Inter Press Service » Press Freedom News and Views from the Global South Fri, 12 Feb 2016 16:40:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Extremism Threatens Press Freedom Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:06:41 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan continues to remain one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, where frequent attempts to restrict press freedom are commonplace and challenges to expanding media diversity and access to information abound.

Tense and uncertain security conditions, looming risks of terrorism and extremism-related activities, rampant political influence and the feeble role of the country’s democratic institutions, including parliament and judiciary, constitute the main reasons behind the sorry state of press freedom in Pakistan.

To address this issue, editors and news directors of a large number of Pakistani newspapers and television channels formally established ‘Editors for Safety’, an organisation focused exclusively on issues pertaining to violence and threats of violence against the media.

The organization would work on a core philosophy that an attack on one journalist or media house would be deemed as an attack on the entire media. The body would also encourage media organizations to speak with one voice against the ubiquitous culture of impunity, where journalists in the country are being frequently attacked while perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Javed Jabbar, welcomed the formation of Editors for Safety and said “today, militants alone do not target press freedom and journalists in the country. Political, religious, ethnic and the law enforcement agencies also attack them.”

In 2015, the country was ranked 159th out of 180 countries evaluated in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades, which has polarised society and ruined people’s sense of security. Because of the Afghan war, the areas bordering Afghanistan, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and tribal areas in the country’s northwest region, are the most troubled areas for journalists to report from.

Media freedom across the country – and particularly in the terrorism-hit northwest region – has deteriorated over the last several years in part because of extremist groups who hurl threats to journalists for reporting their activities. Religious extremists go after media persons as they believe the latter do not respect their religion and harm it on the pretext of press freedom.

On March 28, 2014, Raza Rumi, a TV anchor, blogger and widely-acclaimed political and security analyst in Pakistan, narrowly escaped death when gunmen opened fire on his car in an attack that left his driver Mustafa dead. He moved to the U.S. soon after the attack on his life, which was triggered by his liberal and outspoken voice on politics, society, culture, militancy, human rights and persecution of religious minorities.

Last year on November 30, one journalist and three other employees of Lahore-based Din Media organization, which runs a TV channel and daily Urdu language newspaper, were killed when unknown miscreants lobbed a hand grenade on the office of the media organisation in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest urban city of 20 million people. The attack drew countrywide condemnation protests by journalists. The Prime Minister announced his pledge to bring those behind attack to the book and boost security measures for media offices and journalists.

Afzal Butt, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) told IPS,
“We have conveyed the deep concern of the journalist community about the deteriorating state of press freedom to the Prime Minister and federal and provincial information ministers. We have also reminded them of their commitments made for protecting lives of journalists and press freedom in the country. But it has fallen on deaf ears.”

International media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF have kept highlighting the dismal state of press freedom in the country in their [annual] reports from time to time. Around 57 journalists have been killed in the line of the duty between year 1992 to 2015 and hundreds other harassed, tortured and kidnapped, according to recent data compiled by CPJ, a New York-based independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to the global defence of press freedom. In its 2015 report, CPJ ranked Pakistan as the sixth most deadly country for journalists.

Pakistan is ranked ninth out of 180 countries on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries, where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

“Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists in Pakistan are the clear evidence of how critical the situation has become due to thriving culture of impunity,” said Mazhar Abbas, former deputy news director at the Ary News TV in Karachi and well-known champion of press freedom.

The good news is that the country has battled against impunity through judicial actions and institutionalisation of mechanisms to tackle this problem. For instance, two landmark convictions and arrests brought relief to the aggrieved families of slain TV journalists Wali Khan Babar, murdered in 2011 in Karachi, and Ayub Khattak, murdered in Karak district in conflict-prone Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest.

The cases made progress thanks to relentless efforts by families of journalists, journalist unions and civil society pressure groups with cooperation from government and justice system, Khursheed Abbasi, PFUJ’s secretary general, said. The judicial commission set up to probe the attempt to murder Islamabad-based eminent television journalist Hamid Mir associated with the Geo News TV is part of this movement forward. Further to this was the announcement in April 2015 by the provincial government of Balochistan to establish two judicial tribunals to investigate six murder cases of journalists since 2011.

In another positive development, on March 9, 2015, the Islamabad High Court upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of publisher of English newspaper Daily Times Mr. Salman Taseer, under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Qadri, his official guard in Islamabad in January 2010, killed Taseer, who was governor of Punjab province at that time.

“A free press is a fundamental foundation of sustainable and effective democracy. Any effort aimed at scuttling press freedom will only weaken democracy and democratic institutions,” warned journalist-turned Pakistani parliamentarian Mushahid Hussain Syed. He said that politicians need to realise that supporting endeavours for press freedom at any level would benefit the democratic political leaders themselves.


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Press Crackdown Is Likely to Worsen Fri, 05 Feb 2016 08:08:46 +0000 Amy Fallon Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

On October 2015, the day that Ugandan journalist Enoch Matovu, 25, was allegedly shot by the police for simply “doing my job”, the police had “run out of tear gas”, he claimed.

“So they had to use live bullets,” this journalist for broadcaster NTV Uganda told IPS. Matovu was injured in the head while covering the apparent vote rigging by contestants during the ruling party’s — National Resistance Movement (NRM) — elections in Mityana, central Uganda. “I only realised when I woke up in hospital what had happened,” he added.

Shockingly, since party elections in October, over 40 Ugandan journalists have been detained, beaten, had their tools and material taken, blocked from covering events and have lost employment, according to Robert Sempala, the National Coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Uganda. Two other journalists besides Matovu have allegedly been shot by the police.

Ahead of the February 18 elections, in which President Yoweri Museveni, 71, and already in power for 30 years, is standing, there’s a “likelihood” the press crackdown “is going to get worse”, said Sempala. “The contest is neck-to-neck,” he told IPS, adding there was “stiff competition” from the three-time presidential challenger Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi. “According to our statistics, most of the victims have been those that cover either Besigye or Mbabazi, as opposed to the rest of the contestants,” he emphasised.

On January 20, Endigyito FM, a privately owned radio station in Mbarara, about 170 miles outside the capital Kampala, was shut down, purportedly over unpaid licence fees of $11,000. Mbabazi’s campaign team claimed that an interview with him two days earlier had been disrupted 20 minutes into the show, after officials from the Uganda Communications Commission stormed the building. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and others have called for the broadcaster to be allowed to resume operations.

In a January report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of a media clampdown, saying radio reporters working in local dialects with an audience in rural areas particularly faced intimidation and threats from government. “Looking over the last decade, its clear that violations of press freedom have clearly increased during elections and also during times of political tension in Kampala,” Maria Burnett, HRW senior researcher for Africa, told IPS.

“For journalists working outside Kampala, in local languages, my sense is that media freedom has been very difficult during political campaigns and elections in recent times,” she added. Burnett said in terms of what is happening outside Kampala, HRW’s research indicated that “the patterns are fairly similar” to the 2011 elections: “Perhaps the only real difference is that some radio journalists are more able to state the pressure they are under and the problems they face, either via social media or other media platforms as the Kampala-based media houses expand coverage country-wide.”

Sempala said “on the whole” there were more cases of violations against the press outside Kampala, according to HRNJ’s statistics. Most journalists attacked anywhere in Uganda claim it is hard to get justice. “Each morning I wonder what to do,” said Andrew Lwanga, 28, a cameraman with local WBS station, who was assaulted last year by the then Kampala district police commander Joram Mwesigye, leaving him with horrific injuries and unable to work. His equipment was also damaged.

“I loved covering the election so much. I would love to be out there,” he added. He is now fund-raising for a spinal operation in Spain — Ugandan doctors told him he had no option but to go abroad – and spends his days sitting in a lounge, watching his colleagues on the TV doing what he most wants to be doing.

Lwanga, a journalist of eight years, was injured while covering a small demonstration involving a group called the Unemployed Youths of Uganda in January 2015. Online, there is footage of Mwesigye assaulting Lwanga, of the cameraman falling down and then being led away by police, holding his head and crying in pain. “Now I can’t walk 50 metres without crutches,” said Lwanga, who has a visible scar on one side of his head and a bandage on one hand. “For the past 90 days I haven’t been able to sleep more than 40 minutes… All of this makes me cry,” he added.

More than a year after the assault, Lwanga’s case is dragging on. Mwesigye has been charged with three counts including assault and occasioning bodily harm, and suspended from his role. But at the last hearing, when Lwanga had to be carried into court by two others, it was revealed that the journalist’s damaged camera – an important exhibit – had disappeared and still hasn’t been found. “(The police) are trying to protect Joram, he wants to retain his job and he (has) always confronted me saying ‘you’re putting me out of work’,” said the cameraman.

Recently, Museveni pledged to financially help this journalist. But Lwanga said he hadn’t received any communication as yet when the money was coming. The last state witness in the trial was due to be heard on February 4 but has been adjourned to the 29th. Despite his ordeal, if he eventually has the operation and recovers, Lwanga said he will get back to work: “I miss my profession”.

Matovu is back at work, but still suffers a lot of headaches after his alleged attack, and admitted “sometimes I’m scared to do my job” “The police are not doing anything about this, only my bosses,” he said of his case.

Sempala said so far HRNJ had only managed to take “a few” cases involving journalists being assaulted to court. More advocacy is required to put pressure on police to investigate cases, he said. Burnett said it was “important that journalists who are physically attacked by police share their stories and push for justice”.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga told IPS that Lwanga’s case was an “isolated” one, but the fact that police had “managed” to charge Mwesigye was “one very good example” that the authorities did not take human rights breaches against journalists lightly. “Over the years there’s been this very good working relationship with the media,” insisted Enanga.


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Media Come Together to Discuss Safety of Journalists, Fight Against Impunity Wed, 03 Feb 2016 06:33:10 +0000 A. D. McKenzie By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

Amid continuing attacks on journalists, media representatives from around the world will meet in the French capital this week to discuss how to reinforce the safety of those working in the sector.

Organized and hosted by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, this “unprecedented” meeting between media executives and the agency’s members states on Feb. 5 is an attempt to “improve the safety of journalists and tackle impunity for crimes against media professionals”, UNESCO said.

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

“As everyone knows, the problem has been increasing over the past five years of killing of journalists in different parts of the world, and the UN system as a whole has become more concerned about this in parallel,” said Guy Berger, director of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

He told IPS that the UN has been putting “a lot of effort” into trying to get more action against these killings and that UNESCO has been working to create greater cooperation among various groups concerned with journalists’ safety.

But Berger said that the conference wanted to focus on what media organizations themselves could do “to step forward” and bring attention to the matter.

The day-long meeting – titled “News organizations standing up for the safety of media professionals” – will “foster dialogue on security issues with a view to reducing the high number of casualties in the profession”, UNESCO said.

The number of media workers killed around the world totaled 112 last year, according to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), whose president Jim Boumelha will speak at the conference.

The IFJ, which represents some 600,000 members globally, said that among the deaths, at least 109 journalists and media staff died in “targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents”. This number marks a slight decrease from 2014 when 118 media personnel were killed.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a group that defends freedom of expression, said in its report that the deaths were “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel.

The slayings included those of cartoonists working for the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Following those attacks, UNESCO organized a conference then as well, under the heading “Journalism after Charlie”.

In the year since, many other media workers have lost their lives, in both countries at peace and those experiencing civil war.

Calling on the UN to appoint a special representative for the safety of journalists, RSF’s Director General Christophe Deloire says that the creation of a specific mechanism for enforcing international law on the protection of journalists is “absolutely essential”.

Deloire will present a safety guide for journalists at the conference, in association with UNESCO. This is part of the aim to “share good practices on a wide range of measures including safety protocols in newsrooms … and innovative protective measures for reporting from dangerous areas”, according to the UN agency.

Some 200 media owners, executives and practitioners from public, private and community media are expected to attend the conference, UNESCO said.

“The diversity of media represented, in terms of geography, size and type of threat encountered, is unprecedented and should contribute to the conference’s ability to raise awareness of and improve preparedness for the full range of dangers the media face worldwide,” the agency added.

Berger will moderate the first session, while debates in the second will be led by Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for the broadcaster CNN and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalism.

Diana Foley, founder and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, is also scheduled to be among the speakers. The institution honours the work of American journalist James Foley, her son, who was abducted while covering the Syrian war and brutally killed by his captors in 2014.

One of the conference’s high-level sessions will focus on “ending impunity together” and will comprise “dialogue” between the media industry and UNESCO member states, according to the programme.

UNESCO says it has been advocating and implementing measures to improve the safety of journalists and to end impunity for crimes against media workers. The agency’s Director-General issues press releases to condemn the killing of journalists and media workers, for instance.

In addition, UNESCO publishes a biennial report that takes stock of governments’ replies to the organization’s request for information about “actions taken to pursue the perpetrators of these crimes”.

In its 2015 report, “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development”, UNESCO noted that some member countries were not submitting requested updates on investigations into attacks against the media. However, the response rate had still risen to 42 percent (24 out of 57 countries) from 22 percent in 2014.

One of the issues not on the agenda at the conference is the number of UNESCO member states that imprison journalists or attempt to suppress freedom of expression. Experts acknowledge that this is also a topic that needs addressing, but some say that a distinction between the issues needs to be made.

“You can have freedom of the press and journalists are not safe,” Berger told IPS. “And in other places, you can have a lack of freedom of the press, and journalists are safe, even if they face consequences under laws that may be out of line with international standards.”

He said that governments have “the primary responsibility to protect everybody and to protect their rights,” but that not all governments live up to this task.

“That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t,” he added. “If you sign up to these international declarations, you actually have to match your words with your actions.”

The public, too, could be more aware of the challenges that media workers face and support the calls for safety and protection.

“Nobody wants to be out of line with public opinion, and the stronger public opinion is, the more governments actually see that it’s important to act,” Berger said. “Governments need journalists, even if they don’t like them, and they need them to be safe.”


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The Fearful World of Network News in 2015 Tue, 26 Jan 2016 12:33:48 +0000 Jim Lobe Andrew Tyndall

Andrew Tyndall

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2016 (IPS)

If your view of world events outside the U.S. was shaped in substantial part by watching the evening news shows on the three major U.S. networks last year, you’d probably want to stay home.

Terrorism and the bloody wars of the Middle East dominated the network news coverage of the world outside our borders last year, according to the latest annual summary of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which was released just last week. Domestically, it was pretty scary, too, with two of the year’s three top domestic stories featuring Donald Trump’s ugly presidential primary campaign and last month’s San Bernardino massacre, which was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

As in virtually every year since 9/11, Latin America, Africa, and East Asia (which includes China, Japan, and the Koreas) barely registered in the networks’ universe. Global warming—arguably the greatest existential threat facing our way of life—made only a cameo appearance in the guise of last month’s Paris climate summit, despite today’s New York Times headline: “2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record.” Unfortunately, the Paris summit coincided with the San Bernardino massacre, which received eight times the coverage.

As noted by Andrew Tyndall, the Report’s publisher, in an email exchange today,

This last year has been especially narrow in the range of international stories, in that few stories that are unrelated either to terrorism or to the Middle East (or both) have attracted attention. No Ebola. No Fukushima. The excitement around the new pope is starting to subside. No royal wedding. No Olympic Games. …Europe has received prominent coverage. However, the three biggest European stories (Charlie Hebdo, the refugee crisis, the Paris concert massacre) can be portrayed as spillovers from Mideast tensions. All three of these major European storylines fit neatly into fearful narratives made by domestic politicians.

Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe
Tyndall has been tracking and cataloguing the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC each weekday since 1988. That comes to roughly 22 minutes for each network per evening, or nearly 15,000 minutes a year for all three weekday evening shows combined. (The total this year was 14,574 minutes.) His findings are considered the most authoritative publicly available source on network news coverage.

Although citizens increasingly rely on the Internet for national and international news, the network evening news remains the single biggest source, attracting a nightly audience of around 24 million viewers, according to the latest report by the Pew Research Center on Journalism and the Media. By comparison, the average primetime audience for all cable news channels combined is a mere 3.5 million. Thus, the news priorities reflected in the amount of attention the three networks devote to national and international trends and events exert a significant influence on how much of the U.S. citizenry sees the world. In other words, the nightly evening network news offers the closest thing we have to a collective national window on what is happening beyond our borders. Which is why it’s important.


The Highlights

Each year, Tyndall publishes a one-page summary of highlights, including the 20 stories to which the three networks devoted the most time in their coverage. The summary also notes more general findings. In 2015, for example, the three networks provided a combined total of 941 minutes to foreign policy coverage (not to be confused with coverage from overseas). Not only was that a mere 6.5% of total news coverage, it was slightly less than half of the annual average between 1988 and 2014. This could reflect the gravitational pull of the 2016 presidential campaign and/or the perception by network news gatekeepers that the public is increasingly uninterested in or fed up with foreign policy issues.

In any event, here are the top 20 and the combined number of minutes they received from the three networks. Together, they accounted for 3,422 minutes of the three networks’ coverage, or less than 25% of total evening news coverage.

Winter weather                                     377

Donald Trump campaign                     327

San Bernardino shootings                     237

Islamic State declared by ISIS             220

Terrorism in Paris: concert massacre   188

Refugees to the European Union         174

Police: lethal Baltimore arrest             174

Forest fires in western states                161

Boston Marathon bombing trial           160

NFL post-season: deflated balls           145

Pope Francis visits to Cuba and USA   142

Syria civil war                                       136

Iran nuclear program negotiations       132

Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris         132

New York prison escape                       131

Republican presidential debates           123

Hillary Clinton campaign                     121

AMC church massacre in Charleston   117

Germanwings jet crash in Alps              114

Iraq civil war/ISIS in Iraq                     113


Some of the top stories are obviously related to each other, although Tyndall is very careful about not double-counting stories. For example, Trump clearly factored heavily in the Republican presidential debates, but the minutes devoted to his contribution to that debate would not have been included in the category of the Trump campaign itself. The EU’s refugee crisis was obviously related to the wars in Syria and Iraq, not to mention IS.

Thus, among the 20 most-covered stories, the 2016 campaign garnered 571 minutes (Trump, Republican debate, Clinton). But terrorist acts or organizations claimed five of the top 20, at nearly 1,000 minutes (San Bernardino, the Islamic State, two Paris stories, the Boston Marathon trial), and that doesn’t count the civil wars in Syria and Iraq or the Charleston church massacre. Those, plus the Germanwings jet crash, alleged police brutality in Baltimore, the prison escape, and the huge refugee influx into Europe, make for a pretty scary world (not to mention the heavily fear-based Trump campaign itself or other fear-mongering Republicans).

Indeed, the only good news that featured in the top 20 last year was the Pope’s visit, the Iran nuclear agreement (albeit not for Bibi Netanyahu and his followers here), and deflated footballs if you care passionately about Tom Brady. Of course, as Tyndall suggests, by depicting such a frightening world, the networks are—presumably unconsciously—propagating a fundamentally far-right narrative that can only benefit Republicans during this year’s campaign.


A Closer Look at the Numbers

To help draw a more complete picture of the networks’ view of the world outside the United States, I asked Tyndall for the statistics on the top foreign stories of the year. They comprised 41 of the top 150 stories, including nine that appeared in the top 20 cited above. The results:


Islamic State in Middle East declared by ISIS220
Paris terrorism: stadium, restaurant, concert attacks188
European Union faces influx of refugees and migrants174
Pope Francis I visits Cuba and United States142
Syria politics: rebellion designated as civil war136
Iran nuclear weapons program prevention talks132
Paris magazine offices assassination: 12 dead132
Germanwings 9525 crash in French Alps: 150 dead114
Iraq: combat resumes after US troops pull out113
Afghanistan’s Taliban regime aftermath, fighting85
Nepal earthquake levels Kathmandu: Richter 7.870
Metrojet charter flight crash over Sinai Desert59
Moslems in western nations recruited by terrorists48
Malaysia Airlines 370 missing: Indian Ocean search43
Cuba-US diplomacy: relations normalized42
Air Asia 8501 crash over Java Sea kills 16239
Zimbabwe nature preserve celebrity lion killed37
Soccer: FIFA Women’s World Cup won by USA33
Yemen civil war32
British royals coverage32
Global warming climate change: Paris Summit30
High-speed train on-board attack foiled in Belgium30
International Space Station mission in orbit30
Libya: US diplomats assassinated in Benghazi29
Belgium terrorism: surveillance in Brussels suburb28
Ukraine civil war: secessionist fighting in east28
Tunisia terrorism: beach resort shooting spree26
El Nino current forms in Pacific Ocean25
Syrian-American immigration: seek refugee status25
CIA drone kills Americans in raid on Pakistan25
Diesel engine pollution tests rigged by Volkswagen24
Cargo ship SS El Faro founders off The Bahamas23
Israel-Palestinian conflict22
Cuba-US sanctions relaxed: more trade, travel22
Syria refugees flee abroad to overcrowded camps21
Greece politics: referendum on fiscal austerity20
Hurricane Patricia forms in Pacific off Mexico20
Syria archeology: antiquities looted, vandalized20
Vietnam War remembered20
Nazi Holocaust remembered19


This is essentially the image that most Americans received from their most popular source of international news. Is it any wonder that so many foreigners are shocked by how little Americans know about their home countries or regions?

There’s obviously some good news in this list—including the normalization of relations with Cuba, the climate treaty in Paris, the International Space Station, the perennial British royals story (maybe that’s bad news, I don’t know), the US women’s victory in the World Cup. Again, this picture is pretty scary. But there are a few things worth noting (and I’m sure you will find many more):


  • The list contains absolutely nothing about China, including its economic troubles, its build-up in the South China Sea, its environmental or minority problems, its crackdown against outspoken dissidents and lawyers— or really the rest of East Asia.
  • A grand total of 22 minutes is devoted to the Israel-Palestine conflict despite the violence that has been going on since October and shows no sign of abating, not to mention the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli government or the clear disdain in which Obama and Netanyahu mutually hold themselves.
  • Aside from Cuba, there’s no real mention of anything related to Latin America. And normalization with Cuba—a historic development that effectively ended nearly 60 years of hostility—rated a grand total of 66 minutes on all three networks. By comparison, deflate gate and the NFL got 145 minutes, more than twice as much! At least, the Pope gave it some additional attention, albeit not much.
  • Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe. Not even for acts of terrorism carried out by Boko Haram or any other group affiliated with al-Qaeda or IS! This, of course, upholds the long-enduring Victorian notion that the only good things about Africa are its animals.
  • Despite the increased threat posed by the Taliban, as well as the belatedly reported death of Mullah Omar and the decision by Obama to put off a final withdrawal, Afghanistan didn’t make the top 20, receiving a grand total of only one hour and 25 minutes in the evening news for all of 2015.
  • Yemen’s devastating war garnered a total of 32 minutes, ten minutes more than the Israel-Palestine conflict.


Tyndall on the News

I asked Andrew Tyndall to comment on some of these observations, and here are some excerpts of our emailed interview:

Lobe: Did you see any greater effort on the part of the newscasters in 2015 to link the weather or weather-related disasters to global warming than in previous years?

Tyndall: I see no evidence of it. First, because gradual, secular weather events (the drought in California, El Nino in the Pacific) received less coverage than extreme, sudden weather events (winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, flash floods). Second, because the Paris Summit on Climate Change was undercovered, since it coincided with the San Bernardino office party massacre, which eclipsed it.

Lobe: East Asia appears to have been almost entirely ignored in 2015, despite tensions between China and its neighbors in the South and East China Seas? Was this different than or consistent with coverage of the last few years when these territorial claims became more salient? What do you think are the implications of the lack of coverage?

Tyndall: Yes, the military tensions over marine territorial rights have barely been mentioned. The driving force to make such tensions newsworthy is usually not an editorial decision by news executives, but a political decision by an administration in power. In other words, the news tends to follow the Pentagon, reacting to its initiatives, rather than alerting the public, so that it can understand the issues at stake in advance of a debate over such initiatives.

Over the past 25-or-so years of my database, it is a rule of thumb that Republican administrations tend to be more bellicose in addressing overseas disputes, which leads to newscasts being more active in following them. In other words, we can expect coverage of the South China Seas to escalate if and when the US Navy is dispatched to confront the Chinese military in those waters. Lack of coverage, therefore, is a reassuring sign that we are not gearing up for a war with the People’s Republic.

Lobe: And what do you make of the absence of Africa coverage except for the lion?

Tyndall: Yes, given that terrorism and Islamist insurgencies are popular themes for the newscasts to cover, I would have expected more attention paid to Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. I have no problem with the attention paid to Cedric the lion and the Minnesota dentist [who killed him]. A perfect summer sensation.

Lobe: And Latin America except for Cuba?

Tyndall: With reference to Spanish-speaking Latin America, one of the unfortunate consequences of the success of Univision in providing news to Hispanic-Americans is that the Anglophone newscasts act as though their coverage would be duplicative. Thus, the end of the civil war in Colombia was hardly mentioned. The crisis of legitimacy and narco-corruption of the Mexican government only broke through onto English-speaking airwaves through the figure of El Chapo.

One of the advantages to the publicity and promotion around the Olympic Games is that resources and personnel are on site to cover non-sporting-related issues that would normally be ignored. I anticipate that the Zika virus will be the first of several stories to come out of Brazil this year, to coincide with the Rio Olympic Games.

For Mexican-US immigration policy: see Trump, D.

Lobe: Yemen got only 32 minutes despite the fact that it’s in the most heavily covered foreign region, its depiction as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the presence (and apparent expansion) there of al-Qaeda and IS? Any comment?

Tyndall: Logistically, Yemen is a very difficult country to cover. Its undercoverage belongs in the same category as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. The rumblings of a possible third intifada on the West Bank also received surprisingly little airtime. I ascribe the lack of interest in covering the proxy Iran-Saudi war to two factors. First (as with the South China Sea) is the Pentagon’s lack of enthusiasm for getting involved. Second, the true anxieties associated with turmoil in the region are associated with symptoms (the spread of terrorism and refugees) not underlying causes (struggles for sectarian and regional hegemony).


This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy

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Time to Repeal Anti-Terrorism Law in Ethiopia Mon, 25 Jan 2016 16:52:04 +0000 Anuradha Mittal Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. ]]>

Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

By Anuradha Mittal
OAKLAND, California, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

With the African Union celebrating the African Year of Human Rights at its 26th summit, at its headquarters in Addis, Ethiopia, the venue raises serious concerns about commitment to human rights.

Anuradha Mittal Credit:

Anuradha Mittal

Ethiopia’s so called economic development policies have not only ignored but enabled and exacerbated civil and human rights abuses in the country. Case and point is the ongoing land grabbing affecting several regions of the country. Under the controversial “villagization” program, the Ethiopian government is forcibly relocating over 1.5 million people to make land available to investors for so called economic growth. Since last November, the country’s ruling party, EPRDF’s, “Master Plan” to expand the capital Addis has been the flashpoint for protests in Oromia which will impact some 2 million people. At least 140 protestors have been killed by security forces while many more have been injured and arrested, including political leaders like Bekele Gerba, Deputy Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Oromia’s largest legally registered political party. Arrested on December 23, 2015, his whereabouts remain unknown.

Political marginalization, arbitrary arrests, beatings, murders, intimidation, and rapes mark the experience of communities around Ethiopia defending their land rights. This violence in the name of delivering economic growth is built on the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which has allowed the Ethiopian government secure complete hegemonic authority by suppressing any form of dissent.

A new report, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, by the Oakland Institute and the Environmental Defender Law Center, authored by lawyers including representatives from leading international law firms, unravels the 2009 Proclamation. It confirms that the law is designed and used by the Ethiopian Government as a tool of repression to silence its critics. It criminalizes basic human rights, like the freedom of speech and assembly. Its definition of “terrorist act,” does not conform with international standards given the law defines terrorism in an extremely broad and vague way, providing the ruling party with an iron fist to punish words and acts that would be legal in a democracy.

The law’s staggering breadth and vagueness, makes it impossible for citizens to know or even predict what conduct may violate the law, subjecting them to grave criminal sanctions. This has resulted in a systematic withdrawal of free speech in the country as newspaper journalists and editors, indigenous leaders, land rights activists, bloggers, political opposition members, and students are charged as terrorists. In 2010, journalists and governmental critics were arrested and tortured in the lead-up to the national election. In 2014, six privately owned publications closed after government harassment; at least 22 journalists, bloggers, and publishers were criminally charged; and more than 30 journalists fled the country in fear of being arrested under repressive laws.

The law also gives the police and security services unprecedented new powers and shifts the burden of proof to the accused. Ethiopia has abducted individuals from foreign countries including the British national Andy Tsege and the Norwegian national, Okello Akway Ochalla, and brought them to Ethiopia to face charges of violating the anti-terrorism law. Such abductions violate the terms of extradition treaties between Ethiopia and other countries; violate the territorial sovereignty of the other countries; and violate the fundamental human rights of those charged under the law. Worse still, many of those charged report having been beaten or tortured, as in the case of Mr. Okello. The main evidence courts have against such individuals are their so-called confessions.

Some individuals charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law are being prosecuted for conduct that occurred before that law entered into force. These prosecutions violate the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, which Ethiopia is bound to uphold both under international law as well as the Charter 22 of its own constitution.

A few other key examples of those charged under the law, include the 9 bloggers; Pastor Omot Agwa, former translator for the World Bank Inspection Panel; and journalists Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega; and hundreds more, all arrested under the Anti-Terrorism law.

It has been a fallacious tradition in development thought to equate economic underdevelopment with repressive forms of governance and economic modernity with democratic rule. Yet Ethiopia forces us to confront that its widely celebrated economic renaissance by its Western allies and donor countries is dependent on violent autocratic governance. The case of Ethiopia should compel the US and the UK to question their own complicity in supporting the Ethiopian regime, the west’s key ally in Africa.

Given the compelling analysis provided by the report, it is imperative that the international community demands that until such time as Ethiopian government revises its anti-terrorism law to bring it into conformity with international standards, it repeals the use of this repressive piece of legislation.

Case and point is the controversial resettlement program under which the Ethiopian government seeks to relocate 1.5 million people as part of an economic development plan. Research by groups including the Oakland Institute, International Rivers Network, Human Rights Watch, and Inclusive Development International, among others, as well as journalists.

Perhaps there is hesitation to confront this because it would implicate the global flows of development assistance that make possible rule by the EPRDF. Receiving a yearly average of 3.5 billion dollars in development aid, Ethiopia tops lists of development aid recipients of USAID, DfID, and the World Bank. Staggeringly, international assistance represents 50 to 60 per cent of the Ethiopian national budget. Evidently, foreign assistance is indispensible to the national governance. At the face of this dependency, the Ethiopian government exercises repressive hegemony over Ethiopian political and civil expression.

It is the responsibility of international donors to account for the political effects of development assistance with thorough and consistent investigations and substantive demand for political reform and democratic practices as a condition for sustained international aid. This will inevitably mean a new type of Ethiopian renaissance, one that seeks the simultaneous establishment of democratic governance and improving economic conditions.


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Despite its History and Reputation, Finland Has to Guard Press Freedom Mon, 11 Jan 2016 13:44:38 +0000 Jan Lundius

Jan Lundius, a Swedish national, is a professor and former UNESCO associate.

By Jan Lundius
Helsinki, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

The year 2015 was a sad one for journalists around the world, with approximately 60 journalists killed, more than 200 imprisoned and more than 400 exiled.

In many countries, people speaking up against abuse and violations have a rational fear for their lives and wellbeing. To address this issue, UNESCO and the Government of Finland will co-host a conference on journalists´ safety the week of International Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2016.

The choice of Finland to organize such an event is no mere coincidence. When Reporters Without Borders presented its World Press Freedom Index for 2015, Finland topped the list for the fifth year in a row. And Finland´s government has taken its commitment further by making transparency and information an institutional concern, for example by making broadband access a legal right and easing the way for citizens to participate in the legislative process through online means.

Often when rulers silence the media they do it in the name of security or preserving national culture or unity. So is freedom of speech determined by culture? And, if so, did cultural forces help mold the Finnish government´s liberal attitude toward press freedom?

Until 1809, Finland was part of Sweden, a country that in 1766 was the first nation in the world to abolish censorship and guarantee freedom of the press. But after subsequent conquest by the Russian Empire, growing Russian patriotism demanded a closer integration of Finland and, by the end of the 19th century, harsh censorship of the press was introduced. This and other measures, including Russian promotion of the Finnish language as a way to sever the country’s longstanding cultural ties with Sweden, fueled an already growing Finnish nationalism.

When the Russian tsar abdicated in 1917, the Finnish legislature declared independence, leading to a civil war between the country’s “Reds”, led by Social Democrats, and “Whites”, led by the conservatives in the Senate. Thirty-six thousand out of a population of 3 million died. The Reds executed 1,650 civilians, while the triumphant Whites executed approximately 9,000. The war resulted in an official ban on Communism, censorship of the socialist press and an increasing integration to the Western world economy. The new constitution established that the country would be bi-lingual, with both Finnish and Swedish taught in schools and at universities.

During World War II, harsh press censorship was introduced – this time by the Finnish government itself – as the country fought two wars against the Soviet Union and the subsequently fought to drive out its former German allies in those conflicts.

The development of the current Finnish freedom of speech probably has to be considered in relation to this arduous history, particularly the difficult aftermath of the wars with the Soviet Union and, through all of it, the Finnish people´s struggle to maintain their freedom and unique character as a nation.

Today, Finland has a lively press and a thriving culture production in both languages, even if Finnish people with Swedish as a mother tongue constitute only about 5 per cent of a population of 5.4 million. Even in the Internet Age, Finns remain avid newspaper readers, ranking first in the EU with almost 500 copies sold per day per 1, 000 inhabitants, surpassed only by Japan and Norway.

During the Cold War years, Finland’s efforts to cope with is proximity to Soviet Russia had grave repercussions on freedom of speech in the country. Due to Soviet pressure, some books were withdrawn from public libraries and Finnish publishers avoided literature that could cause Soviet displeasure. For example, the Finnish translation of Solzhenitsyn´s The Gulag Archipelago was published in Sweden. On several occasions, Moscow restricted Finnish politics and vetoed its participation in the Marshall Plan.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to Finland’s expanded participation in Western political and economic structures. Finland joined the EU in 1994 and the euro was introduced in 1999. Restrictions on the media were relaxed and today, probably in reaction to its previous experiences with censorship, Finland is widely recognized having the most extensive press freedom of any country.

However, the rise of anti-immigrant political sentiment, as evidenced by the rise of the Finns´ Party, has cast a pall over popular media. Now the country’s second largest party after success in this year’s elections, the Finns´ Party combines left-wing economic policies with conservative social values, as well as a heavy dose of xenophobia, euro scepticism and Islamophobia, leading it to attract nationalistic fringe groups that are vociferous in public media.

One example is the group Suomen Sisu, which has an openly crude racial approach, disguised as “ethnopluralism,” an ideology stating that ethnic groups have to be kept separated and that Swedish speaking Finns’ influence on politics and culture has to be limited and that immigration has to be radically restricted, or even halted completely.

Finland´s most popular web site Homma is spreading this message, which also accuses Finnish media of being left-leaning and eroding Finnish national pride. The Finns’ Party´s leader, Timo Soini, is currently the country´s foreign minister and vice prime minister. While the party occasionally reacts harshly to criticism in media it states that it honors freedom of the press. Even when Soini was recently was attacked by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he stated that it was quite OK since it was an expression of the press freedom.

Nevertheless, with Finland now scheduled to host an international conference on press freedom, we should be watchful of the dangers to free expression that lurk in uninhibited nationalism and xenophobia. Nordic people often take their excellent record in human rights for granted and, in so doing, dismiss these dangers. Let’s hope that the May conference will serve as a reminder to us all that freedom of the press and of expression is something that has to be jealously guarded and vigorously protected through thick and thin.


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Caribbean Journalists Prepare to Report on Climate Change Wed, 06 Jan 2016 03:09:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Dominican journalist Amelia Deschamps addressing a workshop in Santo Domingo on the role of reporters with regard to climate change. Researchers and journalists from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic took part in the event. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Dominican journalist Amelia Deschamps addressing a workshop in Santo Domingo on the role of reporters with regard to climate change. Researchers and journalists from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic took part in the event. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González

Environmentally committed journalists in the Caribbean point to a major challenge for media workers: communicating and raising awareness about the crucial climate change agreement that emerged from the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.

“Scientific information must be published in clearer language, and we must talk about the real impact of climate change on people’s lives,” journalist Amelia Deschamps, an anchorwoman on the El Día newcast of the Dominican channel Telesistema 11, told IPS.

She was referring to the communication challenges posed in the wake of COP21 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris to produce the first universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb the negative impacts of global warming.

“So far good intentions abound, but there are few practical steps being taken in terms of mitigation and adaptation,” said Deschamps.

In the view of this journalist who specialises in environmental affairs, media coverage of global warming “has been very weak and oversimplified,” which she said has contributed to the public sense that it is a “merely scientific” issue that has little connection to people’s lives.

“People are more concerned about things that directly affect them,” said Deschamps, who is also an activist for risk management in poor communities, and considers citizen mobilisation key to curbing damage to the environment.

The 195 country parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in the French capital adopted a binding universal agreement aimed at keeping a global temperature rise this century “well below 2 degrees Celsius” with respect to the pre-industrial era.

Scientists warn that the planet is heating up as a result of human activity, and this is causing extreme weather events such as heat waves, lengthy droughts and heavy rainfall. In addition, clean water, fertile land and biodiversity are all being reduced.

Coastal areas are already suffering the consequences of rising sea levels, a process that according to scientific sources began 20,000 years ago, but has been accelerated by global warming over the last 150 years.

Small island nations such as those of the Caribbean are among the most vulnerable to climate change, while their emissions have contributed very little to the phenomenon.

“As journalists and communicators we have not managed to identify the right messages to make the public feel involved in this issue,” said Deschamps at a workshop organised by the Cuban Environmental Protection Agency, the Dominican Chapter of the Nicolás Guillén Foundation, the Norwegian Embassy and the Inter Press Service (IPS) international news agency.

Marie Jeanne Moisse, a reporter and environmental educator who works in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry, spoke during a workshop in Santo Domingo about the media’s role in reporting on and raising awareness about global warming. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Marie Jeanne Moisse, a reporter and environmental educator who works in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry, spoke during a workshop in Santo Domingo about the media’s role in reporting on and raising awareness about global warming. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

To train reporters from the Caribbean, a group of experts from Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic offered a Nov. 23-26 course on “Social Communication for Risk Prevention, Gender and Climate Change” in the Dominican capital.

The course was attended by 41 journalists from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It included three talks that experts gave to students from two rural schools and to a group of 25 Haitian-Dominican women.

“The media need to be trained to provide more information at a national level on the phenomenon and about the agreement reached at COP21,” said Marie Jeanne Moise, an official in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry.

According to Moise, a communicator and educator on the environment, “there is alarming talk today about global warming, and people are scared. But that doesn’t mean they know about the phenomenon or about how to protect themselves, to reduce the impacts on their lives.”

Moise urged journalists and reporters to “go to the roots of the problem.”

“News coverage focuses on catastrophes and on how vulnerable we are. But little is said about what contribution the media should make to help bring about a positive change in attitude towards the environment.”

The Haitian official said COP21 “created greater unity among the Caribbean as a vulnerable region that needs to adopt a common position.”

The countries in the region that took part in COP21 are negotiating as part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up of 15 mainly island nations, and as part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Ahead of COP21, CARICOM launched the “1.5 to Stay Alive” campaign to raise awareness on the effects of climate change, especially on small island states, while strengthening the region’s negotiating position.

CARICOM estimates that inaction could cost its member countries 10.7 billion dollars in losses by 2025, or five percent of GDP, and some 22 billion dollars by 2050, or 10 percent of GDP.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are on the list of the 10 countries most vulnerable to natural disasters, according to the Climate Change and Environmental Risk Analytics report published in 2012 by Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk analytics and forecasting company based in Britain.

Besides physical and economic exposure to events like earthquakes and hurricanes, these countries are vulnerable due to social inequality, a lack of preparedness, and unequal distribution of local and regional capacities, said the study, which compared 197 countries using 29 indices and interactive maps analysing major natural hazards worldwide.

Dominican blogger and human rights activist Yesibon Reynoso said that in his country “quite a lot is known and talked about, with regard to the environment, because of the current circumstances.”

But, he said, “for example, deforestation is not always punished. Impunity reigns through exploitation with the support of corruption in the state.”

In his view, “environmental rights are not addressed in accordance with how essential they are to life, in the country and around the globe. There is no traditional social and political respect for the environment.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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CPJ: Two Thirds of 2015 Journalist Deaths were Acts of Reprisal Fri, 01 Jan 2016 20:24:32 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 1 2016 (IPS)

Of the 69 journalists who died on the job in 2015, 40 per cent were killed by Islamic militant groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Startlingly more than two-thirds were targeted for murder, according to a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report that nine of those killings took place in France, second to Syria as the most dangerous country for the press in last year.

Globally 69 journalists were killed due to their vocation, including those slain for their reporting and those caught in crossfire or in conflict. The total for 2015 is higher than the 61 journalists killed in 2014.

The CPJ says it is investigating the deaths of a further 26 more journalists during the year to determine if they too were work-related.

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, those killed in Syria exceeded those than anywhere else in the world. But the fewer number this year dying on the job in Syria only means it is so dangerous that there are fewer journalists working there, said the report. Many international news agencies chose to withdraw staff anf local reporters were forced to flee, said the CPJ.

The report cited difficulties in researching cases in conflict including Libya, Yemen and Iraq. CPJ went on a research mission to Iraq last year investigating reports that some 35 journalists from the Mosul area had gone missing, were killed or being held by Islamic State.

The militant group has a grip on the city so the CPJ said it could only confirm the deaths of a few journalists. The committee’s report said it had received reports of dozens of other journalists killed but could not independently confirm the deaths or if indeed, journalism was the reason. It said several of these journalists are currently on CPJ’s missing list.

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

The Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place in Paris last January was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Eight journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were targeted.

Islamic State in October murdered two Syrian journalists living in exile in Turkey, Fares Hamadi and Ibrahim Abd al-Qader. Abd al-Qader was given CPJ’s 1015 International Press Freedom Award as he was an early member of Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian citizen journalist group.

“In Bangladesh, members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate or another local extremist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, were suspected in the hacking or stabbing murders of a publisher and four bloggers, including U.S.-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was attending a book fair when he was killed,”said the report.

The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the shooting of Zaman Mehsud, president and secretary-general of the Tribal Union of Journalists’ South Waziristan chapter and reporter for the Urdu-language Daily Ummat and Daily Nai Baat newspapers.

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

In Somalia, Hindia Haji Mohamed, a journalist and the widow of another murdered journalist, was killed in December when a bomb blew up her car in an attack claimed by the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.

Governments around the world were jailing at least 110 journalists on anti-state charges. This is out of 199 total jailed, according to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census.—It shows how the press is being cornered and targeted by terrorists and also squeezed by the squeezed by authorities saying there were committed to fighting terror as well, it said.

More than two thirds of the journalists killed in 2015 were targeted and murdered as a direct result of their work.

The report said about one third of journalists’ deaths worldwide were carried out by criminal groups, government officials, or local residents who were, in most cases, drug traffickers or those involved in organized crime. They included Brazilian Gleydson Carvalho, shot dead by two men while he was presenting his afternoon radio show. He was often critical of politicians and police Brazil had six killings last year, the highest since CPJ began keeping records in 1992.

But Brazilian judicial authorities have made headway in combating impunity by getting six convictions in murder cases in the last two years, said the report.

South Sudan registered for the first time on CPJ’s index of slain journalists when unidentified gunmen attacked an official convoy killing five journalists traveling with a county official. The motive is still unknown but there have been various accusations. Some say this could have been the result of the power struggle between former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir which set off the civil war in 2013.

The murders of the five landed South Sudan on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and there is no one held responsible so their killers go free.

South Sudan, Poland and Ghana appeared on CPJ’s killed database for the first time. In Poland, Łukasz Masiak, was fatally assaulted in a bowling alley after telling colleagues he feared for his life. He was the founder and editor of a news website and reported on crime and drugs and pollution. In Ghana, radio reporter George Abanga, was shot dead on his way back from covering a cocoa farmers dispute.

CPJ cites these trends from its research:

• Seventeen journalists worldwide were killed in combat or crossfire. Five were killed on a dangerous assignment.
• At least 28 of the 47 murder victims received threats before they were killed.
• Broadcast reporting was the most dangerous job, with 25 killed. Twenty-nine victims worked online.
• The most common type of reporting by victims was politics, followed by war and human rights.

CPJ, in 1992, began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths. If motives in a killing are unclear, it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work and CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ said its list does not include journalists who died of illness or natural causes or were killed in car or plane accidents unless the crash considered hostile action.


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The Power of the Pen Fri, 25 Dec 2015 21:30:51 +0000 May Carolan 0 Human Rights in Turkey: Is Turkish Press Freedom in Danger? Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:07:01 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

The last week of November marked another phase of an ongoing shift in the Turkish Government´s approach to human rights issues – Two important events highlighted the ongoing attack freedom of press is suffering in Turkey. First two prominent Turkish journalists were arrested after publishing a story claiming that members of the state intelligence agency had provided weapons to Syrian rebels; second, lawyer and leading human rights defender and Tahir Elçi, President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association in south eastern Turkey, was killed in crossfire while making a press statement on Saturday 28th of November.

The Government´s reaction has fueled concerns about a sweeping media crackdown, which escalated just before the country´s national elections in November 1st. Since the Justice Development Party (AKP) was re-elected, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, conditions for media freedom have gradually deteriorated even further.

The present government has enacted laws expanding the state´s capacity to control independent media. The government has now an increased authority to block websites and the surveillance capacity of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has been strengthened. Journalists are currently facing unprecedented legal obstacles, while courts´ capacity to persecute corruption is circumscribed by references to “national security.” To regulate various media outlets, authorities are making use of the Penal Code, criminal defamation laws and an antiterrorism law.

As a direct result of mass protests in the summer of 2013, the Turkish government tightened its control over media and the internet even further. Followed by corruption allegations in December the same year, the government intensified its control over the criminal justice system and reassigned judges, prosecutors, and police in order to exercise a greater control over the country´s already politicized freedom of the press.

In 2013, during a corruption scandal revealed through leaks to social media of phone calls implicating ministers and their family members, the Turkish government reacted by shutting down Twitter and YouTube for several weeks and introducing an even more restrictive Internet Law than the one already in existence. However, the internet sites were reopened after the Constitutional Court had ruled against the Government measures.

Cumhuriyet, “The Republic”, is Turkey´s oldest up-market daily newspaper. Since AKP´s rise to power it has distinguished itself for an impartial and occasionally courageous journalism. In 2015 the newspaper was awarded the Freedom of Press Prize by the international NGO Reporters Without Borders for its stand against the Government’s mounting pressure on free speech. Shortly after that, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, and the newspaper’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül, were arrested and may face life imprisonment for a story claiming that Turkey´s secret services through convoys of trucks across the border were sending arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. Detailed footage depicted trucks allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Despite its opposition to the Assad government the Turkish government has denied assisting Syrian rebels and by extension contributing to a consolidation of IS. Cumhuriyet’s accusation created a political storm in Turkey, enraging President Erdogan, who declared that the newspaper´s editor-in chief, would “pay a high price” for his “espionage.”

Dündar defended his paper´s action by stating: “We are journalists, not civil servants. Our duty is not to hide the dirty secrets of the state but to hold it accountable on behalf of the people.”
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, the convoys were actually carrying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community of neighboring Syria and the Cumhuriyet articles were accordingly politically motivated defamation. Right before appearing in court Dündar declared: “We come here to defend journalism. We come here to defend the right of the public to obtain news and their right to know whether their government is feeding them lies. We come here to demonstrate and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activities and defend such acts.”

The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Christophe Deloire, stated that “if these two journalists are imprisoned, it will be further evidence that Turkish authorities are ready to use methods worthy of a bygone age in order to suppress independent journalism in Turkey.”

Reporters without Borders, ranks Turkey as the 149th nation out of 180 when it comes to freedom of press, denouncing that there is a “dangerous surge in censorship” in the country. Reporters without Borders has urged the judge hearing the case to dismiss the charges against the two journalists as a case of “political persecution.”

The arrest of the two journalists has caused distress within the European Union. Europe is currently struggling with social problems and political crises due the influx of Syrian refugees and needs Ankara´s help to solve the crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish journalists have urged the EU to avoid making any compromises and in the name of freedom of speech, and as part of the efforts to combat the threat of IS totalitarianism, EU has to react to the Turkish Government´s intentions to control and manage independent information and reporting.

In the case of the lawyer, Tahir Elçi, was speaking to the press, pleading for an end of the violence between nationalist Kurds and the Turkish security forces. His death, considered an assassination by many, has f escalated tensions in Turkey´s Kurd dominated regions, where curfews have been imposed in several communities.

While Elçi, and other lawyers in the south eastern province of Diyarbakır were denouncing the damage caused to the historical patrimony during combat between the YDG-H Militants—a group related to the armed Kurdish group PKK—and the police. The incident was confusing. Video footage shows Elçi, hiding behind a man holding a pistol, as the sound of gunfire rings out from both ends of the street, a moment later the lawyer is seen lying face down on the ground. Officially it was claimed that Kurdish militants opened fire, which was returned by security men. Elçi´s last words before the attack had been: “We do not want guns, clashes or operations here.”

The HDP (People´s Democratic Party), an opposition party with Kurdish origins, declared that Elçi´s death was a planned attack and blamed the ruling AKP party. “This planned assassination targeted law and justice through Tahir Elci. … Tahir Elci was targeted by the AKP rule and its media and a lynching campaign was launched against him.” The HDP did not hesitate to remind that on October 19th, a warrant was issued against Elçi charging him with “propaganda for a terror organization.” The reason was that he during a CNN television program had stated that “PKK is not a terrorist organization… Although some of its actions have the nature of terror, the PKK is an armed political movement.”

Turkey´s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that it was unclear whether Elci was caught in a crossfire, or was assassinated, though he stated that: “The target is Turkey. It’s an attack on peace and harmony in Turkey.” On the same note Erdogan said the shooting was a clear indication that Turkey was right in “its determination to fight terrorism.”


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“Nothing Will Be the Same” for Turkish Press After Recent Elections Tue, 01 Dec 2015 07:39:40 +0000 Joris Leverink 0 Analysis: Press Freedom Shaken in Zimbabwe Sun, 08 Nov 2015 07:33:10 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo 0 Turkey Elections: AKP Strategy Pays Off, Kurds Continue to Struggle Wed, 04 Nov 2015 07:10:18 +0000 Joris Leverink 0 Journalists Under Siege As Occupational Hazards Rise Mon, 02 Nov 2015 23:17:38 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As news coverage from conflict zones — and reporting from authoritarian regimes– continue to be occupational hazards, journalists may fast become an “endangered species.”

RSF renames Paris streets after journalists who were the victims of crimes.

RSF renames Paris streets after journalists who were the victims of crimes.

The United Nations commemorated ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists” on Nov. 2 – even as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed the sad realities of a profession constantly under siege.

More than 700 journalists have been killed in the last decade — one every five days — simply for bringing news and information to the public, he recounted.

“Many perish in the conflicts they cover so fearlessly. But all too many have been deliberately silenced for trying to report the truth.”

Regrettably, only 7.0 percent of such cases have been resolved, and less than one crime out of 10 is even fully investigated.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and justice systems.

According to CPJ, 94 percent of journalists killed are local and only 6.0 percent are foreign correspondents. Male journalists account for 94 percent of journalists killed.

Early this year, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Irina Bokova condemned the killing of 87 journalists, media workers, and social media producers, in 2014 alone.

Akshaya Kumar, Deputy United Nations Director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS too often crimes against journalists go unmarked by the U.N. system, especially in conflict zones like South Sudan or places in crisis like Burundi.

U.N. monitors who are on the ground as a part of peacekeeping missions or the offices of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) can and should do much more to push for investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for attacks on journalists, she added.

“Otherwise, when state security forces attack brave journalists like Esdras Ndikumana of Burundi and Peter Julius Moi of South Sudan, they benefit from a climate of impunity.”

In a dedication to fallen or victimized journalists, Reporters Without Borders has decided to rename 12 Parisian streets after journalists who have been murdered, tortured or disappeared.

The renamed streets are those with embassies of countries where journalists have been the victims of unpunished crimes.

The embassy addresses have been changed to draw attention to the failure of these countries to take action and to remind them of their obligation to do whatever is needed to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice, the Paris-based organization said in a statement released Nov. 2.

RSF (the French acronym for Reporters Without Borders) said it is using these 12 emblematic cases to highlight the fact that crimes of violence against journalists usually go unpunished because official investigations are inadequate or non-existent and because governments are apathetic.

RSF calls on the public to support the #FightImpunity campaign by visiting the website.

The ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ was proclaimed by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly to highlight the urgent need to protect journalists, and to commemorate the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on Nov. 2, 2013.

Meanwhile, CPJ said the ambush of a convoy in South Sudan and the hacking deaths of bloggers in Bangladesh propelled the two nations onto the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index of countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go unpunished.

According to the report released last month, “Getting Away With Murder,” the worst offender is Somalia, which edges Iraq out of that spot for the first time since CPJ began compiling the index in 2008.

One or more journalists have been murdered in Somalia every year over the past decade, and the government has proved unable or unwilling to investigate.

In Iraq, CPJ said, targeted killings have ebbed since the Iraq War. More recently, Islamic State (IS) has abducted and killed at least two journalists, but violence and fierce control of information have made it impossible for CPJ to accurately document additional cases.

Only Colombia has shown enough convictions in journalist murders and decrease in violence to exit the list since 2014.

“Despite calls by the United Nations for states to take greater steps to protect journalists in situations of armed conflict and to ensure accountability for crimes against the press, little progress has been made in combatting impunity worldwide,” said Elisabeth Witchel, author of the report and CPJ’s consultant on the Global Campaign Against Impunity.

“More than half of the countries on the index are democracies with functioning law enforcement and judicial institutions, but killers still go free. The international community must continue to put pressure on these governments to live up to their commitments.”

“The cases of impunity that we are presenting are terrible symbols of passivity or deliberate inaction on the part of certain governments,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

Last month, RSF referred the cases of missing journalists to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

In a letter sent to the chairs of these two working groups, Ariel Dulitzky and Seong-Phil Hong, Deloire has asked them to open or re-open investigations into these cases and to initiate the relevant procedures with countries breaking international law in this area.

The list includes: María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe (Mexico), missing since 2009; Borja Lázaro (Colombia), missing since 2014; Prageeth Ekneligoda (Sri Lanka), missing since 2010; Ahmed Rilwan (Maldives), missing since 2014; Pirouz Davani (Iran), missing since 1998; Sofiane Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari (Libya), missing since September 8 2014; Nazım Babaoğlu (Turkey), missing since 1994; “Chief” Ebrima Manneh (Gambia), missing since 2006; Eleven journalists (Eritrea), missing since 2001.

The others named were five journalists working for Libya’s Barqa TV – an Egyptian cameraman (Mohamed Galal) and four Libyans (Khaled Al-Subhi, Younès Al-Mabrouk, Abdussalam Al-Maghrebi and Youssef Al-Qamoudi). At least nine journalists from Iraq have been missing since 2014.

The writer can be contacted at

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Rich Gulf Nations Tight-Lipped on Growing Refugee Crisis Tue, 08 Sep 2015 14:39:54 +0000 Thalif Deen A woman waits with her son outside the registration centre in Kos, just kilometres from the Turkish coast. For Syrians, the process is now easier, thanks to a ship-based registration centre docked at the island. For others, like this woman, the wait continues. So far in 2015, 160,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, already almost four times more than in the previous year. Credit: Photo: Stephen Ryan/IFRC

A woman waits with her son outside the registration centre in Kos, just kilometres from the Turkish coast. For Syrians, the process is now easier, thanks to a ship-based registration centre docked at the island. For others, like this woman, the wait continues. So far in 2015, 160,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, already almost four times more than in the previous year. Credit: Photo: Stephen Ryan/IFRC

By Thalif Deen

As Western and Central European nations seem overwhelmed by the growing refugee crisis – triggered mostly by the inflow of hundreds and thousands of displaced people largely from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq – one lingering question remains unanswered: why aren’t some of the rich Arab Gulf nations reaching out to help these hapless refugees?

The U.N. Committee on the Protection of Migrant Workers, the lead United Nations body dealing with issues relating to migrants, says millions of people have been forced to migrate from their homeland in search of safe havens abroad due to the on-going war in Syria.“The central question for Europe is: In the coming years will the migrants and their families be successfully integrated into European societies?” -- Joseph Chamie

“While neighbouring States have opened their borders to millions of Syrian migrants, other countries, especially in Europe and elsewhere, notably the Gulf States, should do more to address one of the most tragic mass displacements of people since World War II,” says the Committee.

Joseph Chamie, an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS some neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have accepted very large numbers of refugees (according to U.N. figures, over 3.5 million people).

However, other nearby countries, notably Israel and the Arab Persian Gulf countries, have not been willing to accept the current refugees, he said.

The primary reason for the non-acceptance, he pointed out, is apparently the refugees are viewed as politically destabilising.

“The Gulf countries have admitted large numbers of South Asians and North Africans who are not considered immigrants, but temporary foreign workers who are expected to return to their homes. Also, Israel has accepted refugees in the past, but virtually all have been Jewish,” said Chamie, who has worked at the U.N. on population and migration issues for more than a quarter century and was also a former director of research at the Center for Migration Studies in New York and editor of the International Migration Review.

The Gulf nations which have virtually ignored the refugee crisis include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

However, in a statement issued Tuesday, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Kuwait, under the leadership of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, has hosted three annual pledging conferences since 2013.

As a result, billions of dollars have been raised in order to support the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, with the participation of 78 member states and 38 humanitarian organisations.

In 2015 alone, donors at the Kuwait 3 conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars, IOM said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already declared that Israel is a “very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth”, but pointed out Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa.

“We have already devotedly cared for approximately 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria, and we have helped them to rehabilitate their lives. We must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism,” he said.

With about eight million people, Israel has been described as a country founded mostly by refugees. But it is now building a new fence, about 18 miles long, along its border with Jordan to ward off “illegal migration and hostile infiltrations.”

“We must control our borders, against both illegal immigrants and terrorism,” Netanyahu said after a Cabinet meeting last week.

His statement drew strong criticism from Isaac Herzog, head of the main opposition Zionist Union party, who recounted the history of the Jewish people seeking safe haven from persecution: “Our people experienced first-hand the silence of the world. You have forgotten what it is to be Jews: Refugees. Persecuted.”

“The prime minister of the Jewish people would not shut his heart and the gates when people are fleeing for their lives, with babies in their arms, from persecutors,” said Herzog.

In a statement released Monday the U.N. Committee said Syrian migrants, pushed to take extreme action in search of secure and decent lives for their families, are literally putting their lives at risk to reach Europe.

“Hundreds of men, women and children have died while trying to reach safe shores. This is unconscionable in the view of the Committee.”

“We are once again shocked and dismayed at the appalling loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea”, Committee Chair Francisco Carrion Mena said following the latest drowning of Syrian migrants off the coast of Turkey last week – even as the Committee was meeting in Geneva.

Chamie told IPS It should come as no surprise that people are migrating. Given the current state of the world, the question should be: “Why aren’t more people migrating?”

In addition to globalisation, communication technologies and social media, powerful push/pull forces are operating to produce the current migration flows: poverty, violence, corruption, unemployment, repression and rapid population growth on the one side versus wealth, jobs, safety, social services, freedom and population decline on the other, he added.

While everyone has the right to leave their country, Chamie said, they do not have the right to enter another country. This paradox is the “Catch-22” that the growing numbers of migrants and destination nations are confronting.

The supply of potential migrants, who are free to leave their homelands, simply greatly exceeds the demand for migrants, which is set by the receiving countries. If people cannot enter a country as legal migrants, then many are choosing to enter illegally or overstay their legal visit, he noted.

“Today many migrants are indeed refugees as they are coming from worn-torn countries. And there are large numbers who are not strictly refugees, but are seeking improved economic opportunities and more secure living conditions for themselves and their families.”

He said many are wondering what will be the consequence of the current migration flows. These migratory flows are not going to stop any time soon and with them will come significant demographic, social, economic, political and cultural changes.

“The central question for Europe is: In the coming years will the migrants and their families be successfully integrated into European societies?” Chamie said.

And for the international community the key question is how to effectively address the root causes of the recent migration surges. In the recent past, the receiving countries have largely been unwilling to address these matters at the global level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Italy Joins Internet Rights ‘Club’ Thu, 03 Sep 2015 19:01:31 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin By Andrea Pettrachin
ROME, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

Italy has finally joined the restricted club of states in the world that have chosen the constitutional path for regulating the Internet – or at least has taken a significant step in that direction – by adopting a Declaration of Internet Rights.

It is now looking to present the Declaration at the Internet Governance Forum scheduled for November in João Pessoa, Brazil.

The drafting process lasted more than one year, which is quick by normal Italian bureaucratic standards, and observers were surprised that it had seen the light of the day given what they says is the backwardness of the country’s digital infrastructures.Many questions related to access and use of the Internet go well beyond national borders because of the very nature of the Internet and therefore call for a coordinated effort at the international level

A number of progressive Italian media hailed the Declaration as of “historical significance” in view of the visibility and prestige that it will give Italy on internet governance issues within the global community.

Unlike other countries, where proposals for Internet Bills of Rights or Declarations have been promoted mainly by scholars, associations, dynamic coalitions, enterprises, or groups of stakeholders, the Declaration’s promoters have stressed that the drafting process was characterised by “peer-to-peer relations between institutions and citizens, so that the whole construction has become horizontal.”

In fact, the Declaration is the outcome of a complex and open multi-stakeholder process, which ended with the direct involvement of Italian citizens through a four-month public consultation on the Internet.

Nevertheless, momentum for the Declaration is closely associated with the figures of Laura Boldrini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and former spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Stefano Rodotà, an Italian jurist and politician and long-time advocate of a “Magna Carta” for the networked society who headed the committee of experts which drafted the document.

Explaining the contents of the Declaration, Rodotà said that unlike almost other similar initiatives,  the Italian Declaration : “does not contain specific and detailed wording of the different principles and rights already stated by international documents and national constitutions” but attempts to “identify the specific principles and rights of the digital world, by underlining not only their peculiarities but also the way in which they generally contribute to redefining the entire sphere of rights.”

The Declaration covers a wide range of issues, from the “fundamental right to Internet access” and net neutrality to the notion of “informational self-determination”. It also includes provisions on the security, integrity and inviolability of IT systems and domains, mass surveillance, the right to anonymity and the development of digital identity. It also deals with the highly-debated idea of granting online citizens the “right to be forgotten”.

The Declaration is critical of the opacity of the terms of service devised by digital platform operators, who are “required to behave honestly and fairly” and, most of all, give “clear and simple information on how the platform operates.”

Rodotà pointed out that the set of rights recognised in the Declaration “does not guarantee general freedom on the Internet, but specifically aims at preventing the dependency of people from the outside” through, for example, “expropriation of the right to freely develop one’s personality and identity as may happen with the wide and increasing use of algorithms and probabilistic techniques.”

The importance of needs linked to security and the market are taken into consideration but, according to the promoters of the initiative, there cannot be a balance on equal terms between these interests and fundamental rights and freedoms. In particular, “security needs shall not determine the establishment of a society of surveillance, control and social sorting.”

Renata Avila of Guatemala, who heads the “Web We Want” campaign launched by the World Wide Web Foundation, expressed her satisfaction with the section of the Declaration dedicated to net neutrality and free software, but said that it should have had more explicit and stronger recognition of “the right of people to communicate in private and the right to anonymity.”

The next step for the Italian Declaration concerns it status. It is currently simply a political document with no legal value, although Boldrini has said that it will be the subject of a parliamentary “motion” in the coming months.

As the basis for a legally-binding document, it has much in common with national legislation concerning the Internet in Brazil and the Philippines. However, it promoters note that the Italian declaration was created with an international framework in mind.

Its rationale, they say, is that “the many questions related to access and use of the Internet go well beyond national borders because of the very nature of the Internet and therefore call for a coordinated effort at the international level.”

According to the promoters, the main aim of the Declaration is not limited to being a text for the creation of new national legislation, but aims at being a contribution to public debate that points to possible legislative developments at all levels, “from national legislation to international treaties.”

For his part, Rodotà hoped that the Italian Declaration of Internet Rights would serve as an instrument for the “consolidation of a common international debate and of a culture highlighting common dynamics in different legal systems”.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Sahara Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:45:12 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences” – Spanish journalist Luís de Vega
This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Egypt’s Terror Law Violates “Fundamental Freedoms” Mon, 17 Aug 2015 20:31:26 +0000 Kitty Stapp Grafitti in Cairo showing police brutality. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Egyptian authorities are already holding a record number of journalists behind bars, and a draconian new anti-terror law signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday will further broaden the crackdown on dissent, press freedom groups warn.

It imposes heavy penalties on journalists who publish “false news,” including fines of up to 64,000 dollars for stories that contradict official reports on terrorist attacks. Critics say this will create a chilling effect on independent reporting, particularly on smaller presses.

On Monday, Said Benarbia, Director of the International Commission of Jurists, Middle East and North Africa Programme, said, “The promulgation of the Counter-Terrorism Law by President el-Sisi expands the list of repressive laws and decrees that aim to stifle dissent and the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

“Egypt’s authorities must ensure the law is not used as a tool of repression and, to this end, comprehensively revise it so that it fully complies with international human rights law and standards,” he added.

Mahmoud Sultan, chief editor of the pro-Islamist newspaper Al-Misriyun, Tweeted that, “The anti-terrorism law signed by Sisi clearly tells journalists and the media and anyone with an opinion: Very dark days ahead.”

The ICJ said the law also gives state officials broad immunity from criminal responsibility for the use of force in the course of their duties, including the use of lethal force when it is not strictly necessary to protect lives.

“[The new law] grants sweeping surveillance and detention powers to prosecutors, entrenches terrorism circuits within the court system (which have in the past frequently involved fair trial violations), and grants the President far-reaching, discretionary powers to ‘take the necessary measures’ to maintain public security, where there is a ‘danger of terrorist crimes.'”

Press freedom groups have strongly criticised the law since it first appeared in draft form, with an earlier incarnation (since softened, following international outcry) threatening to jail journalists who printed information that contradicted the official line.

In a letter to al-Sisi last month, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), noted that “your government arbitrarily imprisons journalists using national security and anti-terror laws. In a prison census conducted on June 1, CPJ found that Egypt was holding at least 18 journalists in jail in relation to their work, the highest since CPJ began keeping records.”

Most of the imprisoned journalists are accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt, he noted. At least five other journalists have been arrested since then.

According to Al Jazeera, financing “terrorist groups” will also carry a penalty of life in prison, which in Egypt is 25 years. Inciting violence, which includes “promoting ideas that call for violence”, brings between five and seven years in jail, as does creating or using websites that spread such ideas.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nuclear Deal Could Offer Glimmer of Hope for Jailed Journalist in Iran Fri, 14 Aug 2015 17:22:40 +0000 Nora Happel Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit:

By Nora Happel

As Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian awaits his verdict, human rights advocates and press freedom groups continue to condemn the trial and call for his immediate release.

It has been over a year since the Washington Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief, Jason Rezaian, was jailed on charges including espionage for the United States and anti-Iranian propaganda. On Monday, Rezaian spoke in his own defence at a final closed-door hearing. His verdict is expected to be announced next week.“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced." -- Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed

Following a midnight raid on July 22, 2014, Rezaian and his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist for the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, were detained along with two American photojournalists. Unlike his wife and the two journalists, who were released after a short time, Rezaian remained in custody at Tehran’s Evin Prison where he was “subjected to months of interrogation, isolation, and threats”, his brother Ali Rezaian told The Atlantic.

In a previous article on Jason Rezaian’s incarceration, Ali Rezaian told IPS about his brother’s endeavour to show his readers a different side of Iran and encourage people to visit the country.

Indeed, Jason Rezaian, who is also a former IPS correspondent for Iran, used to move beyond the typical coverage of the most critical topics such as the Iranian nuclear programme, focusing instead on social and cultural issues. This is why his detention was all the more met with astonishment and dismay.

Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was herself detained by Iranian security authorities in 2007, told IPS: “I truly cannot understand why they went after Rezaian because he avoided critical issues and kept to social issues. But as a foreign journalist in Iran, he must have been under surveillance and they were following him.

“When the judiciary decided to arrest him, it was a way for hardliners to do harm to the government who was negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal. So my understanding is that Jason’s detention is due to domestic issues rather than to Jason having done something outrageous.”

In a recent New York Times article, Esfandiari considered Rezaian’s detention in the context of negotiations between the Iranian government and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) on the Iranian nuclear programme “a ploy to weaken Rouhani”.

A moderate reformer, President Hassan Rouhani has sought to improve American-Iranian relations and facilitate the reintegration of Iran into the international community, she explained. However, since Rouhani’s election, hardliners including Iran’s intelligence services, the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been critical of Rouhani’s reforms and – regarding the nuclear programme – have been pushing for confrontation with Western governments instead of concessions, she added.

Esfandiari told IPS: “The detention of Rezaian probably came as much of a surprise to Rouhani and his cabinet members as to all of us and I’m sure that behind the scenes, his government tries to pressure the judiciary to release Rezaian.”

The Washington Post editorial board also evoked the context of the nuclear negotiations as a major reason for Rezaian’s custody, but rather considers Rezaian a means of pressure for the regime: “It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is being used as a human pawn in the regime’s attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations.”

Hopes have been expressed that the Iran nuclear deal could prove helpful in achieving Rezaian’s release as Iran’s image abroad would be even more at stake and the supposed reasons for Rezaian’s arrest no longer relevant.

Yet, despite the international accord on Iran’s nuclear programme achieved last month and currently awaiting approval by the U.S. Congress, Rezaian has remained in prison.

All eyes are now on the verdict which might be delivered as early as next week, according to Rezaian’s lawyer Leila Ahsan. Iranian law provides for verdicts to be announced within one week of the last hearing. However, no official date for the verdict has been released yet.

Esfandiari mentioned three possible outcomes. The luckiest scenario would be for Jason Rezaian to get sentenced to time served, meaning he will be freed immediately either on bail or on his own recognizance. Other possibilities involve a sentence of 15 or 16 months, meaning two additional months in prison or, in the worst case, a much longer sentence which he will be able to appeal.

Human rights advocates and press freedom groups condemn not only the unjustified and politically motivated incarceration itself but also the entire conduct of the trial and especially the delays in the judicial proceedings.

Sherif Mansour, MENA Programme Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS, “According to Iranian law, no person may be detained at an Iranian prison for more than a year, unless charged with murder. This means Rezaian should have been released by July 22, 2015. This did not happen. We continue to condemn the trial and call for Rezaian’s unconditional release.”

Last month, The Washington Post formally appealed to the U.N. for urgent action in the Rezaian case by filing a petition with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. The petition denounces the unlawful trial, including Rezaian’s solitary confinement, strenuous interrogations and insufficient medical treatment.

Earlier this year, Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, along with other high-profile human rights experts, also expressed serious concerns about the trial.

“In May… [we] recalled that Mr. Rezaian’s trial on charges of ‘espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic’ began behind closed doors following his detainment for nearly 10 months without formal charges, and following a number of months in solitary confinement.”

“Concerns, therefore, about fair trial standards in this case persist, and I continue to hope that the arbitrary nature of Mr. Rezaian’s detention and charges will be confirmed by the court,” Shaheed told IPS.

According to Shaheed, the human rights situation in Iran, especially regarding freedom of expression, continues to be worrisome.

“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced.

“Journalists, writers, netizens, and human rights defenders continued to be interrogated and arrested by government agencies during the first half of 2015, and the Judiciary reportedly continues to impose heavy prison sentences on individuals for the legitimate exercise of expression. Thirty of those currently detained are charged with ‘propaganda against the system,’ 25 with ‘insulting’ either a political leader or religious concept, and 12 are charged with harming ‘national security’,” he said.

“The human rights situation in Iran remains quite concerning. Despite small steps forward in some areas of concern, the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by the international human rights mechanisms for the past three decades persist. This includes issues with the independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s judiciary and its legal community.”

“Of particular alarm is the surge in executions, which amounted to 694 hangings as of early last months, a rate unseen in 25 years. The majority of these executions were for offense not considered capital crimes under international human rights laws.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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HRW to Honour Six Human Rights Defenders Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:45:04 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran 2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India) © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India) © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

By Jaya Ramachandran
BERLIN, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

Governments around the world are obliged to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, according to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.  But reality is far removed from international covenants.

This is evidenced yet again by the valiant struggle for human rights in Malaysia, war-torn Syria, the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, and in Uganda. Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced earlier this week that it is honouring four “courageous and tireless advocates for human rights” with the 2015 prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

The four leading voices for justice in their countries, include: Nisha Ayub, an impassioned human rights defender on transgender rights in Malaysia; Yara Bader, a journalist and human rights activist exposing the detention and torture of journalists in war-torn Syria; and Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist dedicated to fighting for human rights in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

According to the Human Rights Watch, Ismayilova is currently behind bars and on trial on bogus tax and other charges brought in retribution for her reporting.

Yet another champion of rights is Nicholas Opiyo, an eminent human rights lawyer and founder of the human rights organisation Chapter Four Uganda. He has been working untiringly to defend civil liberties in Uganda.

The four 2015 honourees and two 2014 recipients of the award, Father Bernard Kinvi from the Central African Republic and Dr. M.R. Rajagopal from India, will be honoured at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners held in more than 20 cities worldwide in November 2015 and March-April 2016, Human Rights Watch said on Aug 10.

Ayub will be honoured in Amsterdam; Bader in London and Paris; Ismayilova in Munich and Geneva; and Opiyo in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Father Kinvi will tour North America and will be honoured at dinners in New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Toronto. Dr. Rajagopal will be honoured in Hanover.

The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on Feb. 12, 2009.

Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on Rwanda, the 1994 genocide, and its aftermath. The Human Rights Watch annual award honours her outstanding commitment to, and defence of, human rights. It celebrates the valour of people who put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination, and oppression, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Alison Des Forges Award honours people who work courageously and selflessly to defend human rights, often in dangerous situations and at great personal sacrifice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The honourees have dedicated their lives to defending the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable people.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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