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Blog: Shooting investigation stalls in India

11 Sep

CPJ has been monitoring the investigation into the shooting attack on Arunachal Times journalist Tongam Rina outside her office in Itanagar, capital of Arunachal Pradesh state, which left her hospitalized in critical condition this July. Her recovery is progressing, slowly but surely. The police inquiry, however, is not. 

“The state police have failed to make any headway,” Rina told CPJ by email. Though she believes the incident was related to her work as an investigative political reporter, the exact cause is unclear. “I have been extensively covering corruption, women, and political and environmental issues, so I am finding it hard to pinpoint any particular issue which might have triggered the attack,” she said.

The same was true in April, when a group of unidentified men broke into the Arunachal Times premises and destroyed equipment. “The police are pointing at the same people who attacked the office [in the shooting investigation],” Rina said. Yet no suspects have been arrested in either case. The state’s director-general of police, Kanwaljit Deol, declined to comment on details of the investigation when CPJ reached him by telephone today.

Threats, and subsequent police inaction, are all too familiar in the northeastern state on India’s border with China. “A couple of years back, I received a threatening note while I was doing stories on food security in my state,” Rina told CPJ. “It was reported to the police but they could not figure out anything. No arrests were made.”

Arunachal Times journalists have no choice but to continue despite the obstacles. “Verbal threats are almost routine in our office,” Rina said. Overcoming a violent, targeted assault is much harder. In her “Ringside View” column for the newspaper–the only one published since the shooting–she reflects on that challenge. “Many have asked me where do I go from here and when do I come back? I really don’t know. Writing is too much of a passion–you don’t just let go of it.”

Rina and her colleagues are fighting hard to do their jobs. Now it’s time for the police to do theirs. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists


Ethiopia must release journalists still in prison

11 Sep

Nairobi, September 11, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Ethiopian government to set free six journalists in prison for their work, a day after Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were pardoned and released from Kality Prison in the capital Addis Ababa.

Persson, a photojournalist, and Schibbye, a reporter, were arrested on July 1, 2011, and charged under Ethiopia’s far-reaching anti-terrorism law, convicted in politicized trials, and sentenced to 11-year prison sentences. Following their convictions, the journalists opted to forego an appeal and submitted an application to the Ministry of Justice Pardon Board.

Monday, the two appeared on Ethiopian state television and expressed regret for entering the country with armed separatists of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and without documentation. The Ethiopian government denies the media independent access to the oil-rich, Somali-speaking Ogaden region and has formally designated the ONLF a terrorist group. The two freelancers were on assignment for the Swedish news agency Kontinent investigating the activities of a company affiliated with the Swedish oil firm Lundin Petroleum, according to wire reports. They were captured after a gun battle between security forces and ONLF insurgents, in which both were wounded.

Since 2011, the government of Ethiopia has convicted 11 independent journalists and bloggers under the sweeping anti-terrorism law, some in absentia. Six journalists who remain in Ethiopian prisons are award-winning blogger Eskinder Nega; award-winning columnist Reeyot Alemu; Woubshet Taye of the now-defunct weekly Awramba Times; Eritrean journalists Saleh Idris Gama and Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi, who have been held since 2006; and Yusuf Getachew, editor of YeMuslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs).

“Martin Schibbye, Johan Persson and other journalists in Ethiopia have paid a heavy price for trying to uncover what the government is seeking to hide,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “As Ethiopia begins a new year today, we urge the country’s new leadership to truly begin afresh by releasing the six journalists still in prison.”

Persson and Schibbye–who shared a cell with about 250 inmates and one toilet–are recuperating in an undisclosed location outside Ethiopia before reuniting with family in Sweden, Persson’s father told the Swedish news agency TT.

The decision to pardon the two Swedes was approved by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to a statement by Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Twice in October 2011, Meles publicly accused them of being accomplices to terrorists. In November, state prosecutors were forced to admit that footage used as evidence against the journalists had been edited and gunshots added to the audio to make it appear as if they were participating in weapons training, according to local journalists and news reports. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, in his personal blog, claimed “quiet diplomacy” between the late prime minister and Swedish officials led to their release.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Isik Yurtçu and Turkey’s stubborn lack of press freedom

11 Sep

 Isik Yurtçu

The Committee to Protect Journalists is saddened by the death of Isik Yurtçu, who died Saturday in Istanbul of cancer at the age of 67.

In July of 1997, a bus full of international and Turkish journalists pulled up to the plain iron gate of Sakarya Prison east of Istanbul. Cameras rolling, representatives of CPJ, the International Press Institute, Reporters Sans Frontieres and Turkey’s Press Council and Union of Newspaper Editors pressed toward the startled guard who swung the gate open just a foot or two and peered out. We had been promised a chance to talk with Isik Yurtçu, the Kurdish newspaper editor who had so far served two years of a 15-year sentence, with more charges pending against him. While he was convicted of publishing “separatist propaganda,” among other things, his conviction was really about articles in his paper reporting on the army’s harsh conduct in the conflict with Kurdish rebels in the eastern part of the country.

Yurtçu’s freedom had been the focus of a year-long campaign by the press freedom organizations, and our visit followed five days of meetings with the country’s president, prime minister, justice minister and others. All the newly confirmed government officials had vowed they would ensure his release, along with others of the 70 or so journalists in prison at the time.

The guard obviously hadn’t heard of that promise, and quickly called for more senior prison officials. The crowd didn’t wait, pushing the gate further open and pouring into the prison courtyard. After some moments of total confusion, several of us were ushered into a conference room, where guards brought Yurtçu to meet us.  I presented him with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, which we had honored him with the previous year.

Pale but composed, the small, bearded man thanked us gracefully, then walked over to the window and held the plaque up, waving to the 100 or so cheering journalists below.

A few months later, I saw Yurtçu again–this time, buying him a glass of champagne in New York’s famous Rainbow Room, atop the NBC building. He had been released a month after our visit–the first sign of thawing in Turkey’s long regime of censorship and suppression of the press.

In his letter from prison to CPJ after hearing of his award, Yurtçu had written: “I’ve been in jail for two years just because I tried to learn the truth and relay this truth to inform the public – in other words, to do my job with the belief that it is impossible to have other freedoms in a country where there is no freedom of the press…

“What a pleasure to be able to dream about the day when peace, democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression and of the press will become a reality in my country. What a pleasure to see a light of hope despite the surrounding prison walls and the deep darkness here.”

Yurtçu had refused an opportunity to leave his country before his imprisonment. He had repeatedly refused a presidential pardon. “This is not about me,” he said. “This is about freedom for all the Turkish people.”

For me, his courage and integrity and stubbornness exemplified all the journalists I had encountered abroad, as a reporter and as a member of CPJ–people who well understood the importance of a free and active press; people who risked their lives and freedom every day just as Yurtçu did, to “learn the truth and relay this truth to the public.” His release from prison was both a triumph for CPJ and our colleagues at RSF and IPI, and a great personal satisfaction for me.

Unfortunately, while Yurtçu and Turkey enjoyed a few years of increasing civil rights, including a greater degree of freedom of the press, the country’s government has fallen back into old bad habits. Once again, dozens of journalists are in jail, and thousands of criminal cases have been filed against reporters, bringing endless legal proceedings and costs and chilling once again efforts to “learn and tell the truth.”

“A critical journalist in Turkey these days needs a lawyer on standby,” CPJ wrote recently. “The press is laboring under a creaking judicial system and a panoply of antiquated and vague legislation that officials and politicians of every stripe find irresistible as a weapon against muckraking reporters and critical commentators.”

Yurtçu believed deeply, as do I and my colleagues at CPJ, that “it is impossible to have other freedoms in a country where there is no freedom of the press.” Turkey has become much more successful economically since my visit to Yurtçu’s prison, and is now a strong regional power. Yet it still has not learned that vital lesson. Until it does, dedicated journalists like him will continue to risk their freedom and their lives to learn and tell the truth, and CPJ will do our best to help them.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Thorning’s chance to press China for media freedom

11 Sep

Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is in China this week to meet with top leaders, according to international news reports. CPJ’s Advocacy and Communications Associate Magnus Ag and Senior Asia Program Researcher Madeline Earp co-wrote an op-ed calling on Thorning–as she is called in the Danish press–to raise the issue of press freedom. An edited version ran in the Danish newspaper Politiken today.

Speaking truthfully to China on its repression of human rights can be a tricky endeavor in diplomatic affairs, but Helle Thorning-Schmidt has a prime opportunity to raise press freedom on her trip to China. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not give the issue public priority during their visits earlier this month, but as Thorning meets with top Communist Party leaders and addresses a World Economic Forum meeting in Tianjin, the opportunity must not be wasted.

Foreign correspondents in China are accustomed to uncooperative local authorities, even since the government agreed that the foreign press no longer needed official permission to report–a concession granted prior to the 2008 Olympics. Here, at the press freedom organization Committee to Protect Journalists, where we document attacks on journalists around the world, China’s noncooperation looks increasingly like organized obstruction.

In 2011, makeshift regulations appeared on Beijing city websites, barring international reporters from a potential site of anti-government demonstrations. This year, the parking lot of a hospital where high-profile dissident Chen Guangcheng was undergoing treatment was declared off limits. Officials threatened to revoke visas for journalists violating the improvised exclusion zones. That risk was underscored when China’s Foreign Ministry declined to renew the credentials of Al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan without explanation, forcing her to quit the country in May.

Why now? Top-down information control is tight in advance of new leadership appointments at the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress this fall. Authorities censored the U.S.-based Bloomberg news agency for a June report on financial assets held by the family of Xi Jinping, who is tipped as the country’s next president. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported this week that Chinese sales of Bloomberg’s terminal service, which offers real-time financial data and was unaffected by the censorship, have since declined. On the ground, anti-foreign sentiment is also high. State CCTV host Yang Rui caught the nationalist tone at its most unpleasant when he crowed about Melissa Chan’s expulsion on social media: “We kicked out that foreign bitch.”

Danish journalists got a taste of what it’s like to cover top Chinese party members in June, when President Hu Jintao dodged critical questions by simply refusing to participate in a press conference on his trip to Denmark. Local reporters in China have it even harder: CPJ documented at least 27 journalists in jail as of December 1, 2011. Just as international journalists comb domestic media for upcoming stories, local reporters rely on the foreign press to publicize stories that are banned at home.

Now the foreign press is asking for help. In August, the Foreign Correspondents’ Clubs in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong reported four incidents of harassment against international reporters. More than 20 German journalists wrote to Merkel the same month about worsening reporting conditions in China. CPJ appealed to Clinton on the same issue earlier this week. Yet although some German news reports said Merkel had raised the issue privately, coverage of their subsequent China visits focused very much on economic and political negotiations–without acknowledging that an unfettered international media is essential to both.

Thorning has a chance to pick up the slack. She should emphasize that press freedom is a fundamental human right. But she should also underline that for China to participate in a global networked economy, it must welcome global journalists to work freely.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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