Posts Tagged ‘freedom of the press’

Journalism Under Fire – A Global Surge in Violations Against Journalists

October 16, 2020

On 14 Aya Wietzorrek posted a good overview piece on freedom of the press in the Organization for World Peace

…..Functioning as a “watch-dog” of these freedoms, journalism can be considered a public good, as it serves to inform citizens on political, economic, and social issues and ensures governance is transparent and accountable.

Acknowledging the many challenges journalism is currently facing…the focus of this article is on the everyday violations against journalists. This September, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency (UNESCO) published a report with findings revealing a “wider upward trend” in the use of unlawful violence by police and security forces against journalists over the last five years. Attacks were reported across 65 countries, and many of the tactics used, violate international laws and norms. Globally, journalists are facing censorship, surveillance, detention and physical attacks by law enforcement. The reported abuses against journalists include harassment, intimidation, beatings, being shot with non-lethal as well as lethal ammunition, sometimes even resulting in death.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, commented that around 1,000 journalists have been killed in the last decade – and that 9 in 10 cases “are unresolved”. The murders of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 in Malta, Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in Turkey and Francisco Romero Díaz in 2019 in Mexico are only a few examples. Horrified by the fates of their colleagues, these events have deterring effects for other journalists. Besides the attacks on journalists being a deeply concerning issue in their own right, such attacks thus also constitute a direct threat to civil society and democracy. In democratic states, with separate legislative, executive and judiciary branches, a free press is often considered to be the 4th pillar of democracy. According to Freedom House, however, elected leaders in many democracies have made direct attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen ones that provide favourable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles….

To intercept this upward trend of unlawful violence reported by UNESCO, and to ensure that journalists can serve society and do their job, we can improve and implement the following. Firstly, in terms of prevention, developing standard operating protocols and increasing training for law enforcement on the freedom of expression and appropriate behaviour in dealing with journalists – respecting their special status as ‘watch-dogs’ – is vital. Such training would include dialogues between law enforcement and journalists, to establish working relationship between the two groups, respecting the roles of each in society. It is imperative that national legal frameworks for police use of force align with the international standards of necessity and proportionality. Secondly, in terms of protection, countries should renew their international human rights pledges, review relevant domestic laws and practice and revise them as necessary, to ensure conformity with states’ obligations under the UDHR and ICCPR. These legislative frameworks should be subject to periodic review by independent expert bodies, such as Human Rights Watch for instance. Thirdly, as the Committee to Protect Journalists has pointed out in its “Global Campaign Against Impunity”, murder is the ultimate form of censorship and the statistic that justice is not served in 9 out of 10 murders, highlights that urgent action is needed on this front. In terms of prosecution, appointing national ombudsmen to hold police accountable for the unlawful use of force against journalists is key. The implementation of such ombudsmen and the strengthening of criminal law provisions should also operate to deter offences against journalists. Internationally, the freedom of press is only implicitly protected by Article 19.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and deserves to be explicitly mentioned and protected. The appointment of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists, as proposed by Reporters Without Border and 70 media groups and freedom of expression NGOs, would be a valuable appointment. This proposal was officially rejected in 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The creation of such a position would however help prevent resolutions and treaties from being largely empty words and would have the political weight, the capacity to move quickly and the legitimacy to coordinate with all UN bodies to implement change.

….. The international community has repeatedly stated the need for a more effective implementation of existing international and regional standards, yet the work still lies ahead of us. Governments should pro-actively (re-)establish their commitment to a free press and the protection of journalists as it is imperative that civil societies across the globe continue to defend right to freedom of expression. This is necessary for the enhancement of people’s lives and for the creation and maintenance of stable and healthy democratic societies.

Aya Wietzorrek

Aya Wietzorrek is a graduate in International Development from The University of Manchester and is currently a research intern in the Governance and Inclusive Development Group at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/21/2020-world-press-freedom-index-is-out/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/ and

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/04/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-few-more-links/

.https://theowp.org/reports/journalism-under-fire-a-global-surge-in-unlawful-violations-against-journalists/

8 UN experts join in letter to Algeria about Khaled Drareni

September 18, 2020

A journalist jailed for his coverage of mass protests in Algeria must be released, United Nations independent experts said on Wednesday. Khaled Drareni was jailed for two years on Tuesday as a crackdown on dissent intensifies after a year of anti-government demonstrations. He was jailed for his coverage of the protest movement that toppled the North African country’s longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year. Drareni was initially handed three years but his sentence was reduced by a year on appeal. However, his lawyers were shocked that he was not handed a more lenient judgment or an acquittal.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-2020-a-small-selection-of-cases/

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this two-year prison sentence imposed on a journalist who was simply doing his job, and call on the Algerian authorities to reverse it and set Mr Drareni free,” the experts said. The experts do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it. Although his sentence was reduced, “it is still grossly inappropriate because the charges brought against him are a blatant violation of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and of association”, they said.

The eight signatories included the special rapporteurs on peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and human rights defenders, along with members of the UN working group on arbitrary detention. They said they were alarmed that the Algerian authorities were increasingly using national security laws to prosecute people who were exercising their rights. “Drareni, and all the others currently in prison, or awaiting trial simply for doing their job and defending human rights must be immediately released and protected,” they said.

http://north-africa.com/2020/09/algeria-united-nations-independent-experts-pressuring-algeria-to-release-wrongly-jailed-journalist/

European MPs want EU to become serious about linking Corona virus payments to human rights

August 27, 2020

Political leaders in the European Parliament will insist that the EU’s massive budget payouts be dependent on countries meeting human rights and media freedom standards, they said on Wednesday.26 August 2020.  Targeted, but not named, were Hungary and Poland, countries that receive massive subsidies from the EU budget, but flout calls by Brussels to meet commitments on fundamental freedoms.

The time has come to accelerate the fight against the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the very heart of the EU,” said the letter, signed by leaders from the centre-right, centre-left, centrist and green parties.

The letter was addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, as well as Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the commission, the EU’s executive arm that hands out the cash. Unless there are changes, the European Parliament has already vowed to veto the multi-year, one-trillion-euro budget — along with a massive pandemic recovery fund — that was thrashed out between heads of government at a summit in July.

Parliament members are due to sit down with representatives from the member states on Thursday to seek a compromise, with MEPs insisting on stricter conditions around civil rights.  The summit deal in July was seen by some as not putting enough pressure on countries to respect core EU values, especially after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed a “huge victory” against conditionality after the talks.

In their letter on Wednesday, the MEPs insisted that EU member states approve a parliament proposal from April 2019 which would firmly link EU spending to the rule of law, which they vetoed at the time. Without its formal approval, “it will be impossible for us to move forward” on the EU budget, the group leaders said.

The EU budget is deeply intertwined with the 750 billion euro post-virus recovery fund, that parliament does not have a say over.  But given the historic recession afflicting Europe, member states are under huge pressure to implement the plan and the budget as soon as possible, hopefully by the end of the year.

Recent events in Hungary and Poland suggest the countries have little intention of addressing EU concerns over attacks on media freedom, LGBTI rights and the independence of the courts. A day after the summit in July, the editor of Hungary’s top independent news site was fired, seen as another sign of the Orban government’s attacks on opposition media. In Poland, the UN’s AIDS programme this month voiced deep concern about the “intensifying persecution” of LGBTI people, as well as crackdowns on human rights defenders.

Top Euro MPs to Merkel: No EU budget without rule of law

Killing of journalists in Mexico: Juan Carlos Morrugares the latest victim

August 24, 2020

The BBC reported on 23 August that a man in Mexico has been given a 50-year prison sentence for ordering the killing of a prominent journalist, Miroslava Breach, who covered drugs violence and corruption in the country and was one of 11 journalists murdered in 2017 in Mexico. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/30/in-depth-investigative-report-on-journalist-miroslava-in-mexico/]. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/24/new-national-award-to-honor-slain-mexican-journalists/

Prosecutors said the lengthy prison term for Juan Carlos Moreno set a precedent in cases involving crimes against free expression. This “good news” comes amidst continuing killings of journalists also in this year. Reporter Pablo Morrugares was shot and killed in the city of Iguala in early hours of 2 August 2020, according to news reports and officials.

Pablo Morrugares was the fifth journalist to be killed in Mexico this year, in attacks which are increasingly also killing police guards assigned to the victims. More than 140 journalists have been killed over the past 20 years.

We are dismayed that Mexican journalists are being killed while supposedly under federal protection,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Authorities must do everything in their power to curb this impunity in attacks on the press, bring the culprits in Pablo Morrugares’ murder to justice, and guarantee the safety of reporters it has committed to protect.

Morrugares, the founder and editor of news website PM Noticias, was attacked shortly before 1:00 a.m. on August 2 in a restaurant in Iguala, some 120 miles south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero Two heavily armed men entered the restaurant and fired more than 50 rounds at Morrugares, who died instantly. A police officer assigned to Morrugares as part of a federal protection program also died in the attack. The gunmen left the scene immediately after.

Before founding PM Noticias, Morrugares worked as a spokesperson for the Iguala municipal government during the administration of José Luis Abarca. The former mayor was arrested on November 4, 2014, for his alleged involvement in the mass abduction and suspected assassination of 43 students from a Guerrero rural teachers’ college on September 26 of that year. In 2016, Morrugares and his wife were targets of an attack by unidentified gunmen in Iguala, according to news reports. Following the attack, the reporter was placed in a protection program overseen by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Interior Secretariat (Segob). An official of the Mechanism, who asked to remain anonymous as he is not authorized to speak on the matter, told CPJ today that his institution relocated the journalist to a safe house at an undisclosed location in 2018, where he stayed under federal protection until the end of 2019. The official said that Morrugares returned to Iguala at his own request in January of this year and was assigned two state police officers as bodyguards, one of whom died in this week’s attack.

https://cpj.org/2020/08/mexican-journalist-pablo-morrugares-killed-in-iguala/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-53880211

Ressa’s ‘cyber libel’ conviction in the Philippines shocks

June 15, 2020

Several international and national outlets (here Christia Marie Ramos in INQUIRER.net of 15 June 2020) have reported with dismay on the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former research-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. in a cyber libel case in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/16/pulitzer-prizes-for-courageous-journalists-in-myanmar-and-philippines/

In a statement, Senator Francis Pangilinan said “The silencing of critics and the attacks on the media has been going on for three years now,” he said. “And unless we stand up, speak out, and vigorously oppose the tyranny in our midst, their conviction will not be the last” he added… Ressa and Santos are the first journalists to be found guilty of cyber libel.

In this context ABS-CBN was forced off the air after its television and radio broadcast operations nationwide were ordered shut a day after its 25-year-franchise expired.

Detained Senator Leila de Lima joined her colleagues in condemning Ressa and Santos’ conviction, saying it was “another demonstration” of the Duterte administration’s “weaponization of law against those who dare speak truth to power.” “Jailing me for over three years now is only one of the thousand sinister ways they are causing fear in the hearts of Filipinos who fight for what is just and right,” the senator said in a dispatch from Camp Crame. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/07/30/senator-de-lima-in-detention-in-philippines-receives-her-award/]

Meanwhile, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the guilty verdict against the Rappler CEO was an “obvious attack” against press freedom and an “attack against our democracy itself.” “We are now but a few steps away from Martial Law,” Trillanes, who has been critical of the Duterte administration, said in a statement.

Meanwhile in June 2020 a film on Maria Ressa won a film award:

http://Maria Ressa Film ‘A Thousand Cuts’ Wins Top Prize at New Zealand’s Doc Edge Festival

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Call for nominations for Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press goes ahead in MENA region

February 28, 2020

The European Union launched a call for nominations for the “Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press” at the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon. During the press conference, Ambassador Ralph Tarraf reaffirmed the European Union’s commitment to pursue Samir Kassir’s struggle for free speech and an independent free press. [for more on this and many other awards relating to freedom of the press, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/samir-kassir-award-for-freedom-of-the-press]
The contest is open to candidates from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Gulf until 1 April, 2020, and three awards will be granted for: the best opinion article, investigative article, and audiovisual news report. The contributions must be centered on subjects relating to rule of law, human rights, good governance, fight against corruption, freedom of expression, democratic development and citizen participation. The jury will be composed of seven voting members from Arab and European media and one observer representing the European Union. The names of the jury members will be communicated during the prize-awarding ceremony, which will take place on 2 June 2020 in Beirut, marking the 15th memorial of Samir Kassir’s assassination.

https://en.annahar.com/article/1131572-european-union-launches-the-15th-editionon-of-the-samir-kassir-award-for-freedom

Sweden defies Chinese threats after award to book publisher Gui Minhai

November 19, 2019

the Swedish PEN’s Tucholsky Prize was presented to jailed Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai, . EPA-EFE/Fredrik Sandberg SWEDEN OUT
New Europe reports that Sweden’s culture minister defied a Chinese threat on Friday 15 November after she had awarded a Swedish human rights prize to detained Chinese-Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai.  The ceremony at Sven-Harry’s Art Museum in Stockholm, took place on 15 November 2019.  The Swedish section of the International organization PEN awarded its free speech Tucholsky Prize free speech prize to the 55-year-old Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen now detained in China. The Tucholsky Prize was established in 1984 and is named after German writer Kurt Tucholsky, who sought asylum to Sweden fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It has been previously awarded to writers such as Adam Zagajevski, Nuruddin Farah, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and Svetlana Alexievich.

Gui Minhai published stories about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book shop. He disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015. He then appeared on Chinese state television confessing to a fatal drink-driving accident from more than a decade earlier. He served two years in prison, was released in October 2017, and then arrested again while travelling on a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomats. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/confessions-abound-on-chinese-television-first-gui-minhai-and-now-peter-dahlin/]

Those in power should never take the liberty to attack free artistic expression or free speech,” Swedish Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind said during the ceremony. An empty chair symbolically represented the writer at the ceremony in Stockholm. The Chinese Ambassador to Stockholm, Guy Congyou, opposed both the award and its presentation by a Swedish government official. Gui Congyou told Radio Sweden that there would be “serious consequences” and “countermeasures” against Sweden.

More specifically, Gui Congyyou told Swedish news agency TT that any government representative attending the ceremony would be unwelcome in China. The Chinese Ambassador maintains that Gui Minhai is not a persecuted author but a criminal who has “committed serious offences in both China and Sweden.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven made clear that his government would not back down: “We are not going to give in to this type of threat. Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is, period,” Lofven told Swedish Television. “We have made it clear to China’s representatives that we stand by our position that Gui Minhai must be released and that we have freedom of expression in Sweden,” Lind told TT. Sweden’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday calling on China to release Gui and made an official representation to Chinese authorities over the ambassador’s statements.

China’s sensitivity on this issue has been a constant feature as shown in one of my earliest blog posts in 2012: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/12/06/china-and-its-amazing-sensitivity-on-human-rights-defenders/

Eren Keskin in Turkey sentenced to prison and more to come..

May 28, 2019

On 28 May 2019 Euromedrights brought out a press release “Sentencing of Eren Keskin: another blow against freedom of expression in Turkey”.

This extremely courageous human rights defender has received attention in this blog recently [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/martin-ennals-award-finalist-eren-keskin-honoured-in-ankara/].

On 21 May, at the final hearing of the Özgür Gündem “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign trial, woman human rights defender and co-chair of the Human Rights Association-Insan Hakları Dernerği (IHD), Eren Keskin, was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months prison term for “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and “openly inciting to commit crime”

As deeply concerning as this sentencing is, it is far from an isolated case: across Turkey, civil society activists struggling to ensure basic human rights and fundamental freedoms are targeted by the judiciary, acting as an extension of the legislative power, for legitimately and peacefully exercising their constitutional rights. EuroMed Rights strongly condemns the judicial harassment against Ms Keskin and her fellow activists. 

EuroMed Rights calls on the Turkish authorities to respect their obligations under international human rights treaties, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Turkish constitution, end the crackdown on critics and halt the persecution of human rights defenders. and release all those detained for peacefully expressing their opinions.

Note The Editors-in-Chief on Watch campaign of Özgür Gündem daily began on May 3, 2016 and ended on August 7, 2016. Daily was closed through the Statutory Decree No. 675 issued under the State of Emergency. At the end of March, Ms. Keskin has been sentenced to 7 years and a half on charges of “insulting the President and State institutions” over three reports published in the newspaper in 2015. On 3 July, she will again stand trial in front of 23th High Criminal Court in Istanbul for the “ Özgür Gündem main trial”.

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/sentencing-of-eren-keskin-another-blow-against-freedom-of-expression-in-turkey?e=1209ebd6d8

Pulitzer prizes for courageous journalists in Myanmar and Philippines

April 16, 2019

Mozambique: Joint Statement by NGOs Calling for the release of journalist Amade Abubacar

April 13, 2019