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In Argentina, two local journalists attacked within a week

21 Aug

New York, August 21, 2012–Authorities in Argentina must immediately investigate violent attacks on two local journalists and ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The unrelated attacks occurred within the space of a week. 

“Local Argentine journalists have been vulnerable to these kinds of attacks in the past,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Authorities must act decisively to clamp down on this criminal behavior and prosecute those responsible.”

Unidentified assailants threw a Molotov cocktail at the car of Silvio Novelino, director of the monthly newspaper El Pepirí, at around 3 a.m. Monday, the journalist told the local TV station Misiones Cuatro. The vehicle was in the garage adjacent to Novelino’s house in the city of Bernardo de Irigoyen in northeastern Misiones province, he said. Novelino was not injured in the attack, but the fire caused damage to his car, news reports said.

Novelino said his newspaper frequently published critical articles on issues such as local corruption and that he believed the attackers could be among a number of people who were upset by his reporting, according to news reports. The journalist said he had “gotten used” to receiving threats for his work. Jorge Héctor Munaretto, chief of police in the province, told the local press group Foro de Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA) that Novelino’s house was now under police protection.

Another journalist was attacked and threatened six days earlier. Hernán García, director of the local radio station FM UNO, said the mayor of the town of Sancti Spíritu, in the province of Santa Fe, had summoned him to a meeting outside town on August 14, the journalist reported on FM UNO. García said Abel Fontenla hit him in the face and threatened him with a gun, saying he would kill him. García said he recorded the attack, and had uploaded it to the station’s website. In the recording, an unidentified voice can be heard saying, “I swear I’ll kill you. … I came to kill you.” The journalist said he reported the attack to local authorities.

Fontenla denied the allegations and said he knew nothing of the recording, according to local news reports. A search of the mayor’s house did not turn up any weapons, according to news reports. García had recently used his radio station to call on Fontenla to “show the balance sheets to the Sancti Spíritu community,” and be more transparent, according to news reports.

CPJ has documented attacks on local journalists in Argentina in recent months. On May 29, Gustavo Tinetti, host for “Despertate” on Cadena Nueve radio station and a reporter for the station’s website, was threatened by an unidentified gunman who walked into the station’s office.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Yamamoto’s death reflects Japan’s media reach, duty

21 Aug

Japanese reporter Mika Yamamoto was killed after being caught in gunfire in Aleppo, Syria. (AFP/NKH News)

My colleagues and I were saddened to learn of the death of Mika Yamamoto, a Japan Press video and photo journalist who was killed while covering clashes in Aleppo, Syria, on Monday. The moment was all the more poignant because of the similarities with two other Japanese journalist fatalities: Kenji Nagai of APF News in Burma in 2007 and Hiro Muramoto of Reuters in Thailand in 2010. As with Yamamoto, Nagai and Muramoto were photojournalists covering conflict between anti-government elements and government troops in foreign countries.

And as in the Yamamoto case, shocking video footage of the Nagai’s death by gunfire spread online even before the details could be confirmed through official channels. That footage documented a soldier targeting Nagai at point-blank range, contradicting Burma’s assertion that he was killed by a stray bullet as troops quelled monk-led anti-government protests. The moment was immortalized in the compelling documentary, Burma VJ, which captures the scene from the perspective of the underground Burmese video journalists recording it on handheld devices.  “Who did they shoot?” one asks. The response is chilling: “A guy with a camera.”

Investigating Muramoto’s death, CPJ found that both troops and protesters–led by the red-shirted, anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship–behaved recklessly and heightened the risks for journalists covering the conflict. Preliminary government findings indicated that the bullets that killed Muramoto came from the direction of security forces. But officials didn’t follow up, instead concluding that government forces were not the source of fire. Doubting their sincerity, CPJ called for an independent inquiry, which never materialized.

Initial video footage of Mika Yamamoto’s body, reviewed by The Associated Press, suggests that she was traveling with the rebel Free Syrian Army when troops fighting for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime opened fire. Many details about the circumstances of her death remain uncertain–and we hope Japan will press for clarity.

Yamamoto’s death has sparked enormous concern among Japanese colleagues and the public. As Japan continues to expand its global media reach, journalist security is increasingly in the spotlight. Just last month, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that police in China’s Nantong kicked its correspondent Atsushi Okuder in the head and confiscated his camera and press ID to obstruct his reporting on environmental protests. 

In 2010, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon wrote an op-ed for the Asahi Shimbun, which was published in translation on our website. “Japan’s economic future is linked to global events, from oil production in Nigeria to trade liberalization in Vietnam. Journalists covering news in these countries face violence and persecution,” Simon wrote. He made the case that Japan, by protecting its own reporters overseas and their colleagues around the world, is in a powerful position to expand its press freedom influence, as well as its coverage: “Standing up for journalists around the world is a way for the Japanese media to expand its global influence and prestige while reaffirming its commitment to the highest ideals of the journalistic profession.”

Two years later, that message seems more vital than ever.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: In Meles’ death, as in life, a penchant for secrecy, control

21 Aug

The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, shown here in 2010. (AFP/Simon Maina)

Ethiopians awakened this morning to state media reports that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, 57, the country’s leader for 21 years, had died late Monday in an overseas hospital of an undisclosed disease. Within seconds, Ethiopians spread the news on social media; within minutes, international news media were issuing bulletins. Finally, after weeks of government silence and obfuscation over Meles’ health, there was clarity for Ethiopians anxious for word about their leader. Still, it was left to unnamed sources to fill in even the basic details. Meles died in a Brussels hospital of liver cancer, these sources told international news organizations, and he had been ill for many months.

“Death of yet another African leader highlights secrecy & lack of transparency when it comes to ailing leaders,” CNN’s Faith Karimi noted on Twitter, where the hashtag #MelesZenawi was trending globally.

After Meles failed to appear at July’s African Union summit in his own capital, Addis Ababa, spokesman Bereket Simon was forced to acknowledge that the prime minister was ill. Still, he asserted that Meles would be back to work soon, a claim does not seem to have been credible. The government went on to consistently play down reports that Meles had a life-threatening condition, even as it refused to disclose his exact whereabouts or the nature of his illness. Authorities blocked distribution of the one local newspaper, Feteh, that tried to publish more detailed information about Meles.

The government’s handling of Meles’ health situation reflects its culture of secrecy, as Bereket acknowledged last month, along with its heavy-handed tactics to control news and information. Yet for all its efforts, the government could not control the public’s hunger for information. The official secrecy merely fueled rampant public speculation and fears about the country’s future.

The government’s tactics are a product of its long-time leader. The paradox of Meles is that he was a formidable politician who nonetheless feared criticism in the Ethiopian press.

To the world, Meles projected the image of an engaging intellectual, a bespectacled bureaucrat who championed development and fought climate change. Meles had the “ability to understand what foreigners wanted to hear. He spoke their language,” said Ethiopian journalist Mohammed Ademo, referring to Meles’ mastery of the politics of aid, poverty, and the global fight against terrorism. “In English, he was soft-spoken and appeared to be willing to consider and tolerate and debate all arguments freely,” said another Ethiopian journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But Meles adopted a very different tone domestically. He continued the Mengistu regime’s censorship of famine and drought coverage, and he ruthlessly stamped out dissent. “He was often arrogant and rude when speaking to Ethiopians. Threatening in parliament,” said Mohammed. In one of his last speeches, Meles lashed out at critics, real and imagined, and accused independent journalists of being “terrorists.”

The new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has an opportunity to break with this fear and embrace openness to the press. He can start with the unconditional release of at least eight journalists now behind bars, among them the independent blogger Eskinder Nega, who is serving an 18-year term on baseless terrorism charges.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Japanese reporter killed, two missing in Syria

21 Aug

A rebel fighter trains an anti-aircraft machine gun in Aleppo. (Reuters/Zain Karam)

New York, August 20, 2012–A Japanese reporter was killed amid heavy fighting in the northern city of Aleppo today, while two other journalists were reported missing in the city, news reports said.

Mika Yamamoto, a video and photo journalist for the news agency Japan Press who was covering clashes in Aleppo, died from injuries sustained in the city’s Suleiman al-Halabi district, according to news reports citing the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Japanese Embassy confirmed her death and identity, according to Agence-France Presse, the Associated Press, and the Japanese agency Kyodo News.

Yamamoto died in a nearby hospital, the Syrian Observatory told AFP. In a video posted on YouTube that purported to show the victim, a rebel fighter who identified himself as Ahmad al-Ghazzali said Yamamoto was killed in Syrian government shelling. The origin of the video was unclear, and the source of fire could not be independently corroborated. Government forces waged a heavy bombardment of Aleppo today, as about 100 deaths were reported across Syria, according to news reports.

“We mourn the loss of our colleague Mika Yamamoto and send our deepest condolences to her family and friends,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Syria has become the most dangerous place in the world for both local and international journalists.”

Bashar Fahmi, a Palestinian reporter for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Al-Hurra, and Cüneyt Ünal, a Turkish cameraman for the station, were unaccounted for late Monday, according to a spokeswoman for the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, the station’s parent company. The spokeswoman said the two journalists failed to check in with their editors as scheduled earlier in the day.

In the video that purported to show the deceased Japanese reporter, the rebel fighter said the two Al-Hurra journalists had been seized by Syrian forces. That claim could not be independently corroborated.

Last week, CPJ documented the killings of three local journalists and the kidnapping of several others. CPJ research shows that at least 16 other journalists have been killed since November while covering Syria, making it the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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