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Chad – Chadian journalist convicted for publishing petition

19 Sep

19 September 2012

(RSF/IFEX) – 18 September, 2012 – Reporters Without Borders is shocked by a verdict put forth by the Chadian justice system on 18 September 2012.

Journalist Jean-Claude Nekim was convicted of “defamation,” and given a suspended sentence of one year in prison. He has also been fined with one million CFA Francs (1,500 Euros). In addition, N’Djaména bi-hebdo – the opposition newspaper of which Nekim is editor-in-chief – has been suspended for three months.

In the same case, the president of Chad’s Association of Unions (UST), Michael Barka, the vice-president Younous Mahadjir, and the secretary general François Djondang, were also given suspended prison sentences and fines. They were found guilty of “incitement to hatred” for circulating a petition that denounces the “arbitrary power of Deby.” N’Djaména bi-hebdo published a news brief under the headline “The UST launches a petition against poor governance.”

“The [court’s] decision seems to demonstrate that certain headlines are not authorised to freely cover the social crisis that is erupting in Chad. Jean-Claude Nekim and N’Djaména bi-hebdo have been sanctioned for covering a topic that is in the public interest. The petition in question denounces problems – poor management, impunity, the cost of living, etc. – experienced by a large part of the population,” the organisation declared, sensing that the verdict brings the tension between authorities and the press to a whole new level.

Interviewed by RSF, a Chadian journalist who attended the hearing declared “This was a hasty process. The prosecutor did not prove defamation. The defence lawyers left the room as a sign of protest. The trial seems like a settling of the scores with Jean-Claude Nekim and his newspaper. Other publications had published the entirety of UST’s petition. They weren’t bothered by it; it’s only N’Djaména bi-hebdo that’s been struck.”

Last July, RSF met in Paris with the Chadian Minister of Information and Education and government spokesperson Hassan Sylla Bakari, who assured the organisation that freedom of information is guaranteed and protected in Chad.

“Freedom of the press is a given in our country. We do not doubt it. Back home, no journalist is in prison, and freedom of speech is very strong. The government is violently attacked by the press, but it’s normal for there to be critics. I don’t see it as an inconvenience,” he said.

RSF believes that these declarations cannot be taken seriously now that the justice department has hastily doled out a prison sentence – even if it is suspended – to a journalist who has but contributed to the circulation of information on a topic in the public interest.


Reporters Without Borders
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via IFEX


Blog: Vigil in DC honors Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega

19 Sep

Writer, journalist, blogger, and free speech activist Eskinder Nega, the 2012 recipient of PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Award, lived in Washington, D.C., before returning to his native Ethiopia to start one of the country’s first-ever independent newspapers. On Friday, Eskinder was back in D.C.–not physically, but as the subject of a candlelight vigil at the African American Civil War Memorial that commemorated the first anniversary of the blogger’s arrest and sent the message that those jailed for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech are never forgotten.

This is Eskinder’s ninth imprisonment in 21 years while reporting the news in Ethiopia, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The most recent charges against him include involvement in “terrorism”–a grave charge that prosecutors backed with a YouTube video of a public meeting where he had discussed the implications of the Arab Spring in Ethiopia. The government charged him under the country’s anti-terrorism law–the same legislation he had criticized in a column five days before his arrest. In the column, Eskinder had expressed his indignation at the imprisonment of 73-year-old actor Debebe Eshetu on terrorism charges and noted that dozens of political dissidents and a handful of independent journalists jailed with him did not fit the profile of terrorists.

There was much public condemnation, both from Washington and abroad, after Eskinder was convicted of involvement in terrorism in July and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Prominent voices increasingly questioned whether the U.S. privileged its strategic security relationship with Ethiopia at the expense of human rights.

We at Amnesty International’s Young Professionals for Human Rights in Ethiopia decided that this event, unlike previous vigils and protests, would occur neither in front of the symbols of the U.S. government nor around the Ethiopian Embassy in D.C., but instead on U Street, where hundreds of Ethiopians, and Americans of Ethiopian origin, sprawl at any given time. Our motto: Take the event to the people!

Eskinder’s aunt, who lives in the D.C. area, surprised us by appearing at the vigil, where she expressed her desire to see him out of prison. Maran Turner, executive director of Freedom Now, an organization serving as Eskinder’s international pro bono legal counsel, spoke on the case that her organization had filed with the United Nations Human Right Council. We also thanked Jason McLure, a former Bloomberg News correspondent in Ethiopia and the founder of, for his campaign that unreservedly calls for the blogger’s release from jail.

Eskinder’s case is symbolic of a wider crackdown on dissent that began in Ethiopia in the months following the Arab Spring, perhaps to pre-empt the possibility of organized anti-government protests like those in Egypt. Today, six journalists and dozens of political dissidents remain in prison in the country, most of them on terrorism and anti-state charges. Yet the most egregious weapon used by the Ethiopian government against critics has been the 2009 anti-terrorism law.

The terrorism law contains provisions so vaguely worded that they criminalize what are natural rights unequivocally enshrined in the constitution of Ethiopia. Some of the attendants at the vigil suggested that maybe our efforts would be better directed toward a complete repeal or partial amendment of the law so that it could be used only to prosecute genuine acts of terrorism. But we all agreed that Eskinder and other jailed political prisoners give a human face to the total injustice and unfairness of the law.

Mahlet Solomon, one of the organizers, told the group, “Dissent is not terrorism, and Eskinder’s case is the true face of the violation of freedom of expression in Ethiopia. Remembering Eskinder is remembering the afflictions of all those who have criticized these violations and were persecuted.”

This was the second event that we have organized around Eskinder and the issue of free speech. At the first event, in August, we discussed freedom of expression in the age of the Internet and social media. We plan to organize more events, sensitize more people to the cause, and campaign for free speech. Some dare us to “fight like man,” an open invitation to violent confrontation of the oppressive regime, but we at the group say, “We fight like a civilized man and woman with our pens and notebook, with our keyboards and with our arts.”

The following words, written by Eskinder Nega and read aloud at the event by Jason McLure, never fail to remind us of the imprisoned blogger’s unwavering optimism.

Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably, freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Charlie Hebdo cartoons set off fierce debate in France

19 Sep

Stéphane Charbonnier, publisher and cartoonist of Charlie Hebdo, draws on the magazine's latest issue, which features several cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammed. (AFP/Fred Dufour)

Connection impossible! The Charlie Hebdo website was not accessible on Wednesday afternoon after the French satirical magazine proclaimed that it had published fresh cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Stéphane Charbonnier, its editor-in-chief, confirmed that the site had been attacked by hackers.

This might be a minor event in the national and international row that the impertinent weekly has triggered with its decision to defiantly hoist the banner of freedom of expression while the world is still being rocked by protests over the film “The Innocence of Muslims.” Violence linked to the film has killed at least 28 people in seven countries over the past week, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, news reports say.

To the chagrin of its detractors, Charlie Hebdo is a recidivist. In 2006 the weekly unabashedly reprinted cartoons mocking the Prophet in the Danish Jyllands-Posten, and in 2011 it published a special “Sharia edition” which lambasted the rise of Islamist parties in Tunisia and Egypt. 

Condemnations have been immediate. “This is a new act of Islamophobia aimed at deliberately offending the feelings of Muslims,” said the French Council of the Muslim Faith, calling “on all French Muslims not to cede to provocation.” The president of the major Jewish organization known by its acronym CRIF, Richard Prasquier, also expressed his disapproval at a “form of irresponsible panache.”

In Cairo, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the dean of the highly influential Al-Azhar University, denounced “an incitement to hatred” and he was joined in his outrage by the Vatican daily Osservatore Romano, which accused Charlie Hebdo of “throwing oil on the fire.”

Fearing acts of violence, the French authorities promptly sent a police squad to protect the premises of the magazine. Last year the building hosting Charlie Hebdo was firebombed after the publication of its Sharia issue. They also immediately put out an embassy alert and decided to close French representations (embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools) in some 20 countries on Friday, the day of Muslim prayer. In Tunisia the closure has already been made effective from Wednesday to Monday.

Charlie Hebdo‘s caricatures are voluntarily shocking. According to the liberal daily Libération, one of them shows a naked Prophet in a parody of Jean-Luc Godard’s film “Le Mépris” where actor Michel Piccoli admires the curves of Brigitte Bardot. “I don’t ask fundamentalist Muslims to read Charlie Hebdo,” said the editor-in-chief. “Likewise I would never enter a mosque to listen to speeches which run counter to my beliefs.”

Although the fiercely anti-religious weekly is well-known for attacks on dogmas and mandarins, the magazine’ defiant and risky initiative has started a tense debate in France–a strongly secular country which also has the EU’s largest Muslim community.

While French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tried to strike a balance between the defense of freedom of expression and his concern for trouble, other members of the French establishment came to the direct defense of the magazine. Interior Minister Manuel Valls declared that freedom of expression, and especially the right of caricature, is “a fundamental right defined by law” and promised the utmost severity against demonstrators that would “trouble the public order.”  Former conservative Prime Minister François Fillon also expressed his full support in the name of freedom of expression.

The reactions to Charlie Hebdo are guided by a mix of motives. Some express the deep conviction that in a secular country like France, the faithful of all religions should accept irony and even blasphemy. Others however, especially on the far-right, are framing the controversy as a battle between civilizations and using it to demonstrate that unreformed Islam is incompatible with the French Republic.

The usually very temperate daily Le Monde also backed Charlie Hebdo. While characterizing the caricatures as “tasteless” and underlining the risks of publishing them in such a volatile moment, its editorial strongly stated that “in a secular Republic freedom of expression trumps all other norms, especially religious norms. Religions are respectable forms of thought and belief but they can be freely analyzed, criticized, and even ridiculed.”

[Reporting from Brussels]

from Committee to Protect Journalists

In Mali, rebels assault journalist, force station off the air

19 Sep

Rebel fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a separatist movement of ethnic Tuaregs in northern Mali, stormed the offices of private Radio Adar Khoïma in the northeastern town of Gao on April 3, according to local journalists and news reports. The rebels kidnapped a journalist and assaulted him, and forced the station off the air for 72 hours, the sources said.

Malick Aliou Maïga told Agence France-Presse that the rebels took him to their camp, beat him, and threatened to kill him. He said the rebels told him he should not criticize them and then released him after an hour, AFP reported.

Radio Adar Khoïma Director Boubacar Djibrila told CPJ that the rebels were angry at Maïga’s coverage of local citizens’ criticism of the MNLA fighters using weapons to forcefully seize the town. MNLA rebels had seized Gao and other towns in the region at the end of March, according to news reports.

The station was allowed to resume broadcasting after negotiations between the local elders and the rebels, Djibrila told CPJ.

Mohamed Assaley, a rebel official, told AFP that “[Maïga] said things that go beyond freedom of the press. We gave him advice and we let him go, that’s it.”

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Danlambao: We will not be silenced

19 Sep

A screenshot of the home page for Danlambao, a collective blog recently singled out by Vietnam's prime minister as untruthful.

On September 12, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued an administrative order–number 7169–accusing us, Danlambao, of “publishing information that is false, fabricated, and untruthful to slander the leadership of the nation, to agitate the people against the Party and the State, to cause doubts and create bad publicity reducing the people’s trust in the state leadership.” The order directed the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Information Communication and Media to investigate and discipline any groups or individuals who affiliate with Danlambao.

This is not unexpected. We wait to see how the ministries will utilize their staffs and the state’s powerful machinery–funded by our people’s tax money–to lawfully, transparently, and publically prove the accusations against us.

CPJ Special Report
Vietnam’s press freedom shrinks despite open economy

The prime minister also directed all ministries, state agencies, local officials, and public servants “not to read, to use, to spread, nor to disseminate any information from Danlambao.” This order is a direct violation of the freedom of expression enshrined in our constitution and of the international convention on human rights to which Vietnam is a signatory. All public servants and officials first of all are citizens of Vietnam, and secondly are the people’s representatives. In order to fulfill their duties, they must have the right to access and assess freely information about the state and its system; such rights enable them to recognize criticisms and proposals to correct and improve in the public interest.

Danlambao will not succumb to any state order aimed at silencing us. No government or political party has the right to choose for the people what information they can read, hear, or exchange. Political, economic, and social policies; conditions for freedom of speech and human rights; and territorial disputes with China are all vital topics for Vietnamese citizens. Additionally, our readership hungers for information about Communist Party leaders–their personal wealth or their abuse of power and corruption, or the infighting that occurs between party factions. Danlambao will continue to provide information and multidimensional views on these and other topics, and to create a forum where our readers report news, represent their own perspectives on matters which affect their daily lives. Additionally, Danlambao will not side with any faction within the Party nor allow ourselves to be influenced by any “foreign” or “hostile” force–as the prime minister accuses us of doing. We reject the influence of any political power or elite.  It is the nation that we serve.

Of course, we must balance this commitment with our responsibility to protect our contributors, our news gatherers, and our community of bloggers from the authorities’ harassment and threats. This demands careful work and planning. In order to cover an important event–a land dispute or an anti-China protest, a court trial, a labor strike– our contributors sometimes must quietly leave their homes days in advance and stay in hiding. Once they are ready to send their news to our editorial team, they must have plans and methods to do so immediately and anonymously, without leaving saved documents on their computers or any other trail. Our contributors include not only independent newsgatherers and freelancers, but also reporters from mainstream media and informants from within the government.

And the battle is not finished once the news has been gathered. The authorities’ cyber army takes aim at Danlambao with nonstop distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, malware, and firewalls. Last year, DDoS attacks ahead of the Party’s five-yearly congress and the trial of legal scholar and human rights campaigner Cu Huy Ha Vu were so severe that we were forced to switch blog platforms.

The day after order 7169 was broadcast on state media in Vietnam, the number of page views on our site soared to 500,000.  In response to this failure to threaten people to stop reading Danlambao, authorities apparently shored up firewalls; this succeeded in bringing the number of page views back down to 280,000 on average per day. 

In the long term, we believe that the Vietnamese media will change–has already changed to a certain degree–and we take pride in our role influencing that evolution. We expect more journalists who work for state-owned media to join the free and independent bloggers’ community. We expect independent media to become a viable alternative to state-owned media; already Party leaders are using our site to criticize one another, especially during elections or other politically sensitive times. Some of our friends and colleagues who work for state-owned media tell us that they must change simply to compete, if not for other, morally-driven reasons. We welcome such competition.

In the meantime, Danlambao calls upon all our contributors, readers, and supporters to continue sending a clear message to Prime Minister Dung that we are committed to freedom of expression by each of us:

  • introducing a new friend to Danlambao.
  • helping someone who does not yet know how to circumvent a firewall.
  • posting a positive and constructive comment to encourage others to hope for the best for our nation.
  • scribbling the address of our site,, on dollar bills, so that it reaches potential readers across our country
  • writing it on any walls, back alleys, or corner of the streets.
  • drawing our Danlambao symbols: a white pigeon (for peace) and green heart (for love) on tables at coffee shops and restaurants, on public walls, sidewalks, etc.

Together we will walk the challenging journey with other free, independent journalists to bring the truth and uncensored news with integrity and credibility to all.

Danlambao, or Citizen Journalist, is a Vietnamese-language collective blog, posting critical news and editorials. Its editorial team works in anonymity.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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