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Blog: McClatchy’s Boswell caught in South Sudan’s war of words

15 Aug

Alan Boswell (Courtesy Boswell)

A day before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited South Sudan this month, McClatchy correspondent Alan Boswell reported that President Salva Kiir had finally acknowledged his government’s support for a Nuba Mountains-based group that had been skirmishing with Sudanese forces. In a letter to his U.S. counterpart, the story said, Kiir apologized for his previous denials, which came in the face of U.S. intelligence to the contrary. The story, which exposed an important element in the tense relations between the two once-joined nations, put Boswell in the cross-hairs.

Two days later, Information Minister Barnaba Marial accused Boswell in a radio interview of being paid by the Sudanese government to tarnish Africa’s newest government. “This is a guy who is completely in the pay of Khartoum,” the minister said in a Sudan Radio Service interview. “It is not true what he is writing. He has never written anything in favor of South Sudan.” Worse, Marial convened a press conference in Juba the next day, distributing a statement that denied the story and slammed Boswell as “an enemy of peace.”

Boswell’s prolific reporting on Sudan and South Sudan belies the minister’s accusations. Since January, Boswell had been writing about the atrocities committed by the Sudanese army in the Nuba Mountains region of Blue Nile State, citing Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s human rights record as “one of the worst in the world”–hardly propaganda for Khartoum. “It is a completely baseless charge, and the government [of South Sudan] knows that,” Boswell responded in a radio interview. “No U.S. official contradicted my reporting or demanded a retraction, and no representative of the South Sudanese government has contacted either me or my newspaper company with information to contradict what I reported.”

In the violent context of Sudanese-South Sudanese relations, public accusations from a senior government official can endanger a journalist’s life. “I’m sure I needn’t tell you that among many of your countrymen, being ‘completely in the pay of Khartoum’ is tantamount to an accusation of being a spy for the enemy,” McClatchy President and CEO Patrick Talamantes wrote to the minister. “Suggesting that Mr. Boswell is in the pay of the enemy risks his physical well-being, as you surely knew when you selected that phrase and then made certain it was distributed widely.”

Tensions between South Sudan and Sudan, which separated in July 2011, are rife to the point where both sides nearly warred in April over border and resource disputes, according to local journalists and news reports. The reactionary and often violent security forces in South Sudan make the minister’s comments particularly reckless.

Marial replied to the McClatchy letter last week, offering to meet Boswell but sticking to his unjustified assertions. “We have noted the continuous negative campaign in which Mr. Alan Boswell has been targeting the people and the Republic of South Sudan in all his articles that reflect a pro-Khartoum campaign,” he wrote to the McClatchy newspaper company.

Facing continuing pressure from McClatchy and others, Marial finally wrote a retraction “for the sake of understanding and harmony” and welcomed Boswell to continue reporting in Sudan. The minister’s admission constitutes a victory for press freedom in South Sudan. But what about local journalists who do not have the backing of strong media companies to clear their names?

Take Bonifacio Taban, a correspondent for the news website Sudan Tribune who works in the restive Unity State where sporadic conflicts between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces are common. “Our leaders in South Sudan react like that whenever journalists in South Sudan write a critical article about their leadership,” Taban told me in reaction to the accusations against Boswell. A senior South Sudan army commander detained Taban in June, accusing him of being a “Khartoum agent” for an article he wrote about widows of the former southern rebels with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. “He told me he could do away with me and no one would do anything to him,” the journalist said. Taban’s article, “Over 500 SPLA widows complain of ill-treatment,” angered the military because the figure suggested more soldiers had died in recent border conflicts than the southern army had acknowledged. Further, some of the widows Taban interviewed complained of not receiving proper compensation for the death of their husbands, according to local journalists and reports. Fortunately for Taban, the South Sudanese officer eventually let him go without charge.

Nonetheless, the fear of being labeled by authorities as a supporter of Sudan is enough to make many South Sudanese journalists hesitant to report freely. Part of the problem lies in the way that South Sudanese journalists reported news during the civil war. As Alfred Taban, a veteran journalist and founder of The Juba Monitor, told me last year, “The [South Sudanese] press is partly to blame. During the war, the southern press acted almost entirely as an opposing voice to the Khartoum government.” Today, the South Sudanese press has recognized that the war is over and its role must change. Despite growing evidence of widespread government corruption, South Sudan’s leaders expect the press to blindly support them. Perhaps Boswell’s case will serve as a reminder that the times have changed and that a vibrant, critical press is one of the fruits of peace.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Syrian journalist kidnapped in Homs

15 Aug

New York, August 15, 2012–Unidentified armed men on Monday kidnapped a correspondent for Al-Alam, an Iranian satellite broadcaster supportive of the Syrian government, the latest incident in a series of abductions and attacks against pro-government media in Syria, according to news reports.

Ahmad Sattouf, a Syrian correspondent for the Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Alam, was abducted as he returned to his home near Tadmour Square in Homs, according to a statement on his employer’s website. The Al-Alam office where Sattouf works was also ransacked, the broadcaster reported, although it is unclear if it occurred on the same day as the kidnapping.

Neither Al-Alam nor Sattouf’s family has been able to establish contact with the journalist, Al-Alam’s statement said. Sattouf’s wife told The Associated Press that the journalist had been missing since Monday.

Al-Alam reported that armed groups were responsible for Sattouf’s abduction, but did not offer details.

“We are deeply concerned for the welfare of Ahmad Sattouf and call on those holding him to release him unharmed immediately,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists are civilians and should not be attacked by any party for their work.”

Attacks against pro-government media have increased in recent weeks. CPJ has documented at least three journalists working for state-run news outlets who have been killed in the past two weeks and several others who have been kidnapped. Sattouf’s abduction is the eighth CPJ has documented in Syria over the past month.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Morocco – Moroccan journalist based in Spanish enclave receives death threats

15 Aug

14 August 2012

(RSF/IFEX) – 3 August 2012 – Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the safety of Hamid Naïmi, a Moroccan journalist and opposition activist now based in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. After obtaining political asylum in France in 2005, Naïmi is now the target of threats of presumed Moroccan origin because of his journalistic activities in Melilla.

“As Naïmi is on Spanish territory, we appeal to the Spanish government led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as well as the local authorities in Melilla to take whatever measures are necessary to protect this journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He is the target of almost constant harassment and has been getting death threats although his only crime has been to keep on exercising his right to free expression.”

Naïmi participates in a programme on Popular TV Melilla, in which he reports on cases of alleged corruption and embezzlement by senior Moroccan officials, especially in the Rif region adjoining Melilla. The programme also covers cases of robbery, kidnapping and prosecutions of members of the Berber ethnic group in the border area.

He has received telephone threats and has been followed by unidentified persons ever since the programme broadcast on 6 July 2012 and he is planning to file a complaint against persons unknown with the Spanish police in Melilla.

Naïmi used to be based in the nearby Moroccan city of Nador, where he created and edited the newspaper “Kawalis Rif” and reported for various media including France 24 and the news website The justice ministry closed his newspaper in 2006.

Abdelwafi Hartit, the head of Popular TV Melilla’s Berber programme Amazigh, gave a news conference on 18 July in which he voiced his support for Naïmi and blamed the Department for Territorial Surveillance (DST), Morocco’s main intelligence agency, for the threats and attempts to curb freedom of expression.

The Moroccan government’s offensive against journalists, bloggers and netizens since the start of the year is an additional reason for being concerned about Naïmi, whose history and current activities expose him to real danger. His case shows how difficult it is for Moroccan journalists to openly criticize the government and DST, which are determined to suppress all dissent.


Reporters Without Borders
47, rue Vivienne
75002 Paris
rsf (@)
Phone: +33 1 44 83 84 84
Fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51

via IFEX

The Gambia shuts independent radio station

15 Aug

New York, August 15, 2012–Gambian national security agents summarily shut an independent radio station early this morning without providing an explanation, according to news reports. Authorities have censored Taranga FM at least twice before in retaliation for its exclusive news review program, according to news reports.

Officers of the Gambian National Intelligence Agency stormed Taranga FM studios in Sinchu Alhagie village, southwest of Banjul, the capital, and forced it off the air, according to news reports. The officials also took the station’s license as well as the contact information of its board members, local journalists said. The officers told the station staff only that they had received “directives from above,” news reports said.

In January last year, ahead of the presidential elections, the National Intelligence Agency ordered the station to halt its news review program, which broadcasts news in local languages from independent English-language newspapers, according to news reports. In July 2011, the government again ordered the station to drop the program, according to news reports. The station’s broadcasts had generated a lot of attention from the mainly illiterate public.

Local journalists told CPJ they believed the closure could be linked to the station’s live weekly talk show, which features interviews from both the ruling party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, and opposition parties. On Sunday, the station had aired comments made by opposition leader Omar Jallow who said President Yahya Jammeh had a worse human rights record than his predecessor, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, whom Jammeh deposed in a 1994 coup. In a March interview on state television, Jammeh had branded the opposition leaders “dogs” over their decision to boycott that month’s parliamentary elections citing government intimidation, according to news reports.

“In its assault on Taranga FM, the Gambian government has silenced an essential source of news and shown again its disregard for citizens’ right to independent information,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The radio station should be allowed to resume broadcasting immediately.”

Several independent media outlets, including radio stations Citizen FM, Radio 1 FM, and Sud FM and The Independent newspaper, have been shut by the Gambian government in recent years, according to CPJ research. Repression of the press under Jammeh’s administration has turned the Gambia into one of the most repressive countries for African journalists, CPJ research shows.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

In Djibouti, reporter detained for a week without charge

15 Aug

Houssein Ahmed (La Voix De Djibouti)

Nairobi, August 15, 2012–Authorities in Djibouti must immediately release a journalist for an opposition news website who has been jailed for a week without charge or access to a lawyer or his family, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Two police officers arrested Houssein Ahmed Farah, a contributor to the Europe-based news website La Voix de Djibouti (The Voice of Djibouti), on August 8, according to news reports. Three days later, a local judge ordered him to be remanded to Gabode Prison in Djibouti City, the capital, according to local journalists. Houssein is diabetic, and local journalists believe he has not been granted access to a doctor while in detention. 

Authorities have accused Houssein of selling membership cards of the opposition party, the Movement for the Renewal of Democracy and Development (MRD), to Djiboutians, according to local journalists. In 2008, President Ismail Omar Guelleh banned the MRD, accusing the party of supporting neighboring Eritrea in a plot to invade the country, according to news reports. The party is appealing the ban at the Supreme Court, local journalists said.

But local journalists told CPJ they believe the accusation against Houssein is a pretext to silence the journalist’s critical reporting. Houssein has written stories for La Voix de Djibouti that were critical of the ongoing detention of political prisoners, chronic shortages of water in the country, and corruption in the government’s management of traffic lights, according to La Voix de Djibouti Chief Editor Dahir Ahmed Farah, who is also Houssein’s brother and an MRD leader.

Repeated calls to the government spokesman and the director of communications in Djibouti were not returned.

“Authorities are holding Houssein Ahmed in apparent reprisal for his reporting,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We hold the government of Djibouti responsible for Houssein’s well-being and call for his immediate release.”

Police have harassed Houssein before in connection with his human rights activism, according to news reports.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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