Bangladesh: Islamic Militants Target Journalists
----| IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 15 NO 1 | 10 JANUARY 2006 | ------
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FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT:
1. Bangladesh: Islamic Militants Target Journalists
2. Cambodia: Crackdown on Government Critics Intensifies
3. Paraguay: Defamation Ruling a Setback for Press Freedom
4. Middle East and Northern Africa: Emergency Fund Launched for Writers, Journalists
5. Southern Africa: IFJ, FXI Revive Regional Journalists' Association
CONFERENCES, WORKSHOPS AND EVENTS
6. MRA to Hold Workshops on Transparency, Journalism Training
REPORTS AND PUBLICATIONS:
7. RSF Calls 2005 Deadliest Year in a Decade
8. Iraq War Claims Highest Death Toll: CPJ
9. Report it Now
10. Global Transparency Initiative
AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS:
11. AFMF/WFPI Trophy for Impartial Coverage
12. Chinese Writer, Academic Honoured for Defending Free Expression
ALERTS ISSUED BY THE IFEX CLEARING HOUSE IN THE PAST WEEK
1. BANGLADESH: ISLAMIC MILITANTS TARGET JOURNALISTS
In Bangladesh, widely considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press, 2005 was a year in which Islamic militants increasingly targeted journalists, say Media Watch, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
According to RSF, more than 50 journalists and 10 publications have been threatened by the banned Islamist organisation Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) since September 2005 for publishing allegedly anti-Islamic articles. The threats began in the northern Rajshahi region where JMB founder Bangla Bai has launched an armed struggle to impose Islamic law.
At least 12 journalists were threatened in September for writing about the activities of Islamist groups like JMB. In October, JMB militants threatened journalists at seven news media outlets. Most journalists in Rajshahi now censor themselves for fear of becoming targeted again, says RSF.
In the most recent threat, the JMB sent a letter to the Chittagong
Press Club on 6 December, threatening to kill 22 journalists whom they called "betrayers" and to blow up the press club in the southern port city, reported Media Watch and CPJ. Journalists Sumi Khan, Samaresh Baidya, Abul Momen, Farok Iqbal, Biswajeet Chowdhury, and Anjan Kumer Sen were among those named in the letter. The press club has filed a police complaint and is planning to install security cameras and a metal detector at the club entrance.
Two days earlier, the JMB reportedly sent threatening letters to 16 journalists in the towns of Faridpur, Barisal and Gaibandha.
In response to the threats, news organisations and press clubs in Bangladesh have stepped up security measures to protect themselves, says RSF. People entering the headquarters of most newspapers and the national press club in Dhaka now have to pass through metal detectors. Several newspaper editors, such as the managing editor of the independent daily "Janakantha", now employ private security guards.
Bangladeshi authorities have blamed JMB for a series of suicide bombings, the first ever in the country, including attacks in Gazipur and Chittagong on 29 November that killed 11 people.
Media Watch says 2005 was a year of repression for journalists in the country. Its recent report says 164 journalists received death threats last year, while 133 were physically assaulted. Three journalists were killed.
Visit these links:
- Media Watch Report: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/71340/
- Amnesty International:
- Bangladesh Mulls Anti-Terrorism Law:
- New York Times:
2. CAMBODIA: CRACKDOWN ON GOVERNMENT CRITICS INTENSIFIES
IFEX members are calling attention to Cambodia, where authorities have recently arrested three human rights activists and launched at least nine criminal defamation lawsuits in an attempt to silence government critics and political opponents.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is urging free expression groups around the world to write letters to the Cambodian government expressing concern over the arrests of Kem Sokha, the director of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR), and Yeng Virak, coordinator of the Cambodia Center for Education of Law (CCEL). The Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) reports that both men were arrested on 31 December 2005 and are being detained at Prey Sar Prison.
According to CAPJ, Cambodian authorities have accused Sokha and Virak of unfurling a banner in a Human Rights Day demonstration on 10 December that labeled the government a "traitor regime" for ceding land to Vietnam in a border agreement. If convicted, Sokha and Virak could each face up to one year in jail, be fined up to 10 million riels (approx. US$2,400), or both. The U.S., British and Japanese ambassadors in Cambodia have expressed concerns over the arrest and detention of the two activists.
Kem Sokha is one of Cambodia's most outspoken human rights activists, says Human Rights Watch. He was a member of the National Assembly from 1993 to 1998, where he chaired the Human Rights Commission, and was a senator from 1999 to 2002. In 2002, Sokha founded CCHR and started a popular radio programme, "Voice of Democracy", which provides a platform for Cambodians to publicly criticise the government.
Pa Guon Tieng, a journalist and producer for "Voice of Democracy", has also been arrested and charged with criminal defamation, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). On 5 January 2006, he was formally charged as an accomplice to criminal defamation because of his participation in the Human Rights Day demonstration.
Human Rights Watch says Cambodian authorities have filed at least nine criminal defamation cases in recent months to silence critics. Beehive Radio 105 FM journalist Mam Sonando faces criminal defamation charges for critical reports he aired about the treaty with Vietnam. On 22 December, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced to 18 months in prison in absentia on charges of defaming Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the president of the National Assembly.
In another case, Hang Sakorn, editor of the newspaper "Ponleu Samaki", faces defamation charges for alleging that a provincial prosecutor accepted a US$3,000 bribe which influenced his decision in a politically charged land dispute case, according to CPJ and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1) Write a letter protesting the lawsuits. See:
2) Stay informed. Visit these links:
- SEAPA: http://www.seapabkk.org
- Human Rights Watch:
- Radio Free Asia:
- UN Human Rights Chief Condemns Arrests: http://tinyurl.com/dnqun
3. PARAGUAY: DEFAMATION RULING A SETBACK FOR PRESS FREEDOM
In a judgment the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) calls a setback for press freedom, Paraguay's Supreme Court has ordered the director of a leading daily newspaper to pay a substantial fine for defaming a senator of the ruling Colorado Party, report IAPA and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
On 28 December 2005, the Court ordered Aldo Zuccolillo, director of
"ABC Color", to pay 1.3 billion guarantíes (US$200,000) to Juan Carlos Galverna. Galverna alleged that Zuccolillo damaged his reputation by publishing articles that accused him of corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power.
Between June 1997 and December 1998, the newspaper published articles accusing Galverna of "accepting free stays at the Guaraní Hotel in
Asunción, being on a list of high-risk bank loan borrowers, influence peddling, and giving political protection to the then president of the National Workers Bank, who was later sentenced to 10 years in jail for bleeding the bank dry," reports IAPA.
Zuccolillo faces 17 other lawsuits over articles his newspaper has published in recent years on official corruption, says CPJ.
Zuccolillo plans to appeal the Supreme Court ruling with the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has the authority to refer cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in Costa Rica. The court is an arm of the Organization of American States and its decisions are binding on nations that have accepted its jurisdiction.
CPJ says the Supreme Court ruling seems to contradict an IACHR ruling in September 2004, which found that a criminal defamation conviction against Paraguayan politician Ricardo Canese violated the American Convention on Human Rights, a treaty Paraguay has ratified.
That ruling followed a landmark IACHR judgment in August 2004, which stated that Costa Rica violated the same convention when its courts convicted journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa of criminal defamation. The IACHR said critics of public officials must have "leeway in order for ample debate to take place on matters of public interest."
Visit these links:
- IAPA Report on Paraguay:
- CPJ Report on Paraguay:
- IACHR Ruling on Ricardo Canese:
- American Convention on Human Rights:
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
- Human Rights Network of Paraguay (CODEHUPY): http://www.codehupy.org/
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
4. EMERGENCY FUND LAUNCHED FOR WRITERS, JOURNALISTS
A new emergency fund to support persecuted writers, journalists, cartoonists and artists in the Middle East and North Africa region has been launched, following an international gathering of Arab writers, journalists, cartoonists and writers in Amman, Jordan in December 2005.
Bayt El-Kalima, or Kalima House (The House of the Word), was launched at the International Conference on Freedom of Expression in the Arab World, organised by the Arab Archives Institute (AAI). Held in co-operation with the Canadian Human Security Programme, the conference was attended by journalists, academics and artists from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine and Jordan. Representatives of the IFEX Clearing House, PEN and the Norway-based Human Rights House Foundation also participated.
The new fund will be aimed at providing financial support to Arab journalists, writers, cartoonists and artists who are being persecuted for expressing their views and deprived of their means of living as a result of their work.
AAI Director and Kalima House Coordinator Sa'eda Kilani says there will be an extensive campaign to drum up donations for the emergency fund. She says Kalima House will also draft bylaws in consultation with experts to ensure transparency in managing its affairs.
The international conference, held from 30 November to 1 December, shed light on the attacks experienced by writers, journalists, cartoonists and artists in the region. Renowned Palestinian cartoonist Imad Hajjaj displayed his censored cartoons, while Lebanese artist Ahmad Ka'bour gave a presentation on political songs and their influence on the progress of democracy in Lebanon and the Arab world. Prominent Lebanese journalist Gisèle Khoury recounted the life of her late husband Samir Kassir, who was assassinated in a car bomb attack in June 2005.
At the conference, AAI also launched its new book, "Jordan Press
Association - The Unwritten History", which documents the influence of the JPA over the country's press and how it suppresses media freedom.
For information on other emergency funds for journalists, writers and human rights defenders, see:
5. SOUTHERN AFRICA: IFJ, FXI REVIVE REGIONAL JOURNALISTS' ASSOCIATION
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Freedom of
Expression Institute (FXI) have teamed up to revive the Southern African Journalists Association (SAJA) in a bid to build regional support for journalists and media unions who are coming under increasing pressure for reporting the news.
Founded in 2002, SAJA has been lying dormant in recent years due to operational problems. It represents journalists and media workers in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Most of its member unions are affiliates of the IFJ.
With IFJ and FXI's support, SAJA will assist in rebuilding national organisations in countries where existing media unions are weak so that the rights of journalists and the right of the public to access to information are protected.
SAJA will be temporarily housed at, and administered by, FXI until it holds its congress in 2006 and elects a new executive.
Visit these links:
- FXI: http://www.fxi.org.za/
CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS
6. MRA TO HOLD WORKSHOPS ON TRANSPARENCY, JOURNALISM TRAINING
Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the World Bank Institute will be holding workshops in Nigeria in February to raise awareness of the importance of access to information and of improved reporting on development, poverty and economic issues.
The first workshop, entitled "Information and Media Environment in
Nigeria", will be held in Abuja from 1 to 3 February 2006. It will bring together legislators, policy-makers, government officers, civil society organisations and media professionals to address key issues related to media and access to information.
It will examine the significance of information access and transparency for better government and development, the capacity and constraints of government departments in making information easily available and accessible to citizens and the media, the constraints civil society face in pursuing governmental accountability, and the role of the mass media as effective intermediaries of information. Participants will work together to create preliminary action plans for addressing these constraints.
The second workshop will be held in Lagos from 6 to 8 February and will aim to improve and increase local media coverage of development, poverty and economic issues. Roughly 50 editors and journalists are expected to take part in the workshop, which will examine key economic issues such as global economic systems, poverty reduction strategies, and the role of local and international institutions in fighting poverty.
For more information on the access to information workshop, see:
For more information on the journalism training workshop, see:
REPORTS AND PUBLICATIONS
7. RSF CALLS 2005 DEADLIEST YEAR IN A DECADE
For Reporters Without Borders' (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), 2005 marked the deadliest year for journalists in a decade, with 68 killed and more than 1,300 physically attacked and threatened, according to the group's year-end report.
RSF said 63 journalists and 5 media assistants were killed last year, the highest number since 1995. In 2004, RSF recorded 53 journalists and 15 media assistants killed.
For the third consecutive year, Iraq was the world's most dangerous country for journalists, with 24 journalists and 5 media assistants killed, said RSF. More journalists and media assistants have been killed there since March 2003 than during the 20-year Vietnam War.
World-wide, more journalists were physically attacked and threatened last year than during the previous year, RSF noted, with almost daily occurrences in Bangladesh and Nepal. In 2004, RSF recorded 1,146 attacks and threats.
As of 1 January 2006, 126 journalists and 70 cyber-dissidents were in jail around the world.
To read the full report, visit:
8. IRAQ WAR CLAIMS HIGHEST DEATH TOLL: CPJ
Iraq has become the single deadliest conflict for the media since the
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) began recording journalists' deaths 24 years ago, with 60 journalists killed on duty since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. The toll surpasses the 58 journalists CPJ says were killed in the Algerian conflict from 1993 to 1996.
In its year-end report, CPJ says Iraq accounted for about half of the world-wide deaths recorded in 2005 by the organisation. Internationally, murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths among journalists last year, with 47 killed last year. More than three-quarters of them were murdered to silence their criticism or punish them for their work. CPJ considers a journalist to be killed on duty if the person died as a result of a hostile action, including retaliation for his or her work; in crossfire while covering a conflict; or while reporting in dangerous circumstances such as a violent street demonstration.
CPJ's report also notes that about 90 per cent of the murders in 2005 went unpunished. CPJ has found that less than 15 percent ofjournalist murders since 1992 have resulted in the arrest and prosecution of those who ordered the killings.
Read CPJ's report here:
9. REPORT IT NOW
Inspired by the film "Good Night and Good Luck", Report it Now is a campaign launched by a coalition of organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Salon magazine, which encourages U.S. citizens to submit articles on stories they feel aren't being covered by mainstream media.
10. GLOBAL TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE
The Global Transparency Initiative (GTI) is a network of civil society organisations that aim to promote transparency among International Financial Institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS
11. AFMF/WFPI TROPHY FOR IMPARTIAL COVERAGE
The Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF) and the World Free Press
Institute (WFPI) have launched a new prize aimed at encouraging responsible reporting on conflict in Africa.
The AFMF/WFPI Trophy for Impartial Coverage seeks to honour media outlets that demonstrate impartiality in covering war, conflict, elections and politically motivated trials. AFMF and WFPI hope that the prize will encourage the media to offer balanced news and opinions, thereby promoting democracy and peaceful co-existence.
There are three categories of awards: print, broadcast and online media. Each winner receives a trophy and a cash prize of US$1,000.
Nominations should be submitted by organisations working in the field of freedom of expression and media freedom.
The deadline for submitting nominations is 30 September 2006.
Nominations should be sent to: Africa Free Media Foundation, P. O. Box 70147 Nairobi 00400, Kenya.
12. CHINESE WRITER, ACADEMIC HONOURED FOR DEFENDING FREE EXPRESSION
The Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) is honouring a Beijing-based writer and a university professor with awards recognising them for promoting and defending the right to freedom of expression.
Wu Si is the recipient of the 2005 Free-to-Write Award in honour of what ICPC calls his "persistent writing with a free spirit." Since 1996, the Beijing-based writer has been executive editor-in-chief of the magazine "Yanhuang Chunqiu" ("Chinese History"). In recent years, he has published several books that have received widespread acclaim among intellectuals, including "Chen Yonggui in Zhongnanhai: An Experiment to Reform China."
ICPC is also honouring Lu Xuesong, a female university teacher in Jilin province, with the inaugural Lin Zhao Memorial Award for her "brave effort to promote freedom of expression in her teaching." A teacher at the Jilin College of Fine Arts, Lu was suspended by school authorities in 2005 after she showed a film about Lin Zhao, a student who was imprisoned in the 1950s for criticising the Chinese Communist Party.
ICPC is an affiliate of International PEN, the worldwide network of writers dedicated to defending freedom of expression.
For more information, visit:
- The Case of Lu Xuesong: http://www.zonaeuropa.com/20050804_1.htm
- Academic Censorship in China: