IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 15 NO 25
----| IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 15 NO 25 | 27 JUNE 2006 | ------
The IFEX Communiqué is the weekly newsletter of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), a global network of 72 organisations working to defend and promote the right to free expression. IFEX is managed by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression ( http://www.cjfe.org/).
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FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT:
1. Burma: Harsh Jail Terms Highlight Repressive State
2. Somalia: Swedish Photojournalist Murdered
3. Panama: Draft Criminal Defamation Amendments Cause Alarm
4. Japan: High Court Affirms Journalists' Right to Protect Sources
5. AU Summit Host Bans Forum on Free Expression
6. Russia: CJES Urges Defamation Law Reform
ALERTS ISSUED BY THE IFEX CLEARING HOUSE LAST WEEK
1. BURMA: HARSH JAIL TERMS HIGHLIGHT REPRESSIVE STATE
Burma, officially known as Myanmar, has a reputation for being one of the world's worst violators of human rights, including freedom of expression. It has one of the strictest media censorship regimes, and journalists and writers are often given harsh prison terms for criticising authorities. Earlier this month, four individuals who were involved in the publication of a book of poems were sentenced to jail for terms ranging from seven to 19 years, reported the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF)
On 9 June 2006, a criminal court in Pegu, north of the capital Rangoon, sentenced Aung Than, Zeya Aung, Maung Maung Oo and Sein Hlaing for publishing a book of poems deemed "anti-government."
Aung Than and Zeya Aung each received 19-year sentences for publishing a book of poems called "Dawn Mann" ("The Fighting Spirit of the Peacock"), reported SEAPA. The peacock is the symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Burma and of the banned National League for Democracy party (NLD). Aung Than is a member of the NLD. In addition to being sentenced for publishing "anti-government" poems, both men were sentenced for associating with outlawed organisations and illegally crossing the Thai-Burma border.
Maung Maung Oo, owner of the printing shop where the book was published, and Sein Hlaing, who helped distribute the book, were sentenced to 14 and seven years in prison, respectively. The NLD said it would appeal the decision. Six others who were arrested in connection with the publishing of the book were released after six days of interrogation, according to SEAPA.
Aung Than, Zeya Aung and Maung Maung Oo are reportedly being held at Insein prison in Rangoon, where other journalists and dissidents, including U Win Tin, have been detained under harsh conditions for years. Sein Hlaing is being held at a prison in Pegu.
Under Burma's 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, which was amended in 1989, offenders face a jail term of up to seven years and a fine of up to 30,000 Kyat (approx. US$5), notes SEAPA. The Act requires that all books, periodicals, song lyrics and motion picture scripts be submitted to the Press Scrutiny Board for approval.
According to Human Rights Watch, the human rights situation in Burma is as bleak today as at any point in the country's recent history. Despite promises of political reform, the ruling military junta continues to ban virtually all opposition political activity and persecute democracy and human rights activists. More than 1,100 people are currently imprisoned for their political beliefs, and freedoms of expression, assembly, and association are non-existent.
The military junta has also increased attacks on ethnic minorities in eastern Burma, which has resulted in half a million internally displaced people and forced more than 700,000 others to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, the group says.
International pressure is building on the U.N. Security Council to take action on Burma. In an unprecedented action, more than 500 parliamentarians from 34 countries have signed a letter urging the Council to issue a binding resolution calling for national reconciliation in Burma.
Visit these links:
- Human Rights Watch:
- Joint Letter to U.N. Security Council:
- Mizzima News: http://www.mizzima.com/
- Burma Media Association: http://www.bma-online.net/
- Burma Campaign: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/unitednations.php
- Irawaddy Magazine: http://www.irrawaddy.org/
2. SOMALIA: SWEDISH PHOTOJOURNALIST MURDERED
One day after militia leaders signed a peace accord with the transitional federal government in Somalia, Swedish photojournalist Martin Adler was shot and killed by an unidentified assailant in the capital, Mogadishu on 23 June 2006, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Adler was covering a demonstration organised by the Islamic Courts Union, a militia that wrested control of the capital from warlords on 5 June. According to an Associated Press reporter who witnessed the attack, Adler was filming demonstrators burning U.S. and Ethiopian flags when a hooded man came up behind Adler and shot him in the back at close range before disappearing into the crowd.
Adler was a freelancer for several media organisations, including Channel 4 and the Swedish newspaper "Aftonbladet". He won many awards for his work, including a Rory Peck Award in 2004 and an Amnesty International Media Award in 2001. He leaves a wife and two daughters who live in Sweden.
CPJ and RSF note that the murder may have been fueled by anti-Western sentiment, including reports that the warlords who used to rule the capital were financed by the C.I.A to capture suspected al-Qaeda members in Somalia. The Islamic Courts Union, whose stated goal is to restore Sharia law in Mogadishu and to end impunity and fighting on the streets, strongly opposes the transitional government's intention to invite foreign peacekeepers into the country.
In 2005, two other journalists were killed in Somalia. In February, BBC producer Kate Peyton was murdered in Mogadishu days after entering the country to cover the peace process. Six months later, local radio journalist Duniya Muhyadin Nur was shot dead while covering a protest near the capital.
Visit these links:
- International News Safety Institute:
- Tribute to Martin Adler:
3. PANAMA: DRAFT CRIMINAL DEFAMATION AMENDMENTS CAUSE ALARM
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect
Journalists (CPJ) are expressing alarm at a bill drafted by Panamanian lawmakers, under which prison terms for defamation would be doubled and penalties drastically increased.
A committee of lawyers and academics commissioned by the government to examine penal code reform presented the draft bill to President Martín Torrijos last week. Under the proposed amendments, anyone convicted of defamation could be imprisoned for up to three years, notes IAPA.
Convictions for libel offences would carry jail terms of up to two years. Defamation and libel offences would also be subject to fines that would be considerably stiffer than under existing legislation. If President Torrijos and his cabinet endorse the proposals, it will be put before congress in September.
On 20 June, 300 journalists protested against the draft bill in Panama City, reported PROBIDAD. In response, the government agreed to include six journalists in a new commission that would examine the proposals.
According to an IAPA report, there were 15 pending lawsuits against journalists for libel and slander in Panama as of October 2005.
The Organization of American States' Special Rapporteur on Free Expression has stated that Panama's criminal defamation and insult laws are incompatible with inter-American human rights standards. In a July 2003 report, the Rapporteur urged the government to repeal all "desacato" or insult laws, saying, "It is wrong to deprive anyone of his/her liberty to express views about public officials."
Visit these links:
- OAS Report on Panama:
- World Press Freedom Committee:
4. JAPAN: HIGH COURT AFFIRMS JOURNALISTS' RIGHT TO PROTECT SOURCES
A Tokyo High Court has recognised the importance of protecting journalists' right to keep their sources confidential, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
On 13 June 2006, the Tokyo High Court ruled that the protection of news sources served the public interest and the public's right to know. The case related to a series of lawsuits filed in the U.S. by an American food company, whose Japanese subsidiary was fined for tax evasion in 1997.
The American company claimed in its lawsuits that tax information, which the U.S. government provided to Japanese tax authorities at that time, was leaked to the media, including a journalist from the newspaper "Yomiuri Shimbun" who reported in an October 1997 article that the subsidiary had chosen not to declare about 7.7 billion yen (US$66m) in taxable income. The company asked Japanese judicial authorities to question reporters at several Japanese news organizations, including the "Yomiuri Shimbun" and the broadcaster NHK, in connection with the case.
The 13 June decision reaffirmed an earlier ruling by the same court on 17 March, which declared that an NHK journalist who reported on the same tax scandal had a right to protect his source's identity, even if that source was a public official.
Visit these links:
5. AU SUMMIT HOST BANS FORUM ON FREE EXPRESSION
The Gambian government is refusing to allow a group of civil society organisations to host a forum on freedom of expression at the African Union Summit it is hosting next week in Banjul, reports the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).
MFWA and 14 other free expression organisations have signed a letter protesting the move, saying it violates the African Union's constitution. On 19 June, Gambian authorities informed the hotel where the forum was to be hosted that the event could not take place until it was approved by the government.
"The African Union offers a new framework for good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is therefore unacceptable and intolerable that, despite being the host of the African Union Summit, the Gambian government persists in silencing free speech and trampling on the basic rights of Gambians," the organisations said. The organisations who signed the letter included Media Rights Agenda, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the West African Journalist Association, ARTICLE 19 and the International Federation of Journalists.
Scheduled for 29-30 June 2006, the forum was to bring dozens of organisations together to examine the main challenges facing free expression in Africa, and to seek ways to more effectively use continental mechanisms such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to protect free expression in their countries (see:
The free expression groups say their forum was singled out by the Gambian government for obstruction, noting that other civil society meetings focusing on less "sensitive" issues have been given the green light to proceed.
Last week, the Gambia was criticised by the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. donor, which denied aid to the country after examining "documented evidence of human rights abuses and increased restrictions on political rights, civil liberties, and press freedom by the government," notes the International Press Institute (IPI).
Visit these links:
- Joint Statement on the Ban:
- Forum on Freedom of Expression in Africa:
- AU Summit:
6. RUSSIA: CJES URGES DEFAMATION LAW REFORM
The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) invites free expression advocates to sign an online petition campaign urging the Russian government to abolish laws that criminalise defamation.
Since 2000, when Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power, more than 300 lawsuits - an average of 45 to 50 per year - have been brought against journalists in the country, according to CJES. Under Article 129 of Russia's Criminal Code, anyone convicted of defamation can be imprisoned for up to three years.
International organisations, including the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have repeatedly urged Russia to repeal criminal defamation laws on the grounds that they are incompatible with international free expression standards.
Sign the petition here:
Visit these links for more information:
- IFJ Campaign Toolkit:
- Council of Europe: http://tinyurl.com/oarkw
- OSCE Inventory of Criminal Defamation Laws: