IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 15 NO 26
----| IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 15 NO 26 | 4 JULY 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 (www.cjfe.org).
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----- | INDEX | ------
FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT:
1. Afghanistan: Media Guidelines Threaten Press Freedom
2. Mexico: Presidential Candidates Urged to Promote Transparency
3. Liberia: Committee to Probe Attacks on Journalists
4. Laos: New Leader Urged to Ease Censorship
5. Sri Lanka: Journalist Murdered
ALERTS ISSUED BY THE IFEX CLEARING HOUSE LAST WEEK
1. AFGHANISTAN: MEDIA GUIDELINES THREATEN PRESS FREEDOM
In what has been called the biggest threat to the independence of the media and free expression since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan's intelligence agency has issued a list of guidelines urging journalists to curtail their reporting on the country's deteriorating security situation.
Issued by the National Intelligence Directorate (NID) on 18 June 2006, the guidelines ban "Reports that aim to represent that the fighting spirit in Afghanistan's armed forces is weak," and "Negative propaganda, interviews and reports which are provocative or slanderous and which are against the presence [in Afghanistan] of the international coalition forces and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force]," according to Human Rights Watch.
The guidelines also say news of "terrorist" activities should not be lead stories, and provocative statements by, or interviews with, "terrorists" should not be published or broadcast. It does not say what penalties journalists would incur if they ignored the instructions nor how they fit with the Afghan Constitution's provisions protecting free expression.
The guidelines have prompted calls of concern from Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).
According to CPJ and RSF, media organisations were first told about the guidelines in a meeting with a government official on 12 June, where they were handed a list of recommendations reportedly signed by the head of the NID, Amrullah Saleh. Those who attended the meeting included representatives of Tolo TV, the magazines "Kilid" and "Sibat", "Kabul Weekly" and Pajwak Afghan News Service.
On 19 June, President Hamid Karzai's office issued a statement denying that the government had issued restrictions. It described the guidelines as a "request" reflecting "the need to help the nascent media sector in Afghanistan to approach the complex issue of terrorism and terrorist activities in a principled manner." On 22 June, Karzai gave a press conference insisting that the directive is not a threat to freedom of expression. "We defend press freedom because without it the country cannot develop. You should be confident that there will be press freedom and that I will support it," he said.
Visit these links:
- Human Rights Watch:
>http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=18083- Afghan Journalists Slam Media Restrictions:
>http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5140380.stm- Crisis Group Report on Afghanistan's Security Situation:
2. MEXICO: PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES URGED TO PROMOTE TRANSPARENCY
As Mexicans await the results of the most closely contested presidential election in the country's recent history, the National Centre for Social Communication (Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social, CENCOS) and ARTICLE 19 have joined 13 other civil society organisations in urging candidates to publicly pledge their commitment to transparency, accountability and the right to access information.
The organisations have called on the candidates to establish a formal dialogue with civil society, academics and the general public to identify the political reforms they say are needed to ensure that the right to access information is fully guaranteed and respected by the government.
The right to access information is recognised in the Mexican Constitution and in several international human rights treaties ratified by Mexico.
The organisations say one useful reform would be the incorporation of principles into the Mexican Constitution to help increase transparency in all public institutions. Another would be to strengthen the country's existing access to information legislation. The civil society groups also say a new government should support and strengthen the Federal Institute of Access to Public Information, a public agency that plays an important role in protecting the right to access information.
Read the letter to presidential candidates:
Visit these links:
- CENCOS: >http://www.cencos.org/- ARTICLE 19's Principles on Access to
Access to Information Law: >http://www.freedominfo.org/countries/mexico.htm-
3. LIBERIA: COMMITTEE TO PROBE ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appointed a committee to investigate a recent spate of attacks on journalists who have been probing the country's security services, reports the Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP).
The committee will include representatives of civil society and independent media, including Liberia Democracy Watch and Talking Drum Studio. It is expected to report back to the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs by 10 July 2006.
Since May, there
have been at least three incidents in which Special
Security Service agents have harassed or assaulted journalists, note CEMESP and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
On 13 June, four journalists were briefly detained at the Executive Mansion for attempting to confirm reports of the alleged dismissal of five senior SSS personnel. The journalists were Abas Dulleh of the "New Democrat" newspaper, Patrick Honnah of Truth FM radio, Olando Zeongar of "Heritage" newspaper and Jallah Grayfield of the Catholic-run Radio Veritas.
The SSS said the
journalists were detained because they took pictures of a
notice board that contained a memorandum about the
President Sirleaf's office later apologised for the incident.
In another incident, several
journalists, including Grayfield, were roughed up in a
scuffle with SSS agents on 8 June at Liberia's
International Airport, CEMESP reported. The journalists had been denied permission to interview President Sirleaf upon her arrival from a visit to Switzerland. Grayfield was injured in the neck and had his mobile phone confiscated.
On 24 May, Radio Veritas reporter George D. Watkins was assaulted by
SSS agents while reporting on the SSS's alleged enlisting of a former rebel commander, CPJ said. Watkins was investigating reports that a former commander from Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) had been given an SSS post.
LURD was one of a coalition of rebel groups credited with ousting former president Charles Taylor in August 2003. Several former LURD fighters were integrated into the new government and security forces.
Visit these links:
- CEMESP: >http://www.liberianmedia.org/- CPJ:
Rights Watch Backgrounder:
>http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/01/18/liberi12315.htm- The Analyst:
>http://allafrica.com/stories/200606190999.html- Crisis Group:
4. LAOS: NEW LEADER URGED TO EASE CENSORSHIP
Laos is known as one of the most isolated and information-starved countries in Southeast Asia. Ruled by the People's Revolutionary Party (PPRL) since 1975, its media is tightly controlled by authorities. All mass media outlets are state-owned, and Internet access is highly controlled and monitored. Visa regulations discourage foreign journalists from entering the country and those that do must be escorted by government agents.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) says the local press has a constitutionally-defined "prime duty" to serve the PPRL's policies and direction. Censorship is imposed at all levels, from newspaper editors who are themselves party members, to the Ministry of Information and Culture, which regulates media content and issues publication licenses.
Last week, following the June 2006 appointment of Choummaly Sayasone as the country's new president, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) wrote to Sayasone expressing its concerns over the lack of free expression in the country. RSF called attention to laws under which journalists can be jailed for "spreading news which weakens the state" or importing a "publication contrary to national culture." It urged Sayasone to give foreign journalists greater access to the country and to allow broadcasters such as Radio France International and Radio Free Asia to air Lao-language programmes in the capital Vientiane and other cities.
RSF pointed out that foreign journalists have been prevented on several occasions from covering the plight of the Hmong, an ethnic minority group that has resisted the Communist regime since 1975. Two Laotian citizens - Thao Moua and Pa Phue Khang remain imprisoned in Vientiane for assisting a Belgian reporter and French cameraman who were investigating what they called a humanitarian tragedy confronting the Hmong. The detainees were sentenced to prison for 12 and 20 years, respectively, on 30 June 2003. RSF called for their immediate release.
RSF also urged Sayasone to pardon Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, a writer and pro-democracy activist who was sentenced to jail for 20 years in 2002 for "anti-government activity."
Visit these links:
- RSF: >http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=18109- SEAPA:
5. SRI LANKA: JOURNALIST MURDERED
Free Media Movement (FMM), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) warn that free expression conditions in Sri Lanka appear to be deteriorating amidst escalating violence in the country, which claimed the life of a journalist on 2 July 2006.
Unidentified gunmen shot dead freelance journalist Sampath Lakmal de Silva after abducting him from his parents' home in Borallasgamuwa, reported FMM. De Silva had recently written reports that embarrassed elements of the security forces, according to FMM. He was the former defence correspondent for the Sinhala-language newspaper "Isathdina Weekly". De Silva was the first Sinhala journalist killed in Sri Lanka in eight years.
De Silva's murder occurred right after the conclusion of an IFJ mission to Sri Lanka from 25-30 June, where the international group met with its local affiliates to discuss the situation facing journalists.
According to IFJ, six media workers have now been killed in Sri Lanka since January 2005. None of the crimes have been either investigated or solved. The murdered journalists include Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan, Relangi Sevaraja, Dharmeratnam Sivaram, Suresh Kumar and Ranjith Kumar.
FMM says the first six months of this year have been marked by the increased harassment of journalists, media outlets and human rights activists by ultra-nationalist groups and government forces. Those who support a negotiated settlement of the conflict are labeled as "traitors" and supporters of the Tamil Tigers rebel group.
FMM notes that Tamil journalists face particular challenges in reporting the news. The majority of attacks have been against Tamil journalists and Tamil-language outlets. Since 2001, every journalist killed in Sri Lanka (except de Silva) has been a Tamil, says FMM.
Visit these links:
- FMM: >http://www.freemediasrilanka.org/- IFJ: