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Video emerges of Ukrainian journalist captive in Syria

14 Nov

A still from the November 7 video. (YouTube)

New York, November 14, 2012–A Ukrainian journalist who was kidnapped in Syria in mid-October appeared in a short video last week pleading for her embassy to meet the demands of her captors, according to news reports. At least two other international journalists are believed to be held captive in Syria and the whereabouts of a third are unknown, according to CPJ research.

“We call on all sides in this conflict to immediately release all journalists that they are holding,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists must be afforded full protection as civilians and should not be used as pawns in this conflict.”

Anhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian contributor to several Russian news outlets including the Moscow-based TV station Russia Today, appeared in the YouTube video on November 7 and said in Arabic, “My name is Anhar. I am in Homs now, and I urge the Ukrainian and Russian embassies, as well as the Syrian government, to meet my captors’ demands.” She did not mention her captors’ identity or their demands.

Ukraine’s leading English-language newspaper Kyiv Post and other regional news reports said the video was posted by the rebel Free Syrian Army, but CPJ could not verify this claim. News accounts citing Ukrainian officials have reported that Kochneva is being held by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying officials were negotiating for Kochneva’s release, but did not offer further details, the Kyiv Post reported on Tuesday.

Other international journalists have been taken captive in Syria in August. Turkish cameraman Cüneyt Ünal and reporter Bashar Fahmi, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, who work for the U.S. government-funded Al-Hurra, were reported missing in the northwestern city of Aleppo on August 20, and U.S. freelance journalist Austin Tice also disappeared in mid-August, according to news reports. Tice is believed to be held in Syrian state custody, according to the U.S. State Department. Ünal appeared in a video on Al-Ikhbariya six days after his capture, but did not specify who his captors were. Fahmi’s whereabouts remain unknown.

While CPJ research indicates that many of the fatalities in Syria have been at the hands of government forces, an increasing number of attacks against journalists and news outlets seen as pro-government have been attributed to rebel forces. At least 24 other journalists have been killed while covering the Syrian conflict since November, including one killed just over the border in Lebanon, CPJ research shows. CPJ has ranked Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Tibetan voices censored around China’s Party Congress

14 Nov

Reports of a massive surveillance operation in Tibet and harassment of journalists covering Tibetan issues cast a shadow over eagerly anticipated leadership appointments expected tomorrow in Beijing.

Protests involving Tibetans setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule have increased in the past month as the 18th Party Congress approached, along with its customary restrictions on information, according to international news reports. At least four Tibetans self-immolated on November 7, the highest number ever in a single day, bringing to 70 the total number of incidents since March 2011, The New York Times reported.

These desperate acts of protest have been nurtured in the past four years by harsh penalties against Tibetans who express anti-government opinions, Tibetan experts say. CPJ research shows a growing trend of Tibetan journalists jailed since unrest in the region in March 2008. Yet Chinese authorities are responding to the wave of suicides using the same tactics–penalizing those who report on them, however obliquely. Police even forced a Times photojournalist to delete images of firefighters standing by in Beijing in case any Tibetan protesters tried to stage a protest while the Congress was under way, the newspaper reported.

China blocked independent human rights monitors from visiting the Tibetan Autonomous Region this month, Reuters reported. Qiangba Puncog, head of Tibet’s regional assembly, justified that decision to international reporters by inviting them to enter Tibet themselves: “(We) welcome all of you to go to Tibet to see Tibet’s real situation. Listening is false, seeing is believing,” he told a group, according to Reuters. Yet foreign journalists have long since been barred from the region except on officially organized tours, CPJ research shows.

Tibetan and minority rights activists have faced even tighter restrictions than their Han Chinese counterparts in advance of the Congress. Tibetan writer Woeser was ordered out of Beijing in advance of the Party Congress, according to her husband, Wang Lixiong, writing in The New York Times. He was also told to leave, he wrote.

In Tibet itself, a counterpart to censorship has arrived in the form of an invasive surveillance system, according to international news reports. A camera network known as “Skynet” may have “a camera on every road in Tibet and in the Tibetan areas of Gansu and Sichuan,” according to the U.K. Telegraph. Though little is known about the secretive system, the Telegraph reported that “officials at the 18th party Congress claimed … that the ‘Skynet’ network has divided the region into a closely monitored grid and that teams of security personnel can be mobilized within two minutes to put an end to the suicide attempts.”

This response might reassure delegates at the Party Congress hoping to stop the protests from revealing too much dissension in Chinese society, but does nothing to address the underlying concerns of the Tibetans carrying them out. As such, it is doomed to failure. If the next generation of Chinese Communist Party leaders really wish to stop the protests, they must address the root cause. Instead of trying to suppress Tibetan protests, they must start listening to them.

CPJ is honoring Dhondup Wangchen–the first of a wave of Tibetan journalists jailed since 2008–with an International Press Freedom Award this year. You can help by signing a petition calling for his release.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

In Chad, journalists report being intimidated by official

14 Nov

Lagos, Nigeria, November 14, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Chadian authorities to investigate reports of official intimidation of journalists working for a private community radio station in the southern town of Doba.

Alnodji Mbairaba Jean-paul, the editor-in-chief of La Voix du Paysan, told CPJ that he and two other journalists had been intimidated and threatened by Lamlengar Ngasebey, the town’s mayor, and members of his family. La Voix du Paysan had broadcast on September 20, 21, 28 a series of news reports in which local citizens accused Ngasebey of abuse of power, mismanagement, and hiring practices that favored attractive women, the journalists said.

Alnodji told CPJ that the mayor had called him into his office on September 25 and said that he was trying to stop some of his family members from burning down the station. “He tried to intimidate me by saying he would prevail on his family not to burn the station,” Alnodji said.

The Union of Private Radio Stations in Chad said in a press statement that on September 26, family members and supporters of Ngasebey had assaulted Felix Djimadoumngar, a reporter for La Voix du Paysan. Djimadoumngar told CPJ he suffered injuries to his neck, back, and legs. Alnodji also said that the mayor’s family had intimidated Severin Meldewei, the station’s host, in the courtyard of a police station.

Ngasebey denied all of the allegations when CPJ contacted him by phone. “Some people have peddled wrong news about me. I was unjustly attacked,” he said. When asked about the La Voix du Paysan journalists being intimidated by his supporters, he said, “It is a lie, and I will not answer any questions.”

Alnodji told CPJ that he had sought Ngasebey’s comment before broadcasting each report, but that the mayor had refused to comment. The editor said that he had again sought the mayor’s response after the reports had been broadcast.

“We are alarmed by allegations of intimidation of journalists of La Voix du Paysan for giving a voice to local citizens who have complaints about the mayor,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “We call on the Ministry of Security to investigate the allegations of intimidation, since they involve the top official in Doba.”

Alnodji told CPJ that the station had filed an official complaint, but that authorities hadn’t followed up on the complaint.

Abdoulaye Georges Moyalta, Chad’s Inspector General of national police, told CPJ that police found no basis for the arson threats, but did confirm the assault involving Djimadoumngar and said it had since been resolved. He refused to comment further.

On October 10, the High Council on Communications, Chad’s state-run media regulatory agency, issued a formal warning to La Voix du Paysan, accusing the station’s live broadcast on September 30 of “inciting the public to insurrection against the government,” according to news reports. The station had aired a sermon by a bishop who criticized the government for allegedly failing to make oil wealth benefit the region, the reports said.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Obama should address media rights in Southeast Asia

14 Nov

November 14, 2012

Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Via facsimile: +1 202-456-2461

Dear President Obama:

We are pleased that you will begin your second term as U.S. president with a trip to Southeast Asia. As you visit Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand from November 17 through 20 while attending the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit and related meetings in Phnom Penh, we hope that your commitment to human rights and the fundamental right to free expression remains an important aspect of your agenda.

We have noted that the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration will be discussed at the summit, but we are concerned that the document lacks a corresponding mechanism for enforcement, something that your government should look upon critically. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has already called for postponing the adoption of the declaration, expressing concern about the lack of input from civil society groups. We ask that you also urge regional governments to take the time to draft the declaration with the participation of human rights and civil society groups, and ensure that it fully conforms with international human rights standards.

We also ask that you use this opportunity in Southeast Asia to exercise U.S. influence and seek the redress of press freedom violations in Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand, where CPJ has documented worsening press freedom conditions.

Recent news coverage in Burma has been positive, but the country still does not have a free press. The government abolished pre-publication censorship, allowed coverage of previously banned topics, and freed at least 12 imprisoned journalists this year, according to news reports. But despite pledging in August to dismantle its Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, the censorship mechanism remains in place and authorities continue to deny visas to international journalists. The passage of a new media bill was also delayed after journalists protested, saying it failed to guarantee press freedom.

In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen has long suppressed criticism of his government, particularly around accusations of corruption. Two of the most egregious cases include Mam Sonando, an independent radio journalist who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with his coverage of land seizures, and Hang Serei Odom, a local journalist who was killed in September after reporting on illegal logging. At least nine journalists have been killed in Cambodia since 1994, and none of the perpetrators brought to justice, according to CPJ research.

Laws such as the Computer Crimes Act belie Thailand’s status as a modern society. In May, Thai authorities sentenced Chiranuch Premchaiporn, manager of the Prachatai website, to a suspended eight-month jail term for comments posted on her website. The verdict marked a setback for free expression in Thailand and set a dangerous precedent. Now, third parties can be held liable for content posted by users of their website, even if the third parties did not intentionally support or consent to the posting.

Your government has repeatedly supported initiatives to ensure a free and open press, and we hope that during your visit to Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand, you will attempt to use your influence to encourage authorities to address the press freedom violations in their countries. We also hope that you and your team will raise the issues–censorship, Internet freedom, and impunity–with your counterparts.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director


Ambassador Derek Mitchell, U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, Department of State

Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State

Daniel Russel, Senior Director for Asia, National Security Council

Jake Sullivan, Director, Policy Planning, Department of State

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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