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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

Journalist dies from gunshot wounds in Somalia

29 Oct

Mohamed Mohamud 'Turyare' died on Sunday from gunshot wounds he sustained on October 21. (Mohamed Abdi)

Nairobi, October 29, 2012–Authorities should conduct a thorough investigation into the October 21 shooting of journalist Mohamed Mohamud “Turyare,” who died from his wounds on Sunday, and bring the perpetrators to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Mohamed, 22, a reporter and website editor for the Shabelle Media Network, had been shot by unidentified gunmen in the Hawo Tako neighborhood in the Wadajir district of Mogadishu, according to local journalists and news reports. He was hospitalized for abdominal surgery, and local journalists told CPJ his health was improving until Saturday afternoon. He died at around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, the journalists said.

Three other Shabelle Media Network journalists were killed earlier this year, according to CPJ research. In January, unidentified gunmen killed Hassan Osman Abdi, the former Shabelle director. Two months later, three assailants shot dead Mahad Salad Adan, a 20-year-old Shabelle correspondent, near his home. In May, four gunmen killed Shabelle presenter and producer Ahmed Addow Anshur in a market in Mogadishu.

“We mourn the death of Mohamed Mohamud ‘Turyare’ and send our condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “This has been the deadliest year for Somali journalists ever recorded by CPJ. This record fatality rate underlines the urgency with which authorities must act to secure conditions in Somalia, especially in the capital.”

At least 10 other journalists have been killed in Somalia in 2012, seven in the capital, CPJ research shows. This is the worst year for the press in the country. CPJ ranks Somalia as the deadliest country for the press in Africa and the second deadliest in the world.

Somali police spokesman Abdullah Hassan held a press conference on October 23, claiming that four alleged Al-Shabaab militants had been arrested for several murders, including those of journalists, news reports said. Authorities did not identify the specific journalist murder cases. The four suspects have not denied or admitted to the charges, the reports said. But local journalists said they were skeptical because, on at least two occasions, police have released journalist murder suspects before they were even taken to court.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Questions about CPJ’s Turkey report? Here, our answers.

29 Oct

Dozens of journalists for leftist Turkish newspaper Tutuklu Gazete have been jailed. The paper's headline reads, 'Resistance Against Censorship.' (Reuters)

Last week’s release of CPJ’s report on Turkey’s press freedom crisis generated widespread domestic media coverage and sparked a robust public debate. The response from Turkish journalists and commentators was largely positive, but there were some negative reactions as well. Turkey’s Justice Ministry has promised a detailed response this week. Here is a summary of the criticism we received during several days of intensive media interviews, along with our responses.

CPJ has a political agenda in Turkey. Not true. CPJ has worked for 31 years to defend the rights of journalists around the world. We are non-partisan, non-ideological, and independent. We do not accept any government funding. As journalists ourselves, our sole interest is ensuring that our media colleagues in Turkey are able to work freely, without intimidation or the threat of jail. As background, the last time our organization was this active in Turkey was in the 1990s when authorities jailed as many as 78 journalists as part of a widespread crackdown. Many of those jailed at the time were journalists who wrote from a religious perspective and were persecuted for their views. When we included them on our list of imprisoned journalists, we were harshly criticized by the Turkish government–under different leadership at the time–and by much of the media establishment. We stood our ground and fought for the release of every single imprisoned journalist. Today we are guided by the same principles. No journalist should be imprisoned for his or her work.

You were duped by your Turkish researchers. False. The report was an organization-wide project and was written by experienced senior staff, under the coordination of our editorial director, Bill Sweeney, and our Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Nina Ognianova. Our team of highly capable Turkish researchers, led by Özgür Öğret, was responsible for researching the cases of jailed journalists, which is an appendix to the main report. The case research was rigorous. Over a four-month period, our researchers reviewed lists of detainees compiled by the Justice Ministry and local and international groups, examined indictments, consulted underlying legal documents, interviewed defense lawyers, spoke with journalists covering the cases, and evaluated the published, firsthand accounts of the defendants themselves. Öğret traveled to New York to work alongside our editorial director throughout the editing process. Our research team provided the data, but CPJ staff made the determination on how to classify each imprisoned case. In compiling the main report, CPJ staff traveled to Turkey on three fact-finding missions in 2011 and 2012, meeting with dozens of journalists, analysts, and lawyers. The report was an institutional effort and as executive director I take full responsibility for its contents.

No one can trust your data because your last report cited just eight Turkish journalists in jail. In December 2011, CPJ published its prison census, which we have been compiling and publishing annually since 1985. This was not a special report on Turkey, but rather a global survey of every country in the world. In an open letter to Prime Minister Erdoğan on December 22, 2011, CPJ wrote that we believed there were many other journalists in prison in Turkey, in addition to the cases confirmed in the census. We committed to carrying out a systematic review of those cases to determine whether they were in fact jailed for their professional work as journalists. We have now completed that review and have confirmed that a total of 61 journalists are in jail in Turkey for their work. We also researched an additional 15 cases but did not classify them as confirmed either because there was insufficient information to determine whether they were jailed for their journalism, or because they may have been jailed in retaliation for their political activism. CPJ’s next global prison census will be published in December.

It’s absurd for CPJ to suggest that Turkey is more repressive than Iran or Eritrea. It is absurd, and we would never suggest it. What we reported, based on diligent research, is the objective fact that Turkey has more journalists in jail than either country. We recognize that Turkey is an emerging democracy, economic success story, and regional leader. The public debate about our report indicates just how lively and vibrant the media in Turkey can be. However, the nation’s inarguable position as the world’s leading jailer of journalists invites inevitable comparisons to other countries that jail journalists.

Turkey’s press freedom problems involve more than imprisonments. We agree. Although the imprisonment of journalists is a focal point, our report explores a broad range of threats to freedom of the press. We examine the routine prosecution of journalists on criminal charges related to newsgathering; the use of government pressure to instill self-censorship in the media; and the failure to reform vaguely worded penal and anti-terror statutes that are applied regularly against the press.

The language you used in your report was unduly harsh and insulting. We respectfully disagree. The report was critical but fair. It was meticulously researched and fact-checked and our conclusions and analyses were supported by detailed evidence. We used direct but measured language to communicate the reality that the Turkish media is currently under extreme pressure and that dozens of journalists are now in jail for their work.

CPJ is not the judge and jury. It’s up to the Turkish courts to determine guilt and innocence. We agree. Our role is to review the available evidence and to make informed public judgments about whether the facts support the very serious charges leveled against the journalists cited in our report. We hope that Turkish authorities will carry out a similar exercise and decline to pursue cases in which there is insufficient evidence to win convictions. While we believe that none of the 61 cases have merit, we also are ready to examine any new evidence that arises. If warranted, we are prepared to adjust our conclusions. We are asking to meet with Turkish officials in Ankara next month and we are hopeful that a productive exchange will take place.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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