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Blog: Japan releases Chinese journalists–China’s up next

17 Aug

It’s not often we at CPJ find ourselves calling on other countries to release Chinese journalists from detention. But that’s just what happened yesterday. Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV contacted us to say that two of their journalists were among a group of 14 arrested by Japanese authorities over a disputed territory in the East China Sea. For once, we found ourselves in accordance with Chinese authorities, who called for the “unconditional and immediate release” of all 14, according to Reuters

Japan has since deported the journalists, along with the protesters they were covering as they planted a Chinese flag on one of a string of islets–known in China as Diaoyu and Japan as Senkaku, local and international news reports say. We’re waiting to hear from Phoenix whether their footage was intact, but it’s good to hear they are safe. As CPJ’s Deputy Director Robert Mahoney pointed out yesterday: “Reporting on a protest is not a crime. It’s what journalists the world over do every day.”  

Except in China. There, protests are common, but coverage of them is heavily controlled, leaving news to filter out online. And while that method of spreading the word can be remarkably effective, it does not alter the fact that Communist Party leaders still vigilantly stamp out anti-government sentiment. Sure, researchers report Internet censors cracking down more on efforts to organize than on straightforward criticism. But as long as China’s lawmakers are the ones drawing the distinction between observing and participating, CPJ believes that anyone conducting journalism in China–be it in the mainstream press or otherwise–remains at risk of reprisal.

That’s based on the 27 journalists, largely freelancers communicating online, who CPJ documented behind bars in China on December 1, 2011. Many had an activist bent. Take Liu Xiaobo, arrested just as his petition for political reform, Charter 08, was issued, but sentenced for inciting subversion on the basis of online articles. Or Tan Zuoren, detained ahead of the publication of his research on behalf of families of school children killed as shoddily-constructed public buildings collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake–but sentenced for inciting subversion for an article he’d written the year before, a first-person account of the crackdown on 1989’s anti-government protests in Tiananmen Square.  Do you see a pattern yet? Expressing dissent may seem like the new norm in China. But it leaves a dangerous paper trail.

Phoenix TV was lucky that the protest they were publicizing was aligned with Beijing’s goals. Though not state-funded, the Hong Kong broadcaster has a significant advertising base in mainland China. We describe them as pro-Beijing, though Haipei Shue, the Phoenix commentator in Washington D.C. who alerted us to the story, prefers a more neutral description: “A publicly listed company in Hong Kong that broadcasts primarily into the mainland China.” However you phrase it, it’s pretty clear that Beijing was on side. Japan, too, responded, immediately and unconditionally deporting the group where they might have raised delays and objections.

China, it’s your turn. Immediately and unconditionally release the journalists you’ve arrested for reporting on, expressing, or amplifying discontent. You know, now at first hand, that it’s the right choice.  

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/blog/2012/08/japan-releases-chinese-journalists–chinas-up-next.php

With questions on Veracruz, feds should take over

17 Aug

Mexico City, August 17, 2012–Mexican federal authorities should assume control of the investigation and prosecution of all cases of murdered and missing journalists in the state of Veracruz, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A state investigation into the murder of several journalists has raised numerous questions and concerns, CPJ found.

The attorney general of Veracruz, Amadeo Flores Espinosa, announced on Wednesday that authorities had solved the murders of two news photographers, one former photographer, and a woman who was an office worker at a newspaper in the state capital, according to news reports. On May 3, the bodies of the four victims were found dismembered in black plastic bags that were thrown into a drainage canal in the town of Boca del Río. Flores said the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is allied with the Sinaloa cartel, was responsible. Mexican authorities said there are eight men in custody for the crime, according to The Associated Press.

Flores claimed that the suspects arrested for the May quadruple homicide had confessed to killing the photographers, allegedly because the victims, in collaboration with organized crime groups, were responsible for the murders of yet other journalists. He did not offer further details, identify the supposed other victims, or take questions after making the announcement, local reporters told CPJ. His office did not respond to phone calls from CPJ seeking an explanation for his assertion. Mexican state government officials in the past have sought to link murdered journalists with organized crime groups without presenting evidence to support the allegations.

Federal authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity told CPJ that their review found the purported confessions lacked the details necessary to prosecute the defendants. In one of the statements, an official said, the suspect simply claimed to have killed many people in Veracruz while working for the New Generation cartel. In another, a suspect said that some of the journalists were killed because they were involved in the killing of other journalists. The suspects did not offer further details, such as the identities of the victims or the dates of the murders, and the federal official told CPJ that the records of the interrogation show that the investigators did not ask them to elaborate.

The only evidence offered by state authorities, besides the alleged confessions, was that IDs and credit cards of one of the victims were found in the glove compartment of a car in which one suspect was stopped, according to news reports.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Flores also announced that authorities had solved another journalist murder case. The attorney-general said that witnesses had identified two members of the Zetas cartel, who were killed in a shootout with authorities in June, as being responsible for the murder of kidnapped crime reporter and editor Víctor Manuel Báez Chino on June 13. Báez’s body was found the next day near the main square in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state. Flores didn’t elaborate on the case or take any questions.

“We’re concerned that Veracruz state authorities have been unwilling to provide credible details to support their announcement that these murders have been solved,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “It’s also disturbing that state officials smeared the victims’ reputations without offering a shred of evidence to back up the claims.”

After years of advocacy by journalists and press freedom groups, the Mexican Senate passed a landmark constitutional amendment this year that granted federal authorities the power to prosecute crimes against the press. But the constitutional amendment cannot go into effect until the legislature passes follow-up laws to define the responsibilities of federal law enforcement agencies and provide them with the necessary resources and training.

“Now that the constitutional amendment that federalizes anti-press crimes has been approved, Congress must pass the secondary legislation that will put the amendment into effect and allow federal authorities to take over all cases of murdered journalists,” Lauría said.

Veracruz, which is a battleground for the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels, is one of Mexico’s most dangerous states for the press, according to CPJ research. At least eight journalists and one former journalist, most of whom covered the police beat or politics in the main city, the port of Veracruz, have been killed, many in unclear circumstances, since March 2011. There have been no arrests in any of the cases until now. Several local reporters who cover those beats, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told CPJ they have fled to other parts of the country.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2012/08/federal-authorities-cast-doubt-on-arrests-in-verac.php

Kidnapped journalists released in Syria

17 Aug

Two journalists of the pro-government TV station Al-Ikhbariya and their driver who were kidnapped on August 10 were freed by the Syrian army six days later, according to the state news agency SANA.

Rebels belonging to the Free Syrian Army kidnapped Yara al-Saleh, an anchor for Al-Ikhbariya, Abdullah Tubara, the station’s cameraman, and their driver, Hussam Imad, in the Damascus suburb of Al-Tal, news reports said. A third journalist, Hatem Abu Yehia, a camera assistant for Al-Ikhbariya, who was also kidnapped with the group, was killed on August 10, according to news reports.

The Free Syrian Army released a video saying Abu Yehia had been killed along with two rebel fighters on the day of the kidnapping by government shelling of Al-Tal, news reports said. However, SANA disputed the statement and quoted al-Saleh saying that Abu Yehia had been executed by the rebels and that the journalists had been mistreated by the rebels. Al-Saleh also said the rebels forced them to make a false statement about Abu Yehia’s death.

The Syrian army carried out a rescue operation to free the journalists, SANA reported.

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2012/08/kidnapped-journalists-released-in-syria.php

Two Vietnamese bloggers given prison sentences

17 Aug

Bangkok, August 17, 2012–Harsh prison sentences handed down recently to two independent Vietnamese bloggers represent the latest official abuses in a widening crackdown on Internet freedoms in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Dinh Dang Dinh, a former schoolteacher and police officer, and Le Thanh Tung, a former military officer, were sentenced to six and five years in prison, respectively, on anti-state charges for their blog postings that were perceived as critical of the Communist Party-dominated government and its policies, according to international news reports.

Dinh was sentenced on August 8 by a Dak Nong province court for violating the criminal code’s Article 88, a vague provision banning propagandizing against the state that is often used to stifle and punish activists, dissidents, and independent bloggers, according to CPJ research. He was charged for articles written and posted between 2007 and 2011, according to news reports.

Dinh had written and posted critical articles on government corruption and a controversial bauxite mining project, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). First detained in October 2011, the blogger was held in detention until his one-day trial. RFA reported that Dinh’s family had come under pressure from the authorities not to publicize his case and had not been informed when his trial would be held.  

Tung was convicted by a Hanoi court on August 11 for “propaganda against the state” in a series of blog postings he published between August 2009 and October 2011, according to news reports. The court ruled in a one-hour trial that his articles “distorted the policies of the state and the party” and violated Article 88, the reports said.

Several of his articles advocated for democracy and more political liberalism in Vietnam’s authoritarian one-party political system. Tung was also given a subsequent sentence of four years’ house arrest, according to news reports. He was first detained in December 2011.

“These arbitrary and harsh sentences underscore the excessive lengths Vietnamese authorities take to suppress freedom of expression on the Internet,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “We call on Vietnam’s government to reverse these unjust rulings and to release all online journalists now being held behind bars.” 

Three other imprisoned bloggers–Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan, and Phann Thanh Hai–await trial on anti-state charges in Vietnam, according to news reports. Authorities had earlier announced that the bloggers would stand trial on August 7, but the proceedings were delayed for unknown reasons, the reports said.

CPJ’s prison census, conducted on December 1, 2011 showed that Vietnam held nine journalists and bloggers behind bars. Neither Dinh nor Tung was included on that census list.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2012/08/two-vietnamese-bloggers-given-prison-sentences.php

Bahrain – Release Bahraini human rights activists now, say international groups

17 Aug

17 August 2012

(IFEX) – 17 August 2012 – As international human rights groups, we call on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council who participated in Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review in May 2012 to urge Bahrain to release human rights defenders and peaceful opposition activists, who have been subjected to constant harassment by security forces and the courts for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

We call first of all for the immediate release of leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, after a court sentenced him on 16 August to three years’ imprisonment in relation to three cases brought against him for calling for and participating in peaceful gatherings that the government deems “illegal”. On the same day, an appeals court postponed again the appeals verdict in connection with a separate case in which Rajab was sentenced to three months in prison for “tweeting” that the prime minister should resign, for which he has been jailed since his re-arrest on 9 July 2012.

Rajab, who has almost 170,000 Twitter followers, is known across Bahrain and internationally for his human rights advocacy. He is President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. BCHR is a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and this year won the Index on Censorship Free Expression Award and the Human Rights First 2012 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty. Rajab also won the 2011 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award.

We also call on member states of the UN HRC, as they did in May 2012 during the UPR, to continue to press Bahrain to follow through on the recommendations made in November 2011 by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), in particular the recommendation to release individuals jailed for peacefully expressing their views. The BICI was mandated by the King to iinvestigate reports of serious human rights violations that occurred after hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February 2011 to call for reforms. The BICI report recorded about 300 people arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and noted a culture of impunity in the torture and deaths of people in custody.

Rajab’s case is only one of many cases before the courts as the government tries to silence its most vocal critics by keeping them in jail. Human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on 2 August after she staged a one-woman protest calling for the release of her father, former BCHR President Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. It was her fifth arrest since April 2012. On 4 August, she was accused of tearing a photo of the king at the police station and remains in detention. Her hearing is scheduled for 28 August 2012.

Also this week, the High Criminal Court of Appeal delayed a verdict in the high profile case of 13 political and human rights leaders until 4 September. The 13 men, who include Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and blogger and activist Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, boycotted the verdict in the absence of a fair trial, during which allegations of confessions under torture were not investigated. They were originally sentenced by military court in June 2011 to between two years and life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”

We are among over 100 NGOs who have previously signed a letter calling for the release of all Bahraini human rights defenders, who join Nabeel Rajab’s family appeal to the international community, including members of the UN HRC, to press the Bahraini authorities to:

• Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace and all those jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as recommended by the BICI;
• Suspend and then revoke the use of penal code articles that violate the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
• Comply with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998, and international human rights treaties and documents ratified by Bahrain, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Signed,

Co-signatories:

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights First
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organization (BRAVO)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Front Line Defenders
International Media Support (IMS)
No Peace Without Justice
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

via IFEX

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