Archive | 12:23 pm

Journalists continue to pay heavy price in Syria

5 Dec

An editor for a state-run paper and a reporter for a pro-opposition weekly died in Syria in recent days, lifting the death toll in the world’s most dangerous place for the press.

“Journalists in Syria face myriad risks from multiple sources including targeted killings and the deadly crossfire of combat,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We call on all sides of this conflict to afford journalists the civilian protections they are entitled to under international law.”

Naji Asaad, editor for the state-run daily Tishreen, was shot in the head by a sniper outside his home in the Tadamoun neighborhood of Damascus today, according to the state news agency SANA and other pro-government news outlets. SANA reported that the journalist was killed by “armed terrorist groups,” a catch-all phrase the regime has used to describe all armed opposition fighters.

The Tadamoun neighborhood of Damascus has seen continuous fighting between rebel and government forces, according to news reportsBasel Tawfiq Youssef, a Syrian State TV reporter, was shot dead on November 21 outside his home in the same neighborhood, news reports said.

Mohamed Quratem (Syrian Journalists Association) / CPJ

Mohamed Quratem (Syrian Journalists Association) / CPJ

Mohamed Quratem, a reporter for the local pro-opposition weekly Enab Baladi (The Grapes of My Country), was killed in government shelling of the Damascus suburb of Darya on November 28, according to his employer and the pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya. Quratem and two local activists, Marwan Shurbaji and Abd al-Rahim Shurbaji, died when a mortar shell fell on the building in which they were working, Eiad Shurbaji, a relative of the killed activists and an exiled Syrian journalist, told CPJ. The three bodies were not discovered until November 30 because of the continuous shelling and the rubble, Shurbaji said.

Quratem was a founding member of Enab Baladi, which covers news on the conflict. The paper began publishing in January 2012 in response to the March 2011 uprising.

Darya has been under government siege since the beginning of November, according to news reports. Most people fled when the government offensive began, but Quratem stayed behind to document the siege and work with local and international media outlets to get news out of the city, Enab Baladi reported.

At least 27 other journalists have been killed while covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, CPJ research shows. CPJ has ranked Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.

In an unrelated development, a video surfaced on November 28 that showed Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian journalist who has been missing in Syria since October 9, saying she had entered Syria with fake credentials and had acted as a Russian spy by translating exchanges between Syrian and Russian government forces. CPJ and other press freedom organizations believe Kochneva was coerced into making the video. Kochneva had contacted her colleagues a few days after she was abducted and told them she was being held by the rebel Free Syrian Army, according to news reports.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

Proposed Egyptian constitution would limit media freedom

5 Dec

In protest of the proposed constitution, the front page of Al-Masry al-Youm has a black background and the headline, “No to dictatorship.” (AP/Nasser Nasser)

The proposed Egyptian constitution would impose several new restrictions on press freedom–including the creation of a new government regulator and new governmental authority to shut media outlets–while doing nothing to halt the criminal prosecution of journalists, which was a hallmark of the Hosni Mubarak regime, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ supports the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate’s call to President Mohamed Morsi to withdraw the proposal from the referendum scheduled for December 15.

The Egyptian Constitutional Committee approved a draft of the constitution on Saturday. Local and international press freedom organizations including CPJ have found that the document places severe restrictions on freedom of expression while claiming to guarantee free speech. Other civil society groups have raised concerns about the proposal’s lack of protection for minority rights and freedoms.

“We support the right of journalists to seek protection under this new constitution,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We call on President Mohamed Morsi to work with civil society and press freedom groups to craft a constitution that truly guarantees freedom of expression and eliminates restrictions in the current draft.”

Although Article 45 says broadly that “freedom of thought and opinion shall be guaranteed” in the constitution, several articles appear to contradict the provision, including Article 44, which prohibits “the insulting of prophets.” Under the current penal code, the government can prosecute critics like blogger Alber Saber, who has faced trial since September for “insulting the religion” and “insulting the president.”

Article 215 replaces the Higher Council for Journalism, an elected body of journalists, with the National Media Council and government appointees, which is required to “establish controls and regulations that ensure the commitment of the media to adhere to professional and ethical standards” and “to observe the values and constructive traditions of society.” CPJ believes that this vaguely defined mandate would give the new government agency the authority to control and guide editorial coverage and news.

Article 48 allows a court to shut down a media outlet if a judicial review finds an employee of the outlet has not respected the provisions of the article, including “respecting the sanctity of the private lives of citizens and the requirements of national security.”

Article 216 announces the creation of an agency called the National Press and Media Association that would manage state-owned media outlets. The article does not specify how the members would be selected or offer details on how the agency would ensure the media would adhere to “sensible, professional, administrative, and economic standards.” Local journalists fear this agency could end up serving the Muslim Brotherhood party, similar to how the Shura Council in July appointed members of the Muslim Brotherhood to leadership positions in media outlets.

The proposed constitution does nothing to halt the practice of imprisoning journalists for press-related offenses, despite the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate repeatedly asking the constitutional committee to include such a provision. Under the current penal code, journalists can be criminally prosecuted for defamation, like Egyptian TV commentator Tawfiq Okasha, who was given a jail term for defamation in October, according to CPJresearch.

Local press freedom organizations, including the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, announced a press strike today to protest the bill, news reports said. Several private newspapers, including Al-Watan, Al-Tahrir, Youm7, and Al-Wafd, ran blank front pages on Monday with the headline “No to dictatorship,” news reports said. News accounts also reported that several local TV outlets have announced a strike tomorrow to protest the constitution.

Thousands of demonstrators protested in front of the presidential palace today, demanding that the referendum be postponed until a new constitution had been drafted, news reports said.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

DRC suspends UN-backed broadcaster Radio Okapi

5 Dec

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should lift the suspension imposed on Saturday on the United Nations-sponsored broadcaster Radio Okapi in the capital, Kinshasa, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Radio Okapi, the most popular local station in the country, went off the air on Saturday afternoon when its frequency was blocked, the station reported on its website. The station’s broadcasts have been blocked in Kinshasa, but can be heard in other parts of the country, local journalists said.

Jean Bosco Bahala, president of CSAC, the state-run national media regulatory agency, told Radio France Internationale on Sunday that Radio Okapi had been suspended for four days because of “administrative” noncompliance. The station was accused of failing to submit certain documents to the agency for review.

But local journalists told CPJ they believed the suspension was in connection with the station’s Thursday broadcast of an interview with Jean-Marie Runiga, leader of the M23 rebels controlling parts of eastern DRC. The M23 rebels are former Congolese army officers who mutinied from the ranks in April and seized key towns in the eastern North Kivu province. In the interview with Radio Okapi, Runiga had criticized President Joseph Kabila’s handling of peace talks with the rebels and called for the arrest of John Numbi, the national police chief, in connection with the murder of activist Floribert Chebeya.

Bahala, CSAC president, denied to RFI that Radio Okapi’s suspension was linked to the Runiga interview but acknowledged that CSAC had asked the station to censor its coverage of the rebels. “We have asked them not to grant interviews to M23 rebels who are considered terrorists. But that is not where the problem is,” Bahala told RFI.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) issued a statement on Sunday saying Radio Okapi’s suspension had been imposed without formal notice. Roger Meece, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the DRC, said he found the timing of the suspension and the lack of notification “disturbing and regrettable.”

Radio Okapi is a joint project of the U.N. mission in the DRC and the Switzerland-based Hirondelle Foundation. It broadcasts in French and four national languages to an estimated audience of 22 million listeners across the DRC.

“We condemn Congolese authorities’ censorship of Radio Okapi, which was imposed after the station broadcast independent coverage of the conflict between the government and M23 rebels,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on authorities to immediately lift this suspension, which deprives millions of Congolese of a trusted source of information, and urge the United Nations to raise its voice further in support of Radio Okapi.”

CSAC had also issued a warning to Radio Okapi on Thursday in connection with a call-in program it aired on November 23 in which callers criticized authorities and the government’s handling of the conflict, state news agency Agence Congolaise de Presse reported. CSAC said the station had allowed callers to “disrespect authority and established institutions”; issue “accusations without proof, distorting facts”; and “incite to tribal hate and insurrection,” the agency reported.

Radio station ransacked, equipment seized in DRC

New York, December 4, 2012–All sides of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo should halt attacks on journalists and media outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today after a radio station was attacked and taken off the air.

The offices of Radio Solidarité, a community station in the town of Sake, were ransacked on Friday by rebels belonging to M23, a group of former army officers who have seized towns in the eastern part of the country, according to the station’s journalists, the U.N.-backed station Radio Okapi reported. The rebels also confiscated equipment, including a generator and microphones, local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger reported. The station has not been able to broadcast and remains off the air, local journalists said.

Amani Kabashi, a spokesman for M23, denied to CPJ that the rebels had attacked the station.

“We condemn the attack on Radio Solidarité and the seizure of its equipment and call on authorities to immediately investigate the incident,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Both sides of this conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo must stop attacking journalists and news outlets.”

Committee to Protect Journalists.

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