Archive | October, 2012

Burkinabe journalists convicted for criminal defamation

31 Oct

New York, October 31, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the criminal convictions of two journalists and the suspension of their newspaper in Burkina Faso on charges of criminal defamation in connection with their allegations of corrupt practices in the state prosecutor’s office.

A judge in the capital, Ouagadougou, sentenced Roland Ouédraogo, editor-in-chief of the private weekly L’Ouragan, and Lohé Issa Konaté, the paper’s editor, to 12 months in prison and a fine of 1.5 million CFA francs (US$2,900) on charges of defaming State Prosecutor Placide Nikiéma, news reports said. The judge also banned the paper from circulation for six months and sentenced the two journalists to pay a total of 4 million CFA francs (US$7,800) in damages to Nikiéma in addition to the fine, the reports said.

News accounts reported that the journalists’ lawyer, Halidou Ouédraogo, said they would be appealing, but Konaté was imprisoned after the sentencing. News reports did not indicate whether Ouédraogo had been imprisoned.

The charges were based on two articles published in the August 1 and August 8 editions of L’Ouragan, copies of which were obtained by CPJ. The articles detailed alleged abuse of power by the prosecutor’s office, including obstruction, in the handling of a high-profile case of currency counterfeiting and a family dispute over inheritance assets. The prosecutor denied the allegations and said his honor had been tarnished, news reports said.

“The prosecutor’s office should not be allowed to turn its critics into criminals,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on judicial authorities to allow Lohé Issa Konaté and Roland Ouédraogo to be free pending their appeal, reverse these convictions, and focus their attention instead on the allegations raised by L’Ouragan.”

The Society of Editors of the Private Press released a statement after the sentencing in which it expressed shock and said, “Since the inception of the press in Burkina Faso, such sanctions have never been registered.” The group also called for the decriminalization of press offenses in the country.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Critical Bolivian journalist set on fire by masked men

31 Oct

Fernando Vidal was set on fire in the offices of his radio station, shown here. (AFP//Estaban Farfan)

Bogotá, October 31, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Bolivian authorities to investigate the motive and find the masterminds behind Monday’s vicious attack on a Bolivian radio journalist who was set on fire in the station’s offices in the southern city of Yacuiba. A studio technician was also injured in the attack.

Fernando Vidal, 70, owner of FM station Radio Popular, was hosting a show when four masked men burst into the station offices, according to news reports. The men shouted for Vidal and when he appeared, they poured gasoline on him and the equipment in the studio, news reports said. They set the fire with a cigarette lighter and then fled the scene, according to Esteban Farfán, Vidal’s son-in-law and a Radio Popular journalist. Farfán told CPJ that station employees put out the fire with water.

Vidal was in stable condition in a local hospital with second-degree burns to his face, arms, legs, and stomach, Farfán said. Karen Arce, 25, the studio technician, was also hospitalized with burns on the face, legs, and feet, Farfán said.

Although the studio was seriously damaged, the station continues to broadcast, Farfán told CPJ.

The attack occurred during an interview program hosted by Vidal in which he and his guests were discussing the issue of contraband items crossing the border, news reports said. Yacuiba, a city of 100,000 people, sits just two miles from the border with Argentina, and contraband vehicles, foodstuffs, coca leaves, and cocaine constantly move back and forth across the frontier, according to Franz Chávez, coordinator of the monitoring unit of Bolivia´s National Press Association.

Farfán told CPJ that Vidal, a former politician, had often criticized local politicians on his show and had received a constant stream of threats over the telephone and in person from disgruntled public officials.

Local police arrested three suspects who were suspected of participating in the attack, according to news reports. No motive has been given. A government minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that the suspects had refused to speak to the police, but that authorities suspected there was a mastermind behind the attack and that they would continue to investigate, news reports said.

“This horrifying attack demands an intensive investigation that roots out not only the assailants but all those who had a hand in its planning,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “Bolivian authorities must not allow criminals to dictate what people can and cannot hear on the airwaves.”

The attack was the second against the Yacuiba press in the past four years. In 2008, the Unitel TV station was attacked with explosives, an incident that authorities never resolved, according to news reports.

CPJ has documented threats and attacks against the Bolivian press in recent months. On October 13, Wilson García Mérida, the founder, editor, and owner of the biweekly Sol de Pando, and his general manager, Silvia Antelo, fled the department capital of Cobija for three days after they were harassed twice by investigators. Three radio stations were attacked with explosives and dynamite in a period of two weeks in June.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Greek government lashes out against unsavory news

30 Oct
New York, October 30, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the arrest and possible imprisonment of Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, a troubling sign of deteriorating press freedom in the country.
“The quick and aggressive reaction to Vaxevanis for exposing potential tax evasion, is an abominable assault on the public’s right to hold government to account,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The Greek government cannot divorce itself from the EU principles which it pledged to uphold, and journalists must be guaranteed the right to report without fear of reprisal.”

Vaxevanis, a well-known investigative journalist and editor of Hot Doc magazine, was arrested on Sunday after publishing a leaked list of wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts who may be investigated for tax evasion. A court hearing will take place on Thursday. If found guilty of violating privacy laws, he could face a minimum of one year in prison in addition to a fine.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Lebanese journalist abducted by rebel group in Syria

29 Oct

New York, October 29, 2012–A rebel group abducted a Lebanese journalist in the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, bringing to at least five the number of international journalists being held captive by various sides of the conflict. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the journalists’ captors to immediately release them and stop targeting members of the press who are covering the unrest in the region.

Fidaa Itani, a reporter for the private Lebanese Broadcasting Cooperation International (LBCI) and several other Lebanese news outlets, was accompanying the Free Syrian Army and reporting on military operations in Aleppo when he was seized in the Aazaz neighborhood, according to news reports. A rebel militia called the Northern Storm Battalion of Aazaz reported on its Facebook page that the journalist was being held under “house arrest” and had been detained because “his work was not suitable with the course of the Syrian revolution and revolutionaries,” news reports said. The Free Syrian Army is not a single, unified organization but an overarching name for numerous local militias such as the Northern Storm Battalion that at times have conflicting agendas.

Itani’s employer, LBCI, reported that it had spoken to the group’s commander, Abu Ibrahim, who confirmed that the Northern Storm Battalion was holding Itani and that the reporter had been taking “suspicious” pictures of rebel military movements and locations. Ibrahim told LBCI that the journalist would be released soon.

“All sides of this conflict must respect journalists’ internationally recognized status as civilians and must end the continuous abduction of journalists for doing their job,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The group holding Fidaa Itani must immediately and unconditionally release him.”

Itani appeared in a video posted by the rebel group on Sunday, saying he was in good health and that the rebel group had captured him in Aazaz, news reports said. The group holding the journalist is also responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in May who were returning from a pilgrimage in Iran, news reports said. The pilgrims are still in captivity. Itani had also covered their abduction, the reports said.

A Lebanese ministerial committee is working on negotiating the release of Itani and the pilgrims, news reports said.

In an unrelated development, on Saturday, Insani Yardim Vakfi, a Turkish relief agency, obtained a picture of Turkish journalist Cüneyt Ünal, a cameraman for the U.S. government-funded Al-Hurra, who has been missing in Aleppo since August 20, according to news reports. The group posted the picture, saying it was told it was a recent image of the journalist and that it had obtained it during a visit to Damascus while trying to secure the release of detained civilians, news reports said. The group said it did not see the journalist in person.

Ünal had appeared in a video on the pro-government TV station Al-Ikhbariya six days after his capture, but did not specify who his captors were. Al-Hurra reporter Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, was with Ünal when the two disappeared, but Fahmi’s condition and whereabouts remain unknown.

U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice also disappeared in mid-August and is believed to be held in Syrian state custody, according to the U.S. State Department. Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian who has contributed to several Russian news outlets including the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today, disappeared on October 9 and contacted her colleagues a few days later to say she was being held by the rebel Free Syrian Army, according to news reports.

At least 23 journalists have been killed while covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, making Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

China obstructs, censors foreign media before congress

29 Oct

International journalists were obstructed from covering this protest in the city of Ningbo today. (AFP/Peter Parks)

New York, October 29, 2012–Officials from China’s Communist Party should stop censoring and obstructing foreign journalists in the lead-up to the Party Congress scheduled for November 8, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Information security is notoriously tight before the five-yearly congress, which is expected to usher in high-level leadership change in 2012.

Information officials blocked the New York Times‘ English- and Chinese-language websites on Friday when the newspaper published an in-depth report on the financial assets held by Premier Wen Jiabao’s family. Wen’s lawyers publicly disputed the article’s findings. References to the article’s content, including the figure “$2.7 billion,” the amount the Times traced back Wen’s relatives, were scrubbed from social media, the Times reported.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed the censorship in a press conference, saying it was in accordance with Chinese law, news reports said. Reporting on political leaders–especially anything revealing they have profited from their status–is heavily controlled in China’s domestic media, according to CPJ research.

On Monday, men in plainclothes obstructed a Sky News TV crew reporting on local environmental protests in Ningbo, southeastern Zhejiang province. Demonstrators were protesting the government’s decision to build a new petro-chemical plant that would emit pollution, Agence France-Presse reported. Riot police then took the journalists from the scene, Sky News reported. “We were pushed and dragged down a flight of steps and our cameraman Andy Portch was kicked,” Lisa Holland, foreign affairs correspondent for the outlet, said in the report.

Police also briefly detained an Agence France-Presse journalist at the scene of the protests, but did not identify the journalist by name.

“It is a bad sign for China if the Communist Party introduces new leaders in a wave of censorship and anti-press aggression,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “The Chinese people deserve full access to news coverage that is in their public interest.”

Censorship of international news outlets is common in China, but has been particularly so this year, CPJ research shows. In June, information authorities cut access to Bloomberg News in connection with its coverage of personal wealth accumulated by close associates of Vice President Xi Jinping. The story was embarrassing for Xi, who is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as the party’s highest ranking leader at November’s congress, and who has spoken out against political corruption in the past.

Also this year, the Foreign Ministry declined to renew Al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan’s journalist credentials, forcing her out of the country in May. Although it was the first time an international correspondent has been publicly expelled since 1998, the ministry did not provide an explanation for the decision.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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