Inter Press Service » Press Freedom http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:06:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141320 During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philibert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

The icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 18:25:00 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141308 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990."The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn't seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient." -- Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Smart Phones New Tool to Capture Human Rights Violationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:31:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141263 Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

The widespread use of digital technology – including satellite imagery, body cameras and smart phones – is fast becoming a new tool in monitoring and capturing human rights violations worldwide.

Singling out the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Christof Heyns says: “We have all seen how the actions of police officers and others who use excessive force are captured on cell phones and lead to action against the perpetrators.”“We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen.'" -- Christof Heyns

Billions of people around the world now carry a powerful weapon to capture such events in their pockets, he said.

“The fact that this is well-known can be a significant deterrent to abuses,” Heyns said, in a report to the 29th session of the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began its three-week session in Geneva June 15.

Heyns said the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

In his report, Heyns urged the U.N. system and other international human rights bodies to “catch up” with rapidly developing innovations in human rights fact-finding and investigations.

“The digital age presents challenges that can only be met through the smart use of digital tools,” he said.

Javier El-Hage, General Counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS that HRF can corroborate the special rapporteur’s findings that ICTs, like cellphone cameras or even satellite imagery, play a key role in documenting extrajudicial executions.

From democratic societies like Germany or the United States where ‘civilian witnesses’ documenting instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions create an effective check on law enforcement abuse, to societies under competitive authoritarian regimes like Kazakhstan or Venezuela where witnesses themselves can face extrajudicial execution for filming police brutality, ICTs play a huge role in documenting this egregious type of human rights violation, he said.

“Even in North Korea, the world’s most repressive and tightly closed society, satellite imagery has long helped determine the exact location and population estimates of prison camps, and recently helped uncover a disturbing case of executions by firing squad, where executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns.”

In his report, Heyns told the Human Rights Council the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

He said various organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger.

“New information tools can also empower human rights investigations and help to foster accountability where people have lost their lives or were seriously injured,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The use of other video technologies, ranging from CCTV cameras to body-worn “cop cams”, can further contribute to filling information gaps.

Resources such as satellite imagery to verify such videos, or sometime to show evidence of violations themselves, is also an important dimension, he noted.

But despite the many advantages offered by ICTs, Heyns said it would be short-sighted not to see the risks as well.

“Those with the power to violate human rights can easily use peoples’ emails and other communications to target them and also to violate their privacy,” he said.

The fact that people can use social media to organise spontaneous protests can lead authorities to perceive a threat – and to over-react.

Moreover, there is a danger that what is not captured on video is not taken seriously. “We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen,’” he stressed.

El-Hage told IPS his Foundation also agrees with the special rapporteur that ICTs are a double-edged sword because through them governments can “easily access the emails and other communications” of law-abiding citizens, especially political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders, “to target them and violate their privacy.”

HRF has recently denounced the cases of targeted surveillance and persecution against pro-democracy activists Hisham Almiraat in Morocco and Waleed Abu AlKhair in Saudi Arabia, and was among the organisations that submitted a white paper to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to inform his own report on the way ‘encryption’ and ‘anonymity’ can protect both the rights to privacy and free speech.

In his report, Heyns also cautioned that not all communities, and not all parts of the world, are equally connected, and draws special attention to the fact that “the ones that not connected are often in special need of protection.”

“There is still a long way to go for all of us to understand fully how we can use these evolving and exciting but in some ways also scary new tools to their best effect,” Heyn said pointing out that not all parts of the international human rights community are fully aware of the power and pitfalls of digital fact-finding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Democracy on the Retreat in Over 96 of the 193 U.N. Member States, Says New Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:22:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141244 U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

Democracy is on the retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise in more than 96 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, according to a new report released here.

The two regions of “highest concern” for defenders of civic space are Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, which between them account for over half of the countries counted."Legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents." -- Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

These violations are increasing not only in countries perceived to be democratic but also in countries with blatantly repressive regimes.

“The widespread systematic attack on these core civil society liberties has taken many forms, including assault, torture, kidnapping and assassination,” says the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report.

“We have known for some time that encroachments on civic space and persecution of peaceful activists were on the rise but it’s more pervasive than many may think,” said Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, a South Africa-based international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide.

“Our monitoring in 2014 shows that legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents,” he added.

The report says while activists engaged in political reform, uncovering corruption and human rights violations continue to be targeted, those defending local communities from land grabs and environmental degradation, as well as those promoting minority group rights, have been subjected to various forms of persecution.

“The link between unethical business practices and closing civic space is becoming clearer as global inequality and capture of power and resources by a handful of political and economic elite rises. “

Advocacy for equitable sharing of natural resources and workers’ rights is becoming increasingly fraught with danger, says the report.

The examples cited range from the killings of environmental activists in Brazil to the intimidation of organisations challenging the economic discourse in India, to arbitrary detention of activists opposing oil exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

 

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Asked to identify some of the worst offenders, Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, told IPS : “We don’t provide a ranking of the countries’ violations, but we are able to categorise limitations on civil society activities into completely closed countries and active violators of civic freedoms.”

He said “closed countries” are where virtually no civic activity can take place due to an extremely repressive environment. These include Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

There is a second list of countries that are active violators of civil society rights – meaning they imprison, intimidate and attack civil society members and put in place all kinds of regulations to limit the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly those working to uncover corruption and human rights violations, Tiwana said.

These include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

The report also points out some of the tactics deployed to close civic space include passing restrictive laws and targeting individual civil society organisations (CSOs) by raiding their offices, freezing their bank accounts or deregistering them.

A number of democracies are also engaging in illicit surveillance of civil society activists, further weakening respect for human rights.

Stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society activists by powerful political figures and right-wing elements remains an area of concern.

“When citizens’ most basic democratic rights are being violated in more than half the world’s countries, alarm bells must start ringing for the international community and leaders everywhere,” said Sriskandarajah.

Tiwana told IPS governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

“There appears to be no let-up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, he said, the repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

And activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe — where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia, Tiwana pointed out, countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia have a history of repressive governance and in Thailand, where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

Asked what role the United Nations can play in naming and shaming these countries, Tiwana said the U.N. Human Rights Council has emerged as a key international forum for the protection of civic freedoms particularly through the Universal Periodic Review process where each country gets its human rights record reviewed every four years.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is currently collating best practices to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein has been an active supporter of civil society’s ability to operate freely, as was his predecessor, Navi Pillay, who was ardent advocate of civic freedoms, Tiwana said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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South Sudan Again Tops Fragile States Indexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:51:19 +0000 Beatrice Paez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141192 South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

By Beatrice Paez
SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick, Canada, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, South Sudan has been designated as the most fragile nation in the world, plagued by intensifying internal conflict that has displaced more than two million of its people.

Headline-making events of the past year have spurred much of the movement of countries’ rankings – for better or worse – in the Fragile States Index (FSI), a joint annual report by Foreign Policy magazine and think-tank Fund for Peace (FFP) released on Jun. 17.“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts...and yet people were able to really rally at the local, national level.” -- Nate Haken

Sub-Saharan Africa found itself leading the pack, with seven out of the top 10 countries ranked as the most fragile. As far as regional trends go, the Islamic State’s encroaching influence pulled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq into the top 10 most-worsened countries of 2015.

Cuba stood out as the most-improved country this past decade, owing its designation to the thawing of relations with the United States and the gradual opening of its economy to foreign investment. Though trends suggest the nation is on track to improving conditions, there remains the challenge of access to public services and upholding human rights.

In an effort to measure a state’s fragility, the index accounts for event-driven factors and makes use of data to illuminate patterns and trends that could contribute to instability. The report analysed the progress of 178 countries around the world.

“At the top of the index, countries do tend to move minimally, but at the centre of the index, you tend to see a lot more movement,” said Nate Haken, senior associate of FFP. “That’s partly because fragility begets fragility and stability begets stability.”

And yet, the report highlighted, there are outliers like Nigeria that defy easy categorisation even as pressures on all fronts – political, social, economic – would indicate a country on the brink of descending into conflict.

“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts,” Haken told IPS. “Oil prices were down, there was more killing this past year.”

But in an unexpected turn, Haken noted, the political opposition led by Muhammadu Buhari emerged as a credible threat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. He added that many expected a polarising outcome that would pit the north and south against each other, whatever the outcome.

“I think most observers looking at these trends thought this was bound to be a disaster,” said Haken. “Every empirical measure shows a high degree of risk and yet, people were able to really rally at the local, national level.”

Meanwhile, Portugal and Georgia joined the ranks of Cuba for the most improved, with strides being made in the economy.

Whereas some countries’ progress or decline has held steady, a closer look can reveal an emerging narrative, said Haken. The United States’ year-over-year score (ranked at 89) has remained flat, but group grievances – tensions among groups – has been increasing since 2007, with respect to the immigration of children fleeing Central America and protest against the police over racial relations.

Far from being a predictive tool, the index functions as a diagnostic tool for policy makers working in human rights and economic development to identify high-priority areas, he noted. As well, it serves to turn the spotlight on countries that seemingly have marginal bearing for the international community.

In the case of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may not have figured large in headlines, but the “ripple effects across the region” also had far-reaching consequences for the international community as the world scrambled to contain the outbreak, Haken noted.

Demographic pressures – massive rural-urban migration – coupled with lack of proper road infrastructure gave way to the spread of Ebola.

“One thing that came out of the index is how critical infrastructure is for sustainable human security,” he said. “… Once it began to spread, it was difficult for medical personnel and supplies to reach the rural areas.”

This regional crisis, in particular, served as a reminder that “post-conflict” nations “on path to recovery” still face vulnerabilities, the report noted.

The index relies on 12 indicators (plus other variables) to make its assessment. They account for state legitimacy; demographic pressures; economic performance; intervention of state or non-state actors; provision of public services; and population flight, among others. Each indicator is given equal weight, and countries take a numerical score, with one for the best performance and 10 for the worst.

On this basis, policy makers are encouraged to use the index to frame research questions and to help determine the allocation of humanitarian aid.

Since 2014, FSI moved away from the use of the term “failed” in favour of “fragile,” as a way of acknowledging that in some instances, the pressures a state faces can be beyond its control, said Haken.

For instance, he cited refugee crises in which governments – ill-equipped or not – take on a large number of refugees.

“Failure connotes culpability somewhere, whereas that’s not what this index was ever trying to do,” he said. “It was looking at factors – some of which governments have influence over, some of which they don’t.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Chechen Media Outlet Issues Death Threats against Russian Journalisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/chechen-media-outlet-issues-death-threats-against-russian-journalist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chechen-media-outlet-issues-death-threats-against-russian-journalist http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/chechen-media-outlet-issues-death-threats-against-russian-journalist/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 20:57:59 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141115 By Nora Happel
NEW YORK, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

Press freedom groups are condemning veiled death threats against Novaya Gazeta correspondent Elena Milashina by a Chechen online news portal last month.

In a May 19 editorial entitled “The United States Uses Pawns”, Mavsar Varayev, deputy editor of the state-sponsored Chechen media outlet Grozny Inform, warned Milashina that she is likely to become “the next victim” in a series of murders, supposedly orchestrated by U.S. and Israeli intelligence in a bid to “destabilise” Russia.

Elena Milashina with her International Women of Courage Award at the 2013 awards ceremony in Washington. Credit: State Department photo/Public Domain

Elena Milashina with her International Women of Courage Award at the 2013 awards ceremony in Washington. Credit: State Department photo/Public Domain

He explicitly said she could meet the same fate as Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist murdered in 2006, and Boris Nemtsov, the Russian political opposition leader murdered in March 2015.

As reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Milashina considers the article an “order for [her] murder”.

Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS: “We condemn the threats against our colleague Elena Milashina and call for a thorough investigation.”

“The threats on Grozny Inform follow a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Elena that has been carried out in the pro-government media, including on national television. This is a disturbing trend that can translate into real risk on the ground.

“Given that Elena covers such sensitive subjects as corruption and human rights abuses in the volatile North Caucasus region, Russian authorities must carry out an effective probe into the threats and ensure Elena’s safety as an urgent priority.”

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta also perceives the Chechen editorial as a “direct death threat” against an employee and has called upon Russian authorities to investigate the issue.The threats on Grozny Inform follow a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Elena that has been carried out in the pro-government media, including on national television." -- Nina Ognianova of CPJ

Human rights and press freedom organisations have strongly condemned the death threats against Milashina and join Novaya Gazeta in calling for an independent investigation.

According to Amnesty International, “[T]he tone and the content of the article, and the context in which it is being published, in a government-owned media outlet, gives strong reason to fear that the death threats against Elena Milashina are serious.”

The editorial was published shortly after Milashina reported on the planned forced marriage of 17-year-old Louise Goylabieva to Chechen police officer Nazhud Guchigov, who is decades older (originally reported to be 57, but stating himself to be 46) and already married.

Guchigov has close links to Ramzad Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of the Chechen Republic, who faces serious allegations of human rights abuses.

After the story attracted worldwide attention, Milashina was warned by police officers at a checkpoint in Chechnya she had better be mindful of her own safety. Activists familiar with the case say the recent threats do not stand alone.

As reported by Human Rights Watch, Milashina has already on several occasions been the target of harassment and threats, apparently in relation to her reporting on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, racism, torture and the killings of journalists such as her murdered colleagues Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova.

In 2012, Milashina and her friend, Freedom House employee Ella Asoyan, were violently assaulted by two unknown men in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha. After kicking and punching the women, the men stole Milashina’s wallet and Asoyan’s laptop.

According to Human Rights Watch, the ensuing investigation by police was “half-hearted”.

In the Grozny Inform editorial, Varayev classifies the beating as “one of the necessary episodes” in preparing for Milashina’s murder.

Despite the dangers, the journalist says she does not intend to flee her country. In a recent interview with Ekho Moskvy, Milashina reiterated her will to stay in Russia and fulfil her mandate as a journalist.

In 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to Milashina’s commitment to freedom and human rights by granting her the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award, a distinction that honours women leaders worldwide who have demonstrated exceptional engagement for human rights, gender equality and social progress.

As translated by The Interpreter, the Grozny Inform editorial refers to the award in its final sentences, stating “the latest hero who will pay for their life for ‘the defense of human rights’ in Russia will be our Novaya Gazeta special correspondent. It was not at all an accident that Secretary of State John Kerry gave Milashina the International Women of Courage award for her journalistic investigation. Let’s hope that it is not posthumous…”

The episode might be viewed as part of a broader media confrontation between Russia and “the West”, which is currently playing out most visibly in the context of the Ukraine crisis, where information warfare and propaganda have assumed increasingly important roles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Why Are Threats to Civil Society Growing Around the World?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-are-threats-to-civil-society-growing-around-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-are-threats-to-civil-society-growing-around-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-are-threats-to-civil-society-growing-around-the-world/#comments Wed, 10 Jun 2015 10:38:39 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141060

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that in recent years there has been a perceptible rise in restrictions on civil space and suggests four key drivers: a global democratic deficit, a worldwide obsession with state security and countering of ‘terrorism’ by all actors except the state, rampant collusion by a handful of interconnected political and economic elites, and the disturbance caused by religious fundamentalist and evangelist groups seeking to upend the collective progress made by civil society in advancing the human rights discourse.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 10 2015 (IPS)

Whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are hounded – not by autocratic but by democratic governments – for revealing the truth about grave human rights violations. Nobel peace prize winner, writer and political activist Liu Xiaobo  is currently languishing in a Chinese prison while the killing of Egyptian protestor, poet and mother Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, apparently by a masked policeman, in January this year continues to haunt us. 

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, has documented serious abuses of civic freedoms in 96 countries in 2014 alone. The annual report of the international advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, laments that the once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression while Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2014/2015 calls it a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In recent years, there has been a perceptible rise in restrictions on civic space – the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. While the reasons for the eruption of repressive laws and attacks on dissenters vary, negative effects are being felt in both democracies and authoritarian states.

It is increasingly evident that the dangers to civic freedoms come not just from state apparatuses but also from powerful non-state actors including influential business entities and extremist groups subscribing to fundamentalist ideologies. This begs a deeper analysis into the extent and causes of this pervasive problem.

In several countries, laws continue to be drawn up to restrict civic freedoms. They include anti-terror laws that limit freedom of speech, public order laws that limit the right to protest peacefully, laws that stigmatise civil society groups through derogatory names such as ‘foreign agents’, laws that create bureaucratic hurdles to receive crucial funding from international philanthropic institutions as well as laws that prevent progressive civil society organisations from protecting the rights of marginalised minorities such as the LGBTI community.

In this situation, it is indeed possible to identify four key drivers of the pervasive assault on civic space. The first is the global democratic deficit.  Freedom House, which documents the state of democratic rights around the world, has reported declines in civil liberties and political freedoms for the ninth consecutive year in 2015.

In too many countries, peaceful activists exposing corruption and rights violations are being stigmatised as ‘national security threats’, and subjected to politically motivated trials, arbitrary detentions and worse. There appears to be no let up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.“It is increasingly evident that the dangers to civic freedoms come not just from state apparatuses but also from powerful non-state actors including influential business entities and extremist groups subscribing to fundamentalist ideologies”

Freedom of assembly is virtually non-existent in such contexts, and activists are often forced to engage online. But when they do so, they are demonised as being agents of Western security agencies.

Ironically, excessive surveillance and/or hounding of whistle-blowers by countries such as Australia, France, the United Kingdom and United States – whose foreign policies are supposed to promote democratic rights – are contributing to a global climate where close monitoring of anyone suspected of harbouring dissenting views is becoming an accepted norm.

The second driver – and linked to the global democratic deficit – is the worldwide obsession with state security and countering of ‘terrorism’ by all actors except the state. The decline in civic space began after the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 when several established democracies introduced a slew of counter-terror measures weakening human rights safeguards in the name of protecting national security.

The situation worsened after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 as authoritarian leaders witnessed the fall of long-standing dictators in Egypt and Tunisia following widespread citizen protests. The possibility of people’s power being able to overturn entrenched political systems has made authoritarian regimes extremely fearful of the free exercise of civic freedoms by citizens.

This has led to a severe push back against civil society by a number of repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. Governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

Similar reverberations have also been felt in sub-Saharan African countries with long-standing authoritarian leaders and totalitarian political parties. Thus repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia too, in countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia which have a history of repressive government and in Thailand where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

The third major driver of closing civic space is the rampant collusion and indeed capture of power and resources in most countries by a handful of interconnected political and economic elites.

Oxfam International projects that the richest one percent will own more wealth than 99 percent of the globe’s population by 2016.  Thus civil society groups exposing corruption and/or environmental degradation by politically well-connected businesses are extremely vulnerable to persecution due to the tight overlap and cosy relationships among elites.

With market fundamentalism and the neo-liberal economic discourse firmly entrenched in a number of democracies, labour, land and environmental rights activists are facing heightened challenges.

At least 29 environmental activists were reported murdered in Brazil in 2014. Canada’s centre-right government has been closely monitoring and intimidating indigenous peoples’ rights activists opposing large commercial projects in ecologically fragile areas. India’s prime minister recently urged judges to be wary of “five-star activists“ even as the efforts of Greenpeace India to protect forests from the activities of extractive industries have led it to be subjected to various forms of bureaucratic harassment including arbitrary freezing of its bank accounts.

The fourth and emerging threat to civic space comes from the disturbance caused by religious fundamentalist and evangelist groups seeking to upend the collective progress made by civil society in advancing the human rights discourse.

Failure of the international community to prevent violent conflict and address serious human rights abuses by states such as Israel and Syria is providing a fertile breeding ground for religious extremists whose ideology is deeply inimical to the existence of a vibrant and empowered civil society. 

Besides, religious fundamentalists are able to operate more freely in conflicted and politically fragile environments whose number appears to be rising, thereby exacerbating the situation for civil society organisations and activists seeking to promote equality, peace and tolerance.

Current threats to civic space and civil society activities are a symptom of the highly charged and polarised state of international affairs. The solutions to the grave and interconnected economic, ecological and humanitarian crises currently facing humanity will eventually have to come from civil society through a reassertion of its own value even as political leaders continue to undermine collective efforts.

Beginning a series of conversations on how to respond to common threats at the national, regional and international levels is critical. Establishment of solidarity protocols within civil society could be an effective way to coalesce around both individual cases of harassment as well as systemic threats such as limiting legislation or policies.

Further, the international legal framework that protects civic space needs to be strengthened. The International Bill of Rights comprising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) leaves scope for subjective interpretation of some aspects of civic freedoms.

It is perhaps time to examine the possibility of a comprehensive legally binding convention on civic space that better articulates the extent and scope of civic space, so essential to an empowered civil society.  However, laws are only as good as the commitment of those charged with overseeing their implementation.

Importantly and urgently, to reverse the global onslaught on civic space and human rights, we need visionary political leadership willing to take risks and lead by example.

Over the last few years, analysts have noted with horror the steady dismantling of hard won gains on civic freedoms. Many thought things could get no worse. … but they did.

It is time to start thinking seriously about stemming the tide before we reach the point of no return. Ending the persecution of Assange, Snowden and Liu Xiaobo could be a good start for preventing precious lives such as Shaimaa’s from being lost.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Journalists, Gov’ts Square Off in Game of Droneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-govts-square-off-in-game-of-drones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-govts-square-off-in-game-of-drones http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-govts-square-off-in-game-of-drones/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 13:29:45 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140989 On the question of privacy rights, supporters of drone journalism wonder: Is this a new ethical problem, or an old ethical problem with new technology? Credit: Richard Unten/cc by 2.0

On the question of privacy rights, supporters of drone journalism wonder: Is this a new ethical problem, or an old ethical problem with new technology? Credit: Richard Unten/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

For some, the word “drone” immediately conjures up ominous phrases like “targeted assassination” and “precision strike.”

Others, like the online retail behemoth Amazon, see the technology as way to rapidly deliver the goods to millions of customers."Blanket bans or restrictions are not a substitute for actual published rules that respect press freedoms and balance them with safety and privacy issues." -- Professor Matt Waite

In truth, the potential applications are almost limitless. Drones are commonly used in law enforcement, scientific research, search and rescue, crop spraying and a host of other fields.

A province in China is now deploying drone “quadcopters” to bust students who try to cheat on the country’s notoriously gruelling college entrance exam.

But drone technology also has the capacity to revolutionise the way journalists do their work – if civilian authorities give the green light, which is far from certain.

“Journalists around the world, from South America to the Middle East and beyond, all see the advantages of this technology and want to use it immediately,” says Professor Matt Waite of the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

“But it’s a very vulnerable time for the use of drones in journalism and this idea goes to the heart of a handful of problems around the world, namely press freedoms and aviation regulations,” he tells IPS. “Many countries are struggling to figure out how to regulate these devices, and many see journalists launching a flying camera as a threat to the government.”

Waite noted that countries with a less than free press have quickly banned the devices shortly after someone uses them, particularly if they show something the government doesn’t want the public to see. Or, instead of coming up with rules to govern conduct or application, the government simply bans the devices.

“Nepal is a perfect example,” he says. “The terrible earthquakes happened there, did massive damage and the world’s attention turned to Nepal. With it came hordes of international journalists, many of whom brought small drone platforms with them. Within a week, the government of Nepal banned drones.

“More specifically, it required government permission to fly them, and I’ve tried several times to get the requirements from the Nepalese civil aviation authority and have been ignored. Were there people flying drones in Nepal? Absolutely, from journalists to NGOs to private citizens. Were some people behaving badly and flying in places and in ways they shouldn’t have? Yes.

“But blanket bans or restrictions are not a substitute for actual published rules that respect press freedoms and balance them with safety and privacy issues.”

A drone, also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is simply an aircraft without a human pilot aboard, operated either by an onboard computer or remotely by a person. They can carry cameras and other data-gathering devices, and have already been used to report news stories ranging from fires to London’s Crossrail project.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates the country’s airspace, has yet to establish rules for integrating drones into the National Airspace System (NAS), though Congress has called for the FAA to establish such regulations by this year.

In May 2014, more than a dozen media organisations challenged the government’s ban on the use of drones by journalists, saying the FAA’s position violates First Amendment protections for news gathering. However, legislation on commercial unmanned aviation, including for use by journalists, remains at a standstill.

“Unfortunately, I think this is going to be emblematic of the next five years — governments are going to struggle to regulate the devices and their use is going to swing on a pendulum between use and restrictions,” Waite says.

“And, for the next five years, the world is going to be a giant patchwork of rules, where what’s allowed in one country is not going to be just across the border. And the differences between countries are going to be vast.”

Waite does predict progress on the issue over the longer term, noting that in a decade or so, the technology will be so prevalent that all countries will be forced to have rules.

“Journalists around the world will find the rules will allow them to fly their cameras into the sky and we’ll see this tool come into its full potential,” he says.

Matthew Schroyer of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists, which advocates for the ethical and responsible use of drone technology, says he sees two similar trends playing out in the next five to 10 years.

“One is that the barrier for entry is continuing to fall, not just thanks to the decreasing cost of the technology, but also because manufacturers are realising that drones can be more successful when they are easier to operate,” he tells IPS.

“So in that sense, drone journalism may not be such as specialised or technical field in the future, but something that becomes part of the standard journalism toolkit, just like the camera and the cell phone. That also means that drone journalism will begin to be seen less as special production, but as something that is ordinary, expected, and even mundane. That’s a helpful trend for citizens and journalists.”

He sees drone technology as having the potential to vastly enhance the investigative news-gathering process, particularly as the world grapples with a host of interlocking problems like climate change and sustainability.

“Another trend is seeing the drone not just as an eye in the sky for citizens and journalists, but as a means to collect all manner of geospatial data. Cameras are just one many types of sensors that drones can carry, and other types of sensors can detect things like plant photosynthesis, water quality, various chemicals, and other useful information that we can’t see with our own eyes,” Schroyer says.

“This means more data-driven stories that look at the real impact of natural and man-made disasters, resource extraction, land use, agriculture, and climate change. This sounds like science, but journalists need to be ready to seek information like a scientist and think like a scientist in order to carry journalism forward.”

But it all comes with a giant “if,” he cautions.

“We are seeing backlash from governments on drones, and it may not come as a surprise that these are the same places where the rights of journalists have not been protected. In order to see this future, journalists have to prove the value of the drones to the public, act safely and responsibly, and engage the public and the government about the technology in general.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Civil Society, Journalists “Risk Death” as Burundi Crackdown Intensifieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/civil-society-journalists-risk-death-as-burundi-crackdown-intensifies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-journalists-risk-death-as-burundi-crackdown-intensifies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/civil-society-journalists-risk-death-as-burundi-crackdown-intensifies/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 17:27:48 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140982 Burundi refugees at the transit centre of Busegera in Rwanda. Credit: EU/ECHO/Thomas Conan

Burundi refugees at the transit centre of Busegera in Rwanda. Credit: EU/ECHO/Thomas Conan

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

As the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Burundi Thursday, a rights group says violence has intensified in the capital Bujumbura, with individuals and groups close to the presidency and the ruling party targeting civil society activists, journalists and opposition members.

Presidential and parliamentary elections were postponed this week after almost daily protests in the capital since April over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office.

On June 2, U.N. Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Said Djinnit, had returned to the capital after attending the East African Community Summit on Sunday. But diplomatic efforts have so far failed to resolve the standoff.

Since early April, nearly 100,000 Burundians have fled their country, according to U.N. estimates, including many staff from independent media organisations. Meanwhile, those who stayed say they fear for their security if they continue to do their jobs.

“They want to break the journalists’ morale. There is harassment, phone calls, threats, blacklists,” Innocent Muhozi, the head of the Burundian Press Observatory, told the Guardian. “Some have gone into exile, others are in hiding.”

According to another media analyst and blogger in Bujumbura, “As an activist active on social media, I cannot sleep at my house any more, I cannot even stay there anymore. If I continue to work the way I did before, I risk death…The Imbonerakure have weapons and their verbal assaults spread terror.

“They say, for example: if you don’t vote for the party, we will slit your throats. They sometimes wear police uniforms, sometimes the t-shirts of the ruling party. I was personally assaulted three times. The first time, I was verbally assaulted, along with my team, by Imbonerakure bearing sticks and clubs. The second time, they broke my equipment. The third time, in the city center, a police officer hit me twice and told me: ‘If you don’t leave the area, I will shoot you down.’”

A journalist working for a radio station burned down after the coup attempt says, “The slogan of the Imbonerakure, which has even became a song, is ‘we are going to wring you out’ [tuzobamesa]. When they sing this song, they most often burst a balloon with a needle, to imitate the noise of a gun. They call the people who do not follow their group ‘Ivyitso’, literally ‘the enemies’, ‘those who are against us.’”

According to Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Africa Desk, Reporters Without Borders, “A war of information is being played out in Burundi. Reporters without Borders calls on the Burundian authorities to provide credible guarantees for the protection of journalists and the reopening of what remains of private media.

“Returning to free and pluralist information is essential to avoid disinformation and de-escalate rumors which only fuel conflict. Legitimate elections wouldn’t be conceivable unless media outlets can work without restriction and journalists can report and inform the population freely.”

Calling for stepped up efforts by the U.N. and others, Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at International Crisis Group, said, “The international community has invested so much in negotiating and implementing the Arusha agreement. If Burundi returns to conflict, it will be a terrible blow for the region but also for the credibility of all peacebuilding processes in the world.

“It will send the message that peacebuilding is just a waste of time and money.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Security Council Takes “Historic” Stand on Killings of Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 13:14:57 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140846 Protesters in Moscow demand that authorities investigate an attack on prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, 2010. Credit: Yuri Timofeyev/cc by 2.0

Protesters in Moscow demand that authorities investigate an attack on prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, 2010. Credit: Yuri Timofeyev/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

When war breaks out, most non-combatants run the other way. But a handful of courageous reporters see it as their duty to tell the world what’s happening on the ground. And many pay a high price.

Since 1992, 1,129 journalists have been killed on the job, 38 percent of them in war zones, according to figures compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). And increasingly, they are being deliberately targeted."As excellent as it may be, there is no certainty that a new resolution will in and of itself be enough to resolve the problem." -- Christophe Deloire of Reporters Without Borders

In an explicit recognition of the key role of the media in peace and security, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning all violations and abuses committed against journalists and deploring impunity for such acts.

“Recent killings of journalists have been given extensive and welcome attention around the world, including the brutal murders of Western media representatives in Syria,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

“Yet we must not forget that around 95 per cent of the killings of journalists in armed conflict concern locally-based journalists, receiving less media coverage,” he added.

Syria remains the deadliest place for journalists, with at least 80 killed there since the conflict erupted in 2011. The second and third places in journalist deaths were shared by Iraq and Ukraine.

According to CPJ, about one quarter of the journalists killed last year were members of the international press, double the proportion the group has documented in recent years.

Eliasson urged member states to implement the U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed by the U.N. Chief Executives Board on Apr. 12, 2012.

Its measures include the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists, as well as assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.

But this call may fall on deaf ears in some quarters. In March, a military spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes in Yemen openly stated that media organisations associated with the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh are legitimate targets.

On Mar. 18, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani a Yemeni journalist from Sana’a, was shot and killed by assailants on motorbikes after representing a Houthi group in a conference on Yemen’s future, while on Mar. 26 Shi’ite Houthi militiamen overran the Sana’a headquarters of three satellite television channels: Al-Jazeera, Al-Yaman-Shabab (Yemen-Youth), and Yemen Digital Media.

On Apr. 20, journalist and TV presenter Mohammed Shamsan and three other staff members of Sana’a-based television station Yemen Today were killed in an airstrike that appears to have deliberately targeted the broadcaster’s office.

Christophe Deloire, director-general of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said Wednesday that, “It’s historic that the Security Council should make a link between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect journalists, even though it may seem obvious.”

But Deloire noted that hundreds of journalists have been killed since the last resolution was adopted in 2006 – 25 this year alone – and “as excellent as it may be, there is no certainty that a new resolution will in and of itself be enough to resolve the problem.”

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power singled out Colombia, once considered the most dangerous country for journalists in South America, as taking positive action by establishing a 160-million-dollar annual fund to protect 19 groups, including journalists.

Earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with representatives of CPJ in Bogota and the Colombian press freedom group Foundation for a Free Press (FLIP) and pledged to prioritise combating impunity in attacks against the press.

While the security situation in Colombia has improved in recent years, impunity is entrenched and threats and violence against journalists continue, according to CPJ research.

“I envision a normal country where journalists won’t need bulletproof cars and bodyguards and will not need any protection,” said Santos, himself a former journalist and one-time president of the freedom of expression commission for the Inter-American Press Association.

“But for now we need to make sure that the programme is properly funded and effective,” he added.

Launched in 2011, the journalist protection programme provides protection for around 7,500 at-risk people, including human rights activists, politicians, and journalists, at a total cost of 600,000 dollars per day.

But the delegation recommended that it also focus on preventing attacks from occurring in the first place.

Colombia ranked eighth on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

Iraq ranked number one, followed by Somalia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Syria, Afghanistan and Mexico.

At the Security Council meeting, Deloire from Reporters Without Borders called for the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the protection of journalists in order to increase the prominence of the issue within the U.N system.

He stressed that a staggering 90 percent of crimes against journalists go unpunished.

“Such a high impunity rate encourages those who want to silence journalists by drowning them in their own blood,” Deloire said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Burundi Leader, Stifling Attempted Coup, Cracks Down on Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 21:06:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140732 A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkuruziza, who narrowly avoided his removal from office by a citizen-backed military coup, has turned against the media that closely reported the day to day protests.

Nkuruziza was out of the country in Tanzania at a meeting of East African leaders when he learned that hundreds of Burundians were cheering his overthrow and thousands were fleeing into exile. Upon his return he quickly regrouped, dismissing the defence and foreign ministers and attacking news outlets.

A press release from the Committee to Protect Journalists recapped: “In recent days, at least five radio stations were attacked during violence over an attempted coup in the capital, Bujumbura, and threats were made against a newspaper which caused it to stop publishing, according to reports.”

“We call on the authorities and the citizens of Burundi to respect the role of journalists and the media during these uncertain times, when a consistent flow of information is vital,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator. “Attacking news outlets is never a solution, especially when citizens need to know what is happening around them and those in power should be listening to what their people are saying.”

Last Thursday, unidentified individuals fired grenades into the compounds of privately owned stations Bonesha FM, Renaissance Radio and Television, Radio Isanganiro, and the privately owned Burundian station African Public Radio, according to reports. Another report on Thursday said that the offices of African Public Radio had been burned down, with a report saying that it had been hit by a rocket. None of the stations are currently operating.

In Burundi, where Internet penetration was only 1.3 per cent in 2013 according to the International Telecommunications Union, radio is the primary source of news.

Meanwhile, elections are going forward next month despite an outcry from citizens that the president was seeking a third term in office in violation of the constitution.

Requests that the elections be postponed were most recently received from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Previous requests came from the Burundi’s Catholic hierarchy and the U.S. State Department, among others.

President Nkuruziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, in his first public address, thanked loyalist forces for crushing the attempted coup. He warned demonstrators to end weeks of protests against his bid for a third consecutive term in office.

Nkuruziza, who uses Twitter, then sent the following tweet: “I ask all Burundians to keep calm. The situation is under control.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Press Freedom Groups Denounce NSA Spying on AJ Bureau Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:14:45 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140601 A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan doesn’t deny that he’s had contact with terrorist groups. In fact, it would have been rather difficult to do his job otherwise.

But the fact that Zaidan is a respected investigative journalist and the Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera didn’t seem to faze the U.S. National Security Agency, which not only spied on him, but went as far as to brand him a likely member of Al Qaeda and put him on a watch list.“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous." -- Bob Dietz of CPJ

The revelations emerged late last week as part of the thousands of classified documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

“Given that Pakistan has been consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, the news of Zaidan’s surveillance further adds to the fear, restricting press freedom,” said Furhan Hussain, manager of the Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression programme at Bytes for All, a Pakistani human rights group.

“Equally alarming, in this case, is the fact that by compromising the information of respected journalists, such spying also weakens the safety of their sources and media networks,” he told IPS. “Zaidan’s communications intercept took place through the invasive gathering and analysis of his metadata, a technique which has been frequently responsible for drone-led non-transparent persecution of hundreds of people.

“While it is often claimed that the state of Pakistan has failed to effectively protest against these violations, it may also be important to raise questions about the possible role of the state in facilitating the NSA to access vast amounts of data of those residing within its borders, in the context of its third-party SIGINT partnership.”

Other press freedom groups said the case was just one more in a long-running pattern of civil liberties abuses.

“Given the flood of disclosures over the past two years about the NSA’s vast range of mass and intrusive surveillance techniques and targets, it is unsurprising, but nevertheless shocking, that the intelligence agency thought it appropriate to use its capabilities to spy on an eminent journalist,” Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International, told IPS.

“This case is illustrative of the grave dangers of allowing security services to exercise immense powers in the absence of proper scrutiny. By placing members of the media, who themselves play an essential accountability role, particularly in areas of conflict, under surveillance, the NSA has undermined the very values it is charged with promoting – security, democracy, and free flow of information.

“Without democratic accountability, spy agencies will continue to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of strategic gain, without sparing a thought to the critical journalistic freedom caught in the cross hairs,” she added.

It’s not the first time the NSA has targeted Al Jazeera. Based on leaked documents, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that it had hacked into the news agency’s internal communication system.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, NSA whistleblower Russell Tice claimed in 2009 that in fact, the agency makes it a point to target journalists and news agencies.

Zaidan was targeted under the ominously titled SKYNET programme, which monitors bulk call records and searches the metadata for particular patterns.

“It’s this kind of big, sweeping data gathering that worries us the most,” Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS.

“If someone were to track my behavior and all the people I’ve come into contact with over the last 20 years, I imagine I would come up on some sort of chart ranking very high,” he said wryly.

Dietz doesn’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, regardless of who occupies the White House.

“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous…whether or not there are laws protecting us,” he said.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of the London-based ARTICLE 19, said his group is deeply concerned by the Zaidan spying revelations.

“According to statements from Al Jazeera and colleagues from other networks, Zaidan is a journalist of longstanding professional reputation. Surveillance of journalists has a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression, impeding the crucial role journalists play in uncovering wrongdoing and holding governments to account for their actions,” he told IPS.

“Compromising the confidentially of sources also seriously undermines the ability of journalists to perform their work and potentially endangers the wellbeing and safety of those sources.”

Indeed, as noted by the Intercept, which broke the allegations, Zaidan’s reporting focused on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders.

In strenuously denying the allegations, he patiently explained, “For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information.

“Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know,” he wrote in a response to the Intercept. “To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Media Watchdog Unveils Top Ten Worst Censorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/media-watchdog-unveils-top-ten-worst-censors/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 21:11:42 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140306 The collapse of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt broke the state's stranglehold on the local press, but journalists and bloggers must still be careful what they say. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The collapse of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt broke the state's stranglehold on the local press, but journalists and bloggers must still be careful what they say. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

While technology has given millions greater freedom to express themselves, in the world’s 10 most censored countries, this basic right exists only on paper, if at all.

According to a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which will be officially released at U.N. headquarters on Apr. 27, the worst offenders are Eritrea and North Korea, followed by Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Myanmar and Cuba."Countries that were on our list in previous years continue to be on the list. But the forms of censorship have changed." -- CPJ's Courtney Radsch

Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director of CPJ, told IPS, “These countries use a wide range of traditional tactics of censorship, including jailing of journalists, harassment of journalists, prosecuting local press and independent press.”

According to CPJ’s 2014 prison census, Eritrea is Africa’s leading jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars – none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime. Among the other most censored countries on the list is China with 44, Iran with 30, and 17 jailed journalists in Ethiopia.

In countries where governments jail reporters regularly for critical coverage, many journalists are forced to flee rather than risk arrest, said the report.

Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Felix Horne, told IPS, “If you are a journalist in Ethiopia, you are faced with a stark choice: either you self-censor your writings, you end up in prison, or you are exiled from your country.”

According to the report Journalism is not a Crime, released by HRW in January 2015, over 30 journalists fled Ethiopia in 2014. Six of the last independent publications have shut down and there are at least 19 journalists and bloggers in prison for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

In both Ethiopia and Eritrea, anti-terrorism laws have been used to effectively silence dissenting voices and to target opposition politicians, journalists, and activists, Horne said.

“This law is the ultimate threat for Ethiopian journalists and its use against bloggers and journalists has led to increased rates of self-censorship amongst what is left of Ethiopia’s independent media scene.”

Traditional forms of censorship are going hand in hand with new subtle, modern, and faster strategies such as internet restrictions, regulation of media and press laws, and the limitation of mobile devices.

Radsch underlined, “The situation has gotten worse. We have seen a historical level of imprisonment of journalists and an increasing expansion of censorship (which) developed more sophisticated forms, including pre-publications censorship, restricted access to info content, and content regulations.”

The CPJ report says that in order to avoid an “Arab Spring” in Eritrea, the authorities have strongly limited internet access, with no possibility of gathering independent information.

Radsch highlighted that gathering public information through local internet access – the right to broadband – is recognised by the U.N., as a fundamental human right. But, in Eritrea and North Korea, as well as Cuba, the internet is essentially not permitted.

Access to mobile phones is also restricted.

“There are virtually no phones in Eritrea and there are limited phones in North Korea, where they can get in through smuggling networks from China,” she said, adding that these kind of restrictions are applied not only to reporters, but to the general public more broadly.

According to CPJ, globally, Eritrea has the lowest rate of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one. In North Korea, only 9.7 percent of the population has cell phones, excluding phones smuggled in from China.

Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam and Azerbaijan, have internet, but its access is strongly limited through the blocking of web content, restrictive access regulations, and persecuting those who violates the rules, added Radsch.

Censorship in the 10 listed countries affect mainly local journalists, apart from the case of Egypt where foreign reporters have been imprisoned, said Radsch. But censorship is also applied to foreign correspondents in other ways, such as denying entry visas to those countries or by deporting them.

The previous two lists of most censored countries compiled by CPJ date back to 2006 and 2012.

Radsch said, “One of the reasons why we cannot publish these lists every year is because censorship tactics have not changed much from year to year. In general, countries that were on our list in previous years continue to be on the list. But the forms of censorship have changed.”

To keep track of government data is difficult due to their lack of transparency, explained Radsch.

Although the international community is aware of human rights violations in repressive countries, concrete action to protect freedom of expression is still lacking.

Horne underlined that in Ethiopia, for instance, despite its dismal human rights record, the country continues to enjoy significant support from Western governments, both in relation to Ethiopia’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its role as a regional peacekeeper.

“But ignoring Ethiopia’s horrendous human rights situation and the internal tensions this is causing may have long-term implications for Western interests in the Horn of Africa,” Horne concluded.

CPJ is also calling on the international community to ensure that anti-terrorist laws are not used illegitimately by states to strengthen censorship even further against the press.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Burundi – Fragile Peace at Risk Ahead of Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:59:08 +0000 David Kode http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140290

In this column, David Kode, a Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, describes a series of restrictions on freedom in Burundi and, in the run-up to elections in May and June, calls on the international community – including the African Union and donor countries – to support the country by putting pressure on the government to respect democratic ideals and by condemning attacks on civil liberties.

By David Kode
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to get close to an airport, train station or port without authorisation from a judge.  He cannot travel outside of the capital of his native Burundi, Bujumbura. Whenever called upon, he must present himself before judicial authorities.

These are some of the onerous restrictions underlying the bail conditions of one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights activists since he was provisionally released on medical grounds in September last year, after spending more than four months in prison for his human rights work.

David Kode

David Kode

Mbonimpa was arrested and detained on May 15, 2014, and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience. The charges stemmed from views he expressed during an interview with an independent radio station, Radio Public Africaine, in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for military training.

The arrest and detention of Pierre Claver is symptomatic of a pattern of repression and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, dissenters and members of the political opposition in Burundi as it heads towards its much anticipated elections in May and June 2015.

The forthcoming polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of the brutal civil war in 2005.  The antagonism of the CNDD-FDD government and its crackdown on civil society and members of opposition formations has increased, particularly as the incumbent, President Pierre Nkurunziza, silences critics and opponents in his bid to run for a third term even after the National Assembly rejected his proposals to extend his term in office.“The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962”

Tensions continue to mount ahead of the polls and even though the president has not publicly stated that he will contest the next elections, the actions of his government and the ruling party clearly suggest he will run for another term.  Members of his party argue that he has technically run the country for one term only as he was not “elected” by the people when he took to power in 2005.

Civil society organisations and religious leaders recently pointed out that Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement – which brought an end to the civil war – clearly limit presidential terms to two years.

As the 2015 polls draw closer, state repression has increased, some political parties have been suspended and their members arrested and jailed. The Imbonerakure has embarked on campaigns to intimidate, physically assault and threaten members of the opposition with impunity. They have prevented some political gatherings from taking place under the pretext that they are guaranteeing security at the local level.

Civil society organisations and rival political movements have on several occasions been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies, while journalists and activists have been arrested and held under fictitious charges in an attempt to silence them and force them to resort to self-censorship.

Legislation has been used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict the activities of journalists and the independent media.  In June 2013, the government passed a new law which forces journalists to reveal their sources.

The law provides wide-ranging powers to the authorities and sets requirements for journalists to attain certain levels of education and professional expertise, limits issues journalists can cover and imposes fines on those who violate this law.  It prohibits the publication of news items on security issues, defence, public safety and the economy.

The law has been used to target media agencies and journalists, including prominent journalist Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine.

The government does not see any major difference between opposition political parties and human rights activists and journalists and has often accused civil society and the media of being mouth pieces for the political opposition, describing them as “enemies of the state”.

In the lead-up to the last elections in 2010, most of the opposition parties decided to boycott the elections and the ruling party won almost unopposed. However, the post-elections period was characterised by political violence and conflict.

Ideally, the upcoming elections could present the perfect opportunity to “jump start” Burundi’s democracy.  For this to happen, the media and civil society need to operate without fear or intimidation from state and non-state actors.  On the contrary, state repression is bound to trigger a violent response from some of the opposition parties and ignite violence similar to that which happened in 2010.

The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962.

It is increasingly clear that the people of Burundi need the support of the international community at this critical juncture. The African Union (AU), with its public commitment to democracy and good governance, must act now by putting pressure on the government of Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms ahead of the elections.

The African Union should demand that the government stops extra-judicial killings and conducts independent investigations into members of the security forces and Imbonerakure who have committed human rights violations and hold them accountable.

Further, Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on civil liberties and urge the government to instil an enabling environment in which a free and fair political process can take place while journalists and civil society activists can perform their responsibilities without fear.  (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Israeli Forces Target Journalists in West Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/israeli-forces-target-journalists-in-west-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-forces-target-journalists-in-west-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/israeli-forces-target-journalists-in-west-bank/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 10:28:16 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140041 Israeli commander who blocked the writer’s entrance to the village of Kafr Qaddoum – as clashes were taking place – for over two hours. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli commander who blocked the writer’s entrance to the village of Kafr Qaddoum – as clashes were taking place – for over two hours. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
KAFR QADDOUM, West Bank, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

It is becoming increasingly risky to cover clashes and protests between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank as the number of journalists injured, in what appears to be deliberate targeting by Israeli security forces, continues to rise.

During the last 12 months, Israel’s Foreign Press Association (FPA) has issued numerous protests at the manhandling, harassment and shooting of both members of the foreign media and Palestinian journalists.

“The Foreign Press calls on the Israeli border police (a paramilitary unit) to put an immediate end to a wave of attacks on journalists. In just over a week, border police officers have carried out at least four attacks on journalists working for international media organisations, injuring reporters and damaging expensive equipment. These attacks all appear to have been unprovoked,” was one of many statements released by the FPA last year.The rising trend of Israeli security forces using live ammunition against Palestinian protesters has expanded to include journalists as well.

“A change in policy appears to be the reason for unprecedented aggressive behaviour by the authorities against journalists covering demonstrations in Jerusalem,” read another FPA statement.

The assaults have included shooting rubber-coated metal bullets directly at journalists on a regular basis.

Tear gas canisters, which under Israeli law are meant to be shot from a safe distance in an upward arch so as not to endanger life, have also been shot directly at journalists from close range even when the journalists were out of the line of fire.

The rising trend of Israeli security forces using live ammunition against Palestinian protesters has expanded to include journalists as well.

Palestinian journalists and cameramen working for foreign agencies and local media appear to be bearing the brunt of these attacks, because assaulting and abusing Palestinians, males in particular, is an integral part of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

A colleague of IPS, a cameraman from Palestine TV, was shot in the leg several months ago with a 0.22 inch calibre bullet fired from a Ruger rifle by an Israeli sniper as he filmed a clash in the northern West Bank village of Kafr Qaddoum.

Palestinian journalists in the line of fire. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Palestinian journalists in the line of fire. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

On a previous occasion, as he left the village, Israeli soldiers pulled his vehicle over, dragged him out and assaulted him.

Another IPS colleague, a cameraman from Reuters, was shot twice in both legs with a metal bullet with a 0.5 mm rubber coating at one Friday protest. The previous week he had been targeted directly with a tear gas canister.

“We are very concerned about the marked increase in the number of Palestinian journalists being deliberately targeted by the Israeli security forces,” said Reporters Without Borders in a statement  on the increase in violence by Israeli security forces against Palestinian journalists released last year.

“We reiterate our call to the Israeli authorities, especially the military, to respect the physical integrity of journalists covering demonstrations and we remind them that the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 28 March recognising the importance of media coverage of protests and condemning any attacks or violence against the journalists covering them.”

The situation was even worse during the Gaza war from July to August last year, when 17 Palestinian journalists were killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) even when they were not in the proximity of the fighting.

IPS has witnessed numerous attacks on journalists over the years and has also been harassed by Israeli soldiers when trying to cover clashes.

Last Friday, I was held up for over two hours in the sun by Israeli soldiers as I tried to enter Kafr Qaddoum where major clashes were taking place.

During this time other members of the media, ambulances and other protesters were refused entrance.

With Israeli government press accreditation, an accreditation denied to most Palestinian journalists, I was able to contact the IDF spokesman who coordinated my entrance, but only after several hours of standing in the sun.

I was neither assaulted nor was any of my equipment confiscated from me, another privilege of being white and Western.

Another Palestinian colleague and cameraman came in for very different treatment a month ago when he had had his camera confiscated by an Israeli soldier outside the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah.

When he tried to retrieve his expensive piece of equipment he was warned to back off and knew better than to pursue the issue.

However, when I took the matter up with the commanding officer the camera was returned to its owner after the officer had taken me aside on a charm offensive while ordering the Palestinian journalists to stand back.

On another occasion, I was accompanying a Palestinian ambulance which was trying to reach Jelazon camp to help Palestinian youths injured during clashes with the IDF.

Several military jeeps blocked the roads leading to the camp and refused to move when asked by the ambulance driver.

After I got out and spoke to the soldiers, showing them my credentials yet again, the jeep moved to the side and allowed the ambulance to continue.

The Israelis still appear to be sensitive to a certain degree to how they are portrayed in the Western media.

This has become apparent to me when covering violent clashes. As soon as it has been established that I am Australian, white and a woman, the aggression of the Israeli soldiers has abated and they have tried to get me on side by asking me if I am alright and warning me to take care,

However, I know that I too could easily fall prey to Israeli ammunition if I am not exceedingly careful so, on this basis, I choose to stay well away from the frontlines of clashes.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Lawyers, Rights Groups Rally Around Author of ‘Blood Diamonds’, Facing Jailhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/lawyers-rights-groups-rally-around-author-of-blood-diamonds-facing-jail/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lawyers-rights-groups-rally-around-author-of-blood-diamonds-facing-jail http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/lawyers-rights-groups-rally-around-author-of-blood-diamonds-facing-jail/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 23:09:18 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139978 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre, Amnesty International and over a dozen other human rights organisations including the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights have signed an open letter demanding justice for crusading Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, whose exposés have offended several military officials and other higher-ups.

In their letter, published this week in a Malawian newspaper, the group praised Marques for “his long history of holding the Angolan government to account for human rights abuses and corruption through his insightful, thoughtful and well regarded journalistic investigations” and noted that “for his efforts, he has been arrested and detained multiple times in Angola.”

In the latest effort to silence Marques, legal action was launched by a group of generals over his book ‘Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola’, first published in Portugal in 2011.

The book cites a litany of human rights violations – including killings, torture and forced evictions – that took place in Lunda Norte in northeastern Angola where diamond excavations were taking place. Military officials, diamond miners and private security contractors – named in the book – first attempted to sue Marques for defamation in Portugal but their case was dismissed.

After the book appeared, the author filed a charge with the Angolan Attorney General on Nov. 14, 2011. He called on the authorities to investigate the moral responsibility of the generals for serious abuses. After hearing victims’ testimonies in 2012, the Attorney General set the case aside. New charges were then filed against Marques.

If convicted, he faces up to nine years in prison and damages of 1.2 million dollars on the charge.

“Mr Marques is the recipient of numerous prestigious international awards for his work. He is an equal opportunity human rights defender, working to expose violations no matter who is the accused or accuser,” the open letter writers noted.

Angola, the fourth-biggest diamond producing country by value, has been relaxing restrictions on exploration and development after producers, including South African giant De Beers, cut back operations during the global financial crisis. The move is worrying environmentalists as well as local people and the rise in numbers of anti-government protests is an irritant to the authorities who are keen to make an example of Marques with a successful prosecution.

In his speech as joint winner of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expressions in Journalism award last week, one of several international honours he has received, Marques said that the trial would make him stronger.

“It will show Angolans there is nothing to fear and challenge them to hold the authorities to account,” he said in a press interview.

Seven journalists have been murdered in Angola since 1992 and many others intimidated or imprisoned, according to The Guardian newspaper. This month, two activists, Marcos Mavungo and Arao Bula Tempo, were arrested in Angola’s northern oil-producing province Cabinda, hours before an anti-government protest was due to take place. They have been jailed on charges of sedition.

Previous demonstrations have been broken up using what Human Rights Watch call “excessive force” and last year a female student was hospitalised after a beating by police for taking part in a march.

Other signers to the open letter include Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the UK-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*The book – Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola – is not yet available in English.

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Winners Announced for Free Expression Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/winners-announced-for-free-expression-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winners-announced-for-free-expression-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/winners-announced-for-free-expression-prize/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 00:01:29 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139846 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

At home she was subjected to death threats for defending women in northeastern Kenya who are vulnerable to rape, female circumcision and murder. This month, Amran Abdundi Amram was cheered as a hero as she collected the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Campaigning.

The 15th annual freedom prize was presented this month by the U.K.-based international organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression. The award honours outstanding individuals in four categories: Journalism, arts, campaigning and digital activism.

Abdundi, who heads up Frontier Indigenous Network (FIN), has been setting up shelters along the border between Kenya and Somalia – an area where militant groups pose a growing threat to local communities. In addition to the shelters, FIN maps out conflict areas, targets the illegal arms trade and has set up radio listening groups.

In thanking the judges, Abdundi acknowledged the efforts of local women with whom she had worked for over a decade. “This award goes to marginalised women of northern Kenya … for fighting outdated cultural practices that deny them the right to own property, that expose them to dangerous practices like FGM, and threaten them with sexual exploitation.”

Other women FIN defends include “conflict concubines” who were abducted by armed youths at the height of armed violence in northern Kenya and acted as comfort women for armed militias. “When these women came back from conflict zones with children born out of wedlock, they were rejected by their families. This award is for them.”

Lastly, she thanked the women who used loud speakers to block their attackers. “We documented the abuses along the border,” she said.

“The women of northern Kenya will now know that their struggles and their efforts to fight for their rights are being recognised internationally,” she said. “You are a true partner of the women of northern Kenya.”

Also recognised by the Index was Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais. Marques was singled out for his courageous work exposing corruption in government and business in Angola.

Among his investigative pieces was an expose of the ruling family of Pres. Jose Eduardo dos Santos whose daughter Isabel controls over a billion dollars in assets obtained through her father, according to Marques. In 2011, he wrote a book called “Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola,” which recounts 500 cases of torture and 100 killings that took place over 18 months in a diamond-mining district in Angola. According to the book, the torture and killings were carried out by guards from a private security firm and by members of the Angolan Armed Forces.

Next week, Marques is scheduled to appear before a court on defamation and criminal libel charges filed by nine Angolan generals and the private security firm used by the President.

Letters protesting his prosecution have been sent to the African Commission and the U.N. by Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and 14 other human rights and free speech groups.

Accepting his award, Marques dedicated it to “my fellow Ethiopian colleagues Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemo and the Zone 9 bloggers. They are all in jail, currently serving some of the harshest sentences in Africa for the crime of exercising their right to freedom of expression.” Alemu, he added, has been denied adequate health care although in “desperate” need.

Other winners for 2015 were Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, a rapper from Morocco; Safa Al Ahmad, a Saudi journalist, and the Hungarian freedom of information website Atlatszo.

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Pro-Democracy Activists at U.S. Event Jailed in DR Congohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 18:25:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139714 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Journalists, activists, hip hop artists and a United States diplomat were rounded up by police at a pro-democracy event on Sunday in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sponsored in part by the U.S. government. Security forces charged them with threatening stability, according to a government spokesperson.

The diplomat, Kevin Sturr, “Was among a group of people believed to be in the process of bringing an attack against state security”, said Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende. Sturr, who works with the USAID’s democracy and good governance program in Congo, was returned to the U.S. Embassy late Sunday night, Mende said on Monday.

The activists included members of Burkina Faso’s Balai Citoyen and Senegal’s Y’en a Marre movements. Both have led large-scale protests in recent years against presidents attempting to extend their time in office.

The round up was an unpleasant surprise for U.S. officials. “This event is one of many activities the U.S. government supports that involve youth and civil society as part of our broader commitment to encourage a range of voices to be heard,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki complained that U.S. authorities had not been officially informed about why Sturr was detained. “Our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC government,” Psaki said.

Congolese government officials and ruling coalition parties were invited to the event and some attended, the Embassy said, describing the youth groups involved as well-regarded and non-partisan.

According to the Minister, the Congo’s intelligence services believed the news conference — billed as an exchange between African civil society organizations — was in fact a project organized by “instructors in insurrection”.

“There are the three Senegalese and the Burkinabe and their Congolese accomplices who continue to be questioned,” Mende added. “Each will have his fate… Either they will be released or put at the disposition of the public prosecutor.”

Foreign activists arrested included Fadel Barro, a member of the Senegalese collective of journalists and hip-hop artists “Y’en a Marre”, which helped organize protests against former President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in 2012.

The group had gathered to support “Filimbi” – a Congolese movement that aims for greater youth participation in politics, when they were rounded up.

Proposed changes in Congo’s electoral law have sparked mass protests against what many view as an attempt by President Joseph Kabila to prolong his time in power. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 40 people were killed in Kinshasa and the eastern city of Goma at protests so far this year.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Jailed Journalist’s Family Looks to Iran’s New Year with Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/jailed-journalists-family-looks-to-irans-new-year-with-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jailed-journalists-family-looks-to-irans-new-year-with-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/jailed-journalists-family-looks-to-irans-new-year-with-hope/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 20:28:34 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139634 Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Mar 12 2015 (IPS)

The lawyer for Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Washington Post reporter detained in Tehran since Jul. 22, 2014, has officially requested temporary bail for her client during Nowruz, the beginning of the Persian calendar year when some prisoners have customarily been granted furlough requests.

“This time of year, with his birthday and Nowruz [Mar. 21] coming up, we are certainly hopeful that the folks in government will see that there is really no justifiable reason for Jason to be in prison,” said Jason’s brother, Ali, in an interview here Wednesday with IPS.“[The Rouhani government] would like to see him free, but they have shown to be completely unwilling to spend any of their political capital on this case or any of the other horrendous violations going on in the country." -- Hadi Ghaemi

Rezaian, who spoke at the National Press Club’s event today naming Jason as a recipient of its John Abuchon press freedom award, said his family has not been officially informed of the charge his brother is facing.

The Iranian judiciary, which does not recognise dual citizenship, hasn’t publicly announced charges. But Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sept. 17 that Rezaian, whom he described as a “fair reporter,” is aware of the charge during an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

Mohammad Larijani, a top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader and the head of the judiciary’s human rights council, was also unspecific but told Euronews Nov. 11 that Rezaian was “involved in activities beyond journalism.”

The influential politician added that he expected Rezaian to be released soon: “My hope is that before going to the court process, the prosecutor could be content to drop the case to see that maybe the accusations are not quite substantial.”

Four months later, Rezaian is facing trial in the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary court, which operates separately from criminal and civil courts and handles cases categorized by the judiciary as pertaining to national security issues.

Human rights groups say the court tries people for ideological and political reasons and that case outcomes are often predetermined with harsh sentences.

“Jason is not only a credentialed journalist engaging in journalist activities, he’s also a reporter for the Washington Post and it should be understood that his job requires him to speak to people and understand what is going on in Iran and portray the life and the activities of the people there,” Ali Rezaian told IPS. “He has done this fairly for more than a decade.”

Longest-held Western journalist

Born to an Iranian father and American mother, Jason Rezaian, who covered Iran for IPS until 2012, will likely spend his 39th birthday in Iran’s notorious Evin prison on Mar. 15.

Rezaian moved to Iran, where press freedom is severely limited, in 2008, and became the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief in 2012.

No other journalist working with a Western news outlet has been held as long as Rezaian, who has been detained for more than 230 days.

Ali Rezaian told IPS that his brother loved his life in Iran and would often encourage foreigners to see the country for themselves.

“He always said: ‘You should come and see it; it’s a wonderful place.’ And if people would say things that were not right about Iran he would say: ‘You don’t understand; come and see it.'”

Extending beyond the common Western news themes of the nuclear programme and political infighting, Rezaian’s journalistic portfolio is heavily focused on the social and cultural aspects of life in Iran.

“You know, you look at the work that he did with the Post and he spent a lot of time showing people a different side of Iran than we are regularly exposed to here in America,” said Rezaian.

“It’s just his nature to communicate with all sorts of people and its part of being a journalist, to ask questions, to try and reach out to people on both sides of the discussion to promote understanding,” he said.

Since being detained, Rezaian reportedly struggled to get several health conditions treated in a timely manner and has lost 50 pounds. But he may be suffering most from the isolation and lack of human contact, according to his brother, who said Jason spent five months in solitary confinement before being moved to a cell with another prisoner.

Initially seeking to personally request her son’s release from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rezaian’s Istanbul-based mother Mary was only allowed to see her son in Evin prison twice in December.

“I need a head doctor, because this is going on way too long,” Jason Rezaian told his mother after showing her he had not been tortured during a videotaped meeting, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Since then, his family abroad has been unable to speak to Jason and the frequency and amount of contact with his wife, reporter Yeganeh Salehi who was detained with Rezaian and released on bail in October, has dramatically decreased.

Campaign

The National Press Club released a letter today signed by prominent American journalists addressed to Iranian judicial chief Sadegh Larijani expressing “grave concern” over Rezaian’s detention and what it called “the ongoing disregard for the legal protections assured its citizens by the Iranian constitution.”

Boxing star Muhammad Ali also issued a statement through the club. “To my knowledge Jason is a man of peace and great faith, a man whose dedication and respect for the Iranian people is evident in his work. I support his family, friends and colleagues in their efforts to obtain his release,” he said

In addition to his family’s stepped up efforts and calls by the U.S. government, his editors, and journalistic institutions for Rezaian’s release, an online support petition has received more than 235,000 signatures from around the world.

The hashtag “#FreeJason” continues to be circulated on social media including Twitter and Facebook.

But while some of the conditions of Rezaian’s custody have improved, he remains incarcerated while he and his family agonise over his fate.

His story is meanwhile competing for media coverage with the intensive talks over Iran’s nuclear programme aimed at reaching a final agreement by the end of June.

“This case has been a headache in the Iranian government’s foreign policy dealings with the outside world,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “But due to the sensitive time of the negotiations its probably not getting the attention it should.

“[The Rouhani government] would like to see him free but they have shown to be completely unwilling to spend any of their political capital on this case or any of the other horrendous violations going on in the country,” he said.

“Iran needs to feel more heat to release him,” added Ghaemi.

A State Department official told IPS, “We are doing everything we can to secure the release of Jason Rezaian and the other U.S. citizens detained and missing in Iran.”

The cases of American citizens were being kept separate from the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, added the official.

“Nowruz is a wonderful time for the higher-ups in government to take a hard look at the evidence that some people say they have to decide if that’s really deserving of time in prison, let alone nearly eight months, and if not make it clear to those in power that Jason should be acquitted,” said Ali Rezaian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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200 Million Fewer Women than Men Onlinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/200-million-fewer-women-than-men-online/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=200-million-fewer-women-than-men-online http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/200-million-fewer-women-than-men-online/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:14:35 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139574 British actor and U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson (left) speaking at the United Nations in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

British actor and U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson (left) speaking at the United Nations in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

Two hundred million fewer women have access to the internet than men, according to a report released Monday.

The report published by No Ceilings also said an estimated 300 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone, with these gaps primarily concentrated in developing countries.

Women’s participation and safety online was a popular topic on the first day of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations.

The 2015 CSW also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+20), the historic agenda for women’s empowerment. Women’s participation in media and new communication technologies is covered under Section J of the Platform.

Discussions at the CSW covered both the positive and negative impact of information communication technology on progress towards gender equality.

Jan Moolman, Senior Coordinator of the Association for Progressive Communications spoke about how women have achieved empowerment by using the internet.

She said new media helped individuals to construct and represent themselves online. She also said new media offered women “opportunities for movement building” and the opportunity to leap over many kinds of barriers.”

Moolman added that threats against women online needed to be treated as a freedom of information issue, because they were used to try to silence women when they spoke up on gender equality.

“If we have 52% of the population unable to express themselves freely that is a freedom of expression issue,” Moolman said.

U.N. Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) are also increasingly using new media with their campaigns. For example through social media campaigns such as HeForShe, infographics and a new monitor of countries which have committed to step-it-up for gender equality.

Speaking about the HeForShe campaign at Facebook Headquarters in London yesterday, U.N. Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson spoke about how she herself had received threats after speaking out on gender equality.

“The minute I stepped up and talked about women’s rights I was immediately threatened, I mean, within less than 12 hours I was receiving threats.”

A website was set up with a countdown threatening to release nude photographs of the British actor. Watson said that she knew the website was a hoax, but that the experience helped her friends and family see the need for progress on gender equality.

I think it was just a wake up call that this is a real thing that’s really happening now, women are receiving threats in all sorts of different forms, she said.

Watson also said that the threats helped convince her of the importance of campaigning for gender equality.

If anything, if they were trying to put me off, it did the opposite.

No Ceilings is an initiative, supported by the Clinton Foundation, which has compiled thousands of data points on gender equality across a range of areas, including access to information and communication technologies.

Women You Should Have Heard of

Another way women’s positive contributions to science and technology was highlighted on International Women’s Day yesterday was through the hashtag #womenyoushouldhaveheardof. The hashtag challenged the assumption that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields are not suited to women and girls by raising awareness about some of the women who have made historic contributions to science and technology.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

 

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