IFEX Communique Vol 17 No 13 | 1 April 2008
IFEX COMMUNIQUÉ VOL 17 NO 13 | 1 APRIL 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.
FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT:
1. IFEX Members Condemn UN Resolutions Supporting Limits on Free Speech
2. Sri Lanka: IFJ Launches Campaign to "Stop the War on Journalists"
3. Belarus: Authorities Crack Down on Independent Journalists
4. Zimbabwe: Elections Not Free and Fair Without Media Freedom
5. Attacks on Press in the Americas on the Rise, says IAPA
REPORTS AND PUBLICATIONS:
6. Impunity in Journalist Murders Pervasive in Americas, says IACHR
CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS:
7. Stockholm to host Literary Human Rights Congress
8. Global Integrity Seeks Experts for 2008 Report
FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT
1. IFEX MEMBERS CONDEMN UN RESOLUTIONS SUPPORTING LIMITS ON FREE SPEECH
The top UN rights body passed two resolutions last week that limit freedom of expression rather than protect it, say IFEX members, even further undermining its mandate.
Despite objections from 40 rights organisations from around the world led by ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 28 March that turns the Special Rapporteur on free expression into a "prosecutor".
The resolution requires the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to report on abuses of the right to freedom of expression when they constitute an act of racial or religious discrimination. The resolution, proposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), was passed by 32 council members with 15 abstentions.
Critics say the amendment will help to justify censorship and the stifling of dissent. "The change to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on free expression is dramatic. It turns someone who is supposed to defend freedom of opinion into a prosecutor whose job is to go after those who abuse this freedom," says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), one of the 40 organisations who appealed to the council not to amend the rapporteur's mandate.
The protesting rights groups, including 21 organisations from Islamic states, say the amendment changes the focus from protecting freedom of expression to limiting it, and goes against the spirit of the mandate. The groups also warn the vaguely worded amendment may lead to "misleading interpretations".
A day prior, the council passed a resolution proposed by Islamic countries saying it is deeply concerned about the defamation of religions and urging governments to prohibit it. Canada and Europe opposed the resolution, which was adopted 21-10, with 14 abstentions.
Although the text refers frequently to protecting all religions, the only religion specified as being attacked is Islam, making specific reference to the increased "ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath" of 11 September 2001.
RSF says the influence of the OIC member states is "disturbing". "All of the council's decisions are nowadays determined by the interests of the Muslim countries or powerful states such as China or Russia that know how to surround themselves with allies," says RSF.
The pressure to protect religions from defamation has been growing, especially since the Danish cartoons controversy. Cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed first published in a Danish newspaper then reprinted in various media worldwide in 2006 provoked international riots in which dozens of people were killed. Islam forbids pictures of Mohammed, and many Muslims felt the cartoons were intended to insult their faith.
The resolution expresses "grave concern at the serious recent instances of deliberate stereotyping of religions, their adherents and sacred persons in the media."
Similar resolutions that allow for free expression to be restricted to ensure respect for religions have been passed since 2002. IFEX members, such as ARTICLE 19 and Freedom House, have campaigned extensively against the growing trend of using religious anti-defamation laws to limit free speech.
The argument against the resolutions is that religious believers have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs and are protected as such in international law. But they cannot expect their religion to be free from criticism. "The states chose to focus their efforts on protecting religion itself, not the believers and not freedom of religion," says ARTICLE 19.
Nor is this the first time the Human Rights Council, in place for nearly two years, has come under attack for being ineffectual. RSF has sharply criticised the council's recent decision to withdraw the Special Rapporteurs on Cuba, Belarus and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, countries "where serious human rights violations are committed every day."
ARTICLE 19 and CIHRS "condemn the repeated misuse of the Human Rights Council process to push for an agenda that has nothing to do with strengthening human rights and everything to do with protecting autocracies and political point scoring."
Visit these links:
- CIHRS/ARTICLE 19 statement: http://tinyurl.com/2nuefb
- Petition of 40 groups: http://tinyurl.com/35o5n3
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26390
- Human Rights Watch on Human Rights Council: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/03/28/global18393.htm
- Past IFEX alerts on Human Rights Council and religion: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/82209
2. SRI LANKA: IFJ LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO "STOP THE WAR ON JOURNALISTS"
Sri Lanka has relinquished its role as "keeper of the peace" for failing to prevent attacks on journalists and to bring those responsible to account, say 40 organisations, the majority of them IFEX members. Led by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the 40 groups have joined forces in an international campaign to "stop the war on journalists" in the conflict-ridden country.
In a joint letter to the Sri Lankan president, the 40 organisations demanded an immediate change to the "escalating culture of violence against journalists by government officials and members of the public."
The letter details at least two dozen incidents of violence against journalists since the start of 2008 alone, making Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the Asia-Pacific. In many cases, the authorities publicly vilified journalists, putting them further at risk. In one example, the government's own Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva, is allegedly linked to many of the continuing threats and attacks against employees of Sri Lanka's state-run television station SLRC, who witnessed his assault on an SLRC employee in December.
"In not one case of attack or threat have the police taken action to bring offenders to account, in accordance with due legal process," says the joint letter.
The letter is the first of a series of actions for the "Stop the War on Journalists" campaign for Sri Lanka which will culminate with World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
A global day of action has been called for 10 April. This day, which falls two days before Sri Lanka's Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations, is intended to send a message of support to local journalists' organisations, such as IFEX member Free Media Movement, who have continued their fight for press freedom despite high risks to their personal safety.
"Our colleagues in Sri Lanka need to know that the international press freedom and human rights communities stand in solidarity with them and support their tireless work," says IFJ.
IFJ is inviting all journalists' associations, media organisations and press freedom and human rights groups to join the campaign by adding their name to the joint letter as well as by sending their own letters to the Sri Lankan embassies in their countries on 10 April.
To join the campaign see: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5997&Language=EN
EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA
3. BELARUS: AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS
Press freedom groups worldwide have condemned the sudden, "unprecedented" crackdown on independent journalists by the Belarusian authorities. Reporters have been arrested and beaten and have had their homes raided in recent days, which critics term a "gross violation" of the right to free expression.
On 25 March, during demonstrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, "Nasha Niva" photographer Andrei Lankievich was brutally beaten by riot police. Together with dozens of other detained Belarusians he spent a night in jail and now faces trial.
Another "Nasha Niva" correspondent, Siamion Piechanko, was sentenced to 15 days of detention under Belarusian administrative law. Both journalists were charged with organising and holding an illegal demonstration. Their press ID was ignored by police, says the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) reports that also among those attacked were foreign journalists, including two Lithuanian TV reporters who were badly beaten as they attempted to film the events.
Then on 27 March, Belarus's security service, the KGB, raided the offices and homes of more than a dozen journalists from independent and foreign news media. BAJ reports that the agents confiscated computers, videotapes, voice recorders and other equipment and questioned at least 16 journalists, possibly in relation to a 2005 cartoon video that ridiculed President Alexander Lukashenko. According to Belarusian law, libel against the president is punishable with up to four years in jail.
"The authorities are most likely taking their revenge for impartial coverage of not only the 25 March demonstration in Minsk but also truthful information about the country's social and economic situation," says BAJ.
IFEX members Norwegian PEN, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and WiPC have appealed to the Belarusian government to end the crackdown.
President Lukashenko, often dubbed "Europe's last dictator", has reined in independent and opposition media through a combination of punitive measures, ranging from filing lawsuits to detaining and harassing journalist, says CPJ. The government relies on security forces, prosecutors, judges, media regulators, pro-government businesses and a secretive bureaucracy to create a climate of fear for the independent media, says CPJ.
Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/35momj
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5999&Language=EN
- IFJ, "Belarus: the Struggle for Press Freedom": http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5922&Language=EN
- Norwegian PEN: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92011/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26376
- WiPC: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92098/
- BAJ: http://baj.by/?newlang=eng
4. ZIMBABWE: ELECTIONS NOT FREE AND FAIR WITHOUT MEDIA FREEDOM
With Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary election results slowly trickling in, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Human Rights Watch and other IFEX members say that the prevailing media and free expression environment have made a free and fair election impossible.
"Critical and alternative voices have not been allowed the freedom to operate and be heard," says MISA. "It is MISA's position that any electoral process characterised by biased and unethical reporting, intimidation and legal gags placed on the media cannot pass the test of being free and fair no matter that the actual voting process might seem free and fair."
According to MISA, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Zimbabwean government used journalist accreditation laws to prevent several major media groups, such as the BBC, CNN and South Africa's E-TV, from covering the general elections on 29 March, despite signing on to regional and international covenants that guarantee a free press.
Just days before the poll, in which longstanding President Robert Mugabe is running for re-election, a presidential spokesperson announced that the government was being mindful of "attempts to turn journalists into observers or to smuggle in uninvited observers and security personnel from hostile countries under the guise of the media."
Zimbabwean journalists were also banned from covering the elections under Zimbabwe's stringent accreditation laws. They include freelance journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, winner of this year's Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship.
CPJ reported that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission planned to station police officers 100 metres from polling areas during the elections, preventing access for all unaccredited journalists.
Coverage in the state media has also been heavily biased in favour of the ruling party. Human Rights Watch documented how opposition candidates found it almost impossible to access Zimbabwe's state-controlled radio stations and television. For the entire month of February, for example, state-owned television devoted five times more coverage to Mugabe and his ruling party ZANU-PF than all the opposition parties combined.
Hate messages targeting the opposition have intensified, and in some cases led to violence against opposition supporters, reports MISA. Statements from the security forces threatening citizens and the opposition were amplified by the state media to instil fear in ordinary Zimbabweans.
"The 29 March poll has again been marred by authoritarian measures and irregularities," says RSF. "The international observers accepted by the government will not be able to pretend that the circumstances surrounding the elections were fine. It is clear that press freedom, at least, has not been guaranteed, which is a serious flaw for elections that are supposed to be democratic."
Discontent with Mugabe's rule has grown around the country. Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 percent and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine.
At the time of writing, independent observers say trends support opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning the largest number of votes in the presidential race, but not enough to avoid a runoff. The delay in official results has reinforced suspicions that the count is being rigged.
Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2xjqks
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/37axet
- Human Rights Watch, "All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe's Coming General Elections": http://hrw.org/reports/2008/zimbabwe0308/
- MISA: http://tinyurl.com/28ep68
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26334
- IFEX Zimbabwe page: http://tinyurl.com/28mvww
5. ATTACKS ON PRESS IN THE AMERICAS ON THE RISE, SAYS IAPA
Attacks on journalists and media outlets have intensified in the Americas over the past six months, as seen in court cases and judicial rulings against the media, as well as in increasing violence against journalists, said the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) at its mid-year meeting last week.
Five journalists were killed during the past six months: three in Mexico, one in Argentina and another in Honduras. More than 30 were attacked in Peru, and 32 were threatened in Colombia. Paraguay experienced the greatest increase in reports of verbal attacks. Through five separate resolutions, IAPA expressed concern over the impunity surrounding crimes against journalists.
At the conference, held in Caracas, Venezuela, IAPA paid particular attention to the press freedom situation in its host country, as well as in Cuba and Bolivia - three countries where the government is one of the main perpetrators behind attacks on free expression, said IAPA.
The transfer of power in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl did not improve the status of the 25 journalists still in prison or the adverse working conditions of independent journalists, said IAPA.
State-owned media outlets in the region have increased, "clear evidence of new efforts by various governments to control information," IAPA said. In Venezuela and Bolivia, the governments have taken control of several radio and TV stations. IAPA also accused Venezuela of using government-friendly prosecutors and judges to bring trumped-up charges against journalists.
Although IAPA had invited President Hugo Chávez to formally open the conference, he did not attend. Over the same weekend, Chávez supporters opened the "Latin American Meeting on Media Terrorism" to examine what they call slanted coverage of his government and to explore alleged links between media outlets and the U.S. government.
"All efforts by IAPA to open up channels of communication with the government of Venezuela were unfruitful, not only at this meeting but in prior attempts and missions," said IAPA.
IAPA also detailed some of the more subtle threats to freedom of expression in the region, from court cases being used to silence journalists in Brazil to governments continuing to reward "friendly" newspapers with lucrative government advertising contracts in Argentina.
Read about the conference, including a review of the press freedom situation in each American country, here: http://tinyurl.com/yspfdd
REPORTS AND PUBLICATIONS
6. IMPUNITY IN JOURNALIST MURDERS PERVASIVE IN AMERICAS, SAYS IACHR
Journalists continue to be killed in high numbers in the Americas and the vast majority of these murders go unpunished due to state inaction, says a new decade-long study by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Between 1995 and 2005, 157 journalists were killed in 19 countries of the Americas for motives possibly connected to their jobs. As of the end of 2007, only 32 of these cases had resulted in a conviction, says IACHR's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
According to the study, investigations into these murders have proceeded at an excessively slow pace and most of the investigations show serious deficiencies in the way they are conducted. Of the 32 cases in which there has been some type of conviction, the sentence has not always been put into effect, nor have all those responsible for the crime been punished.
The largest number of murders took place in Colombia, with 75 reporters killed. Only seven of those cases resulted in a conviction. Brazil followed, with 23 journalists killed, with nine convictions. Not far behind was Mexico, with 20 reporters murdered and only four convictions.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is demanding that the members countries of the OAS give the "highest political priority to addressing and resolving the state of impunity surrounding the murder of journalists," from in-depth investigations into the cases and effective punishment for the perpetrators, whether they are state agents or private individuals.
"We are aware than many of the murders could be tied to drug trafficking, other forms of organised crime, paramilitary forces, and dissident armed groups," says Special Rapporteur Ignacio Álvarez. "However, it falls to the states to investigate and punish those cases through their courts and other competent entities. Impunity is the responsibility of the states," he says.
Read the "Special Study on the Status of Investigations into the Murder of Journalists" here: http://www.cidh.org/relatoria/showarticle.asp?artID=724&lID=1
CONFERENCES AND WORKSHOPS
7. STOCKHOLM TO HOST LITERARY HUMAN RIGHTS CONGRESS
In June 2008, the Swedish Writers' Union will launch WALTIC - the Value of Words, a world congress for writers, translators, scholars and activists to gather in one common manifestation of the value of words and in support of human rights.
From 29 June to 2 July in Stockholm, Sweden, WALTIC will focus on three global issues: literacy, intercultural dialogue and digitalisation. The programme offers a number of seminars, lectures and best practices around freedom of expression, including censorship and freedom of speech on the Internet, how to use words to mobilise the marginalised and fight oppression, and the right to freely express yourself in your mother tongue, whomever or wherever you are.
Contemporary Egyptian novelist, sociologist and medical doctor Nawal El Saadawi and one of Africa's most prominent writers, Mia Couto, are the keynote speakers.
For info see: http://www.waltic.com
8. GLOBAL INTEGRITY SEEKS EXPERTS FOR 2008 REPORT
Global Integrity, a U.S.-based governance and anti-corruption watchdog, is looking for journalists, researchers and social scientists from around the world to prepare its 2008 edition of the Global Integrity Report.
The report will assess the state of corruption in 70 countries based on qualitative, on-the-ground reporting and quantitative data measuring transparency, government accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms. The report is widely used by development experts and donors, government officials, investors, journalists and advocates to prioritise governance challenges and promote anti-corruption reform.
For each country, Global Integrity is looking for one reporter, one academic researcher and three to five readers to prepare the chapter. Applicants must be independent of government or corporate influence. A working proficiency in English is preferred.
Interested candidates should submit their CV, three references and specific countries of expertise by 15 May 2008. All writers will be compensated.
For details, visit: http://www.globalintegrity.org/inviteletter.cfm
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.
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