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Cuban reporter Flores arrested on anti-state charges

9 Nov

New York, November 9, 2012–Cuban authorities charged journalist Yaremis Flores with anti-state crimes on Wednesday in connection with news articles critical of the government, an arrest that sparked two waves of protests and detentions outside a Havana police station. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities to drop the charges against Flores immediately.

Flores, who is also a lawyer and former judge, had reported on the recent detentions of journalists and detailed local criticism of the government’s response to Hurricane Sandy in articles published by the Miami-based news website Cubanet. On Wednesday afternoon at around 2 p.m. she was arrested and charged under penal code Article 115 with “disseminating false information against international peace,” according to Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, and Laritza Diversent, a lawyer and blogger.

Later that afternoon, a group of journalists, and activists went to a police station in Havana to get information about Flores’ status. At least 11 were arrested, including Diversent, according to the human rights commission.

The following day, another group of journalists and dissidents went the police station to protest the detentions. At least 16 were arrested, including bloggers Yoani Sánchez, Orlando Luís Pardo, Eugenio Leal, Julio Aleaga, Angel Santiesteban, and journalists Guillermo Fariñas and Iván Hernández Carrillo, according to the human rights commission.

Shortly before being arrested, Yoani Sánchez told CPJ that the protests were peaceful but plainclothes officers were trying to intimidate the demonstrators. A video shot by the independent news agency Hablemos Press shows Yoani Sánchez and other protesters arguing with the officers before being detained.

All but one of the protesters were released on Thursday. Diversent told CPJ that she was held for 23 hours in unsanitary conditions.

“Cuban authorities talk about reform, but they still treat simple criticism of government activities as a crime,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Yaremis Flores should be released immediately, the charges against her should be dropped, and any protester still in detention should be freed.”

Yoani Sánchez was briefly detained in October, along with her husband, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, and the blogger Agustín Díaz. They were on their way to cover a trial related to the motor vehicle death of dissident Oswaldo Payá.

Despite fewer long-term detentions of journalists in recent years, Cuba remains one of the world’s most censored countries, according to CPJ research. The government persecutes critical journalists through the use of arbitrary arrests, short-term detentions, beatings, smear campaigns, and surveillance, according to CPJ research. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ demands Iran explain imprisoned blogger’s death

9 Nov

New York, November 9, 2012–Iranian authorities must immediately explain the sudden death of imprisoned blogger Sattar Beheshti, who had previously complained about severe mistreatment in custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ also demands that the government launch a full investigation into the suspicious death and to immediately halt its intense harassment of the victim’s family.

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Police arrested Beheshti in late October on allegations that he was “acting against national security,” according to news reports. Beheshti, who wrote about politics and human rights on his own blog, was highly critical of high-ranking officials. News reports differed on the exact date of his arrest, although it appeared to have occurred on or after October 28.

The reformist news websites Kaleme and Saham News first reported the blogger’s death on Tuesday. Authorities told Beheshti’s family to claim his body from the Kahrizak Medical Examiner’s Office, Kaleme reported. Beheshti’s sister told Kaleme that authorities summoned her husband, Beheshti’s brother-in-law, and told him: “Buy a grave. Come to get the body tomorrow.” She said her husband was told that Beheshti had been ill and was warned not to speak to the news media about the death, Kaleme reported. Beheshti had been in good health prior to his arrest, she told Kaleme.

The exact circumstances of Beheshti’s death are unclear. The BBC Persian service, citing an unnamed source, said Beheshti was seen in Evin Prison on October 31 with severe bruises on his wrists. Such bruising can indicate that an individual has been hung from the ceiling by his wrists for a long period of time, a technique known to be used in Iranian prisons, according to the report. The source said Beheshti was transferred from Evin to an unknown location on November 1. 

Kaleme said it had received a letter from Beheshti dated October 31 in which he said he had been subjected to “physical and verbal abuse” during his interrogations. The letter also said any confessions he may have made were untrue and extracted under torture, the website reported.

Beheshti’s uncle told Saham News that the family had sought information about Beheshti’s death but was rebuffed and told to keep quiet. Saham News reported that the body was buried on Thursday, but authorities prevented Beheshti’s family from undertaking the Muslim cleansing ritual, during which the body is exposed and washed. Saham said family members were allowed only to see Beheshti’s face for a few seconds before the body was lowered into the grave.

Family members observed a head injury and blood covering the body, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported, citing an unnamed source. The source told the group that security forces confiscated the family’s cellphones, photographed and videotaped each family member present at the burial, and placed the family’s home under surveillance.

The government has not publicly disclosed any details about the death, news reports said.

“The authorities must immediately launch a thorough and credible investigation into Sattar Beheshti’s death,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “His family deserves the truth and should not be intimidated by authorities for demanding it.”

On his blog, Magalh 91, the 35-year-old Beheshti wrote critical articles about the regime, specifically citing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other high-ranking officials for poor policy decisions, corruption, and other abuses. He also accused Khamenei of deflecting attention from regime failures by expressing empty rhetoric about Palestinian rights. His latest posts criticized Iran’s foreign policy in Lebanon and covered the hunger strike of imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Soutoudeh.

In one of his last blog posts before his arrest, Beheshti said he faced constant harassment and threats from the security services. “Yesterday they threatened me, saying I should tell my mother that she would soon be wearing black clothes if I did not shut up,” he wrote on his blog. “I cannot keep quiet even if it means the moment of my death is expedited.”At least two other journalists have died in Iranian custody under suspicious circumstances, CPJ research shows. In 2009, CPJ documented the death of blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi in Tehran’s Evin Prison from suspected torture, although prison officials claimed he committed suicide. In 2003, CPJ documented the death of Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer Zahra Kazemi who died in a Tehran hospital after being transferred from government custody in a coma.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Libya Tourism: We do not speak about Bani Walid

9 Nov

Libya, still off-limits to British travellers according to the Foreign Office, is one country you probably wouldn’t expect to see being touted as a tourist destination among the more unusual locations being showcased at the 2012 World Travel Market, a holiday trade show at ExCeL London. RT sent a camera crew there and found exhibitors avoiding the subject of the ongoing violence in Libya, and travel industry visitors seemingly unaware.

“The places where the tourists are interested in, the sites, are completely safe. I can recommend the east of Libya for anyone to come there and I can guarantee it’s going to be safe even more than cities like London or New York.”

Tour guide

But somewhere that’s not mentioned in the tourist guide is Bani Walid – a desert town that’s remained loyal to former leader Colonel Gaddafi, and has become the scene of some of the fiercest fighting since the Libyan uprising last year. Despite reports of indiscriminate shelling and gas attacks on the local population at the hands of the Libyan army, there’s been an almost total media blackout in the UK. RT ran the story for more than a fortnight, before anyone else picked it up.

We’ve got to sort of package this as a success. It’s very important for NATO, wherever NATO intervenes, no matter what the reality is, they’ve got to promote it as a success. So we have this sort of spin of these countries that have been “liberated”, as great places to go and great places to invest. And the reality for the everyday person in this country is a living hell.

Neil Clarke, journalist

The travel information packs are filled with reasons to visit Libya – and undoubtedly there are many. But there’s also a silence, one that’s echoed by the UK media – a seeming refusal to talk about what’s been happening in places like Bani Walid as Libya tries to entice travellers and reignite tourism that has all but died after nearly two years of civil unrest.

The silence on the subject is perhaps not surprising. For a tour operator trying to drum up much-needed business, the sights of bodies and homes burned to the ground are no selling points.

The reality is that the new government is struggling to control it’s militias and to bridge the deep divides that remain in the country – but none of that you’ll read about in a glossy brochure.

But what’s deeply disturbing is that despite a growing body of evidence about crimes against civilians, and increasingly vocal concerns from human rights organizations the UK media and government remain resolutely silent on the issues, creating a space for the pro-tourism message.

The tactic appears to be working. In a survey of 1,300 tourism chiefs attending the conference, more than half believed Libya had the potential to become a popular tourist spot, with just one in 10 dismissing the idea entirely.

“Libya could be one of tourism’s most exciting destinations in the future,” WTM director Simon Press told the Telegraph. “Many destinations such as Vietnam and Croatia have repositioned from conflict zones to tourism hotspots, and there is no reason why, over time, Libya cannot do the same.”

Libya’s presence at the World Travel Market comes despite the fact that the Foreign Office (FCO) currently advises against all but essential travel to the settlements of Zuwara, Az Zawiya, Tripoli, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, with the exception of Benghazi, which is in the group of areas for which the FCO advises against all travel.

The warnings mean that travellers will struggle to find travel insurance if they do decide to visit the country. However, British Airways has already resumed flights to Tripoli.

Several operators, including Exodus, Intrepid, Abercrombie and Kent and Responsible Travel, have previously offered trips to Libya, usually including a sightseeing tour of Tripoli and a visit to Leptis Magna.

A spokesman for Intrepid said it was hopeful of restarting tours of the country if the Foreign Office relaxed its advice.

Libya: situation remains difficult for the people of Bani Walid

The humanitarian situation remains difficult for the people of Bani Walid in Libya. To help people who fled the city after violent clashes last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the Libyan Arab Red Crescent to distribute food, drinking water, the medicines and other essential items to more than 10,000 people in the neighboring towns of Tarhuna and Urban

Many had to leave Bani Walid since the resumption of fighting in the city a month ago. The number of displaced persons has increased, especially since the intensification of fighting in mid-October. They are likely to have sought refuge in neighbouring towns, including Tarhuna (100 kilometres north-west of Bani Walid) and Urban (90 km north-west of Bani Walid). “These people are upset, disturbed and angry. They left their homes with very little and need help,” says Asma Khaliq Awan, the ICRC delegate in charge of aid coordination in the region.

Video transcript:
Woman:When I saw the stand, it was a good surprise and I came to have the feedback on the situation at the moment in Libya, and if we have so many people here at this, it means that the situation is becoming more stable and we can think for next season to do something with Libya. It’s a wonderful country.RT: What about what’s happening in Bani Walid at the moment?

Woman: Bani Walid? What do you mean?

RT: There’s been fighting in Bani Walid, do you know about that?

Woman: No, not at all.

RT: You haven’t heard about that?

Woman: No.

RT: But you work for a travel company?

Woman: Oui

RT: And they haven’t told you what’s been happening in Bani Walid?

Woman: No, what’s happened?

RT: A lot of fighting in last couple of weeks.

Womanoman: No.

We went to confront the tour operator.

RT: You’re promoting tourism in Libya at the moment?

Man: Yes, that’s right.

RT: I saw you were speaking to some people, are you telling them what’s been happening in Bani Walid at the moment?

Man: No. Actually this is about travel and what will happen in the future. We do not speak about Bani Walid.


Indian police arrest reporter who exposed assault on women

9 Nov

New York, November 9, 2012–An Indian television journalist who documented a large-scale attack on young women and reported the episode to police in Karnataka state has been charged with participating in the assault, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists considers the arrest to be retaliatory and calls on authorities to drop the criminal charges and release the reporter immediately.

Police in Mangalore, a port city in the southwestern state, arrested Naveen Soorinje late Wednesday on more than a dozen charges, including rioting and assault, according to local and international news reports.

Soorinje had been tipped off that a large group of men were chasing, beating, and groping teenaged women at a local birthday party in July, the reports said. Other journalists were similarly tipped off. The assailants, described as Hindu hard-liners, were apparently angered that the women were associating with men at the party, according to reports.

On arrival, Soorinje reported the attack to police and filmed it for the Kannada-language news channel Kasturi TV, according to New Delhi-based news magazine Tehelka. The 43 other individuals who were charged were identified on the basis of Soorinje’s footage, Tehelka reported.

Soorinje has denied taking part in the attack and said he believes the charges are retaliatory. His news report accused police of responding slowly to his repeated calls reporting the assault, and of “chatting” with the assailants once they did arrive, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said in a statement. Human rights activists have broadly accused police in Karnataka of allowing attacks against women as a supposed form of “moral policing,” the BBC reported. Karnataka is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

“We call on Karnataka Home Minister R. Ashoka to ensure that these unjustified charges against Naveen Soorinje are dropped at once,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Imprisoning a journalist for a crime he documented and reported to police reflects shamefully on the local administration and law enforcement.”

At least two other journalists are behind bars in India for investigating official collusion in violent attacks on civilians, according to CPJ research. Sudhir Dhawale, a Mumbai-based activist and journalist, was detained for criticizing a state-supported anti-terrorist militia in Chhattisgarh state. Freelancer Lingaram Kodopi also exposed police violence in Chhattisgarh, according to CPJ research

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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