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Blog: What China’s new leadership means for press freedom

15 Nov

A mall's screen shows new Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in Beijing Thursday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Like many China watchers, we at CPJ have been struggling to interpret obscure floor markings and tie colors on display in Beijing as new Communist Party leaders were appointed in a rare leadership hand-off today. The names of the top seven are no longer in doubt. But the real question everyone’s asking is: What does it mean (for press freedom)? 

If you’re not sure of the answer, you’re not alone.  Sure, we know that Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengshen, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli are the political winners. We can even point to their ideological backgrounds and conclude that they are among the older, more conservative candidates from the pool of potential appointees, as many international news reports and analysts have done. But we don’t know much more, and the implications for media strategy are still murky.

Change of some kind is underway. The committee traditionally had seven members, which rose to nine in 2002, and has now been capped at seven once again. Why? Either because seven is more streamlined, or because it represents a chance to push two unpopular departments further from the seat of power, or both, the reports say. So two portfolios, while still influential, will not likely be invited to the standing committee meetings going forward.

But which two isn’t certain. Analysts like the Jamestown Foundation’s Willy Lam and the Brookings Institute’s Cheng Li agree that the ones most likely to get the axe are ideology–which includes propaganda and censorship–and security, which controls police and the courts under a Central Political-Legal Commission. That ballooned to inefficient proportions under Zhou Yongkang, who lost a lot of political clout during the downfall of his ally, Bo Xilai, earlier this year. CPJ would certainly welcome an apparent rebuke to two notoriously conservative party organs which have consistently obstructed domestic media and Internet activists.

Yet Melanie Hart of the DC-based Center for American Progress warns that it’s too soon to say if or how this demotion will take place. Observers must watch appointments to significant groups and commissions within the party over the next few months–and high-level committee members could potentially double-up on key assignments, she told CPJ by telephone today.

What’s more, even if propaganda and security are sent to the bench, a reversal of China’s policy of information control is hardly likely. One appointee, Liu Yunshan, ranked fifth in the new order, is current head of the propaganda department, and has made his name as a strict information manager. The exclusion of a role held by Zhou Yongkang could be a message for Zhou and his supporters, rather than an indication of policy. The propaganda and security roles were late additions to the leadership roster just a decade ago, so a reversion to the original seven may be a traditional, rather than a reformist move. Finally, as we pointed out on Tuesday, nudging influential leadership positions into the back seat is not the same as dismantling them.

All told, the prospect for reform is bleak. Perhaps the best news today is that it’s no bleaker than it has been. As Hart emphasized, outgoing leaders Hu and Wen talked a lot about reform, and raised expectations both in and outside China that they were either unwilling or unable to meet–so optimism now, if there were any, could be just as misplaced. And there’s always next time. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who will replace Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao respectively when legislative appointments are finalized in March 2013, are the only committee members young enough to serve a full decade in power–clearing the way for new appointments in five years’ time. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Journalist shot dead on assignment in Mexico

15 Nov

Mexico City, November 15, 2012–A freelance journalist and his companion were shot to death Wednesday in the central Mexican state of Puebla shortly after the reporter had gathered information on a large-scale gasoline theft and then witnessed a stand-off between soldiers and gunmen, according to news reports and CPJ interviews.

“In many areas of Mexico, reporters put their lives at risk every time they go out on assignment. These brazen murders are yet another example of the violent and lawless conditions in which journalists work,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “Mexican authorities must fully investigate these murders and bring those responsible to justice.”

News reports and local journalists identified the slain journalist as Adrián Silva Moreno, who covered the local police beat for several small newspapers. Eloísa Rodríguez Zamora, a local radio reporter, said Silva had been covering an army investigation into the theft of gasoline from a government petroleum company in the town of Tehuacán. Theft of gasoline from government pipelines is common in the area, which is controlled by organized crime groups, according to local journalists.

After leaving the scene, Silva called Rodríguez to say he had seen an armed stand-off between soldiers at a nearby roadblock and gunmen in an SUV and a Ford Lobo pickup truck, she said. It was unclear if the confrontation was related to the gasoline theft. She said that Silva told her that he had found something very important at the scene of the theft but would explain later. Six minutes later, Rodríguez said, she heard from police reports that a man had been shot at that location.

Silva was shot as he sat in the driver’s seat, local journalists told CPJ. His passenger, Misray López González, ran for a block but was also shot to death, the journalists said.

The motive for the killings was not immediately clear, although journalists speculated that it could have been because of Silva’s reporting on the gasoline theft or because he could have identified the gunmen in the stand-off.

Local reporters told CPJ that the presence of organized crime groups has made journalists extremely cautious about what they cover, fearing retaliation if their coverage angers the criminals. They said that as far as they knew, Silva had not been threatened by organized crime groups.

Violence related to drugs or organized crime has made Mexico one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press, according to CPJ research.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Homes of two Yemeni journalists attacked

15 Nov

New York, November 15, 2012–Yemeni authorities must immediately investigate separate attacks on the homes of two journalists in the southern province of Daleh, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

“These attacks are completely intolerable, and the Yemeni government must immediately take action to show its commitment to protecting journalists,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Authorities have a duty to enforce the law and must bring an immediate end to these tactics designed to intimidate the press into silence.”

On November 6, unidentified men set fire to the home of Ali al-Asmar, a freelance reporter who contributes to several local news websites and is the media spokesperson for the local National Council, according to local news reports. Al-Asmar said the fire damaged much of his house and occurred a half-hour after he and his family had left the premises, news reports said.

Al-Asmar said the attack may have been sparked by his articles criticizing the Southern Movement for failing to condemn violent acts by its members, according to news reports. The Southern Movement is a largely peaceful secessionist movement in southern Yemen that calls for independence from the rest of the country. Al-Asmar said he had received unspecified threats the week before from who he believed were members and leaders in the Southern Movement, news reports said.

On October 30, two unidentified men threw two explosives at the courtyard of the house of Abdul Aziz al-Laith, a correspondent for local TV station Yemen Youth, according to news reports. The bombs caused a fire in al-Laith’s house, but no one was hurt, news reports said. Al-Laith said he believed the attack was related to his coverage of state corruption and the ongoing protests in Daleh province that supported the Southern Movement, news reports said.

In an unrelated development, Justice Minister Murshid Ali al-Arashani called on President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi in early November to pardon imprisoned journalist Abdulelah Hider Shaea, echoing calls by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate and international human rights groups, according to news reports. Shaea, a freelance journalist known for his coverage of Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is serving a five-year term on anti-state charges, CPJ research shows. In February 2011, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh had pardoned the journalist but reversed the decision after U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern over his release, news reports said.

CPJ has documented a stream of attacks against journalists in Yemen since political unrest erupted last year, including deaths, physical assaults, detentions, harassments, and attacks on news outlets.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Nigerian journalist attacked by unidentified men in Kwali

15 Nov

(Abubakar Sadiq Isah)

Lagos, Nigeria, November 15, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an attack on a Nigerian journalist on Saturday and calls on authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Three unidentified men attacked Abubakar Sadiq Isah, a reporter for the Daily Trust, outside the town hall in Kwali, a local government area in Abuja, the capital, Isah told CPJ. The journalist said he was covering a public hearing when men began to beat him on his face, chest, and back. Isah said the attack occurred in front of police, who finally intervened and took him to the police station. He said his attackers were not arrested and that he filed a complaint with Umar Ozigi, the police chief. He reported no serious injuries from the attack.

Isah told CPJ he believed the attack was linked to an October 23 phone call he had received from Joseph K. Shazin, chairman of the Kwali area council, in which the official said that the next time Isah returned to Kwali, he would be attacked. The call came after Isah had written an article, called “Father’s car crushes son at a political rally” and published in the Daily Trust the same day, about a Kwali council car assigned to another local official that had accidentally killed the official’s son during a rally.

In response to CPJ’s questions about the attack and the threats, Shazin called Isah a “junk journalist” in connection with the “nonsense he wrote.” He did not comment further.

Isah told CPJ that when he arrived at the police station on November 14 for joint questioning with Shazin, the chairman was not present, and that the police chief refused to say when Shazin would be questioned. Ozigi told CPJ he would be calling Isah the following week to set a date for questioning.

Ozigi denied to CPJ any knowledge of the threats made against Isah, but the journalist told CPJ that he had personally reported the threats to Ozigi.

“We are alarmed that Abubakar Sadiq Isah was attacked, but police don’t seem to want to do anything about it,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “We call on authorities to investigate the threats made against Isah and the brazen attack that was conducted right in front of police officers. Police should ensure the perpetrators of these crimes are arrested.”

Isah told CPJ he has been threatened before. In October 2011, assailants seized his reporting equipment while he was photographing unfinished buildings in Abaji, another area council in Abuja, according to new reports. His equipment was never returned. Isah said he was told at the time to leave Abaji and that he would be harmed if he published anything in connection with the buildings.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Rwandan journalist sentenced to one year in jail

15 Nov

(Stanley Gatera)

Nairobi, November 15, 2012–An appellate court in Rwanda should overturn the prison sentence handed to the editor of a private weekly on Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ also urges authorities to release Stanley Gatera, editor of the Kinyarwandan-language paper Umusingi, pending his planned appeal.

The Gasabo Intermediate Court in the capital, Kigali, sentenced Gatera, 22, to a one-year jail term and fines of 30,000 Rwandan francs (US$50) for inciting divisionism and gender discrimination in an opinion column he published in Umusingi in June, according to local journalists and news reports. The state prosecutor said in court that the article broke the country’s laws about referring to ethnic identities, local journalists told CPJ. The Rwandan penal code includes crimes that carry prison terms for individuals who speak too provocatively about ethnicity, news reports said.

The article, called “Shangazi” (Dear Aunt), suggested that men may regret marrying a Tutsi woman solely for her beauty, according to CPJ’s review of a translated copy of the article. Police released a statement saying they arrested Gatera on August 1 after receiving complaints from women’s groups.

Gatera, who defended himself in court, said that the paper had run an apology from him in a subsequent issue, local journalists told CPJ. But police in the statement called it a “denial of wrongdoing.”

The journalist is being held at Kimironko Prison in Kigali and plans to appeal the sentence, local journalists said.

“Readers may have been offended by this column, but that does not mean Stanley Gatera should be put in prison,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We urge the courts to release him immediately pending appeal, and to overturn the disproportionate penalties against him.”

Umusingi has been targeted in the past. In February 2011, the newspaper’s website was temporarily blocked in Rwanda after it published an interview with a dissident Rwandan general in South Africa. The paper’s founder and former managing director, Nelson Gatsimbazi, fled the country in August 2011 after being told of his impending arrest on charges of divisionism based on a complaint filed by another journalist in 2008, local journalists told CPJ. In December 2010, Gatsimbazi was accused by the presidential security adviser of working with “enemies of the state,” according to news reports.

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

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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