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Cameroon – Report condemns threats to free expression in Cameroon

15 Oct

15 October 2012

(WiPC/IFEX) – 15 October 2012 – Free expression is under threat in Cameroon, according to a report submitted this week to the UN Human Rights Council by PEN International, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Internet Sans Frontières.

Cameroon is a “perilous country in which to be a writer or journalist both on- and off-line,” says the report, which spells out how the country, ruled by President Paul Biya since 1982, has used increasingly authoritarian measures to stifle writers, musicians, and the press. A host of draconian criminal laws punish writers and journalists for their work, including lengthy pre-trial detention in severely overcrowded prisons, routine torture, and a lack of a fair trial.

“Writers who express dissident opinion in Cameroon run a tremendous risk,” explained Cathal Sheerin, Africa Researcher at PEN International. “Enoh Meyomesse, the founder of the Cameroon Writers Association, has been wallowing in Kondengui prison for 11 months, including one month spent in solitary confinement, despite having had all charges dropped against him.” Meyomesse is currently on trial before a military tribunal, with minimal access to attorneys or medical care.

The government has also clamped down on the press with expensive and selectively enforced licensing laws for newspapers and publications.

“Investigating corruption and reporting on political unrest are punishable acts for Cameroonian journalists, leading to their detention and even death,” explained Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Self-censorship is not a sustainable safety mechanism and undermines the right of citizens to independent, reliable information that empowers them to make vital decisions.”

Threats to free expression persist online as well. Cameroon has censored or blocked Internet content and has privatized the enforcement of cybercrimes with no effective judicial review process. Less than 5 percent of citizens in Cameroon access the Internet because of firm state control over infrastructure and restrictive regulation, resulting in soaring costs for Internet Service Providers and users.

“The UN declared access to the Internet a human right and fundamental to personal and economic development. In Cameroon, the Internet is not available for everyone to use. The state’s control of the Internet, and its restrictive monopoly on access to it, have hindered free contribution by users and prevented them from expressing themselves online,” said Archippe Yepmou, President of Internet Sans Frontières.

Cameroon will be reviewed by the Human Rights Council in April and May 2013.

Click below to download the report
Cameroon_WiPC_UPR_English.pdf (372 KB)

Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International
Brownlow House
50-51 High Holborn
London WC1V 6ER
United Kingdom
wipc (@) pen-international.org
Phone: +44 20 74050338
Fax: +44 20 74050339
@pen_int

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
USA
info (@) cpj.org
Phone: +1 212 465 1004
Fax: +1 212 465 9568
@pressfreedom

CO-SIGNATORIES:

Internet Sans Frontières

via IFEX

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Tunisia – Tunisian authorities fail to investigate Islamist attacks on individuals

15 Oct

15 October 2012

Source: Human Rights Watch
(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) – Tunis, 15 October 2012 – Tunisian authorities should investigate a series of attacks by religious extremists over the past 10 months and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a July 11, 2012, letter to the ministers of justice and interior, Human Rights Watch described in detail six incidents in which individuals or groups who appeared to be motivated by an Islamist agenda assaulted people – in most cases artists, intellectuals, and political activists – because of their ideas or dress. Human Rights Watch has received reports of another such attack, by a radical religious group, against the organizers of a festival in August.

“The failure of Tunisian authorities to investigate these attacks entrenches the religious extremists’ impunity and may embolden them to commit more violence,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The letter to the justice and interior ministers documented the apparent failure of authorities to respond to these assaults. Human Rights Watch asked the ministers whether law enforcement and judicial authorities have responded to the complaints filed by the assault victims and whether any suspects have been charged or brought to trial. Human Rights Watch has received no response to the letter.

The victims in the six cases are: Rajab Magri, a drama teacher and civil society activist, assaulted on October 14, 2011, and again on May 25, 2012, in Le Kef; his nephew Selim Magri, on May 7, 2012, in Le Kef; Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, an activist and organizer for Doustourna, a social network, on April 21, 2012, in Souk Al Ahad; Zeineb Rezgui, a journalist, on May 30, 2012, in Tunis; and Mohamed Ben Tabib, a documentary filmmaker and philosophy professor, on May 25, 2012, in Bizerte.

In all six cases the victims filed complaints at the police stations immediately after the assault, in most cases identifying the attackers. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, police have not arrested any of the alleged attackers or initiated formal investigations or prosecutions against them.

Tunisian authorities are obliged under international law to investigate and prosecute people who assault others, and provide effective remedies to victims.

In the most recent attack brought to the attention of Human Rights Watch, on August 16, a group of bearded men attacked a festival to commemorate the international day for Jerusalem in Bizerte, a city 40 kilometers north of Tunis, injuring at least three activists.

Khaled Boujemaa, a human rights activist and an organizer of the festival, told Human Rights Watch that he called the chief of police several times that day, first to inform him about threats from people he identified from their beards and clothing as salafists, Muslims who advocate a return to Islam as they believe it was practiced in the days of the Prophet Muhammad. The men ordered the organizers to cancel the festival and accused them of being Shi’a, Muslims who are in the minority in Tunisia.

He called the police again after a large group of bearded men started tearing down the photos and the flags posted for the event. Boujemaa made a third call when about 60 assailants started attacking him and other festival participants. He said the chief assured him that police would take the necessary measures for their safety but that no police were sent to protect the festival and that the police chief observed the attack from afar without intervening. Boujemaa was severely beaten and taken to the hospital.

“The police came to see us in the hospital several hours later and we went on August 21 to the police and identified some of the assailants,” Boujemaa told Human Rights Watch. “After that I saw the individuals we identified leave the police station from the back door. We have not heard since whether the trial will take place and when.”

These attacks have taken place in the past 10 months in various parts of the country by people having similar clothing and appearance, based on the victims’ accounts. The attackers have behaved violently and used weapons such as swords, clubs, and knives to prevent festivals or celebrations and have beaten people, apparently for their ideas, dress, or activity.

“The apparent lack of investigations – never mind prosecutions – can only increase the sense of vulnerability by those who earn the ire of these gangs,” Stork said.

via IFEX

Caribbean – Caribbean governments urged to repeal criminal defamation laws

15 Oct

15 October 2012

Source: International Press Institute
(IPI/IFEX) – VIENNA, Oct 15, 2012 – The International Press Institue (IPI) today released a final report on its June mission to four Caribbean countries, cautiously welcoming progress in three of them toward the repeal of criminal defamation and insult laws but urging political leaders to remain committed to reform.

During the nearly two-week long mission, IPI delegates met with representatives of government, law enforcement, media, and civil society in Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago as part of IPI’s campaign to decriminalise defamation across the Caribbean.

“Overall, we are pleased with the outcome of our visit to the Caribbean and I am confident that our campaign is off to a good start,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, who led the mission. “In three of the countries that we visited, top elected officials expressed agreement with our position that criminal libel laws are colonial-era relics designed to suppress dissent and criticism and have no place in the modern democracies of the Caribbean. I believe we still have some way to go in convincing Barbados to lead the way in repealing criminal defamation, but was encouraged that the Prime Minister has agreed to revisit the issue.”

Bethel McKenzie urged political leaders to summon the political will necessary to complete the decriminalisation process. “Recognising the threat that criminal libel laws pose to a free society is only the first step,” she emphasised, noting that civil courts were better suited to handle libel claims.

Nearly all independent states in the Caribbean have criminal defamation laws on their books that establish a penalty of at least one year in prison. The Caribbean has witnessed several criminal libel prosecutions over the last 15 years, including two in the Dominican Republic this year.

IPI’s campaign and the mission in particular were prompted by concern that criminal-defamation laws could be used by prominent figures to chill critical opinion and squelch investigations into alleged wrongdoings in order to protect their economic and political interests. Even where criminal defamation laws are not actively applied, their existence encourages self-censorship on issues of public interest.

“The IPI press freedom mission to selected Caribbean states in June marked a singularly significant milestone in the work of advocates here to promote greater official and public awareness of the specific conditions to ensure sustained adherence to the objective of a free press,” commented Wesley Gibbings, president of the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers.

“The continued presence of criminal defamation as a feature of our legal environment is a slur on claims that our countries thrive in an environment of openness, transparency and freedom. There are warning signs that much more work needs to be done to secure the guarantee of even those freedoms listed in our bills of rights.”

Gibbings added: “IPI continues to play an important role in working with organisations such as the ACM in pursuing such goals.”

Read the full report here

via IFEX

Nepal – Nepalese politician threatens journalist over news report

15 Oct

15 October 2012

Source: Freedom Forum
(Freedom Forum/IFEX) – 11 October 2012 – Freedom Forum has recently become informed of two press freedom violations.

On 9 October 2012, Bikas Agrawal, a reporter with the local Bypass daily from Rautahat, a district in the southern plain of the country, was threatened by a district level leader of the Sadbhavana Party. Agrawal received the threat in connection with a news story about an obstruction and a protest against a minister.

Talking to Freedom Forum’s Media Monitoring Desk, journalist Agrawal said that district leader Shekh Jadsed threatened him, saying, “Why did you write about Health Minister Rajendra Mahato? It is not good news. So, I’ll attack you.”

Agrawal said he had reported on the fact that some youth organisations had waived black flags in protest against Minister Mahato when the minister travelled to the district.

In a separate case, journalist Kabiraj BC received a death threat over the telephone.

According to scribe BC, the unknown caller said, “Aren’t you a journalist? I’m a don. I’ll slit your throat and finish you.”

The threat was received on 9 October for no apparent reason, said journalist BC, a reporter with the Gorkhapatra daily and ABC television from Dailekh, a far western district of the country.

According to Freedom Forum, the first incident is an indication of political leaders’ hostility towards media freedom as they do not want to see anything negative being reported about their parties and leaders. Agrawal came under attack even though he was simply conveying facts.

Similarly, BC received the threat merely because he works for the media. Nepalese journalists are targeted time and again by different sectors and work under a lot of pressure which can result in self-censorship.

Freedom Forum condemns both incidents and strongly urges the Sadbhavana Party to be aware and respectful of media freedom, journalists’ rights and people’s right to information. Similarly, the concerned security bodies in both cases need to seek the persons involved in issuing the threats and mete out the appropriate action.

via IFEX

Slovakia – Members of parliament in Slovakia challenge data retention law

15 Oct

15 October 2012

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF/IFEX) – 10 October 2012 – EFF welcomes a strong voice in the fight against data retention mandates: on Wednesday, a group of Slovak MPs filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of Slovakia’s mandatory data retention law. The law compels telcos and ISPs to monitor the communications of all citizens, including those not suspected or convicted of any crime, in case law enforcement officials demand them for any reason.

The complaint also requests that, if necessary, the court should challenge the validity of the larger European data retention directive before the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Data Retention Directive, adopted in 2006, forces Member States of the European Union to adopt laws that would compel ISPs and telecommunications service providers operating in Europe to collect and retain a subscriber’s incoming and outgoing phone numbers, IP addresses, location data, and other key telecom and Internet traffic data for a period of 6 months to 2 years.

The European Information Society Institute (EISi), the Slovak research center which authored the complaint, has championed this battle for the last two years. In a statement, Martin Husovec, the lawyer of the EISi says, “After the General Prosecutor’s Office twice rejected our request to file this complaint before the Slovak Constitutional Court, we had no other option than to prepare the template submission before the Constitutional Court ourselves and address the MPs. The liberal MP Martin Poliacik took a lead and persuaded other MPs. After two years of our hard work, we now have the case before the Constitutional Court.”

A mass untargeted collection of communications records of ordinary, non-suspected people cannot be tolerated where freedom is valued. Data retention mandates are a threat to privacy and anonymity, and have been proven to violate the privacy rights of millions of Europeans. And some courts in Europe have already agreed.

The Czech Constitutional Court declared in March 2011 that the Czech mandatory data retention law was unconstitutional. Earlier, in January 2012, the same Court dealt another blow to data retention by annulling part of the Criminal Procedure Code, which would have enabled law enforcement agencies to access data stored voluntarily by operators. Most importantly, the Czech Court used compelling language in articulating the importance of the protection of traffic data. The Court stated that the collection of traffic data and communication data warranted identical legal safeguards since both have the same “intensity of interference”. However, a new data retention bill seeks to find its way back into the Czech legal framework, and is waiting for the President’s signature.

In March 2010, a German Court declared unconstitutional the German mandatory data retention law. The Court ordered the deletion of the collected data and affirmed that data retention could “cause a diffusely threatening feeling of being under observation that can diminish an unprejudiced perception of one’s basic rights in many areas.” The lawsuit was brought on by 34,000 citizens through the initiative of AK Vorrat, the German working group against data retention.

An Irish Court has referred to the European Court of Justice the case challenging the legality of the overall data retention directive, thanks to a complaint brought by Digital Rights Ireland. The Irish Court acknowledged the importance of defining “the legitimate legal limits of surveillance techniques used by governments,” and rightly emphasized that “without sufficient legal safeguards the potential for abuse and unwarranted invasion of privacy is obvious.” Courts in Cyprus and Bulgaria have also declared their mandatory data retention laws unconstitutional.

EFF continues to fight for the repeal of the EU Data Retention Directive and oppose blanket untargeted mass surveillance proposals throughout the world.

via IFEX

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