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Blog: After Malala shooting, Taliban goes after media critics

17 Oct

Pakistani children in Karachi pray for the recovery of 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban, on October 12. (AP/Shakil Adil)

Journalists, like many others in Pakistan, have spoken out strongly since the Taliban attempted to kill the teenage Malala Yousafzai on October 9. The Taliban, in return, are threatening the media over their coverage, according to journalists and news reports.

“Media houses, tv anchors and some well-known journalists are under serious threat,” one of our colleagues messaged. “I understand that some intelligence reports had also intercepted telephone calls to them. The threats are coming in Swat, Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. The situation got worst after media coverage of Malala Yousafzai’s case which made the extremists quite angry.”

On The New Yorker website, Ahmed Rashid, who is on CPJ’s board of directors and is no stranger to threat, wrote from Lahore, “Can Malala Bring Peace to Pakistan and Afghanistan?” Rashid calls on the government to crack down on extremists “in the tribal territories of North and South Waziristan to wipe out the ever growing networks of extremists, including Mullah Fazlullah, who is believed to be the mastermind of the attempted murder of Malala.”

From a far different part of Pakistan’s media spectrum comes Hamid Mir, the popular, controversial television anchor for Geo TV and a widely read columnist. Mir sent along a copy of a seven-page open letter from Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan; Mir was concerned because his name is mentioned about five times, and he is accused of being “un-Islamic. “

The message offers up a justification for the killing of Malala, who the Taliban consider to be an adult (She has been variously reported as 14 or 15 years old). The group wrote that women who abide by sharia are not supposed to be killed, but it is permitted, even dutiful, to kill those who aren’t as virtuous. The statement singles out the role of Malala, who had blogged for the BBC, in supposedly spreading propaganda against Muslims.

“This is the second email from the Taliban in 24 hours. They are freely using emails, calling our colleagues on their mobile phones and the government is doing nothing except telling us ‘The Taliban will kill you,'” Mir said by email.  He was referring to official notices sent to journalists by local police that they “are on the hit list of the [Pakistani] Taliban to be targeted,” and offering police protection.  None of the journalists we contacted who had received such notices wanted us to use their names– understandable given the increased level of threat they are facing. But local journalists and news reports did say that the Interior Ministry has increased security near media organizations.

Many Pakistani reporters tell us of having to deal with a constant fear of retaliation if any of the many sides to the conflict in Pakistan should be unhappy with their reporting. And the Taliban, in some cases, have claimed responsibility for killing journalists. But while not media friendly, the Taliban have become very media savvy, making full use of the Internet and other digital platforms and keeping local and international journalists on their speed dial to make sure they are heard.

CPJ has written widely about threats to journalists, and has encouraged media personnel to tell their employers and colleagues and actually report on the threats they receive; we feel it is the best way to counter those threats. The widely spread revelations about the latest round, this time from Taliban groups, is an indicator of how successful that tactic can be.  It takes a great deal of courage, because in Pakistan, threats cannot be taken idly. In 2010 and 2011, more journalists were killed in Pakistan than in any other country. And many of those who died in targeted killings had first been warned to be silent.

Journalist Hayatullah Khan, for example, was threatened by virtually every regional faction: Pakistan’s intelligence service, the military, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In 2006, Khan was abducted and killed. The day before, Khan had filed a story and photographs indicating that a U.S.-made missile had struck a home in the tribal town of Miran Shah, killing senior al-Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia. The pictures–widely distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency –contradicted the Pakistani government’s explanation that Rabia had died in a blast caused by explosives in the house. To date, the government has refused to release an investigative report into his killing despite demands by civil society.

In fact, while the Pakistani authorities have arrested several suspects in Malala’s case, the same government has not demonstrated a willingness to investigate the scores of attacks on journalists. Pakistan ranks tenth in CPJ’s impunity index, which calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. Pakistan’s rating worsened for the fourth straight year, and several unsolved journalist murders have suspected government links.

Some journalists have extrapolated the attack on Malala to make deeper calls for change in Pakistan. In Islamabad’s The News, columnist Talat Farooqi captured the stunned state of many Pakistanis, asking if Malala is a mirror of a political system that has led its country off the tracks:

And just when one’s defense mechanism had kicked in and one could hear about (other) people dying in terror attacks without losing one’s sleep, Malala decided to shake us to the core of our beings. Malala is the mirror in which we can all see our faces and what ugly faces we have!

Take a good look–here are the Taliban, here are the Taliban supporters, here are the politicians and here are we, the common men and women of Pakistan. The Taliban are gleeful, the Taliban supporters, bearded or clean-shaven, are cautious; the politicians are alert, wondering how to manipulate the situation; and we, the common men and women of Pakistan are shocked, as if what has happened is a bolt from the blue.

As if innocent men, women and children are not being killed and maimed day in and day out in this land of the pure for the last 11 years. All of us are guilty. Malala is a mirror and this is what she reminds us of.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Tunisia – IFEX-TMG calls on Tunisia to guarantee media independence

17 Oct

17 October 2012


(IFEX-TMG) – 17 October 2012 – A general strike for media employees is taking place today as Tunisian authorities continue to resist demands to make constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression and recall controversial media sector appointments. The IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, stands strongly with the media sector in its action, calling on the Tunisian government to reconsider its policies regarding the media and to engage in meaningful dialogue that will secure its independence.

The National Syndicate for Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) called the strike after negotiations with the government broke down over a set of demands delivered on 25 September. The SNJT called for media freedoms and freedom of expression to be included in the constitution and for the government to immediately implement both Decrees 2011-115 and 2011-116 pertaining to the freedom of the press, printing and publishing and the independence of audio-visual communication, including an authority to appoint directors of the public media.

According to media reports, the governing troika agreed to implement Decree 2011-116, which lays the groundwork for a newly independent broadcast media through the creation of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAICA) – but only until new structures are in place under the forthcoming Constitution. In addition, while news reports claimed that blasphemy would no longer be punished under Tunisia’s draft Constitution, in fact a reference to blasphemy has instead been moved from the section on rights and liberties to the preamble of Tunisia’s draft constitution. The ruling party Ennahdha proposed the so-called “blasphemy law”, which prohibits “insults, profanity, derision, and representation of God and Mohammed,” reports Tunisia Live.

However, concerns over recent government appointments to top positions within prominent media outlets, as well as regular attacks on journalists and media professionals, have culminated in the SNJT’s call for general action.

Workers at Dar Assabah newspaper have been on strike since 1 October in protest against the appointment of new general director Lotfi Touati, a former police commissioner under the Ben Ali regime. Journalists and their representatives were not consulted prior to the appointment and subsequently many of them went on hunger strike to force the government to enter into direct dialogue. The strike was suspended on 7 October for five days to allow for negotiations, but the walkout resumed on 12 October with authorities so far offering no constructive solutions to the journalists’ demands.

On 1 October, 60 journalists and staff of Assour newspaper began a hunger strike in protest against a government-imposed advertising policy. According to sources at the publication, the Tunisian government is punishing the newspaper by banning it from obtaining any official advertising. The IFEX-TMG denounces this attempt at censorship and calls on the Tunisian authorities to ensure public advertising is kept independent from political power.

Individual journalists are being targeted for their involvement with the strike. On 25 September, authorities summoned six Dar Assabah journalists for interrogation at Al-Manzeh police station “for hindering the process of work.” On 1 October, Touati sacked cartoonist Hamdi Al-Mazhoudi for his role in the strike. In addition, Touati prevented investigative journalist Menea Arfawi from entering the building after arbitrarily ending her contract. Arfawi is a leading figure in the protest against the appointment of Touati.

Reports also confirm that in late September, government-appointed directors of national radio replaced several well-known radio producers and dissolved the established editorial committee and editorial council.

The IFEX-TMG condemns the punishment of journalists for taking part in peaceful actions and calls for the reinstatement of all those removed from their positions as a result.

The IFEX-TMG calls on the Tunisian authorities to take into account the demands of striking journalists and enter into serious and constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis. A general strike is in the interests of no one, least of all the people of Tunisia who will be deprived of news and information at this crucial time. However, the IFEX-TMG acknowledges that as a direct result of the government’s failure to implement much-needed protections for the independence of the media, for many journalists the current spate of industrial actions is the last recourse in pushing for transparency and open consultation when it comes to the appointment of media directors.

“Such positions carry great power and responsibility for shaping the future of independent public media in Tunisia, and those chosen to lead this process must have the respect and support of the profession they represent,” said Andrew Heslop of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

via IFEX

China – Chinese activist’s nephew held incommunicado

17 Oct

17 October 2012

Source: Human Rights Watch
(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) – New York, October 16, 2012 – The municipal authorities responsible for numerous violations of the rights of the prominent blind activist Chen Guangcheng are violating the rights of his nephew, Chen Kegui, by denying him an independent lawyer and holding him incommunicado, said Human Rights Watch today.

On October 12, 2012, Chen’s family learned that the Yinan County Public Security Bureau in Shandong province had transferred Chen Kegui’s case to the state prosecution, paving the way for his indictment under the charge “intentional infliction of injury.”

Chen Kegui has been held by police since late April 2012 for injuring several officials who broke into his family home in the middle of the night days after his uncle made a daring escape from illegal confinement in a house located in the same village.

“Local authorities are treating Chen Kegui with the same arbitrariness and disregard for the law that they did Chen Guangcheng,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. “The central government, which pledged to investigate these officials for their abuse of Chen Guangcheng, should immediately intervene to protect Chen Kegui’s rights.”

In late April, Chen Guangcheng escaped from his home where he had been illegally confined for the previous 19 months. After his guards realized he had escaped, in the early morning hours of April 27, some 20 of them stormed the house of Chen’s brother, located in the same village.

According to an account Chen Kegui gave before his arrest, he seized kitchen knives in self-defense when the men in plainclothes moved to apprehend him. Chen Kegui’s mother said she saw the men beating her son and screaming, “Beat him to death!” before her son slashed at those who were beating him.

After the altercation, Chen Kegui called the police to turn himself in, but later fled and spent several days in hiding, during which time his mother was detained and charged with “harboring a criminal.” Chen Kegui was ultimately apprehended and formally arrested on May 9. Police placed him at the Yinan County Detention Center in Shandong’s Linyi Municipality, where he has remained incommunicado since.

On May 18, police denied lawyers appointed by Chen Kegui’s family access to him, insisting that Kegui had already been provided with lawyers by the government-controlled legal aid center. Chen’s father denounced the arrangement as “unacceptable” and expressed fears that his son was already being tortured in detention. The refusal to let family-appointed lawyers represent the defendant echoes the case of Chen Guangcheng himself, who in 2006 had also been appointed lawyers by the same legal aid center in his trial on charges of “damaging property” and “gathering crowds to disrupt traffic” in 2006. These lawyers proved unwilling to effectively defend him during his trial, and Chen Guangcheng was sentenced to four years and three months in prison.

According to Chinese law, the state prosecution must now decide within a maximum of a month and a half to decide whether to initiate prosecution, and can reject, amend the charges, or send back the case to the police for further investigation. While the charge of “intentional infliction of injury” (article 234 of the Criminal Law) might seem less serious than “intentional manslaughter,” which is what the police initially announced, Chen Kegui and his family have always maintained that he had purely acted in self-defense.

“The fact that Chen Kegui has already been deprived of his right to choose his own lawyers does not bode well for the rest of the legal proceedings against him,” said Richardson. “While it is legitimate for the judiciary to look into this case, it would be absurd if it does not take into account the long history of persecution and unlawful actions on the part of local authorities leading up to the incident.”

In May 2012, during negotiations between the United States and Chinese governments over the fate of Chen Guangcheng, who sought refuge at the US Embassy in Beijing after his escape, Chinese state media reported that the local authorities in Linyi, Shandong province would be investigated for unlawfully confining Chen and his relatives. Chen later confirmed that an envoy from the central government has promised him an investigation. Yet, more than five months later, there has been no sign of such investigation. None of the local officials involved in the illegal house arrest have been removed from office. Restrictions on his family have eased since Chen left for the US, but the family is still monitored by the authorities.

Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to allow Chen Kegui access to his family and the freedom to choose his own lawyers, as well as to ensure that he is not tortured or mistreated. Should Chen’s case move to the trial stage, the Shandong People’s High Court should designate a court in another jurisdiction to conduct a fair and public trial since conditions for a fair trial cannot be found in Linyi Municipality due to the involvement of officials there in persecution Chen Guangcheng and his family.

“Chen Guangcheng’s dramatic escape drew the world’s attention to China’s human rights violations and greatly embarrassed the government,” said Richardson. “But instead of holding the local authorities to lawful behavior, the government seems to be tolerating their continuing abuse.”

via IFEX

International – IFEX members flag free expression concerns to UN rights body

17 Oct

16 October 2012

Several IFEX members have recently provided submissions to the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Each of the submissions, whether written individually or in collaboration with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), contains important information specific to the freedom of expression and/or freedom of assembly situations in countries that are coming up for review.

The UN General Assembly created the UPR in 2006 as a mechanism to review the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Each country is reviewed once every four years. Via the UPR, UN Member States must declare the actions they have taken to fulfil their human rights obligations and improve the human rights situation in their country. The Member State national reports are submitted approximately three months before the review takes place. The UPR process reminds States of their responsibility to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, with the objective of improving the situation in all countries and addressing violations when they occur.

The reviews take place in Geneva in a session of the Working Group on the UPR, which is composed of the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council. An interactive dialogue takes place between the State under review and the member and observer States of the Council. At the end of each review, the Working Group adopts an outcome document, which is subsequently considered and adopted by the Human Rights Council.

The UPR process allows relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions, to participate. Approximately six to seven months before the review takes place, these stakeholders can submit information for consideration during the review. The information they provide can be referred to by any of the States taking part in the review at the Working Group meeting. NGOs can attend the UPR Working Group sessions and can make Statements at the regular session of the Human Rights Council when the outcomes of the State reviews are considered.

IFEX member submissions to upcoming UPRs:

14th UPR session, 22 October – 5 November 2012
Argentina, Guatemala & Peru (IFEX-ALC)

16th UPR session, 22 April – 3 May 2012
Azerbaijan (ARTICLE 19/IRFS)
Bangladesh (ARTICLE 19)
Cameroon (WiPC)
Canada (CJFE)
Djibouti (ARTICLE 19)
Russia (ARTICLE 19)
Turkmenistan (Human Rights Watch)

on the web

UN Universal Periodic Review home page

via IFEX

Pakistan – Pakistani media threatened over coverage of Taliban attack

17 Oct

17 October 2012

Source: Pakistan Press Foundation
(PPF/IFEX) – The chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakeemullah Mehsud, has issued directives to his subordinates in different cities of Pakistan to target Pakistani and international media groups over the critical coverage the media has given to the assassination attempt on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who had defied the Taliban injunction against female education.

The widespread media coverage and scathing criticism of the Taliban for shooting and critically injuring Yousafzai on 11 October 2012, enraged Mehsud who ordered the targeting of Pakistani media organisations, particularly television channels and some journalists. The cities specified to be targeted are Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and others big cities. The journalists in Swat have also received threatening telephone calls and text messages from unknown people, warning them of serious consequences for giving coverage to the Yousafzai case.

The Federal Interior Ministry said intelligence agencies had intercepted a telephone conversation between Mehsud and his subordinate, giving directives to attack media organisations that denounced the TTP after the Yousafzai incident. The Interior Ministry in response issued orders to beef up security at the offices of media organizations.

All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and other media organisations from all over the country expressed their deep concerns over the threats by the TTP.

Additional resources

Taliban threat worries Pakistan media

via IFEX

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