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Militants attack Indian journalist’s house in Manipur

14 Aug

New York, August 14, 2012–Indian authorities should immediately investigate a grenade attack that targeted a prominent local journalist on Saturday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. No one was injured in the attack, which came in the wake of death threats made by local insurgents against editors, according to news reports.

Assailants threw a grenade at the home of Ahongsangbam Mobi, editor of the local Manipuri-language Sanaleibak newspaper and president of the All Manipur Working Journalist Union, in Imphal City in the northeast state of Manipur, according to news reports. Mobi, who was in the kitchen during the attack, told his colleagues that the grenade appeared to be aimed at his home office, suggesting that his attackers had monitored his movements, news reports said.

Imphal, the capital of the insurgency-ridden state, was under security alert at the time of the attack, after militants called for a strike on India’s Independence Day, August 15, according to news reports. Local editors, including Mobi, reported receiving death threats after they refused to publish a statement by Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (Military Defence Force), a local insurgent group, which announced the strike and threatened harm against unnamed individuals, the news reports said. Several militant factions in the region advocate for a separate state, regional autonomy, or independence from India, CPJ research shows.

Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (Military Defence Force) later claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the local Indian Express newspaper.

“It is deeply concerning that insurgents were able to attack Ahongsangbam Mobi’s home especially after threats had been made against senior editors and journalists,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Authorities in Manipur must strengthen protection for journalists and act swiftly to prosecute those responsible for this incident.”

Manipur’s beleaguered press has faced ongoing threats, including other bomb attacks, from militant groups, CPJ research shows. The media have also come under pressure from security forces seeking to contain the militants’ influence. In 2011, Mobi spent seven nights in detention for allegedly cooperating with banned groups when he was actually negotiating with them for journalists’ safety, according to CPJ research.

  • For more data and analysis on India, visit CPJ’s India page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2012/08/militants-attack-indian-journalists-house-in-manip.php

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Blog: Council of Europe foreign ministers call for libel reform

14 Aug

Trickling back from the summer recess, European press freedom advocates and media lawyers are taking stock of facts and statements that went underreported during the holiday lull. And libel reform stands on top of the pile.  

On June 20 in a stunning verdict, two Italian journalists were sentenced by the Bolzano Court in Italy’s South Tyrol to four months in prison and fined 15,000 euros (US$18,500) for libel. Orfeo Donatini, a journalist with the daily newspaper Alto Adige, and Tiziano Marson, its former director, had been sued by local politician Sven Knoll for a 2008 article alleging that he had participated in a neo-Nazi gathering. According to freedom of expression group Article 19, Italy and Belarus are the only two European countries where journalists can still receive prison sentences for defamation.

Ironically, the verdict was issued a few days before the Committee of Ministers of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe adopted a declaration denouncing the abuse of defamation laws. “Disproportionate application of these laws may have a chilling effect and restrict freedom of expression and information,” they said at a meeting on July 4 2012. “Governments should provide appropriate guarantees against awards for damages and interests that are disproportionate to the actual injury.”

The Committee of Ministers is the Council’s top executive body and is comprised of the foreign ministers of the 47 member states or their deputies. Although its declarations have no binding force, they are an indication of where the Council of Europe’s member states stand on an issue.

In its statement, the Committee of Ministers also impugned libel tourism, “a form of forum shopping when a complainant files a complaint with the court thought most likely to provide a favorable judgment and where it is easy to sue,” as the Committee stated. “In some cases a jurisdiction is chosen by a complainant because the legal fees of the applicant are contingent on the outcome, and/or because the mere cost of the procedure could have a dissuasive effect on the defendant. The improper use of these laws affects all those who wish to avail themselves of the freedom of expression.”

London has stood out for years as a destination for libel complainants. “London is a town called sue,” the Observer columnist Nick Cohen wrote in his 2012 book “You Can’t Read This Book.” He depicts a judicial system biased against freedom of expression, often in favor of well-heeled crooks, touchy celebrities, or bounty-hunting lawyers. “Contrary to natural justice and the Common Law, the burden of proof is on the defendant,” he writes. “A claimant does not have to prove that a writer has caused him to suffer financial loss or personal injury. In Britain, money buys silence: the cost of libel actions in England and Wales is 140 times higher than the European average.”

The Committee of Ministers statement appears to be an endorsement of the defamation reform bill currently going through the British legislative process. Although the text does not completely satisfy anti-libel campaigners–in a recent New York Times piece, U.S. author Rachel Ehrenfeld, who was a victim of libel tourism in London, referred to “Britain’s half-hearted bid to reform libel law“–the law is expected to considerably limit the attraction of London as a complainant’s destination. In order to reinforce its case, in particular “the general need for increased predictability of jurisdiction, especially for journalists, academics, and the media,” the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers referred in its statement to declarations by international freedom of expression advocates, in particular the 2011 Joint Declaration by the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights, as well as of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media.  

The July 4 statement is meant to have a similarly global reach. Although primarily addressed to the member states of the Council of Europe, the declaration can be used to frame the global debate on libel, an issue, as they write, “which has been exacerbated as a consequence of increased globalization and the persistent accessibility of content and archives on the Internet.”

In that context, the final passage of the defamation reform bill in London is seen by freedom of expression advocates as a milestone in their dogged struggle to make Europe unattractive for libel tourists and defamation peddlers. The U.K. campaigners are still fighting for amendments to the bill– in particular, to introduce a clause of public interest defense. The bill is currently in the House of Commons and should be sent to the House of Lords before being submitted for Royal Assent to become law.

(Reporting from Brussels)

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/blog/2012/08/council-of-europes-foreign-ministers-calls-for-lib.php

Italy: Prison sentences for defamation violate freedom of expression · Article 19

14 Aug

 

 

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Italian Parliament to repeal the provisions of the Penal Code on defamation and bring its legislation in compliance with the international standards on freedom of expression in response to a recent court decision in a criminal defamation case convicting an Italian journalist and the former director of a newspaper to prison sentences.

ARTICLE 19 has sent requests to both chambers of the Italian parliament urging them to review and amend the provisions of the Penal Code dealing with defamation. Our request was prompted by the prison sentences given by the Bolzano Tribunal to the journalist Orfeo Donatini and the former director of the newspaper Alto Adige, Tiziano Marson.

The criminal defamation case against Donatini and Marson was initiated by a member of Bolzano’s Provincial Council, Sven Knoll. Knoll complained that the defendants had defamed him in an article published in Alto Adige in 2008. The article, written by Donatini, reported that Knoll had participated in a neo-Nazi summit in Val Passiria, Italy. This information, which first appeared in the national weeklyL’Espresso, was taken from a police report.

Knoll did not contact Alto Adige in reaction to the article. Instead, he lodged a criminal defamation complaint with the Bolzano Tribunal. At the prosecutor’s request, the journalists were initially acquitted but the case was reviewed by the Court of Cassation which referred it back to the Bolzano Tribunal.

On 20 June 2012 Donatini and Marson were convicted of ‘defamation through the press’ and sentenced to four months in prison and were asked to pay 15,000 Euros (18,500 USD) in compensation.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the decision taken in this case. We believe that the presence of criminal defamation provisions in the Penal Code and its continued application as in this case is incompatible with basic democratic ideals, as well as international guarantees of freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed that Italy is one of the two last remaining countries in Europe where journalists still receive prison sentences for defamation. It is disturbing that one of the founding member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union uses sanctions regarded in the rest of Europe as archaic, anti-democratic and a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression. The second country in Europe is Belarus, which is currently suspended from the Council of Europe because of its lack of respect for fundamental human rights.

The recent case as well as the prison sentences given by the Court of Chieti to the journalists, Valter Nerone, Lattanzio and Vicinanza in 2011, highlight the need for an immediate response at a legislative level.

We call on the Italian Parliament to repeal the defamation provisions of the Penal Code in order to comply with international standards on freedom of expression. The criminal sentence against the Alto Adige journalists must be reversed accordingly.

MORE INFORMATION:

  • For more information, please contact Boyko Boev, Senior Legal Officer at boyko@article19.org or +44 20 7324 2500;
  • ARTICLE 19 policy document, Defining Defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation is available here
  • For previous ARTICLE 19’s statement Italy: Criminal defamation legislation must be repealed, see here

 

Article 19.

 

 

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