizens of the former trust territory of British Southern Cameroons who have over the years, complained of marginalisation and lack of control over their assets, rose up in October 2016 in two ranks- some demanding a return to federation while others demand total independence. Both camps however agree on the same complaints; insignificant placements of English-speaking Cameroonians in administration, and inequality which they say led to impoverishment of their region and its population and subjugation of their educational and cultural heritage. At least 13 people have been shot dead since the crisis erupted.

A controversial law on the suppression of acts of terrorism in Cameroon enacted in December 2014 is being used to try citizens arrested in relation to the protests. Journalists arrested for reporting on the crisis are equally tried at the military tribunal under the same law which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace.

Tim Finian Njua, one of eight journalists arrested in relation to the ongoing crisis, says he is finding it difficult readjusting after spending over six months in jail. The editor of Life Time newspaper, Njua was freed from the Kondengui Prison in Yaounde alongside Atia Tilarious and two other journalists, and close to 50 protesters, following a presidential clemency in August.

Njua told IPS he was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde. “They said our newspaper reported an incident that may provoke or aggravate rebellion. I was charged with acts of terrorism, insurrection, secession and propagation of false information.”

Atia Tilarious, who had earlier been arrested and released for hosting a TV debate on the uprising, had gone to Kondengui after his first arrest, this time in the company of Amos Fofung, a reporter for The Guardian Post newspaper.

Fofung told IPS “I was let out of prison six months later. I was told the state attorney sent apologies for keeping me in jail without charge or evidence. I walked out and later travelled back to Buea. It made me bolder. I am still objective in my reporting.”

Meanwhile Fonjah Hanson Muki, proprietor of Cameroon Report, was arrested alongside five of his staff in the town of Bamenda, which is regarded as the epicentre of the uprising. They were accused by a military tribunal of propagatng false information. They were also accused of receiving money from secessionists abroad to push a separatist agenda through their reporting. The last of them, arrested on July 25, was released on Sept. 18. The media owner was ordered never to report on the ongoing crisis.

Skewed regulator

Before the clampdown on journalists reporting the crisis, the national communication council had issued a warning to journalists in the country, tacitly outlawing all media debates on the return to federation. Though the council’s decision preceded a speech by President Paul Biya making the topic taboo, French-language media organs continued the debate, while English-language tabloids piped down.

“You know we are not the same. There are things Le Messager or Le Jour can report and go free but The Guardian Post or The Sun will be sanctioned for doing same. The public does not understand, that is why you find citizens criticising us on social media, saying we are chicken-hearted,” a newspaper publisher who asked for anonymity told IPS.

The council has been criticised for siding with state officials and influential citizens. It meted out sanctions on Sep. 22, suspending some 20 media organs, publishers and journalists for periods ranging from one to six months. Most of the decisions were verdicts on complaints filed by government officials like the Minister of Forestry and influential citizens like Cameroonian football star and billionaire, Samuel Eto’o Fils.

Ten-year jail sentence for reporting on terrorism

Ahmed Aba, Cameroon correspondent for the Hausa service of the French international radio, RFI, is currently serving a ten-year jail term. He was found guilty of “laundering of proceeds of terrorism” and “non-denunciation of terrorism” by the military tribunal in Yaounde.

The verdict, handed down this year after two years of pre-trial detention, was appealed by his lawyer, Clement Nakong. Aba told IPS at the prison yard in Yaounde that he is innocent and hopes to be set free after the appeal. He said he was accused of working for the Nigeria-based Boko Haram terror group.

But the outcome of an appeal is uncertain as a government spokesman bluntly declared at a press conference that RFI supports terrorists. The appeal hearing was expected to begin among others in mid-August this year, but Aba’s name was taken off the list.

International and local institutions and activists have been advocating for his release. He was recently named one of the winners of the 2017 International Press Freedom Award by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another journalist, Gubai Gatama, was placed under investigation and interrogated at the police headquarters for reporting on Boko Haram.

“Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press,” said CPJ Africa Program Director Angela Quintal in a statement. “When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal. Cameroon must amend its laws and stop subjecting journalists–who are civilians–to military trial.”

On Sep. 20, CPJ issued a report, written by Quintal, warning that in addition to detaining journalists, authorities have banned news outlets deemed sympathetic to the Anglophone protesters, shut down internet in regions experiencing unrest, and prevented outside observers, including CPJ, from accessing the country by delaying the visa process.

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Indian Journalist’s Murder: The Ultimate Form of Press Censorship?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indian-journalists-murder-ultimate-form-press-censorship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indian-journalists-murder-ultimate-form-press-censorship http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indian-journalists-murder-ultimate-form-press-censorship/#comments Thu, 07 Sep 2017 22:56:50 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151969 Dauntlessly crusading against curbs on freedom of speech, fifty-five-year-old Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down at her very doorstep in Bengaluru city on the evening of Sep. 5, taking three bullets of the seven fired in her lungs and heart. She was shot from just three feet away. Known for her vocal stand against […]

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Gauri Lankesh. Credit: Wikipedia

By Manipadma Jena
BHUBANESWAR, India, Sep 7 2017 (IPS)

Dauntlessly crusading against curbs on freedom of speech, fifty-five-year-old Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down at her very doorstep in Bengaluru city on the evening of Sep. 5, taking three bullets of the seven fired in her lungs and heart. She was shot from just three feet away.

Known for her vocal stand against India’s growing right-wing ideology, communal politics and majoritian policies, Lankesh ran bold and forthright anti-establishment reports on the eponymous Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a regional language tabloid published, owned and edited by her since 2005."Gauri Lankesh’s death is another stark reminder of how violence is the new normal (in India)." --A senior journalist

She ran the paper only on subscriptions from loyal readers from across remote villages of Karnataka State. The paper carried no advertisements, following in the tradition of her socialist poet, playwright and journalist father who started the original tabloid.

Gauri Lankesh described herself on her Twitter handle as a journalist-activist. Fluent in both English and the regional Kannada language, she fearlessly broadcast her far-left of centre and pro-Dalit ideologies against religious fundamentalism and the caste system, reaching a huge mass grassroots population.

Speaking at her funeral, Karnataka’s chief minister M Siddaramaiah said, “Gauri brokered deals with Naxalites (Left-wing extremists) in Karnataka. She helped them enter the mainstream and played a vital role of a negotiator between the State and the extremists.” An activity which extremists cadres may have wanted to halt, Lankesh’s brother Indrajit Lankesh said today.

Known as a sympathizer of left-wing extremists, Lankesh was among the few who could empathise with the poverty, oppression and injustices that had pushed these people to pick up arms against the government.

In November, Lankesh was convicted in two libel suits filed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarians for her 2008 article alleging that they had criminal dealings. She was, however, granted bail and was planning to appeal to a higher court.

Majority of journalists killed wrote on politics and corruption

Lankesh’s voice being silenced once again highlights that journalists covering politics and corruption in India are most at risk of being silenced by killing.

Over half of the 27 journalists murdered in the country since 1992 were covering politics and corruption – the two beats most likely to provoke violent repercussions, finds the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ). The threat from these seems to be rising.

India continues to languish in the bottom third of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 136th of 180 countries. Among India’s neighbours, most fare better, including conflict-torn Afghanistan at 120, Pakistan at 139, Sri Lanka at 141, , Bangladesh at 146, Nepal at 100, Bhutan at 84 and China at 176. Norway leads while North Korea is at the bottom.

The Index ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.

Source: RSF

‘It is not what you said, but why you said it’

A friend of the slain journalist who was also from the media fraternity is quoted as saying that Lankesh was very “in your face” in her brand of progressive activism against radical Hinduism.

“In my frequent interactions with her, I would tell her that her whole rhetoric should be more subtle,” her friend says. “She was very naive and she was politically incorrect. She was very bold, but indulged in sloganeering of a certain kind which I said would not achieve anything. She needed to strategize.”

“Our right to dissent is being threatened,” the intrepid journalist said instead.

Bold red placards at her funeral read, “It is not what you said, but why you said it.”

“Given the ways in which speech is being stifled, dire days lie ahead,” Lankesh told an online portal a few months before her death, in an intuitive foretelling of her violent end.

She installed two closed circuit surveillance systems a fortnight before the fatal attack.

No link has yet been established between her death and her ideology or writing by police investigations, but because she so fiercely fought for freedom of speech and freedom of thought, large sections of Indian media protesting her killing are expressing concern over what they described as a growing intolerance of dissenting political voices.

A senior journalist sums up the current sentiment saying, “Gauri Lankesh’s death is another stark reminder of how violence is the new normal (in India). Alternate opinion is no longer debated, it is silenced.”

The Reporters without Borders (RSF) 2017 index report too blames the rise of Hindu nationalism for India’s drop in ranking.

“The three-year-old (federal) administration has been trying to banish all “anti-nationalist” discourse from the Indian press. Journalists who refuse to censor themselves are the targets of defamation suits or are prosecuted under section 124A of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment, the organization reiterated today.”

Getting away with murder

Hundreds of journalists are murdered, but in nine out of 10 cases their killers go free.

India’s unsolved journalist murders rose by 24 percent within just one year, finds CPJ’s latest Global Impunity Index 2016 which documents the top countries where the killers of journalists go unpunished and where cases of journalists killed remain unsolved. In comparison, Syria is up 85 percent and Brazil 36

CPJ finds it is most often criminal and political groups, government officials in India who get away with journalist murders. Rural and small-town journalists reporting on local corruption, crime, and politics are targeted most. Worse, in addition to failing to solve any journalist murder, India has never responded to UNESCO’s requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.

Impunity is widely recognized as one of the greatest threats to press freedom. The Impunity Index finds globally, 95 percent of victims were local reporters. More of them covered politics and corruption than any other beat. Also in 40 percent of cases, the victims reported receiving threats before they were killed. Threats however are rarely investigated by authorities and in only a handful of cases is adequate protection provided. Of serious concern is CPJ’s finding that only 3 percent of total murder cases over the 2006 – 2016 decade have been brought to justice, including the prosecution of the masterminds.

No data on the murder of journalists is maintained separately, according to India’s home ministry, which administers law and crime. Since 2014 the national crime records bureau (NCRB) has however started collecting data only on grievously injurious attacks on media persons.

The federal or any of the State governments is yet to act on RSF’s 2015 call to the Indian government to launch a national safety plan for journalists, or at least establish alert and rescue mechanisms that would also send a strong message of support for media freedom.

India’s information and broadcasting ministry rejected RSF’s index ranking earlier this year, saying it found the sampling random in nature and it does not portray a proper and comprehensive picture of freedom of the press in India.

Earlier in February U.N. Secretary General António Guterres agreed to take steps to address the safety of journalists, at a meeting where RSF and CPJ called for the appointment of a special representative to the UNSG to end impunity, ensure safety.

Attacks on Asia Pacific’s free press escalates: Cambodia’s clampdown via huge back tax

With 34 countries and more than half the world’s population, the Asia-Pacific region holds all the records including the biggest number of “Predators of Press Freedom,” according to RSF.

Earlier this week, the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper published its last issue on Sep. 4 after fighting for the right to report the news freely and independently for 24 years. It was forced to close by an unprecedented form of government pressure – a sudden demand to pay 6.3 million dollars in alleged back taxes, according to RSF.

The newspaper’s editor, Jodie DeJonge regards it as arbitrary and politically motivated, pointing out that no tax audit had been carried out, according to RSF, which also says that the Cambodia Daily has been one of the relatively few independent media outlets to cover corruption, deforestation and other stories that are embarrassing for the government. This clampdown on independent media outlets has come as Cambodia prepares to hold elections next year.

“But this is not a tax issue, it is a free press issue,” DeJonge told RSF.

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UN Rights Chief: Trump’s Attack on Press is “Dangerous”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous/#comments Thu, 31 Aug 2017 21:57:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151872 Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a UN official. During a press conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised U.S. President Trump for attacking news organisations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric. “It’s really quite […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31 2017 (IPS)

Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a UN official.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

During a press conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised U.S. President Trump for attacking news organisations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the President himself,” Zeid said.

“It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one,” he continued.

Throughout his presidential campaign and since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly described media organisations including the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”

Most recently during a rally in Arizona, the President called journalists as “truly dishonest people” and criticised their coverage of his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville when he said violence was caused by “many sides.”

“To call these news organisations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way—I have to ask the question: is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?” Zeid asked.

“I think at an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very bad people, you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”

The High Commissioner cited the case of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs who was recently assaulted by Montana Republican Greg Gianforte.

He also pointed to the poisonous repercussions of such “demonisation” of the press around the world.

In Cambodia, spokesperson Phay Siphan has threatened to take action against media outlets that are perceived to be endangering “peace and security” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organisations from a White House briefing earlier this year

“Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation,” he said.

“Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace,” Siphan added.

Such cases will only expand, the High Commissioner said.

“I almost feel that the President [Trump] is driving the bus of humanity and we are careening down a mountain path,” Zeid said.

“From a human rights perspective, it seems to be reckless driving,” he concluded.

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Muzzling the Media: Cambodiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/muzzling-media-cambodia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=muzzling-media-cambodia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/muzzling-media-cambodia/#respond Tue, 29 Aug 2017 14:11:11 +0000 Erik Larsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151835 Next year sees elections being held in Cambodia and opposition grows. The Cambodian government is attempting to silence aid organisations and the media. Newspapers and radio stations are threatened with massive tax debts and an aid organisation was given a week to wind up activities and leave the country.

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Next year sees elections being held in Cambodia and opposition grows. The Cambodian government is attempting to silence aid organisations and the media. Newspapers and radio stations are threatened with massive tax debts and an aid organisation was given a week to wind up activities and leave the country.

By Erik Larsson
PHNOM PENH, Aug 29 2017 (IPS)

You have to pay six million dollars in tax! That was the message given to the Cambodian Daily the same week that Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly attacked the newspaper.

In a speech in a park in the capital city Phnom Penh, the Prime Minister denounced the founder of the Cambodian Daily who is an American journalist. Hun Sen accused him of being a thief and that he should pack his bags and leave if the newspaper was unable to pay the tax before the 4th of September, which at the time was less than two weeks away.

Last week the Department of Finance announced that two other independent media outlets, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, similarly would be required to pay added taxes.

The English language Cambodian Daily is one of few media in Cambodia that raises sensitive political issues and deals with the extensive corruption in the country.

In the past the English language newspapers have been left alone by the government, but the sudden demand for tax payments directed at the Cambodian Daily indicate that the situation has changed.

 

The Cambodia Daily

 

The government has also acted against several organisations that work with human rights issues in the country.

On Wednesday last week the Foreign Minister of Cambodia unexpectedly decreed that all foreign nationals working for the US organisation the National Democratic Institute were to leave the country within one week.

The US aid organisation aims to strengthen democratic institutions all over the world, acting in about 70 different countries. The Cambodian authorities accuse the National Democratic Institute of acting illegally in the country as they were not registered.

”What we are most concerned about is the risk that the government is planning to follow China’s lead and introduce an NGO law” according to Erik Andersson of the Swedish union IF Metall.

In his role as International Secretary at IF Metall, Erik Andersson expresses his concern to Arbete Global, for the possible impact on the project for increased union engagement that is undertaken by IF Metall together with IndustriAll Global Union. Worries are that Swedish organisations too will be targeted.

” [A NGO-law] would mean that foreign financing of organisations would be forbidden, which could have negative repercussions on our work to support the independent unions in Cambodia.”

Cambodia ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is on 156th place of 176 in the corruption index that Transparency international compile every year.
The timing of
these tough measures directed at media and aid organisations, is explained by many experts as a response to the increasing political unrest in the country.

In June, local elections were held in Cambodia. The results were a clear indication that opposition to the government had increased and with upcoming national elections in July of next year, it has unsettled the incumbent regime.

During the spring, Arbetet Global reported on the introduction of legislation in Cambodia that has diminished the freedom of action for independent unions. On paper, the country is a democracy but it has only had one single person as leader over the past 30 years, the Prime Minister Hun Sen.

As the leader of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), he took power when the party was put into government following the Vietnam invasion of 1979. That invasion removed the Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot from power, which had been a period of terror with millions of Cambodians killed.

The CPP became a safeguard from a return of the Khmer Rouge. Over the years, their political power has grown into an intricate and corrupt system in which party officials and private business are in close connection.

Cambodia ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and is on 156th place of 176 in the corruption index that Transparency international compile every year.

Disapproval of the corrupt system is also part of the explanation for the increasing disapproval of the government as the elections draw nearer.

Translation: Ravi Dar

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

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Internet Shutdowns in Africa Stifling Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/internet-shutdowns-in-africa-stifling-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internet-shutdowns-in-africa-stifling-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/internet-shutdowns-in-africa-stifling-press-freedom/#respond Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:56:10 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151755 Jonathan Rozen is a Researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Africa Program*

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Internet shutdowns are on the rise. In 2016, the #KeepItOn campaign documented 56 shutdowns worldwide, including in six African nations. This is up from 15 documented shutdowns in 2015, according to the same data.

By Jonathan Rozen
NEW YORK, Aug 21 2017 (IPS)

The internet for journalism is now like the air you breathe,” said Befeqadu Hailu, an Ethiopian journalist and a member of the Zone 9 blogger collective who was arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism. “Without the internet, modern journalism means nothing.” Yet, the internet is something that journalists in multiple African countries are often forced to do without.

Between 30 May and 8 June, the Ethiopian government shut down the country’s internet service for the third time in the last year. These shutdowns have occurred in the context of an ongoing crackdown on the press by authorities, who are currently keeping nine of the 17 journalists recorded on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2016 prison census behind bars.

Since the state-run Ethio Telecom holds monopolistic control over both internet and telephone service, the government has the ability to effectively sever its population’s communications on a whim.

“We’ve been through extraordinarily difficult times [during] the ten days of [the] shutdown,” Tsedale Lemma, editor-in-chief of the Addis Standard, told CPJ over WhatsApp.

There was a complete digital blackout during the first few days after which broadband became available, said Hulu. But since broadband is largely only available for businesses and organisations, many journalists continued to face major challenges. The frequent clampdown on internet access prevents them from securely communicating with sources or publishing on time.

After the third day of the shutdown, Lemma ran between hotels to find internet access. “This is insecure as you are using the business centres there, which is not a secure connection,” Lemma said.

 

Congo-Brazzaville

On 25 June 2017, Congo-Brazzaville’s internet connection was restored after a 15-day shutdown that was reportedly caused by a mysterious fishing boat that damaged the country’s submarine cables.

While journalists and analysts inside and outside of Congo-Brazzaville speculated over the truthfulness of a boat’s involvement, private mobile companies were able to provide some satellite connection. Nevertheless, journalists remained hampered.

“As long as the internet is not stable, many field, remote reporters or correspondents are facing big problems to send their stories, their work,” a Congo-Brazzaville-based journalist told CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Internet shutdowns are on the rise. In 2016, the #KeepItOn campaign documented 56 shutdowns worldwide, including in six African nations. This is up from 15 documented shutdowns in 2015
While online media distributors are effectively blocked from their platforms during internet shutdowns, print and broadcast journalists’ investigative capacities also suffer greatly.

 

Cameroon

For 93 days between January through April 2017, the Cameroonian government with cooperation from private mobile operators cut off internet access in the two western, Anglophone regions of the country.

The government also imposed a suffocating culture of fear through a campaign of arrests and detentions, according to a forthcoming CPJ report on Cameroon’s use of anti-state legislation against journalists. Attacks on the press increased dramatically. At least eight journalists were arrested in connection with their journalism (six of them remain in detention in Yaoundé).

Without the internet, reporting on people’s daily realities became extremely difficult. The media environment in Cameroon was choked. Fear of reprisal, coupled with the internet shutdown, restricted communication between online and offline regions. Coverage of ongoing abuses was stifled.

“Content [was] sent to the [media] station through road,” a Cameroonian broadcast journalist based in the English-speaking regions who requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told CPJ. “We could therefore not relay timely news items from other areas because we had to wait for them two [to] three days after.”

With such limited information, speculation reigned supreme, the journalist said.

 

Secure communications

As governments improve their surveillance tactics, journalists are forced to use a small number of internet-based communication platforms in pursuit of private conversation.

“You pick up your phone to make that call, and you know your phone is tapped, you know there is someone on the other end listening,” Lemma told CPJ. “People don’t [even] feel safe meeting in person.”

“It’s no more a secret that many journalists are actually [wiretapped],” a Congolese journalist told CPJ over WhatsApp on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Also, internet is very important for the journalists’ work, since some social media [helps] to bypass [wiretapping] or line monitoring when they need to check or get or publish some facts.”

This perspective is supported by a 2011 report, which highlights how “the November 2009 law on electronic communications and the 2010 decree on identification of [telecommunications] subscribers show that the [Congolese] state has seemingly unlimited power to invade the privacy of its citizens in the interest of security … It seems that the state can access personal data under any pretext without the consent of the individual concerned, who can do nothing to stop it from happening.”

When journalists are too afraid to speak on regular telecommunication lines for fear that their government will intercept the communication and arrive at their door, encrypted internet-based tools like WhatsApp or Signal offer a practical method of communication and information dissemination.

In his 2015 piece titled Surveillance forces journalists to think and act like spies“, CPJ’s staff technologist Tom Lowenthal explains how important encryption technology is for journalists to connect with sources and write important stories. Without secure communication tools, journalists’ ability to communicate privately with sources becomes limited and self-censorship flourishes.

“Internet shutdowns are particularly censorious in areas where fear of reprisal for critical journalism reigns, and unfortunately, this fear exists in many of the African countries that have experienced internet shutdowns,” said CPJ’s emergencies director María Salazar-Ferro. “Journalists should never feel that their work is putting them or those they communicate with in danger.”

 

Resisting shutdowns

Internet shutdowns are on the rise. In 2016, the #KeepItOn campaign documented 56 shutdowns worldwide, including in six African nations. This is up from 15 documented shutdowns in 2015, according to the same data.

Many of these shutdowns occur during elections and other moments of political tension, when access to information is critical for the public to make informed decisions.

In response, internet freedom advocates have mobilised to compel governments and telecommunications companies to resist shutting off internet access.

In March 2017, the Freedom Online Coalition, which is composed of 30 national governments working to advance internet freedom, expressed deep concern over the “growing trend of intentional state-sponsored disruptions”. They also offered a list of five good practices for governments to avoid shutdowns and seize the economic and social growth brought by the internet.

In Ethiopia, for example, a 30-day shutdown cost the government upwards of US$8.5 million, while a separate 15-day shutdown in the Republic of the Congo cost over US$72 million, according to a 2016 Brookings Institute report.

On 10 April 2017, a creative advocacy proposal was put to the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC), the body that allocates Africa’s IP addresses, which are identifiers for computers and other devices that connect to the internet. The proposal called for the denial of new IP addresses for one year to countries that order their internet to be shut down.

Though media reports indicate that the proposal was denied as a result of intense opposition from African governments, AFRINIC subsequently issued a statement calling for African governments to “renounce the use of internet shutdowns as a policy tool”.

Internet advocates are also targeting telecommunications companies and internet service providers in an effort to get them to resist government calls for shutdowns.

On 15 February 2017, nearly a month into Cameroon’s internet shutdown, CPJ was among 27 signatories on a letter to three Cameroon telecommunication companies’ CEOs, requesting “support in restoring internet access”.

A month later, United Nations Special Rapporteur on free expression David Kay’s report to the UN Human Rights Council highlighted the responsibility of private “provider” companies to “ensure that they do not cause, contribute or become complicit in human rights abuses” involved in shutdowns.

“Being able to survive as a journalist in this age without access to the internet – the idea itself is very daunting,” Lemma told CPJ. “But beyond the idea, it’s everything from losing your security [to] not being able to communicate the way you want.”

Respect for press freedom means letting it breathe by enabling journalists to conduct their work. Without internet access journalists cannot publish online, nor can they conduct thorough investigations or talk securely with their sources. To have a free press, African governments need to #KeepItOn.

This article originally appeared on Africa Portal

 

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Will Governments Support Access to Information Driving Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-governments-support-access-information-driving-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-governments-support-access-information-driving-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-governments-support-access-information-driving-development/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 17:24:20 +0000 Gerald Leitner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151459 Gerald Leitner, is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

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Gerald Leitner, is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

By Gerald Leitner
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

In an Information Society, access, and the ability to apply and re-use information is at the heart of individual fulfilment and social participation. Long before the idea of an Information Society came into use, libraries connected people to this, connecting them with literature and learning, and allowing them to improve their lives, and those of their families and communities.

Access to information and the ability to apply and re-use it is at the heart of individual fulfilment and social participation

Gerald Leitner. Credit: IFLA

The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report 2017, produced by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, makes the case for investment by governments, and other stakeholders, in delivering access as a driver of progress.

The spread of the Internet, and the content it holds, creates unique possibilities to offer access to information. Yet there are barriers standing in the way to realising this potential. These present us with two scenarios.

In the first, rates of physical connectivity to the Internet remain low in remote or poorer areas, allowing a digital divide to become a development divide. A lack of relevant content, and the ability to read and use it, prevents others from seeing the value in connectivity.

Information poverty robs people of opportunities to keep their families healthy, update farming practices to respond to climate change, or find jobs. And rather than full information and evidence, decisions on civic, economic and social life are taken based on misinformation and superstition.

In the second, people learn to get the best out of the Internet, knowing how to keep themselves and their families safe online. They can find the information they need, at the right time and in the right format, and apply it to changing real world problems.

They also develop the skills necessary to create their own content, further enriching available information resources. New markets are created, new communities formed, and innovation, creativity and civic participation thrives.

DA2I 2017 argues that four factors make the difference: physical connectivity, social context, individual and community skills, and the legal and policy framework. Based on indicators from established, recognised sources, the report offers a first look at how regions and countries are doing in each of these four areas, and how performance on these is linked to other characteristics, such as poverty or gender inequality.

It finds that while there is progress in some areas, such as numbers with Internet connections, big gaps in terms of skills and uses remain, and the gender digital divide is even widening.

It also provides evidence of the contribution access makes to achieving four of the focus Sustainable Development Goals at this year’s UN High Level Political Forum, which took place on 10-19 July – agriculture, health, gender equality and innovation.

Most of all, it underlines how essential libraries are to development. When they benefit from the resources and legal frameworks they need, they can bring their unique potential to bear – as trusted, community institutions, connected both to the global Information society and alert to local needs and interests, with staff dedicated to providing meaningful access to information.

IFLA itself has made the most of its unique position as the global voice of libraries, working with representatives of 73 countries to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and the role that libraries can play in their realisation.

We have been overwhelmed by the response so far, but this is just the start of an ongoing process – the next stop is a global meeting in early 2018. We look forward to returning with a new DA2I report next year, with updated statistics, and even more examples of how libraries are making a difference, from the local to the global level, to achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

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A Global Call for Journalists’ Safetyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/global-call-journalists-safety/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-call-journalists-safety http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/global-call-journalists-safety/#respond Sun, 09 Jul 2017 07:20:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151224 The UN system and its member states must develop policies to protect journalists and end impunity for crimes against them, said key stakeholders during a meeting. A multi stakeholder consultation held in Geneva brought together representatives from governments, civil society, media, and academia to discuss developments in the area of safety of journalists and the […]

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The UN system and its member states must develop policies for the safety of journalists and end impunity for crimes against them

Lusaka-based journalists march on the Great East Road campaigning for the attacks against journalists to stop. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2017 (IPS)

The UN system and its member states must develop policies to protect journalists and end impunity for crimes against them, said key stakeholders during a meeting.

A multi stakeholder consultation held in Geneva brought together representatives from governments, civil society, media, and academia to discuss developments in the area of safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.

“Too many journalists are imprisoned for the wrong reasons. Too many journalists are forced to flee their countries. Women journalists face particular forms of harassment. Murder remains the most tragic form of censorship,” said UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova to participants.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), some 1,246 journalists have been killed since 1992. The deadliest countries were those in conflict situations including Iraq, Syria, Philippines, and Somalia.

There were also almost 260 journalists in jail at the end of 2016, the most CPJ has ever documented. Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists with over 145 imprisoned journalists, more than China, Egypt, and Iran combined.

As censorship tactics become more complex, new challenges have arisen for journalists, underscoring the need to protect journalists and end impunity.

“Online attacks now occur at a frequency and scale that we’ve never experienced before. We need new ways to protect journalists, to deal with what technology has enabled because computational propaganda means to stifle any challenge or dissent against power,” said CEO of Philippines newspaper Rappler Maria Ressa during the consultation.

In an effort to address these complex issues, stakeholders formulated numerous recommendations to reinforce and improve the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity adopted by the UN Chief Executives Board in 2012.

Among the main challenges highlighted by stakeholders was how to translate the UN Plan of Action into national policies and practices.

“We need to reboot our thinking of the UN Plan to bridge the gap between the progress made at the international level and the situation on the ground,” said Executive Director of International Media Support at the meeting organised by UNESCO and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue stressed the importance of governments to set up national mechanisms for the safety of journalists and the report on such policies to help end impunity for attacks against journalists.

Participants also emphasized the importance of UN leadership and the strengthening of the UN system to better address journalists’ safety, including enhancing inter-agency coordination and the mainstreaming of safety issues in agencies’ programming.

They also urged making better use of existing avenues and mechanisms in the UN system in order to improve monitoring and reporting on attacks against journalists, especially in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Within the internationally agreed agenda is goal 16 which calls for the creation of peaceful and inclusive societies with effective and accountable institutions and highlights the need to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms.

Journalist safety and ending impunity are therefore essential to achieve this goal.

The recommendations will be finalised into a non-binding outcome document to help inform stakeholder actions in the future.

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The Doha Centre interviews Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General of IPShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-doha-centre-interviews-farhana-haque-rahman-director-general-of-ips/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-doha-centre-interviews-farhana-haque-rahman-director-general-of-ips http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-doha-centre-interviews-farhana-haque-rahman-director-general-of-ips/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 16:45:06 +0000 The Doha Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150461 The Doha Centre spoke to Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General of IPS about media development and defending press freedom, at the World Press Freedom Day Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.    

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Farhana Haque Rahman, IPS Director General

Farhana Haque Rahman, IPS Director General

By The Doha Centre
JAKARTA, May 17 2017 (IPS)

The Doha Centre spoke to Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General of IPS about media development and defending press freedom, at the World Press Freedom Day Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

 

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Mob Killing Sparks Fresh Outrage Over Pakistan’s Blasphemy Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mob-killing-sparks-fresh-outrage-over-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mob-killing-sparks-fresh-outrage-over-pakistans-blasphemy-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mob-killing-sparks-fresh-outrage-over-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/#respond Fri, 05 May 2017 00:01:39 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150309 Aimal Khan, 27, an airman in Pakistan’s Air Force, warns the country will end up in the throes of mayhem if the state does not do something about the abuse of the blasphemy laws. “People will use it to settle personal scores,” he said. He should know. His younger brother, Mashal Khan, 25, was brutally […]

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A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 5 2017 (IPS)

Aimal Khan, 27, an airman in Pakistan’s Air Force, warns the country will end up in the throes of mayhem if the state does not do something about the abuse of the blasphemy laws. “People will use it to settle personal scores,” he said.

He should know. His younger brother, Mashal Khan, 25, was brutally killed by a mob roused to a frenzy by allegations he had committed blasphemy. “They became the judge, the jury and the executioner,” Aimal said. "It's pretty obvious that religious passions are easily ignited because day in and day out all we hear about is religious sermonizing in one form or the other." --Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy

Studying at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK), Khan was known for speaking out against corruption and injustices prevalent in society. On April 13, he was shot, stripped and not satisfied with that, the mob then beat up his corpse as shown in the graphic video footage.

The police investigation following his killing, however, found no evidence he had committed blasphemy. The government has since arrested 47 of the 49 accused.

Political activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir told IPS that the country’s blasphemy laws are not just used by the land mafia to evict people, but often for raising funds and recruiting members by rogue organisations. “The social media has become a more potent tool where one fake account with just one blasphemous tweet can kill someone,” he said alluding to the fake account created in the name of Mashal Khan to falsely establish he’d committed blasphemy.

According to opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah, since 1990, 65 people have been killed on allegations of committing blasphemy and no one was executed for the crimes.

A month later, Aimal says the family continues to receive phone calls expressing condolences from all across Pakistan. Ordinary people to celebrities and even politicians have visited their home to offer comfort.

“After my brother’s murder, we thought humanity had fled from this country, but I tell you, it’s quite the opposite. We have been given unconditional support,” Aimal said, his voice filled with emotion, over the phone from his village Zaida in Swabi district, KPK.

He hopes his family’s loss can open the door to a meaningful debate on reviewing the infamous laws.

Muhammad Iqbal Khan (left), the father of Mashal Khan, who was murdered by a religious mob in Pakistan. The men offer prayers. Credit: Abdul Hameed Goraya/IPS

Muhammad Iqbal Khan (left), the father of Mashal Khan, who was murdered by a religious mob in Pakistan. The men offer prayers. Credit: Abdul Hameed Goraya/IPS

Aimal’s sentiments are echoed by Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists. “If Mashal’s most tragic killing could revive the debate and lead to blasphemy reform, that would be a fitting tribute to his bravery and courage,” she told IPS.

“The law should have been reviewed and reformed a long time ago. These incidents are latest but not the first,” pointed out Nasir. While exploitation of these laws can be corrected through procedural reforms, he said what was innately wrong was that they are in violation of Hanafi jurisprudence [followed in Pakistan] which gives no death penalty to non-Muslims for blasphemy but Pakistani law does.

Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been on death row for the last seven years. International Christian Concern  has termed her case one of the most “controversial” and best examples of the abuse of blasphemy laws.

While a complete scrapping of the law is unlikely, many see this as an opportunity to revive a debate. In 1986, to ‘Islamise’ the country, Pakistan’s then leader General Mohammad Zia ul Haq enacted these laws.

But anyone who has tried to even tried to open debate has either been censured or silenced.

In 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab, was assassinated for supporting Asia Bibi, accused of blasphemy. His murder was followed by that of Shahbaz Bhatti, a minister who had talked of misuse of the laws.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman, enjoying a huge following in the KPK, while condemning Khan’s lynching, said he was well aware that liberal forces would use this incident and call for amendment in the laws, but warned that no one would be allowed to touch it.

“For a few days when there was such an outcry it was felt the time for a critical review of the blasphemy laws had arrived,” said I.A. Rehman, noted rights activist, speaking to IPS. “The clerics were on the defensive.”

This euphoria was short-lived.

Rehman said the lawmakers belonging to religious parties disowned the resolution in the assembly which they had earlier backed.

In fact, soon after Mashal’s lynching, the legislative assembly of Pakistan-administered Pakistan passed two resolutions regarding the finality of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and respect of his family and companions.

A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

The resolution also stated that if Ahmadis (declared non-Muslims by the constitution of Pakistan) claim themselves to be Muslims, they should be charged with blasphemy.

He has little hope in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who himself narrowly survived ouster and was saved by a supreme court verdict last month, after the opposition had taken him to court on charges of corruption.

“It [ruling Pakistan Muslim League — PML-N] will not take on the clerics at this stage,” Rehman said, lamenting: “The chance of doing something about blasphemy will again be missed.” But then he never had much hope attached to Sharif in the first place. “The PML-N is an accomplice to orthodoxy therefore there is no hope of a change for the better.”

However, there are others who say the laws have nothing to do with the recent episodes of lynching. The laws were not even invoked once.

Following the killing of Khan, in another part of Pakistan, a man was shot dead by his three sisters. He was accused of blasphemy in 2004 and the sisters in their confessional statement said they were incited by the imam of their neighbourhood mosque.

The same day a mob attacked a man after Friday prayers in northern Pakistan town of Chitral, and was saved in time by the mosque imam and the police officers who intervened and rescued him. The man was mentally ill and was on his way to Islamabad for treatment.

“It’s not the law, it’s the people, a people that have gone berserk,” said eminent educationist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who teaches physics at universities in Islamabad and Lahore.

That is why he insists on teaching Occam’s Razor in his classes. “It’s a metaphor for parsimony of assumptions. Start with the obvious, if that doesn’t work then assume that something more complicated is involved,” he explained, adding: “In this [lynching] particular case, it’s pretty obvious that religious passions are easily ignited because day in and day out all we hear about is religious sermonizing in one form or the other.”

But Omer thinks otherwise. “Killings in the name of blasphemy and mob violence after blasphemy allegations cannot be separated from the law and its mandatory death punishment; the impunity – even patronage – enjoyed by perpetrators in the past; and the state’s use of blasphemy to clamp down on dissenting/critical voices,” she said.

Recalling the climate just before Khan’s killing, she said there was renewed movement by various state institutions condemning ‘blasphemers; calling blasphemy ‘an act of terrorism; and urging people to report blasphemy so strict action could be taken against them.

Nasir, too, believed that when the parliament associates the death penalty with a crime it “does trickle down into society, socially and politically”. He gave the example of the arrest of three people for desecrating a Hindu temple and tried under section 295A (of blasphemy laws) which does not carry death penalty but shows clearly that blasphemy against other religions does not create a “huge social or political uproar”.

In addition, Omer said, the existence of the blasphemy laws in their current form gives a certain “cloak of legality” to such calls. “Which is why we shouldn’t lose sight of the connection between the existence of the blasphemy laws and the kind of violence we saw in Mardan, in Chitral, and before that in Kot Radha Kishan and other cases,” she said.

A large number of people accused of blasphemy, or even convicted of blasphemy by trial courts for defiling the Holy Quran, suffer from mental illnesses, said Omer. “This too is a common thread in how blasphemy laws play out in practice,” she said.”This is a damning indictment of the prosecution and police, who allow these cases to continue despite the fact that the accused do not have the requisite capacity to commit a crime.”

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Refugee Journalists, the Challenge of Reporting from Exilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/refugee-journalists-the-challenge-of-reporting-from-exile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugee-journalists-the-challenge-of-reporting-from-exile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/refugee-journalists-the-challenge-of-reporting-from-exile/#respond Thu, 04 May 2017 17:16:57 +0000 Elena Pasquini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150304 The author is Editor in Chief Degrees of Latitude

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Photo credits: Sara Furlanetto

By Elena L. Pasquini
ROME, May 4 2017 (IPS)

Abdulwahab Tahhan is a journalist and a refugee. From his exile in London, he documents the war that is devastating his homeland of Syria, monitoring airstrikes and assessing civilian casualties for the non-profit Airwars.

As for many journalists and netizens forced to leave their countries due to war, oppression, and persecution, continuing journalistic work has been a challenge for Tahhan. But now that’s his job: ‘Helping people understand the war better’, he told Degrees of Latitude.

Youngest of seven children, he grew up in Aleppo, studied English and literature, but not journalism, even if he would have liked. It was the concern of becoming used as a ‘propaganda tool’ that kept Tahhan away from professional reporting until the spring of 2011.

When the Syrian uprising erupted, he began translating content and videos about the demonstrations from Arabic to English for a secret Facebook group that spread updates beyond the Syrian borders, documenting arrests and detentions, and advising protesters how to keep themselves safe. ‘It wasn’t a professional platform; too dangerous to be identified as the journalist or the voice who was reporting about what was going on. Once you were identified, that’s it. You will be targeted; your family will be targeted …’, he said.

It was in Turkey, where Tahhan fled from Syria and obtained a visa to the United Kingdom, that his professional career in journalism begun, working as a fixer, interpreter, translator, writer and in the production of the award-winning documentary ‘The Suffering Grassers’. But getting a job in England was tough: ‘I had all the skills, I had the knowledge, the only thing that I lacked were the contacts’, he said. It was the Refugee Journalism Project, a collaboration between the London College of Communication and the Migrants Resource Centre, that provided Abdulwahab with what he needed to make his voice heard again.

It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know

‘In many countries, getting ahead in journalism still relies on having the right social capital, that is, being able to access jobs and opportunities by virtue of having an influential professional and personal network. The old adage still applies – it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. So, if you are new to a country, don’t speak the same language, aren’t the same colour or religion, don’t have knowledge of the system, you simply don’t have the same social capital as the journalists who came through the European system. The project’s activities (mentoring, workshops and industry placements) attempt to address this’, Vivienne Francis, Project media consultant, explained.

The Project – which so far has worked with 36 journalists from a number of countries, including Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Yemen – was originally a London-focused initiative, but it has received applications from all across the UK, and ‘in greater numbers than we anticipated’, according to Francis. ‘We did not want to turn anyone away, as a number of these individuals – due to the UK government’s refugee dispersal scheme – were living in communities where they felt quite isolated. We had to find practical ways to support not just more participants, but also those who lived many miles away. One solution was to offer online mentoring and connecting them with networks of journalists closer to where they lived’, she said.

The value of a different perspective

Refugee journalists need support, but they bring to the newsrooms the invaluable knowledge of the countries they come from. ‘That’s one of the ways we could improve journalism’, Tahhan said. ‘If you want to write a story about Syria, you want a Syrian researcher, someone who understands Arabic, who understands the culture, who knows places and locations, that can tell you something about the country that maybe people here don’t know or are not aware of, that can double-check the authentication of specific reports’, he said.

It is not about teaching the local journalists how to do their job better; it is about providing them with sources, insights and different perspectives. He was intrigued, and alarmed, noticing how much attention European journalists put on bombings and terrorists killed, compared to ‘the victims of those bombings’, Tahhan said. ‘I would always focus on the humanitarian aspect; I would always focus on the civilian casualties from the war … I haven’t seen this very much on the news, to be honest. I haven’t seen a lot of reports from a civilian perspective’, he added.

But to unlock the potential of refugee journalists, many barriers have to be overcome and a holistic approach is needed: ‘The asylum process itself also takes a huge toll on individuals. Before they can think about re-establishing their professional careers, many have to deal with the emotional anguish of leaving home and loved ones, battling to get refugee status, permanent housing, and access to benefits’, Francis said. Giving refugees the basic tools for survival is not enough to enhance integration. The question is how to ‘maximize the value of the professions, work experience and qualifications they might already have. Their prior lives and experiences need to be seen as adding value to society’.

What is crucial, according to Tahhan, is to provide journalists with contacts and a ‘safe’ platform: ‘A safe environment is where you can start discussion ideas without being accused of being biased, discussing the ideas for the ideas themselves without attacking you personally …. [discussing] the ideas, [without] discussing the person, throwing accusation, stereotyping people, generalizing. Being safe [means] that you have been able to express whatever you want to express without being prosecuted’, he explained.

Refugees journalists must feel safe. ‘I know this is highly unlikely to happen in the Europe because of the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, but bear in mind we come from countries where we are oppressed and we can’t really report a lot of things against the governments, against the regimes’.


This story was originally published by Degrees of Latitude

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Reflections on World Press Freedom Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 06:54:15 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150261 The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 3 2017 (IPS)

This year’s theme for the 2017 World Press Freedom DayCritical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is one of the most important days honouring press freedom.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Inevitably, the impact of media has the power to transform societies through enlightenment and active citizenry.

Observers occasionally refer to the media as the fourth estate owing to its influential role to further enhancing the plurality of opinions and ideas.

A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparency. It strengthens the accountability of governments as citizens can critically assess the activities of incumbents through information provided by the media.

Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defends freedom of expression and the right to information. It enables press freedom to become a reality:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Some cite as a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

However, significant challenges lay ahead limiting the freedom of the press.

Firstly, journalists have had at times to pay a high toll for the expression of truth as they see it.

Thus according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1992.

Among these victims, 65% were murdered, 22% perished owing to crossfire and combat, whereas 12% lost their lives owing to dangerous assignments.

Many of those murders remain unresolved and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice as “complete impunity” prevails in 86% of the cases.

The 2016 World Press Freedom report issued by Reporters Without Borders suggests that violent extremism has put significant constraints on the ability of the press to operate freely and carry out their duties.

The conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria, the report underlines, have enabled insurgents to “create black holes for reporting.”

Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence and of fear in their capacity as transmitters of information to the public.

Their lives should not be put at stake for merely putting Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration into practice.

Secondly, the accountability of media needs to be strengthened so that it represents the public’s interests.

After the so-called “War on Terror”, hate speech and online bigotry have rapidly been on the rise targeting specifically religious minorities.

This has been followed by a misconceived conflation between terrorism, Islam and the Arab identity, which has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination.

At the same time losses of lives as a result of violence or military action may be reported selectively thus implying unacceptable differences in the value of human lives according to where the losses occur.

During the Geneva Centre’s panel debate on 15 March on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” that was held at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), it was suggested by the panellists to better harness the power of media by promoting positive stories about religion and culture.

It was also proposed that we, as global citizens, should never fear the stranger as differences enrichen our societies.

I believe that media can play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people.

Journalists need to refrain from the use of contemporary phobic language triggering social exclusion and religious intolerance.

Incitements to hatred, violence and bigotry should be condemned as it exacerbates religious divisions within communities.

The spread of fake news and fabricated stories in social media contradict the goals of freedom of opinion or of expression.

A return to the founding principles of press freedom and journalism – accountability, transparency and independence of news media – is the first step to stop the flow of misinformation that is on the rise.

When the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy – the founder of contemporary Algeria – visited a printing press in Paris in 1852, he made the following observation on the power of the press:

What comes out of it resembles a drop of water coming from the sky: if it falls into the half-opened shell, it produces the pearl; if it falls into the mouth of the viper, it produces venom.”

Media has a “moral and social responsibility” in “combating discrimination and in promoting intercultural understanding (…)” as stipulated in Principle 9 of the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality.

By reversing the trend of offering simplistic and misconceived generalizations not grounded in reality, media could become a catalyst for social inclusion by implanting a culture of peace, harmony and tolerance.

This would be in line with the objectives laid out in the 2002 “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” and in UN HRC Resolution 16/18 entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

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