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Zimbabwean police raid news agency, seize equipment

3 Oct

Nairobi, October 3, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a police raid on a news production company in Belgravia, a suburb north of the capital, on September 26 in which several journalists were detained and equipment confiscated.

Officials detained at least 10 journalists from the African Open Media Initiative (Afromedia) and released them without charge the next day, according to the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists (ZUJ). Sifelani Tsiko, editor of the outlet, and two other journalists have been forced to report regularly to the police for questioning, but no charges have been filed against them, Afromedia owner Crispen Sachikonye told CPJ.

Local journalists told CPJ that the officers had confiscated several computers, including video editing equipment. Afromedia, which produces content for the African Television Network (ATV), a U.K.-based broadcaster, has had only limited capabilities since the raid. On its Facebook page, ATV described the programming as focused largely on local and social issues. The network does not broadcast in Zimbabwe.

Local journalists told CPJ that officials from the Broadcasting, Telecommunications, and Revenue Authority were investigating possible importation violations. Foster Dongozi, then ZUJ’s secretary-general, said he believes the raid is a sign that more media houses will face problems as the country approaches next year’s general elections, according to news reports.

The Broadcast Authority of Zimbabwe has not licensed a single private broadcaster although it is mandated to do so, according to CPJ research.

“Zimbabwean authorities have a long record of stifling independent broadcast media using any regulatory means available,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on the police to return the outlet’s equipment immediately and allow journalists to work freely.”

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2012/10/zimbabwean-police-raid-news-agency-seize-equipment.php

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Iran steps up its campaign against the press

3 Oct

New York, October 3, 2012–In a flurry of new anti-press actions in Iran, a jury has voted to convict a Reuters bureau chief on anti-state charges while authorities have jailed the head of the state’s official news agency, blocked Google services, and shut one reformist newspaper.

“The situation for independent journalists is Iran is worsening by the day,” said CPJ Deputy Director Rob Mahoney. “High-profile persecutions and imprisonments are an attempt by the authorities to intimidate the media into silence and self-censorship. The international community must speak out against such actions.”

A Tehran jury voted on Sunday to convict Thomson Reuters news agency on charges of “propagating against the Islamic Republic” and “disseminating false information to disturb public opinion,” according to the Iranian state-run Press TV. The jury also found the agency’s Tehran bureau chief, Parisa Hafezi, guilty on charges that included “spreading lies” and “propaganda” against the regime, Reuters reported. The jury acts in an advisory capacity, and the final ruling rests with the judge, who will issue a verdict later this month, news reports said.

The charges stem from a defamation lawsuit against Reuters filed in March by women who were initially called “assassins” in the headline of a video report on martial arts that Reuters published in late February, according to news reports. Once Reuters was told of the error, the agency issued a correction, removed the headline, and apologized, but Iranian authorities suspended the outlet’s press accreditation and forbade its journalists from reporting from inside the country, the outlet reported. Authorities also banned Hafezi, an Iranian citizen, from traveling and confiscated her passport, the report said.

“We understand that the jury has stated its view, and we now await the court’s ruling,” said Barb Burg, a Reuters spokeswoman, said. She said Reuters had no other comment at this time.

In a separate development, the director of the official Iranian News Agency (IRNA) was summoned on September 26 to serve a six-month prison sentence in Evin Prison, according to news reports. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who is the director of IRNA’s print affiliate, Iran, as well as the press adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was sentenced in November 2011 to two six-month prison terms and a three-year ban on press activities, news reports said. An appeals court dropped one of his six-month sentences last month, IRNA reported.

Javanfekr was convicted of publishing content “contrary to Islamic standards” and “publishing obscene content,” for writing in an official publication that the practice of women wearing the chador–a head-to-toe cover–was not an authentic Iranian one, but instead had been adopted from other Muslim countries, news reports said. The comment angered Iranian clerics, another development in the ongoing feud between supporters of the president and those of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the reports said.

Authorities attempted further actions to restrict the Internet in the country. The government announced on September 23 that Google, its email service Gmail, and the Google-owned video-sharing site YouTube would be blocked indefinitely in response to citizen requests that YouTube be taken down for featuring a film that insulted Prophet Mohammed, according to news reports.

Internet users said on Monday that access to Gmail had been restored, but that YouTube remained blocked, according to news reports. Mohammed Reza Aghamiri, a member of the government’s Internet watchdog committee, told the semiofficial Mehr news agency that the block on Gmail had been unintentional and that technicians had not been able to block YouTube without blocking Gmail, but that the issue had since been resolved, news reports said. It is unclear if Google was still blocked in the country.

The government’s decision to block Google coincides with a plan to launch a “national Internet,” a domestic alternative that would essentially block Internet users from large parts of the Web including Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter and enforce stricter cyber control, news reports said. It is unclear when the project, dubbed “Yahaq” (Oh, Lord) is due to launch, the reports said.

Iran, which runs one of the toughest Internet censorship regimes, is ranked fourth on CPJ’s list of Most Censored Countries.

Authorities, who have shut down numerous publications since 2009, indefinitely suspended the reformist daily Shargh on September 26 for its publication of a cartoon that authorities deemed insulting to Iran-Iraq War veterans, according to news reports. The image shows a line of blindfolded men who use their unbound hands to tighten the blindfolds of the man in front of them instead of removing their own.

The cartoon, which appeared in Shargh‘s September 25 issue during the week-long commemoration of the Iran-Iraq War, was drawn by Hadi Heydari, a prominent Iranian cartoonist and the son of an Iran-Iraq War veteran, according to news reports. Heydari, who has received a judicial summons, issued a statement saying the image in no way mocked war veterans and was meant to symbolize ignorance while depicting no particular group, news reports said.

The paper’s editor, Mehdi Rahmanian, was summoned to court for questioning on September 26 and was subsequently detained in Evin Prison until his release on bail on Wednesday pending trial, reformist news websites said.

In a separate case, authorities on Monday entered the offices of Maghreb, another reformist daily, and arrested its editor, Mohammad Mehdi Emami Nasseri, according to news reports. Nasseri’s whereabouts and the charges against him were not immediately known.

At a press conference on Tuesday, a journalist asked Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, the spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, whether Nasseri’s arrest was linked to the paper’s recent front-page publication of the image of former President Muhammad Khatami, news reports said. Ejehi said the paper was being investigated on “non-press charges,” but did not provide further details, the reports said.

Iranian authorities have maintained a revolving-door policy for imprisoning journalists, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests. When CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2011, Iran was holding 42 journalists in custody, the most in the world.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists http://cpj.org/2012/10/iran-steps-up-its-campaign-against-the-press.php

Turkey – Turkish ruling party denies dissident journalists access to party congress

3 Oct

3 October 2012

Source: IPS Communication Foundation
(BIANET/IFEX) – The incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) denied accreditation to the dailies Cumhuriyet, Sözcü, Birgün, Evrensel, Aydinlik, Özgür Gündem and Yeniçag to attend their fourth party congress on 30 September 2012. The move drew sharp criticism from many quarters, including journalists’ associations and Kadri Gürsel, the head of the International Press Institute’s (IPI) Turkish National Committee and a columnist for the daily Milliyet.

“The government is preventing employees of newspapers whose publication policies they dislike from performing their professional [duties]. They are not showing any regard for the people’s right to be informed. As the Turkish Journalists Society (TGC), we are expecting this error to be rectified,” the TGC said in a statement.

The Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and the Federation of Journalists of Turkey (TGS) also issued statements that criticized the move, while the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) cautioned that the AKP’s decision could herald a new era of repression.

“The practice of accreditation represents an obstacle to the ‘people’s right to be informed’ that has been guaranteed by the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such practices constitute an unacceptable approach that does not conform to a democratic culture,” the TGS said.

“The congress of the ruling party that has been governing Turkey for the past 10 years constitutes newsworthy material. This party’s principal duty is to enable the press to follow this [event] without any discrimination. The AKP in power has now assumed a stance of ideological and political ostracization similar to what the General Staff once did,” said Gürsel.

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Bahrain – Two protesters killed by police gunfire in Bahrain

3 Oct

3 October 2012

Source: Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Ali Neamah died following a shot at close range by riot police on 28 September 2012 in the village of Saddad.

Ali Neamah died following a shot at close range by riot police on 28 September 2012 in the village of Saddad.

BCHR

(BCHR/IFEX) – 29 September 2012 – The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses in the strongest terms its condemnation of the murder of the child Ali Hussain Neamah (17 years old), shot dead by riot police 40 days after the similar killing of Hussam AlHaddad (16 years old). These deaths are a result of the continued use of excessive force and deadly weapons in dealing with peaceful protesters, and the spread of the culture of impunity.

Ali Neamah died following a shot at close range by riot police on 28 September 2012 in the village of Saddad, northwest of the Bahraini capital Manama, after a peaceful protest was attacked by riot police. The death certificate confirms that death was caused by shotgun injuries to the back. The ministry of interior confirmed the death and its responsibility for shooting Ali in a statement. However, it claimed that the police was attacked with Molotov cocktails and the “police responded using only necessary and proportionate force to restore order”. Multiple injuries on Ali’s back are evidence that the killing AlHaddad was not an act of self-defence, as indicated in the Ministry of Interior’s statement.

Policemen fired tear-gas and stun grenades at relatives and friends who were trying to check his condition after he was shot. Media on the scene were shot at as well.

Eye witnesses said that Ali was dragged for 20 meters on the ground from the spot where he fell, and that the ambulance arrived on the scene an hour and ten minutes later. Bruises were visible on his face and abdomen.

Other protesters, including a child of less than 10 years old, were injured with shotgun during the same attack. At least 15 civilians have been killed by police gunfire since the start of the protests in February 2011, including four children under the age of 18 years.

The murder of Ali comes a day after the acquittal of two policemen for the murder of protesters. Over 18 months after the start of the deadly crackdown on protesters which led to the death of more than 80 civilians, only one security man was found guilty with “accidental murder” by a criminal court in Bahrain and he was given a light sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the international community, especially close allies to Bahrain like the United States and the United Kingdom, to take the necessary actions to immediately put an end to the severe violations of human rights in Bahrain, and the extra-judicial killing of unarmed civilians. We also call on the US and other countries who are selling arms to Bahrain to immediately stop the sale of arms, as they are silent contributors to the violations of the Bahraini regime.

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Middle East and North Africa – Arab states subjected to unprecedented scrutiny at UN Human Rights Council

3 Oct

3 October 2012

Source: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
(CIHRS/IFEX) – 2 October 2012 – From 10-28 September, during the 21st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council), an unprecedented number of governments from the Arab region came under international scrutiny and criticism for committing serious human rights violations. Arab governments responded with a surge of attacks against human rights defenders who engaged with the United Nations and increased attempts to undermine international human rights standards, according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

Resolutions on the human rights situations in Sudan, Syria and Yemen were all adopted, as well as on South Sudan. The human rights situations within Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco and Tunisia were examined within the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Moreover, the ongoing crackdowns on rights defenders and democracy activists being carried out by Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were raised before the Council by CIHRS, other international civil society groups, as well as several rights defenders from the Gulf region.

“Reflecting the ‘counter-revolutionary’ repression we have witnessed being carried out by many Arab governments against democracy and rights activists over the last year and a half, this session of the Council witnessed multiple human rights defenders from Sudan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain subjected to attacks by their governments or government-affiliated actors for engaging with the United Nations,” said Mr. Ziad Abdel Tawab, Deputy Director of CIHRS. “We urgently call on the UN and its member states to increase efforts to provide protection for these brave defenders and others like them. Such reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN not only constitute rights violations, but also represent an attack on the UN itself and its ability to function properly.”

This session of the Council began with a special debate on ‘reprisals’ or attacks against those who engage with the UN. Despite this positive initiative by Hungary, we continue to see hesitancy by governments to confront concrete cases of reprisals.

“If UN member states are serious about this issue they must move beyond theoretical discussions and strongly denounce specific attacks,” said Mr. Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of CIHRS.

Concerning the adoption of UPR outcomes, this session of the Council saw the Human Rights situation in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Bahrain all examined. While Morocco accepted 128 rights recommendations out of the 140 that were made, it is worrying, that many references to human rights violations against Sahrawi people in Western Sahara made by States during the oral review were not reflected in the report. While some of these references were retained, others were completely removed or stripped of their significance. It is therefore paramount that states not only condemn ongoing violations in Western Sahara but also demand that the HRC be fully informed on the state of rights in the region.

While Tunisia accepted 110 recommendations and rejected three, the situation of journalists and freedom of expression remains of concern and should be monitored, all the more as Tunisia estimates that guaranteeing freedom of expression in its new Constitution is in the process of implementation. Whereas Bahrain and Algeria accepted the majority of the recommendations that were made, the apparent lack of political will to implement past recommendations is striking, evidenced by the continuing grave rights violations carried out in both countries.

The government of Bahrain in particular continues to deny the existence of grave rights violations. During the adoption of the Bahrain’s UPR, despite the well documented imprisonment of Bahraini rights defenders and political opposition figures, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain once again repeated that “political prisoners do not exist in Bahrain.”

This continuing denial of ongoing violations and disregard for the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry bodes ill for those pushing for implementation of the countries UPR recommendations.

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