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IFEX Communiqué Vol 20, No 34 | 31 August 2011

IFEX Communiqué Vol 20, No 34 | 31 August 2011




Four Italian journalists who were kidnapped in Libya were released last week, but the fate of both foreign and local journalists - including six Libyan reporters missing since the uprising started in February - remains up in the air as fighting rages on in Tripoli, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"The events of the past week show how dangerous Libya remains for all journalists," said CPJ. "We hope that as the hostilities subside, the whereabouts of the Libyan journalists who are still missing become clear."

Atef al-Atrash, a contributor to local news outlets in Benghazi, Mohamed al-Sahim, a blogger and critical political writer, cartoonist Mohamed al-Amin, and Idris al-Mismar, a writer and the former editor-in-chief of "Arajin", a monthly culture magazine, have been reported missing.

Two Tripoli-based journalists - Salma al-Shaab, head of the Libyan Journalists Syndicate, and Suad al-Turabouls, a correspondent for the pro-government "Al-Jamahiriya" - were detained in late February, but have not been heard from since.

The four Italian journalists had been captured by forces loyal to Gaddafi on 24 August and were released a day later after a raid on the apartment where they were being held captive, report CPJ, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Their Libyan driver was killed in front of them. According to RSF, they said they were roughed up and their equipment and material was confiscated.

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RSF reports that their abduction came on the eve of a visit to Italy by Mahmoud Jibril, the second in command in Libya's National Transitional Council, who was due to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The council has been recognised by many countries as Libya's provisional government.

The same day, Matthew VanDyke, a U.S. journalist who had been missing in Libya since 13 March, was freed from Abu Salim prison in Tripoli with several inmates after the prison was seized by rebel forces, reports CPJ. His mother told CPJ that he had been held in solitary confinement for most of his imprisonment.

Earlier this month, Tracey Shelton, a freelance Australian journalist was brutally attacked by two armed men in her Benghazi hotel room, but escaped by jumping to a nearby balcony, said CPJ. She is recovering in another Benghazi hotel, with rebels protecting her.

Also in August, about 35 foreign journalists mainly from the U.S and U.K. were held hostage in Tripoli's Rixos Hotel for five days, report CPJ and RSF. CNN's Matthew Chance said the journalists negotiated with armed guards to win their release.

Journalists in the hotel said that snipers were positioned around the property where pro-Gaddafi forces were still operating. According to RSF, they had little access to food and frequent cuts to the power and water supply.

A video from the "Guardian" shows reporters and photojournalists trapped inside.

Journalists who had passed through the Rixos in the past six months said they feared becoming human shields for the regime in the event of a rebel assault, said the "Guardian". Regime officials have regularly accused foreign journalists of being spies and passing information to NATO and rebel forces.

With Gaddafi forces refusing to surrender, journalists continue to be in the firing line. Two French journalists, Paris Match photographer Alvaro Canovas and France 2 cameraman Bruno Girodon, sustained gunshot wounds while covering the fighting around Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizya compound in Tripoli last week, report RSF and CPJ.

A Russian journalist, Orkhan Djamal of the daily "Izvestia", sustained a leg injury during fighting in Tripoli on 22 August, reports RSF.

CPJ and RSF are urging all the parties involved to ensure the safety of journalists in Libya.

ARTICLE 19 is calling on the council to guarantee the right to free expression in the interim Constitutional Charter, in line with international human rights law and standards.

"The absence of freedom of expression under the Gaddafi government led to widespread and systematic human rights violations, and the Transitional National Council has a duty to the people of Libya not to repeat this," said ARTICLE 19.

On the ground there's hope. In Benghazi, which was taken over by rebels in February, young activists are "using every means possible to express themselves," said Shahira Amin, a Libyan journalist and TV anchor who resigned her post as deputy head of state-run Nile TV in February, writing for Index on Censorship.

"The graffiti on the walls, the launch of new radio stations and Internet TV channels, the public debates about their future, the increased volunteerism and political activism are all manifestations of their newfound freedom," she said - signs that Libyans are forging ahead with building a new, democratic Libya.

Related stories on ifex.org:
- Six journalists still missing:

- Four Italian journalists released after being held for 24 hours; two French journalists sustain gunshot wounds:

- American journalist escapes from prison after five months in captivity

- Trapped journalists in Tripoli must be treated as civilians, says CPJ:

- Australian journalist brutally attacked by unknown assailants in Benghazi:

More on the web:
- Libya: Overcoming the challenges (Index):




The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has announced that it will no longer engage in "any type of capital-raising" on behalf of the government of Belarus after an Index on Censorship and Free Belarus Now campaign.

After Index and Free Belarus Now highlighted concerns to the bank about human rights abuses in Belarus at a meeting in Edinburgh last week, the bank made a public statement declaring that it will no longer sell Belarusian government bonds.

"Given sanctions, the deteriorating political situation in Belarus and the fact that it has reneged on key elements of the IMF [International Monetary Fund] programme, RBS has ceased any type of capital-raising for or on behalf of the Belarus Republic and we have no plans to change that position until these issues have been resolved.

"In assessing where we do business, we have a responsibility to consider a number of factors, including social and ethical issues and compliance with the letter and spirit of all international sanctions," RBS added.

Index's Mike Harris, who attended the meeting with the bank, said, "RBS has sent a clear signal not to risk investing in a regime that violates fundamental human rights and may not last."

Over the past year, RBS and other leading banks have been involved in raising money for Belarus - even after the post-election crackdown, in which seven of the nine presidential candidates were arrested and 43 political prisoners were held, including several journalists.

Index on Censorship and Free Belarus Now are continuing to put pressure on the three remaining banks involved, as well as the IMF, which is currently considering bailing out the troubled country.

Countries, such as the U.S., have imposed sanctions because of President Alexander Lukashenko's crackdown on the opposition.

According to news reports, the sanctions come at a time when Belarus is struggling to overcome a balance-of-payments crisis that has forced it to devalue its ruble and allow price hikes that have angered consumers and led to a wave of protests.

Sign Index's petition and join hundreds of others in demanding that world leaders call for immediate action against rights violations in Belarus.

Sign the petition now.
- http://zoneofsilence.org/sign-the-petition/

More on the web:
- RBS pulls out of Belarus after Index campaign (Index):

- RBS to stop Belarus work over political concerns (Reuters):


Journalists covering anti-corruption protests as well as demonstrations against Pope Benedict's four-day visit to Madrid have been met with police violence, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Freelance photographer Daniel Nuevo was covering protests in Madrid on 18 August against the Catholic Church-sponsored World Youth Days, which featured the Pope and attracted hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, when he was beaten by an anti-riot unit of the national police.

Grassroots church groups and civic organisations organised the demonstrations to denounce the "waste" incurred by the celebration, which is partly financed by government and corporate sponsors.

Nuevo writes about the attack and other incidents in his blog, where he has also posted several images.

Local press reports described at least five other cases of police verbal or physical abuse against journalists covering the protests, says CPJ.

Fernando González Urbaneja, president of Madrid Press Association, told CPJ that "the images we have seen show a worrying arbitrariness on behalf of certain policemen; there have been indefensible aggressions against journalists in the past days." The association and other press groups have taken their complaints to the government.

According to CPJ, the climate was already tense after Gorka Ramos, a journalist for the news website Lainformacion, was beaten and arrested while covering 15-M Movement protests in Madrid on 4 August.

The ongoing 15-M protests, which started on 15 May, have rallied millions of Spanish citizens in several cities who have protested against the current two-party system, unemployment and welfare cuts, and supported basic rights.

Ramos spent a night in jail and was charged with disobeying authorities, although video shows aggression by at least seven anti-riot police officers.

González said relationships between the police and the media are generally good in Spain. "What we have seen are intolerable episodes of individual policemen exceeding their authority," she said.

Perhaps so, but CPJ warns that with general elections due in November amid the economic crisis, "the social climate could be further tested - as could police relations with the press."

More on the web:
- In Spain, police violence against press sparks concern:


Journalists' organisations and media executives in the Democratic Republic of Congo have imposed a six-month embargo on media coverage of a member of parliament for his violent behaviour against the media. It's just one tactic in their campaign against the "noticeable rise" in attacks against journalists ahead of the November elections, say Journaliste en danger (JED) and other IFEX members.

Earlier this month, Yves Kisombe, a member of the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), used extremely violent language to insult and threaten Eugénie Ntumba, the editor-in-chief of the television station RTVS1, during an interview. In response, media groups announced the six-month embargo on media coverage of Kisombe's activities and the creation of a support network for Ntumba.

An estimated 200 Congolese journalists led by JED marched to the National Assembly in Kinshasa on 26 August to demand Kisombe's resignation, as well as show their outrage over similar reports of supporters of President Joseph Kabila physically and verbally abusing members of the press.

Following the march, CPJ reports that a delegation of journalists led by Polydor Muboyayi, head of the self-regulatory group Observatory of Congolese Media, met with National Assembly speaker Evariste Boshab. "We don't understand how those who hold seats in parliament, who have debated gender [issues], could utter such terms," Muboyayi reportedly told Boshab.

Muboyayi also urged authorities to ensure the safety of journalists before and after November's presidential elections, noting that several journalists' murders have gone unsolved since 2005. "During this delicate period, we do not want journalists to be the grass stomped by fighting elephants," he said.

Responding to the marchers, Boshab said he had not listened to recordings of the Ntumba interview but had referred the matter to the public prosecutor. Marchers walked out on him when he urged the news media to report impartially to guarantee their safety.

Boshab's own credibility on press freedom issues suffered a recent blow. Just a week prior to the march, Boshab's security guards attacked cameraman Serge Kembila of Radio Télévision Groupe l'Avenir (RTGA) for filming empty seats during a ruling party congress at a Kinshasa stadium, reports JED. Kembila told JED that security guards pounced on him and confiscated his footage.

Ironically, says CPJ, Kembila's station openly supports President Kabila, and Ntumba's station is owned by the President's appointed Prime Minister, Adolphe Kizito. A 2 August editorial in "L'Avenir", the sister newspaper to RTGA, explained, "During this period, media is in high demand. But it is also the scapegoat of politicians."

RSF has also uncovered a plot to allegedly kill Kizito Mushizi, a high-profile journalist who is now the provincial press spokesperson for the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). The alleged plot is said to be motivated by fear that Mushizi could mobilise public support for UNC.

Related stories on ifex.org:
- Journalist violently attacked during ruling party congress:

More on the web:
- DRC journalists urge ruling party to halt abuse (CPJ):

- Call to ruling party politicians after threats and attacks on journalists (RSF):


Missing Mexican journalist Humberto Millán Salazar was found dead on 25 August with a gunshot wound to the head, report ARTICLE 19, the Centro de Periodismo y Etica Publica (CEPET) and other IFEX members. Millán, a political reporter from Culiacán in Sinaloa state, was kidnapped the day before by armed men, say the members.

Millán Salazar, a veteran journalist with over 30 years' experience of political reporting, was reportedly on his way to present the news at Radio Fórmula when he was intercepted by masked armed men who forced him into a car. His brother was with him at the time but was released unharmed. According to the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International, the kidnapping reportedly took place in a matter of seconds, suggesting it had been meticulously planned.

One of his colleagues, Berzahi Osuna Enciso, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the killers would be found among his political enemies.

On the same day of the killing, another journalist announced that he was abandoning Sinaloa because of difficult conditions, reports ARTICLE 19. Luis Enrique Ramírez, a former columnist for "El Debate" newspaper, explained on his blog how journalists operate in Sinaloa: "We prefer to keep quiet, distance ourselves from the situation, and do our best to survive."

According to ARTICLE 19, six journalists have been murdered in Mexico so far this year, making it the most dangerous Latin American county for journalists.

Related stories on ifex.org:
- Abducted journalist found dead:

More on the web:
- Map of attacks on journalists in Mexico (Knight Center):

- Luis Enrique Ramírez's blog:


A radio broadcaster who commented on corruption in his province was gunned down by two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle on 22 August in Enrique B. Magalona, Negros Occidental, Philippines, report the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Neil Jimena broadcast political commentary on the DYRI-RMN Radio show "Husgador" ("Judge") in nearby Iloilo, buying airtime under a common Philippine practice known as "block-timing."

According to CPJ, the local "Visayan Daily Star" newspaper said Jimena had received threats from a politician he criticised on air before his death. Agence France-Presse reported that a local business person funded his show.

Senior police officer Leonard Cobing told CMFR Jimena's murder may be linked to his commentaries or his alleged tie to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as an informant.

Jimena's family and colleagues told CMFR that they believe Jimena's killing was work-related. Jimena and his co-anchor Cezar Borongan had criticised local government officials and personalities allegedly involved in corrupt activities in Iloilo.

Michael Jimena, Neil's brother, told CMFR Neil had received several threats, and had survived a shooting attack in September 2009.

If work-related, the killing of Jimena will be the fifth case of a journalist killed in the line of duty under the new administration of President Benigno Aquino, says CMFR. CMFR has recorded a total of 121 work-related killings since 1986.

The Philippines has one of the worst records worldwide for investigating and solving journalists' murders. The country was third worst on CPJ's 2011 Impunity Index, which calculates unsolved media killings as a percentage of the population.

Related stories on ifex.org:
- Radio commentator fatally shot:


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