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IFEX Communiqué Vol 20, No 37 | 21 September 2011


Free Expression Spotlight

1. Mexico: Drug cartels target social media users as international community addresses journalists' safety at UN anti-impunity conference

Regional News

2. Ethiopia: Reporter named in WikiLeaks flees amid crackdown on dissent
3. Egypt: Mubarak-era media repression tactics back in force
4. Burma: Token Internet freedom gesture amid continued draconian jailings
5. China: Journalist reporting on "gutter oil" stabbed to death

Also In This Issue

6. Africa / Awards / Liberia / Nigeria: IFEX members hounoured with pan-African award for freedom of information campaigns

Free Expression Spotlight

1. Mexico: Drug Cartels Target Social Media Users As International Community Addresses Journalists' Safety At Un Anti-Impunity Conference

Last week, a young man and woman were found hanging from ropes off a pedestrian bridge in Nuevo Laredo, northern Mexico. Accompanying their lifeless, mutilated bodies were handwritten signs that declared the two were killed for posting denouncements of drug cartel activities on a social network. With few reporters daring to cover Mexico's ongoing drug war for fear of becoming victims themselves, the murderers appear to have a new target: those using social media networks to cover the story, say the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and ARTICLE 19.

"This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet," one sign read, according to CNN. Another placard listed two blogs by name, Al Rojo Vivo and Blog del Narco, reported CNN.

Blog del Narco is a website that deals exclusively with news related to drug violence in Mexico. Its creator remains anonymous. On the Al Rojo Vivo forum, citizens can make anonymous tips.

The threat looked to be signed with the letter Z - a possible reference to the Los Zetas drug cartel that operates in the area. The victims' identities and connection to social media have not been confirmed.

It will be difficult to determine if the two victims actually posted anything about cartels on the Internet, as people don't usually use their real names online, investigator Ricardo Mancillas Castillo told CNN.

There are no witnesses, and it is a nearly impossible task to identify the perpetrators, he added.

With self-censorship a growing phenomenon in Mexico's traditional media, Mexicans have turned to blogs and social media sites to share information and report on the drug war and other violent acts, according to IAPA and news reports.

Spanish journalist Judith Torrea won the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom award at the best of the Blogs competition this year for Ciudad Juárez, en la Sombra del Narcotráfico (Ciudad Juárez, in the Shadow of Drug Trafficking) - a blog about drug cartel activities, government repression and police corruption in a region where many journalists are forced into exile for their coverage.

Yet, rather than offering protection for social media users, the government arrested Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola and Gilberto Martinez Vera on 25 August and charged them with terrorism and sabotage for posting false messages on Twitter about the possibility of an organised crime attack on a school in Veracruz - an overreaction on the part of the authorities, says ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 says the effect of targeting social media users, whether by the authorities or by the cartels, is that "few citizens will be willing to engage in online discussion and exchange. Online self-censorship will ultimately prevail."

The latest murders are a sign that cartels are also paying attention to coverage outside traditional media channels.

"This level of violence has clearly gone way beyond the press and has become a freedom of expression problem," Carlos Lauría of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in an interview with "Toronto Star".

"It's an attempt by the criminal organisations to take control of the information agenda. It's not only a war that's going on in the streets right now," he added.

The country's drug violence has reportedly killed more than 35,000 since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an armed offensive against drug cartels five years ago. And as reported often by IFEX members, more journalists have been killed in Mexico than anywhere else in Latin America.

IAPA, through its long-running anti-impunity campaign, has been calling for crimes against free expression to be a federal offence. This case is no different. "It is necessary to defend the right of people to make any statement, opinion or expression, whether through traditional news media or the new online media, and this defence should be a commitment that all of us - society at large and the press - have to make together," IAPA said.

A significant number of IFEX members, including IAPA, CPJ and RSF, took part in last week's United Nations Inter-Agency meeting in Paris on "The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity".

While welcoming "this unprecedented show of concern for press freedom issues on the part of the international community and UNESCO's achievement in bringing about this meeting," CPJ comments that "doubts linger as to whether this initiative will translate into concrete action."

Even at the meeting, CPJ noted that official delegates from Mexico expressed "vehement displeasure" that Mexico had been named as a place where impunity and violence against journalists reign.

IAPA's Jorge Canahuati told the conference that the greatest frustration in the Western hemisphere "is the indifference and lack of action on the part of many governments."

"Governments are aware of the problem," he said. "They diagnose it, they talk about solving it, but they don't have the determination and the political will to reform public policies, administer justice or create protection programmes."

IAPA recommends that investigations of crimes committed against journalists are free of any statute of limitations, that penalties for such crimes be strengthened, and that special jurisdictions are created for the prosecution of offences against freedom of expression.

Related stories on
- IAPA outraged at murder of young couple targeted for using Twitter:

- IAPA calls for political will to combat impunity at UNESCO conference:

- Twitter users accused of terrorism in Veracruz:

More on the web:
- Bodies hanging from bridge in Mexico are warning to social media users (CNN):

- Mexico's drug cartels have new target: social media (Toronto Star):

Regional News

1. Ethiopia: Reporter Named In Wikileaks Flees Amid Crackdown On Dissent

An Ethiopian journalist was forced to flee the country earlier this month after being named in a WikiLeaks cable - the first time a leaked cable has caused direct repercussions for a journalist, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). His case is part of a broadening crackdown on dissent in Ethiopia, say CPJ and other IFEX members.

Argaw Ashine, the local correspondent for Kenya's Nation Media Group, told CPJ he was forced to flee after being interrogated three times in September over the identity of a government source mentioned in a leaked 2009 U.S. cable. WikiLeaks recently published its full archive of 251,000 cables unredacted, naming sources that were removed by partner media organisations.

"The threat we sought to avert through redactions of initial WikiLeaks cables has now become real. A citation in one of these cables can easily provide repressive governments with the perfect opportunity to persecute or punish journalists and activists," said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. "WikiLeaks must take responsibility for its actions and do whatever it can to reduce the risk to journalists named in its cables. It must put in place systems to ensure that such disclosures do not reoccur."

WikiLeaks said the CPJ was being misleading in its statement, as Ashine was not cited as a U.S. embassy informant and "no journalistic source is named."

"While, it is outrageous for a journalist to feel the need to leave their country for a period, neither is it good for the CPJ to distort the facts for marketing purposes," WikiLeaks alleged.

The leaked 2009 cable said Ashine was told by an unnamed official source that the government would target six journalists from "Addis Neger", the country's leading independent paper known for being critical of the government. That paper closed later that year, citing fears of arrest and prosecution under a far-reaching anti-terrorism law, says CPJ.

Ethiopian officials have denied that Ashine was pressured to name a source, and consistently denied any plans to censor "Addis Neger", according to news reports.

But, says CPJ, on 8 September police interrogators told Ashine that he had 24 hours to reveal his source in the Ethiopian government or face the consequences.

"This was no idle threat," said CPJ. "At least six journalists were recently detained under the country's draconian anti-terror law. They face up to 20 years in prison."

They include journalist and publisher Eskinder Nega, who was among six journalists and activists arrested on 14 September on accusations of involvement in a terrorist plot.

Another person arrested, Sileshi Hagos, used to cover stories about the political group Ginbot 7 before it was banned for being a terrorist organisation.

Wednesday's arrests follow dozens of other terrorism related arrests and detentions in recent weeks, including those of two Swedish journalists who have been held without charge for more than two months.

Amnesty International says 100 Ethiopian opposition members and five journalists have been arrested since March, all on terror charges.

"The recent spate of arrests points to a broadening crackdown against dissent by the Ethiopian authorities," said Human Rights Watch. The detentions are "just the latest reminder that it is very dangerous to criticise the government in Ethiopia."

"The people are fed up because of the social, economic and political situation and the people follow also what is happening in North Africa and Arab countries ... and people are saying, 'When is our turn? When shall we go to the streets?'" Ethiopian opposition party official Negasso Gidada told AP.

"The attitude is so strong in the country, in the people, soon it will explode, and the government is afraid of that, and by arresting political party members and leaders, the government thinks it will take precautionary measures against that," he said.

Related stories on
- Journalist identified in WikiLeaks cable flees country:

- Authorities detain two more journalists on vague terrorism accusations

- Charges against human rights defender dropped:

More on the web:
- In Ethiopia case, a response to WikiLeaks (CPJ):

- Ethiopia reporter flees, other opposition arrested (AP):

2. Egypt: Mubarak-Era Media Repression Tactics Back In Force

Despite the change promised by the revolution, Egypt's transitional government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), continues to employ excessive force and repressive laws against those who share information and opinions and who take part in peaceful demonstrations, leading three IFEX members in the country to liken it to the Mubarak regime.

Despite initially vowing to do away with Egypt's hated emergency law, which has been used to clamp down on dissidents over the past 30 years, SCAF has done just the opposite. On 15 September, it passed a decree that allows it to invoke emergency law almost at will, in response to situations including, but not limited to, dissemination of false news and statements, vandalism and the obstruction of roads, report the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and other IFEX members.

"[The decree] will allow for the intimidation and harassment of persons involved in peaceful protests, demonstrations, and strikes. It also constitutes a direct threat to freedom of expression and a free media," said the three Egyptian IFEX members in a statement, which was also signed by 19 other Egyptian civil society groups. Among other demands, the signatories are calling for the abolishment of the decree and an end to the campaigns against civil society organisations that has continued since the spring.

Last week, SCAF's Ministry of Information raided and shut down Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Al-Jazeera's Egypt affiliate), after the government failed to issue the station a licence four months after it applied for one, report ANHRI, CIHRS, EOHR and others. Equipment was seized and a technical engineer was arrested. Such shut downs are likely to continue as the government has issued a "freeze" on any new licenses for satellite stations, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another troubling development is the recent banning of journalists from political trials, including the trial of Mubarak, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

One of the most alarming cases is that of jailed blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who was given three years for questioning the supposed neutrality of the armed forces during Egypt's mass uprising in January and February. He was rushed to the infirmary several weeks into a hunger strike, after he stopped drinking, causing IFEX members to fear for his life.

The attacks on the free press and sweeping powers of repression of the supposedly democratic new government represent "an insult to the thousands who sacrificed and died in a vicious battle to overthrow the entire regime," said ANHRI, CIHRS and EOHR.

Concerned about what the trampling of democratic rights mean for upcoming elections, EOHR is currently selecting and training 1,000 local electoral observers. Egyptian groups are also working together on a media monitoring project during the elections.

Related stories on
- Authorities raid news channel's offices; concern over increasing assault on media freedom:

More on the web:
- The Mubarak regime persists (ANHRI):

- Monitoring for change (EOHR):

3. Burma: Token Internet Freedom Gesture Amid Continued Draconian Jailings

Numerous IFEX members are stepping up pressure on the new government of Burma, which still detains approximately 2,000 political prisoners despite its interest in convincing the international community to end economic sanctions and support its chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.

This week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a comprehensive report on the press freedom record of President Thein Sein's government. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Human Rights Watch have also issued statements calling for the immediate release of the unjustly jailed bloggers, artists and activists, many of whom serve multi-decade sentences. According to SEAPA, almost a dozen journalists are among those imprisoned, most of whom worked undercover for exiled news organisations Irawaddy, Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima News.

"The release of journalists and some 2,000 political prisoners should be central to ASEAN's consideration to accord ASEAN chairmanship to Burma," said Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA executive director.

The IFEX organisations urged the international community not to be appeased by recent, small gestures in the right direction. This week, for example, Internet users could access previously banned sites like YouTube, Reuters, Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice of Burma, according to Irrawaddy and RSF. But Internet café users are still subject to video camera surveillance and monitoring, according to CPJ's report.

Most of the prisoners were jailed by the former military junta, which Thein Sein's government replaced after a democratic election in November 2010. Since then, however, Burma has continued to dole out draconian punishments for those who speak out.

Last week, 23-year-old Sithu Zeya was handed an additional 10 years in connection with photos he took following a 2010 bomb explosion, report Mizzima News, CPJ and RSF. In August, an army officer was sentenced to 10 years for criticising the government's reconciliation efforts, report Mizzima News and Human Rights Watch.

In August, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, interviewed jailed journalists and activists who reported sleep and food deprivation and beatings. In a hopeful sign, Burma's Lower House of Parliament proposed amnesty for all political prisoners following Quintana's visit, Human Rights Watch reports.

Related stories on
- Many news websites unblocked; 17 journalists and three netizens still held:

- Press freedom vital to credible Burmese reform, says CPJ report:

- Jailed photojournalist sentenced to 10 more years in prison:

More on the web:
- Burma: Free political prisoners to show commitment to reform (Human Rights Watch):

- Burma lifts ban on international websites (Irawaddy):

4. China: Journalist Reporting On "Gutter Oil" Stabbed To Death

Two unemployed Chinese residents have been arrested today, 21 September, in the fatal stabbing of 30-year-old TV journalist Li Xiang. While police in the central city of Luoyang, Henan province, are calling the murder a robbery, IFEX members are urging Chinese authorities to investigate possible links between the killing and the journalist's investigative reporting.

Xiang's last blog report exposed a company that was allegedly bottling toxic waste oil from restaurants, called "gutter oil," and selling it as cooking oil, report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He was stabbed 13 times, say police, as he returned to his residence at dawn. His laptop, camera and wallet were stolen, according to "The New York Times".

Additionally, IFJ reports that two other journalists were assaulted last week by security personnel at Jinko Solar Holding Company as they reported on the detrimental health effects caused by the manufacturing company in eastern China.

Despite several cases of journalists getting assaulted on the job, the Chinese government often refuses to publish information about these cases or allow public access to the trials of the assailants in such cases, says IFJ.

RSF adds that journalists are often jailed for muckraking work related to health and safety issues issues. Zhao Lianhai, who has since been freed, was imprisoned in 2008 after creating a website exposing tainted baby formula of a leading Chinese company.

In August, CPJ also reported that authorities censored environmental protests in Liaoning province, when thousands of demonstrators called for the closure of a chemical plant that could have been damaged by a storm. In July, authorities also censored news of the high-speed rail crash in Zhejiang province, which killed at least 35 people.

Related stories on
- TV journalist killed; IFJ worried by recent spate of attacks:

More on the web:
- Two men arrested in killing of TV reporter in China (The New York Times):

Also In This Issue

5. Africa / Awards / Liberia / Nigeria: Ifex Members Hounoured With Pan-African Award For Freedom Of Information Campaigns

IFEX congratulates Edetaen Ojo and Malcolm Joseph, the leaders of IFEX member groups in Nigeria and Liberia, for winning Africa's first awards for activism on access to information. The awards were handed out at the inaugural Pan African Conference on Access to Information, held in Cape Town, South Africa, this week, which was attended by numerous IFEX members involved in campaigning on the issue.

Ojo, the executive director of Media Rights Agenda who is also IFEX convenor, was honoured for his "tireless struggle over 15 years in advancing media and information issues," which culminated in the historic passage of Nigeria's Freedom of Information Act early this year.

Joseph, executive director of the Center for Media Studies and Peace-Building (CEMESP) in Liberia, was credited for his coordinating role in the campaign for Freedom of Information in Liberia, which resulted in the passage of the first Freedom of Information law in West Africa on 16 September 2010.

The third recipient was Alain Modoux, former Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, for his role in the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press in Namibia on 3 May 1991 and his subsequent contribution to the proclamation of 3 May as World Press Freedom Day by the UN.

"I have no doubt that this honour will strengthen my commitment to the freedom of information struggle. The passage of the law in Nigeria is but a small first step in ensuring the enjoyment of the right to information by ordinary Nigerians," said Ojo.

The Pan African Conference on Access to Information, in Cape Town on 17-19 September, brought together hundreds of Africa's media leaders, journalists and civil society members - including UN and African Union Special Rapporteurs on free expression, Frank La Rue and Pansy Tlakula, to discuss the current and future status of press freedom and access to information in Africa.

The conference led to the unanimous adoption of the landmark African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) - which establishes clear principles focusing on the right of access to information in Africa, including on issues related to health, education, aid transparency and corruption. The declaration also provides guidance to countries on how to adopt and/or effectively implement access to info laws.

The declaration will now be brought to the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO and the AU for endorsement - and form the basis for formally recognising 28 September as International Right to Information Day.

More on the web:
- Pan African Conference on Access to Information website:

- Landmark regional declaration paves way for access to information (ARTICLE 19):



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