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IFEX Members Want End to Violence Against Women Journalists

Forty-four IFEX members call for concrete measures to end violence against outspoken women journalists and activists


(IFJ/IFEX) - 23 November 2010 -
On the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 44 IFEX members, including members of the IFEX Gender Working Group, call attention to the situation of women in the free expression community who are subject to targeted attacks because of their gender:

We wish to congratulate you on your new role as head of UN Women and the move by the United Nations to more actively examine violations and discrimination against women. This is particularly important as we approach the occasion of 25 November 2010, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), including those on the IFEX Gender Working Group, wish to draw your attention to the situation of the many women in our community who are subjected to targeted attacks because of their gender. This is particularly so in countries where freedom of speech is not upheld. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, a culture of impunity and weak judicial systems mean that the majority of crimes against women often go uninvestigated and unpunished.

Women who report on matters of public interest or defend human rights often put themselves at risk in order to make their voices heard. The challenges facing women extend beyond traditional media venues and into the cyber realm. This year has seen a disturbing trend towards the increased intimidation, assault and imprisonment of female bloggers and activists.

In Vietnam, authorities arrested Le Nguyen Huong Tra, for allegedly defaming a senior Communist Party official and his family. Earlier this year, Lu Thi Thu Trang, an internet activist associated with a pro-democracy group, was beaten by police officers in front of her five-year-old son and again at the police station. In Thailand, the executive director of the independent news website Prachatai.com, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, has been subjected to frequent judicial harassment for her role in promoting free expression. In September, she was arrested and charged for not removing posts deemed "insulting to the monarchy" quickly enough. She could face an astounding 82 years in prison if convicted.

Female journalists and rights activists also continue to face violence elsewhere; often they are singled out both for their public opinions and their gender. In Colombia, for example, human rights activist Norma Irene Perez was murdered in August, shortly after she participated in a demonstration calling for an investigation into a mass grave thought to hold the bodies of several thousand Colombians killed by the military. Journalist Claudia Ayola Escalón, a columnist in Cartagena, received an emailed death threat warning her that "the time has come to pay for your writings." The threat was also extended to her young daughter. Ayola frequently writes about political and social issues, human rights and sexuality, and had just written an article about gender-based violence.

In Mexico, now considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, writer and women’s rights activist Lydia Cacho continues to face intimidation, harassment and threats, particularly for covering sexual abuse and human trafficking. The staff and clients of, the Women's Attention Centre - Centro Integral de Atención a la Mujer, a centre for abused women founded by Cacho, have been threatened by police. According to the Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS), Mexico does not have mechanisms to protect female journalists.

Iran, which recently lost a bid for a seat on the UN Women council, is known for its appalling treatment of women. There are so many women in prison in Iran that we cannot list them all. Blogger and human rights activist Shiva Nazar Ahari of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, sentenced to six years in prison in September and is facing the death sentence, and Jila Baniyaghoub, was jailed for one year in lieu of flogging. Journalist Hengameh Shahidi was sentenced to six years in prison following last year's post-election crackdown, and journalist Mahsa Amrabadi was charged with "acting against national security" for publicly criticising the arrest of journalists; she is appealing her one-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, Noushin Ahamadi Khorasani, the editor of the Feminist School website and a founder of the "One Million Signatures" online campaign for changes to laws that discriminate against women, has been a victim of judicial harassment by intelligence services, and Maryam Bidgoli, who also participated in the campaign, was sentenced to one year in prison.

Meanwhile, in Tunisia, women rights activists, journalist and lawyers, including from the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, are frequently subjected to smear campaigns, including some being disparaged as prostitutes. These women and their families have been targeted with pornographic photos or videos. This is shameful in a country which prides itself as being a leader in women's rights in the region.

In the Gambia, authorities arrested women's rights activist and journalist Amie Bojang-Sissoho and Dr. Isatou Touray with the Gambia Committee on Traditional Harmful Practices, an organisation that promotes women and girls’ empowerment and campaigns against female genital mutilation and other discriminatory practices. The activists were freed only after international media drew attention to their case but they remain on trial for reporting on violence against women.

At the same time, the murder investigations of two outspoken Russian journalists have stalled. Natalya Estemirova, who worked for the human rights group Memorial, was abducted from her home in Chechnya in July 2009; her body was found with gunshot wounds in neighbouring Ingushetia. She had been investigating cases of rights abuses in Chechnya when she disappeared. No progress has been made in the case. The 2006 murder of "Novaya Gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya is also unsolved.

These cases demonstrate the severity of the violence, harassment and intimidation that outspoken women face when reporting on matters of public interest. We, the undersigned IFEX members, therefore urge you to:

- Condemn all forms of violence and repression against women who exercise their right to free expression and call attention to the cases of gender-based violence, as outlined in the list below.

- Call for the authorities in Vietnam to release blogger Le Nguyen Huong Tra and to conduct a thorough investigation into the abuses against internet activist Thi Thu Trang to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

- Call on the Thai authorities to waive all charges and end the continued judicial harassment against Chiranuch Premchaiporn.

- Appeal to the Colombian authorities to conduct a thorough and detailed investigation into the murder of Norma Irene Perez and the threats against Claudia Ayola Escalón, as well as other activists and journalists who have been targets of violence, and to ensure the culprits are prosecuted.

- Call on the Iranian authorities to release Shiva Nazar Ahari, Jila Baniyaghoub, and other journalists, and to cease judicial harassment of Noushin Ahamadi Khorasani.

- Demand that the Gambian authorities put an end to official harassment and intimidation of women’s rights activists.

- Call on the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and detailed investigation into the murders of Natalya Estemirova and Anna Politkovskaya, and to ensure the culprits are prosecuted.

- Stand in solidarity with the many women around the world who face injustice and gender-based violence for carrying out their civic and professional duties, and address critical areas of concern and weaknesses in global women's rights, including violence and freedom of expression, as outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action.

- Ask that national authorities undertake full and uncompromising investigations into the cases of women journalists, writers, activists and bloggers who have been victims of gender-based violence in order that their attackers and killers may face justice.

It is time for governments, international institutions and civil society to take concrete measures to end the atrocities our female colleagues face in the course of their work.

ENDS

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