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Blog: Baluchistan latest epicenter of attacks on Pakistani press

25 Oct

Baluchistan has become one of Pakistan's 'hubs of hazard' for journalists in recent years. (AFP/Banaras Khan)

It is one step forward and two steps back in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province. The nation’s highest court has acknowledged the dangerous climate journalists face in Baluchistan, but it has also affirmed a directive that only adds to the pressure cooker conditions that journalists work under.

Last week, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry affirmed the Baluchistan High Court’s order to bar news coverage of banned groups, which has caused tension among journalists. The order restricts the media from publishing or airing news items that cover banned groups or project their views. Journalists, however, are under intense pressure to report in line with the views of various militants and separatists. Now, pressure is being exerted from the other side as well.

“It has become very difficult to work in such a stifling climate of threats,” Essa Tareen, president of the Baluchistan Union of Journalists, told CPJ by phone. “Just today, we received news of a case where a journalist named Nadeem Garginari, a senior journalist and the president of Khuzdar Press Club, was targeted by miscreants just minutes ago. One of his sons was killed and another injured in the incident,” he told CPJ. CPJ is investigating possible motives in the attack to determine if it is connected to Garginari’s work as a journalist.

Instead of providing relief to journalists, authorities recently lodged complaints to the police (or first information reports, as they are known in much of South Asia) against them for staging a sit-in to protest the murder of Abdul Haq Baloch last month in Khuzdar and the breakdown of law and order in the region, Tareen said.

Noting this lack of law and order, Pakistan’s Supreme Court issued an interim order last week asking the federal government to take effective measures to protect the lives and property of the people in Baluchistan, stating that the provincial government has been unable to maintain control. Chief Justice Chaudhry said incidents of targeted killings were taking place on a daily basis and that journalists were not safe there, according to news reports.

Baluchistan–Pakistan’s largest province by area, but smallest by population–is mired in a separatist movement, a conflict that has existed since the inception of Pakistan in 1947. The province is plagued by sectarian strife, tribal feuds, and criminal activity, with daily disappearances and targeted killings. On top of that, the capital, Quetta, and its surrounding towns are rearguard headquarters and staging areas for the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other groups fighting in Afghanistan. According to official figures, at least 868 people have been killed, 619 kidnapped, and 2,390 gone missing from the province since 2010.

Journalists there face pressure from a number of sources: pro-Taliban groups and Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies, as well as Baluch separatists and state-sponsored anti-separatist militant groups. The province receives scant international media attention amid the rest of Pakistan’s political turbulence. But if Pakistan is one of the deadliest countries for journalists, then Baluchistan has become one of the country’s hubs of hazard. CPJ research shows that this year alone, five journalists have been targeted and killed for their work in Pakistan–three of them in Baluchistan. More than a dozen journalists have been killed in the province since 2008. Local groups tend to put the numbers of journalists killed higher, but because of the political turmoil it is often impossible to discern the reason for an attack as many journalists straddle the line between political activism and reporting.

Just last month, Baloch, also a longtime local correspondent for ARY Television, was shot by unidentified assailants. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist, wrote after Haq’s death that the journalist had been threatened by the state-sponsored Baloch Musalah Diffa Army in November 2011 and had subsequently been named on a hit list issued by its spokesman.

Haq’s family declined to discuss widespread assertions by his colleagues that he was killed because security forces were angry that he was working with the families of missing Baluchis on presenting cases before a court.

While the government announced that a judicial commission will be set up to ascertain the facts about Haq’s murder, no information has surfaced to date. Past instances have shown that commissions and inquiries such as these are mainly symbolic, and few, if any, concrete steps are taken to address the impunity that exists in Pakistan. The country is ranked 10th on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which spotlights places where journalists are murdered regularly and their killers go free.

Conditions continue to look bleak for journalists operating in the province, as they do across Pakistan. Earlier this year, CPJ expressed concerns that the issues faced by journalists are inextricably linked to larger endemic problems in Pakistan, and applauded efforts by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to draw attention to the “constant cloud of intimidation and violence” under which journalists live. The chief justice’s recent acknowledgment only adds to the resounding chorus demanding a change in the forecast.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Egyptian court sentences journalist to jail for defamation

25 Oct

New York, October 25, 2012–An Egyptian appellate court should strike down the criminal defamation conviction and prison term handed down this week against a television commentator, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A court in the southern city of Luxor on Monday convicted Tawfiq Okasha, talk show host and owner of the private satellite broadcaster Al-Faraeen, in absentia and sentenced him to four months in prison on charges of defaming President Mohamed Morsi, according to news reports. Okasha was in Cairo at the time of the sentencing, news reports said. The court did not specify the offending comments that led to Okasha’s conviction, the reports said. The journalist plans to appeal the sentence.

Okasha hosted a controversial talk show called “Egypt Today” on Al-Faraeen and is known for his staunchly anti-Islamic and anti-Brotherhood remarks, news reports said. He was also supportive of the regime of ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, the reports said.

Nasr el-Din Mahmoud Maghazy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and a member of the dissolved people’s assembly, filed the lawsuit against Okasha for insulting the president on his show under Article 179 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which criminalizes insulting the head of state, news reports said.

More than 30 cases have been filed against Okasha on defamation charges, most of which are ongoing although he has been acquitted in some, news reports said. Okasha also faces criminal charges unrelated to journalism, such as stealing electricity, according to news reports.

Al-Faraeen had been suspended in August, but on Saturday, a court allowed it to resume broadcasting, according to news reports.

“Egypt has made great strides in the field of freedom of expression in the past 20 months, so it’s both surprising and disappointing to see journalists being sentenced to prison under archaic criminal defamation laws,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “In a democracy, no journalist should be jailed for ‘insulting the president.’ We urge the appeals court to overturn this verdict.”

Following the steps of the Mubarak regime, current authorities have continued to pursue defamation charges against Egyptian journalists. Islam Afifi, editor-in-chief of the private daily Al-Dustour, faces charges of “insulting the president,” according to news reports. His trial is pending. In June, Hanan Youssef, the deputy editor-in-chief of local daily Al-Messa, was fined 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,654) for defaming the paper’s former editor-in-chief.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Mission Journal: First of two CPJ delegations visits Turkey

25 Oct

A passer-by looks at Turkish newspapers at a kiosk in Istanbul. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

This week I joined CPJ board Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe, Executive Director Joel Simon, and Turkish researcher Özgür Ögret in Istanbul to present CPJ’s latest report, “Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis,” and convey our main press freedom concerns, including the mass imprisonment of journalists.

Released on Monday, October 22, the CPJ report made a splash in Istanbul and Ankara. Its main findings were on the front page of the muckraking daily Taraf and the Hürriyet/Daily News, commented upon in Today’s Zaman columns, debated on TV Habertürk and CNN Turk. Evoking the Turkish government’s use of tax laws to muzzle the media, a cartoonist with Cumhuriyet even imagined Turkey’s Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek at the door of CPJ’s New York offices, asking for the organization’s accounting books.

The report, which concludes that at least 61 journalists are in jail for their journalistic work, directly challenges the Erdoğan government. The authorities contend that most of these prisoners are held due to their membership in forbidden organizations, either the ultra-nationalist clandestine network Ergenekon or the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). However, instead of immediately blasting the report, the authorities announced that they were crafting their response and would publish a statement in due time, after the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday next week.

The CPJ delegation gave a cascade of interviews, met Istanbul-based foreign correspondents, and visited news media head offices. Most importantly, we talked to the journalists who were victims of the waves of arrests ordered by the government.

We held long discussions with two of Turkey’s most prominent investigative journalists, Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şik, who spent months in prison on charges of membership in the Ergenekon conspiracy and are still awaiting trial. We also heard the editors of two of the Kurdish media most affected by the arrests, the Dicle News Agency (DIHA) and the daily Özgür Gündem.

In the highly charged Turkish political context, our delegation constantly strived to emphasize that our approach is not ideological nor partisan: our statistics are the result of a thorough and impartial review of all the cases and our call for the liberation of journalists is based on Turkey’s own commitment as a member of the Council of Europe to respect the European Convention of Human Rights.

Some Turkish commentators appeared incensed by figures that classified their country as the world’s worst jailer of journalists and they complained that Turkey–with its diverse, boisterous, and vibrant media–could not be compared with Iran, Eritrea, or China, three countries that are undoubtedly not free.

But that was indeed the point made by our delegation. Turkey, a member of the Group of 20 leading economies and an increasingly active diplomatic player, is a country with ambition to be a model of modernity in the region. This objective cannot be attained, we emphasized, if Ankara maintains a legal system studded with vague clauses and harsh sentences that institutionalize arbitrariness and chill freedom of expression, the crucial pillar of a mature democracy.   

A second CPJ delegation is expected to visit Ankara early next month in order to meet with government officials, discuss the findings of the report, and advocate not only for the release of the journalists but also for a fundamental overhaul of Turkey’s legal system in line with international press freedom and human rights standards.

[Reporting from Istanbul]

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: UK parliamentarians scrutinize digital surveillance plan

25 Oct

Parliament launched a scrutiny committee in a bid to cool down social debate over its communications data bill. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

“The rules of the game have changed,” then-Prime Minister Tony Blair said after the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks in London as he announced that the U.K. government would clamp down on terrorists “whatever it takes.” Now, the limits of such bold but vague intentions are on show as the draft Communications Data Bill undergoes pre-legislative scrutiny in a joint committee of British Members of Parliament and Peers. Is gathering digital data from the general population a necessary upgrade of law enforcement capabilities, as the British Government argues, or does it dilute the liberal tenets of British democracy for the sake of security? 

Critics of the bill argue that, in its current form, it translates into a “snoopers’ charter.” Henry Porter, a columnist at the Observer, conveyed his concerns that Britain would become a police state when he appeared before Parliament on Tuesday. “I don’t believe this entire nation should subject itself to a massive surveillance campaign by a few people who appear to be unscrutinized and the methods untransparent,” he said. A week earlier, before the same committee of members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Lord Carlile, the official reviewer of terrorism legislation between 2001 and 2011, dismissed that argument, saying “the term ‘snoopers’ charter’ is a complete traducement of this bill.”

Many offenders are “not half as clever as you imagine,” Carlile, a leading criminal lawyer, argued. He echoed the government’s case: “Police should be able to know who was telephoning whom and for how long and what time… Prosecutions would be brought to their knees if this was not possible.” Several officials from the Home Office, the U.K.’s interior ministry, were expected to be the last ones to appear before the Joint Committee on Wednesday afternoon. They were heard mostly behind closed doors, but were likely to follow the minister of security’s justification, as expressed in a recent interview with the Guardian. “Those who want to do us serious harm are waiting for the moment we take our eye off the ball,” James Brokenshire said.

Information about government plans to lay out a comprehensive “spy plan,” as it has been characterized by the British press, were uncovered in February. “U.K. surveillance plan must be watched carefully,” warned CPJ Internet Advocacy Coordinator Danny O’Brien, in this blog post. Public outcry from digital experts, journalists, and activists was immediate. “It would be the most intrusive law in democratic countries; it would be a snoopers’ charter–not could; it risks undermining anonymity, particularly whistleblowing; and it would set a terrible example for authoritarian regimes,” said Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index for Censorship, at a panel held last week in London, attended by CPJ and organized by Index and the Global Network Initiative.

Parliament decided to cool down the social debate and the legislative process by launching a scrutiny committee in July. Dozens of experts have been heard so far (see a full list here), with some observers worried about the lack of technical and technological expertise among the parliamentarians. “At least, by now the scrutiny committee knows what it doesn’t know,” said Emma Ascroft, director of public policy at Yahoo, during the debate. Once the committee wraps up proceedings in coming weeks, the bill will be subject to full parliamentary debate.

The bill would extend to up to 12 months the time telecommunications firms have to store data and broaden the range of the data they need to store. It would include data they don’t currently retain like details of messages sent on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, Web-based mail such as Gmail, and voice calls over the Internet such as Skype, in addition to client-based emails and phone calls. The data would not include the “content” of messages (what is being said, written, or tweeted); officers would still need a warrant to access content. As stated in the draft presented by the government in June, “Communications data falls into three categories: subscriber data; use data; and traffic data.” The British Government wants all telecommunications companies to store for a year those data, which include traffic information such as the time, duration, originator, and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it is made.

The main criticism of the bill derives from the consideration that in the digital era, the distinction between “communications data” and “content” is far less clear than it used to be. Traffic information such as the websites visited, the use of geolocalized telephone applications, or Facebook activity provides much more “content” about our lives than the traditional number dialed in telephone calls and at what time, in the pre-digital world (known as “use data”). “Traffic information, such as our Internet browsing activity, is much more intrusive than the so-called use data,” said Jamie Bartlett, director of social media at Demos, a British think-tank, and one of the experts heard by the scrutiny committee.

“The bill is so broadly drafted that it might go down to any individual,” said Ian Brown during the panel held in London, expressing a widely shared concern that any person could potentially be tracked. Bartlett and Brown both advocated a minimalist approach regarding the data involved, the people targeted, and the number of government agencies benefiting from the powers allocated by the bill. Brown, associate director of Oxford University’s Cyber Security Centre, flatly denies that the current bill serves its stated purpose of combating security threats: “Many in big data companies argue that if we gather enough data from everyone and we mine it constantly we can prevent the next September 11, but scientists don’t agree that this would help fighting terrorism,” because the most threatening plots would circumvent the data gathering, he said. Brown noted that the U.K. already hosts the largest DNA database per capita in the world, which has raised privacy issues before the European Court of Human Rights.

From the perspective of Internet service providers (ISPs), Yahoo’s Ascroft expressed her concerns about the extension of British jurisdiction enshrined in the draft law. “It increases the data types and applies to a broader range of providers, not just ISPs [usually involved in the data gathering for law enforcement purposes] but any ‘telecommunications system,’ a definition that we don’t know how far it goes,” she said. In her briefing to the scrutiny committee, she said the broad nature of the bill means the U.K. would be the first country to extend its jurisdiction, creating a reserve power to “require U.K. providers to retain data that authorities could not obtain directly.” Yahoo, a member of the Global Network Initiative, has also complained that the bill requires ISPs to generate data types specifically and only for law enforcement, which is “over and above what a provider would generate and retain for their commercial purposes,” according to Ascroft.

During the Index on Censorship panel, Ascroft called for “respecting the jurisdiction boundaries using existing mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) as opposed to the aggressive assertion of U.K. jurisdiction included in the bill.” “Law enforcement tends to see MLAT processes as slow and cumbersome,” she noted. Many privacy and press freedom groups fear that such broad powers could encourage other countries, including those under authoritarian regimes, to similarly assert the extension of their own jurisdiction, with a potentially damaging impact on freedom of expression.

It’s true that, as Blair said, the rules of the game have changed. But let’s make sure new rules in democratic countries do not end up benefiting the enemies of our very own freedoms.

[Reporting from London]

from Committee to Protect Journalists

25 Oct

You owe it to yourself to watch these two videos.


While the audio is somewhat clearer, and the video motion is “smoother” for those using older computers, the disadvantage is that the video had to be cut into two parts given restrictions placed on my account by YouTube. Overall, however, the file sizes are smaller than they were originally, so the video should also be faster to download.

I want to especially say thanks for the many positive comments received thus far in other venues, and I hope this will aid in further circulating critical perspectives that were deliberately marginalized during the course of NATO’s war on Libya–not least by NATO itself, an organization which actedas if it was entirely unaware of the racist violence on the ground, the destruction of cities, ethnic cleansing, and eradication of populations by the rebels whose way was paved by NATO’s bombs, all the while speaking incessantly about “protecting civilians.” Of course, NATO…

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