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IFEX Communiqué Vol 17 No 07 - 19 February 2008

Ifex Communiqué Vol 17 No 07 - 19 February 2008
------| IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 17 NO 07 | 19 FEBRUARY 2008 | ------

The "IFEX Communiqué" is the weekly newsletter of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), a global network of 81 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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------| INDEX |------

FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT: 1. No Public Commitment to Press Freedom and More Anti-Media Violence in 2008, Says RSF

REGIONAL NEWS: 2. Mexico: Government Silent on Recent Spate of Attacks on Press 3. Arab Satellite Charter Major Setback to Press Freedom in Region, Say IFEX Members 4. Iraq: Abducted Reporter Found Dead 5. Tunisia: Comedian in Prison for Satirising President

UPDATES: 6. Denmark: Mohammed Cartoon Controversy Resurfaces

CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS: 7. International Publishers Association Congress Comes to Seoul

AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS: 8. World Affairs Journalism Fellowship Programme 9. RSF's Signal for Europe 2008 - Press Freedom Award -------------------------------------------------------- FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT

1. NO PUBLIC COMMITMENT TO PRESS FREEDOM AND MORE ANTI-MEDIA VIOLENCE IN 2008, SAYS RSF

At a time when journalists now, more than ever, are the targets of violence and repression - last year 86 journalists were killed - public officials worldwide are "impotent, cowardly and duplicitous" when it comes to defending them, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). And reporters covering elections this year will especially pay the price.

"The spinelessness of some Western countries and major international bodies is harming press freedom," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in RSF's 2008 press freedom report, which surveys nearly 100 countries. "The lack of determination by democratic countries in defending the values they supposedly stand for is alarming."

Ménard says Western governments are quick to condemn developing countries that have "little strategic value." But when it comes to dealing with China and Russia, Western leaders become "salesmen", and human rights rarely makes it onto the agenda.

RSF's report forecasts physical attacks on journalists during elections in Pakistan (18 February), Iran (14 March) and Zimbabwe (29 March) - key votes in countries whose leaders distrust independent journalists and are invulnerable to outside critics.

Last week in Pakistan, five journalists were critically injured in a bomb blast in Khuzdar, Balochistan, outside the electoral office of an independent candidate. The latest news reports from Pakistan show that despite official curbs on private, live news coverage and claims of many voting irregularities, President Musharraf's party is heading for defeat.

In Russia, where presidential elections will be held on 2 March, RSF bets that journalists will either rally around President Vladimir Putin's choice, or be silenced with bribes, threats or violence. Meanwhile, the EU, dependent on the country's oil and natural gas, will turn a blind eye.

Then there's the duplicity of some "official defenders" - with the UN being the worst offender, says Ménard.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva caved into pressure from Iran and Uzbekistan last year, whose human rights violations were not even discussed by the Council. A few months later, the Council did not renew the mandates of two independent experts who investigate rights violations, the special rapporteurs for Belarus and Cuba.

"In 2008, it will be the turn of Sudan, Somalia and Democratic Congo to dismiss these embarrassing inspectors with a wave of the hand," says Ménard.

RSF also voiced concern about journalists working in war zones, especially in Sri Lanka, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Niger, Chad and of course Iraq, where "journalists continue to be buried almost every week."

The report warns of a new kind of censorship in 2008, whether it is using new charges to put journalists behind bars, such as "subversion" or "disturbing the peace", or banning new forms of media, from picture-taking mobile phones to video-sharing websites.

China is the biggest culprit of this new censorship, says RSF, despite committing to improving its human rights record upon being awarded the 2008 Olympics. "Every time a journalist or blogger is released, another goes into prison," says RSF. "China's dissidents will probably be having a hard time this summer."

But the future is not all bleak. This year, RSF hopes that real headway will be made in fighting impunity, when the killers of editor Hrant Dink in Turkey and reporter Anna Politkovskaya in Russia go on trial. At least three journalists are expected to be released in Ethiopia after completing their sentences, and negotiations are under way to free Sudanese Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in the coming months.

Read "Reporters Without Borders 2008 Annual Report" here: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rapport_en-3.pdf -------------------------------------------------------- REGIONAL NEWS

AMERICAS

2. MEXICO: GOVERNMENT SILENT ON RECENT SPATE OF ATTACKS ON PRESS

Three journalists killed. A crime reporter goes into exile. A newspaper is forced to cut down on crime reporting for security reasons. Dozens of journalists attacked or threatened. All this in Mexico so far this year - and the government has once again failed to respond, say ARTICLE 19 - Mexico, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) - Mexico, the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET), the National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS) and other Mexican rights groups.

The groups are concerned about "the lack of attention given to these cases at the national level, especially given that these are offences not only against the work of journalists, but against society's right to be informed."

The first to be killed in 2008 was Francisco Ortiz Monroy, a reporter for the newspaper "El Diario de México", who was assassinated in Camargo, Tamaulipas on 5 February. The motives of his murder are still not known. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that Tamaulipas is known for being a drug trafficking hub and one of the most dangerous states in the country, in which many journalists have been killed.

Just two days later, on 7 February, Bonifacio Cruz and Alfonso Cruz Cruz, a father-son team at "El Real" newspaper, were killed during an attack on a government official in Chimalhuacán, Mexico State.

Further north, Carlos Huerta Muñoz, crime reporter for "Norte de Ciudad Juárez", in Chihuahua, fled the country on 30 January after receiving death threats. The newspaper was forced to resort to self-censorship, announcing it would cut down its reports on organised crime and drug trafficking for safety reasons.

Just last week, another crime reporter, Mauricio Estrada Zamora, who works for two Michoacán state-based newspapers - "La Opinión de Apatzingán" and "La Opinión de Michoacán" - in southern México, went missing.

The list goes on. In Pánuco, Veracruz, eastern Mexico, the director of the morning daily "Voces de Veracruz", Octavio Soto Torres, survived a shooting attack on 23 January. Although the State Commission for the Defence of Journalists agreed to increase security measures, ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS found during a recent visit to the region that the promise remained unfulfilled - a trend that repeats itself across the country.

Last July, the authorities promised the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights they would make investigations into crimes against journalists a higher priority - by strengthening the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists (FEADP), for example. They also vowed to report back to the Commission on the progress made into cases of violations against journalists.

But, the groups point out that none of the promises have been carried out, despite questions by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour about the persistent violations against free expression during a recent visit to the country.

Meanwhile, a separate report by Human Rights Watch found that while Mexico's Human Rights Commission (CNDH) documents abuses and is potentially the "most important catalyst" for the reforms needed to prevent human rights violations, "it doesn't take crucial steps needed to bring about change." Human Rights Watch is urging CNDH to adopt measures to carry out its functions more effectively.

The "resounding silence from the authorities... can only be explained by a lack of political will," says ARTICLE 19. According to its research, the state is the main perpetrator of violence against journalists in Mexico.

The groups once again demand that the government fulfil its international and regional human rights obligations to prevent and investigate crimes against journalists, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation.

Visit these links: - Joint statement: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90761/ - Human Rights Watch, "Mexico's National Human Rights Commission: A Critical Assessment": http://hrw.org/reports/2008/mexico0208/ - IFEX Mexico page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/97/ - CENCOS: http://www.cencos.org/ - CEPET: http://www.cepet.org/

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

3. ARAB SATELLITE CHARTER MAJOR SETBACK TO PRESS FREEDOM IN REGION, SAY IFEX MEMBERS

A new Arab "charter" for satellite TV will restrict independent news and information for people across the Middle East and North Africa, say the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), ARTICLE 19 and other IFEX members and partners.

"Principles for Organising Satellite TV in the Arab World", a non-binding charter, was adopted last week by all member states of the Arab League with the exception of Qatar and Lebanon. It requires satellite TV broadcasting not to offend leaders in the Arab world, damage "social peace and national unity and public order," or call into question God or the monotheistic religions.

Programmes should also conform to the religious and ethical values of Arab society, and protect Arab identity from the harmful effects of globalisation.

The charter urges member states to introduce all necessary measures in their national legislations to ensure that the document's principles are fully implemented. And if media groups do not adhere to the principles, they can have their licences suspended, withdrawn or not renewed, and even have their equipment confiscated, say the IFEX members.

"The provisions, if implemented, will inevitably mute and hinder the only avenue for free expression in the region: satellite TV," says ARTICLE 19, pointing out that they directly contradict international and regional covenants that guarantee the right to information and freedom of expression, including Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

The meeting was convened in Cairo on 12 February by information ministers from the different Arab countries, at the request of Egypt and Saudi Arabia - countries with grave press freedom situations, CIHRS and HRInfo note. Lebanon was the only state to oppose the document. Qatar, home of Al Jazeera, abstained from voting.

Visit these links: - CIHRS: http://www.cihrs.org/Default_en.aspx - HRInfo: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/reports/2008/pr0213.shtml - ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/37cyhj - Committee to Protect Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/2sso36 - International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/3d3n89 - Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), email: madapalestine(@)yahoo(.)com - Reporters Without Borders: http://tinyurl.com/2949md - World Press Freedom Committee (email): freepress(@)wpfc(.)org

4. IRAQ: ABDUCTED REPORTER FOUND DEAD

An Iraqi reporter abducted in Baghdad was found dead two days later, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Hisham Mijawet Hamdan, a board member of the Young Journalists Association, was found by police on 12 February, with bullet holes in his head and chest. CPJ says his body also showed signs of torture. Hamdan's family last saw him on 10 February.

Hamdan worked as a political reporter for the bimonthly paper and website "Al-Siyassa wal-Karar", published by the Young Journalists Association. He also actively campaigned for support for families of journalists killed in Iraq. His advocacy work sometimes led him to appearing on Iraqi satellite channels, which may have made him a target, the editor of "Al-Siyassa" told CPJ.

Visit this link: - CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/ypmp4e

5. TUNISIA: COMEDIAN IN PRISON FOR SATIRISING PRESIDENT

A Tunisian comedian was framed for drugs and fake currency charges and sentenced to a year behind bars as punishment for imitating the Tunisian President, says the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG).

On 4 February, comedian Hedi Ouled Baballah was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 Dinars (US$800) for "possession of a classified narcotic substance."

According to court reports, Ouled Baballah was stopped at a highway checkpoint on 14 January and taken to a police station. His rental car was confiscated by police, who later discovered a few grams of cannabis in the glove compartment.

While he was in custody, police also searched his home where they allegedly found some counterfeit foreign currency, possession of which carries a maximum jail sentence of 20 years. He has yet to go to trial on that charge, and the IFEX-TMG will continue to monitor his case.

Ouled Baballah denies possessing the drugs or bogus money, and believes they were planted by police officers as a way to arrest him for his real "crime" - mocking President Ben Ali. A private recording of his imitation was circulated widely by mobile phone.

"It looks like yet another trumped-up case against a person who has dared to speak against the president," says IFEX-TMG. "President Ben Ali obviously has as much of a sense of humour as he has a taste for democracy."

According to IFEX's Tunisian member, the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), Baballah's claims of a police conspiracy are warranted.

In Tunisia dissidents are rarely charged for their political acts, but instead are falsely accused of more "dishonourable" offences, says OLPEC. Recent victims include human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou, jailed for allegedly attacking a female colleague, and journalist Slim Boukhdhir, accused of breaking public morality laws.

This is the second time that Ouled Baballah has been persecuted for mimicking Ben Ali. After performing a similar sketch last year he was arrested and beaten by police while held in the Bouchoucha detention centre for three days in March 2007.

IFEX-TMG says the charges should be reversed and dismissed as there are "serious and credible doubts about the alleged evidence." It also urges fellow performers to step up in defence of Ouled Baballah's right to free expression and to satirise political powers.

Visit these links: - IFEX-TMG: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90771/ - IFEX-TMG website: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/ - OLPEC: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90655/ - Kalima Tunisie: http://www.kalimatunisie.com/ -------------------------------------------------------- UPDATES

6. DENMARK: MOHAMMED CARTOON CONTROVERSY RESURFACES

More than a dozen Danish newspapers last week reprinted a drawing of the Prophet Mohammed that caused worldwide controversy in 2006, in protest at a newly discovered plot to kill the cartoonist, according to Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and news reports.

The papers said they wanted to show their firm commitment to freedom of speech after last week's arrest in western Denmark of three people accused of plotting to kill cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

At least three newspapers in Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain also reprinted the cartoon as part of their coverage of the arrests.

Westergaard's cartoon, featuring the founder of Islam with a bomb in his turban, was considered the most controversial of 12 cartoons originally published in the Danish paper "Jyllands-Posten" in September 2005.

International furore erupted when the cartoons, considered blasphemous by many Muslims, were reprinted in various newspapers worldwide in 2006. CRNI says more than 100 people were killed in the subsequent rioting.

According to news reports, Danish Muslims say they are seeking to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the original publication, and feel the Danish papers are seeking to rekindle the fiery debate over free speech and Islam.

"Jyllands-Posten" told CRNI, "The murder plot is part of a worldwide campaign by those who want to limit the right to free speech, and among them the UN Human Rights Council that last year passed a resolution calling for the criminalisation of cartoons like the one made by Kurt Westergaard. This is a disgrace for the UN."

A Danish citizen of Moroccan descent and two Tunisians were arrested on 12 February for their involvement in the "terror-related assassination" plot.

Visit these links: - CRNI: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/90719/ - CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/38arud - Reuters via ABC News: http://tinyurl.com/2rg4jn - Radio Netherlands on Iran's stance: http://tinyurl.com/2r8rsv -------------------------------------------------------- CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS

7. INTERNATIONAL PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION CONGRESS COMES TO SEOUL

The International Publishers Association (IPA) is inviting publishers from around the world to join its 28th Congress in Seoul from 12 to 15 May 2008.

Hosted by the Korean Publishers Association, the Congress will offer insight into Korean publishing and look into the publishing trends and challenges in Asia and beyond. This year's theme is "diversity in a shared future".

A "Freedom to Publish" session will feature speakers from across the region, including Soe Myint of Mizzima News who will address free expression issues in Burma, and Jing Bartz, the director of a German book information centre in Beijing, who will talk about the difficulties of publishing in China.

Don't miss Turkish writer and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, Orhan Pamuk, speaking in the opening session.

On the eve of the Congress, 11 May, IPA will announce the winner of this year's Freedom to Publish prize. Last year's winner was Zimbabwean publisher Trevor N'cube, while special prizes were also given posthumously to Anna Politkovskaya and Hrant Dink.

A discount rate is available until 29 February.

For more details and to register, see: http://www.ipa2008seoul.org -------------------------------------------------------- AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS

8. WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNALISM FELLOWSHIP PROGRAMME

The International Center for Journalists is currently accepting applications for the World Affairs Fellowship, which enables U.S. newspaper reporters to travel overseas and report on international stories that will have an impact in their local communities.

Up to 12 journalists will travel to a place that connects to their hometown for one to three weeks between June and September, with almost all of their costs covered. The fellowships aim to give journalists the opportunity to establish connections between local-regional issues and what is happening abroad, and to help "internationalise" the local press.

Applicants should have a significant say in determining news selection and placement at their home paper, a well-structured proposal, and a spirit of adventure and curiosity about the link between global issues and local community. Preference will be given to applicants from daily, community-based papers that do not have overseas correspondents.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting sponsors one of the fellowships. The Pulitzer Center Fellow will pursue a project that addresses an underreported international issue through a combination of print and other media platforms.

The deadline for applications is 9 March 2008.

For application guidelines and forms, email: wajf(@)icfj(.)org or see: http://tinyurl.com/2fv7aq

9. RSF'S SIGNAL FOR EUROPE 2008 - PRESS FREEDOM AWARD

Reporters Without Borders - Austria invites journalists from Bulgaria and Romania to apply for this year's "A Signal for Europe" press freedom awards, worth a total of 15,000 Euros (US$22,100).

The prizes are offered to critical, informative and investigative pieces that cover politics, press freedom, human rights, corruption, societal issues or related topics.

Prizes are granted in three categories: print media; electronic media; and series, books and life works. Entries must have been published or broadcast in 2007.

RSF-Austria has been offering the annual award to reporters, journalists and publicists in southeast Europe and the neighbouring states of the European Union since 2001. This year's awards ceremony will take place in the Austrian Parliament on 15 May.

The deadline for submissions is 15 March 2008.

For more information, including submission guidelines, email: info(@)rog(.)at or visit: http://www.rog.at/ -------------------------------------------------------- The "IFEX Communiqué" is published weekly by the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). IFEX is managed by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression ( http://www.cjfe.org ) on behalf of the network's 81 member organisations.

The "IFEX Communiqué" is also available in French, Spanish, Russian ( http://www.ifex.cjes.ru/ ) and Arabic ( http://hrinfo.net/ifex/ ).

The views expressed in the "IFEX Communiqué" are the sole responsibility of the sources to which they are attributed.

The "IFEX Communiqué" grants permission for its material to be reproduced or republished provided it is credited as the source.

Contact IFEX Online Editor Natasha Grzincic at communique(at)ifex(dot)org

ENDS

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