Archive | December, 2012

Turkey: No Justice for Airstrike Victims

28 Dec

The Turkish government has yet to open an effective and transparent inquiry into a Turkish air force aerial bombardment a year ago that killed 34 Kurdish men and boys, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliamentary and criminal investigations into the incident on the Turkey-Iraq border near Uludere also appear stalled.

Failure to conduct an effective investigation, on top of the circumstances of the bombing and killings themselves, indicate a failure by Turkey to live up to some of its most fundamental obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to safeguard the right to life, Human Rights Watch said.

“One year on, no one has been held account for ordering the F-16 jets to drop the bombs that killed the 34 villagers” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior researcher for Turkey at Human Rights Watch. “The Turkish government, parliament, and Diyarbakır prosecutor have so far failed the families of the victims in their search for justice.”

The attack, on December 28, 2011 at around 9:30 p.m., hit a group of 37 villagers from Ortasu (Roboski, in Kurdish) and Gülyazı (Bujeh, in Kurdish), two villages on the Turkish side of the border, as they crossed back into Turkey from Iraqi Kurdistan. Thirty-four were killed, 17 of them children.

The group was smuggling diesel fuel, tea, and sugar, carried on mules, a centuries-old practice in a region with few employment opportunities. The aerial bombardment took place after unmanned drones provided intelligence in the form of video images of the large group walking with mules in the mountainous region. The government has stated this and the drone footage has been made available to those investigating the incident.

The parliamentary human rights investigative commission set up a sub-commission in January 2012 to examine the Uludere incident. However, the sub-commission has not yet concluded its inquiry or released any findings, despite repeated assurances that it would. Members of the sub-commission from the opposition parties have told the media and Human Rights Watch that the General Chief of Staff’s Office, the Defense Ministry, and the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) have refused to co-operate fully with the inquiry and failed to answer questions or to provide certain documentation the sub-commission requested.

The Diyarbakır public prosecutor’s office, which is responsible for the criminal investigation into the incident, has also not concluded its investigation, with no indication when it might do so.

“The lack of progress in an entire year on completing any investigation of the Uludere incident is very troubling because it is consistent with the government’s overall reluctance to account to the public for the government’s wrongdoing,” Sinclair-Webb said. “Holding state authorities who killed civilians accountable is crucial to upholding democracy and the rule of law.”

Article 2 of the ECHR, to which Turkey is a party, safeguards the right to life and in the words of the European Court of Human Rights that determines violations of the convention, the circumstances in which deprivation of life may be justified must be strictly construed. Article 2 covers situation of intentional killing and situations in which it is permitted to use force that may result, as an unintended outcome, in the deprivation of life. However, the court emphasizes that any use of force must be no more than “absolutely necessary” and strictly proportionate to the achievement of permitted aims.

With respect to military operations, which the court has had several occasions to scrutinize, it emphasizes that any operation must be planned and controlled by the authorities so as to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, recourse to lethal force and the risk to life.

In the Uludere bombing, no information has been released to the public regarding what safeguards were in place, if any, to assess whether lethal force was absolutely necessary, whether the large group of people spotted by the drones could be lawfully targeted, and how loss of life could have been minimized.

The UN Special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, visited Turkey in November. Afterward, he raised a general concern about the “urgent need to end impunity for past and ongoing violations of the right to life” in Turkey.

Heyns commented on the Uludere incident: “The fact that the public is, one year later, no closer to an understanding of these tragic events reinforces the concerns … about impunity. The absence of a transparent public enquiry further aggravates the situation.” He said that “an independent and prompt public and transparent investigation into the Uludere/Roboski incident should be undertaken as a matter of great priority.”

The Turkish government should insist on immediate and full cooperation by all government agents with both the parliamentary and criminal inquiries, so that the victims of the bombing may see justice, Human Rights Watch said. Failure to do so may result in Turkey being brought before the European Court of Human Rights for violations of the right to life of another 34 of its own citizens

Human Rights Watch.


Azeri Leader Pardons 87 Prisoners, Including Iran TV Reporter – Bloomberg

27 Dec

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 87 prisoners, including a correspondent with Iranian state-run television who was jailed in June on drug charges.

Anar Bayramli, who worked for Sahar 2 TV and also for Iran’s Fars news agency, was sentenced to two years in prison after authorities said he was found in possession of heroin. He rejected the charges, saying they were trumped up.

Sahar 2 TV’s Azeri-language programs, beamed into Azerbaijan from neighboring Iran, often criticize the Aliyev government’s secular policies and its close ties to Israel and the West.

The pardoned prisoners, whose names were published today in state-run daily Azarbaycan, included four people imprisoned for protesting a ban on Islamic-style head scarves in schools. Religious activists have held several rallies in the capital, Baku, since the government introduced the ban in 2009. Azeri officials accused Iran of sparking the protests.

Most of Azerbaijan’s 9 million people share Iran’s Shiite Muslim religion, while a quarter of Iranians are ethnic Azeri.

via Bloomberg.

India – need to curb police violence during protests

27 Dec

Police beat protesters near India Gate, New Delhi. (AP/Kevin Frayer)

For the safety of journalists and other people on the streets protesting injustice, Indian police must begin in earnest to address how they respond to demonstrations. One journalist died covering protests that have been taking place across the country following the gang rape of a 23-year old female medical student on a Delhi bus on December 16. The government’s response to these protests, in which more than 100 people have been injured, has raised eyebrows across the world.

The fatality was a cameraman for the news division of the Prime News channel, who was shot by police on Sunday in Imphal, the capital of the northeastern state of Manipur. The Associated Press identified the journalist as Bwizamani Singh. He died soon after police opened fire on protesters. Five police officers have been suspended, media reports said.

In the capital New Delhi, where thousands gathered last weekend, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse demonstrators and beat them with batons. Journalists were not spared. Water cannons hit several media crews, damaging their cameras and other equipment, according to local media reports. Some media workers were injured as a result of baton charges by the police, the reports said.

“Lots of journalists were affected. My cameraman and I were badly tear-gassed, and one colleague from another channel had a tear gas canister splinter in their leg and was taken to a hospital,” Nidhi Razdan, a journalist for NDTV covering the demonstrations in New Delhi, told CPJ by email. “Police used water cannons on some TV crews and their equipment too. Some of our equipment was damaged as well. I suffered after-effects for two days: an awful cough and headache. It went straight into my lungs.”

Fearing more violence, the government on Sunday prohibited protests and demonstrations in the area around India Gate and Raisina Hill–the main site of protests in the capital. Police also declared areas close to the president’s residence and the parliament off-limits on Sunday and detained those who defied the orders.  All routes leading to landmark government buildings were closed and metro stations in the vicinity were shut. “We had to walk long distances to get to the venue of the protests. Many routes had zero access,” Razdan told CPJ. While protests have eased since the weekend and many traffic restrictions lifted, prohibitory orders against protesting remain in place, according to local media reports.

Nilanjana Roy, a New Delhi-based writer and journalist for Business Standard, who also attended the weekend protests, told CPJ, “Most of this response was unprovoked. It seems like it was an overreaction by the police,” she said about Saturday’s demonstrations, which were largely peaceful.

Police deny they overreacted. According to police, 78 officers were injured in clashes in New Delhi on Sunday, media reports said. In a television interview, Assistant Commissioner of Police Ajay Chaudhury of the southeast Delhi division said, “Government property has been damaged, stones have been pelted, one constable is on [a] ventilator, and what you’re saying is in this situation, should police not intervene?”  The constable, Subhash Tomar, died of a heart attack on Tuesday; his death is still under investigation.

Covering India’s frequent demonstrations can be risky business. They can turn violent despite the intentions of their organizers. The police are often unable to control them without resorting to violence themselves.  The recent clashes have led many Indians to demand that police be better trained in crowd control. Some media outlets reported that police lack basic training and that they beat peaceful protesters, including women.

This is not the first time a journalist has been killed in India while covering demonstrations. Another case is that of Javed Ahmed Amir, who was killed in August 2008 while covering protests during a spate of violence in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a rare televised address on Monday, Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh urged calm following the weekend clashes in the capital. It would benefit his government to issue such calls for calm to police when they are attempting to manage such demonstrations.

Committee to Protect Journalists.

Chechen Paper Closed After Question to Putin

21 Dec

Chechen authorities shut down a local newspaper after its editor-in-chief asked Russian President Vladimir Putin a question – although they maintain it was not censorship.

Belkis Dudayeva, who heads the Put Kadyrova (“Kadyrov’s Way”), got the floor for a couple of minutes during Putin’s 4 1/2-hour-long press conference in Moscow on Thursday.

She managed to squeeze in two questions, one about the cause of unrest in the North Caucasus, which is plagued by Islamic insurgency, and the other about cuts at the state-owned Kavkaz radio.

Although Putin offered plenty of headline-grabbing comments on Thursday, his replies to Dudayeva were unremarkable, as he noted the decrease in terrorist attacks and praised local media for their contribution.

The high point was when he snapped at journalists snickering at the seemingly sycophantic name of the newspaper, which he said had been named after Akhmad Kadyrov – the former Chechen rebel who became the republic’s president under Putin, pacifying it with an iron fist until he was killed in a bomb attack in 2004.

Putin was, however, soon upstaged by the Chechen authorities, who announced within hours that Put Kadyrova had been closed by its publishers, the Itum-Kalinsky district administration.

The paper used Kadyrov’s name without permission, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov – son of the late Akhmad Kadyrov – was cited as saying by the Chechen government’s website.

Dudayeva also asked “provocative questions” unrelated to district affairs, her paper’s area of focus, the report said, without elaborating.

Officials at the Itum-Kalinsky district – a swath of mountain terrain with a population of 7,000 – could not comment on Friday, a deputy district head admitting he learned about the closure from the RIA Novosti reporter. Paper representatives could not be reached for comment.

But a spokesman for Kadyrov Jr. told RIA Novosti that the paper was, indeed, shut down on the order of the district head.

Put Kadyrova was not authorized to use Kadyrov’s name, Alvi Karimov confirmed on Friday.

But even worse, the paper squandered its chance to put a question to the Russian president on an “insignificant” radio station where Dudayeva is moonlighting, Karimov said.

“She should have asked instead about plans to construct a ski resort in Itum-Kale…or about how to solve regional problems,” he said.

But Karimov denied the allegations that the closure was censorship.

“This wasn’t censorship. We simply have our own laws and traditions, and we act based on what is sensible,” Karimov said.

He tried to defuse the situation somewhat by saying the paper – which he called an “irregular rag” that mostly reprinted district administration’s directives – would likely reopen under another name.

But Dudayeva said on Friday she has no wish to re-launch Put Kadyrova under another name.

She added that Chechnya was no worse than other Russian regions in terms of media freedom.

Russia ranked 172nd of 197 countries in the 2012 Freedom of the Press report by US watchdog Freedom House.

Chechnya was rebuilt under the Kadyrovs, who forced local insurgents out into neighboring republics. But critics accuse Ramzan Kadyrov, 36, of building a regime riddled with rights violations and of establishing a “cult of personality” that is a significant drain on federal funding, which accounted for 87 percent of the republic’s budget in 2012.

Ramzan Kadyrov was implicated in the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, his ardent critic, though he denied the allegations, which were never raised in court.

Kadyrov Jr. is also known for his flamboyant lifestyle and provocative statements: his parties feature Western celebrities such as Seal, Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and he has called for the people who attended opposition protests in Moscow earlier this year to be jailed.

RIA Novosti.

2012: A deadly year for press freedom

19 Dec

A new report by Reporters Without Borders reveals the bleak dangers that journalists are faced with in their daily work. With 141 people killed, 2012 has been one of the worst years for press freedom in a long time.

“2012 was an extremely deadly year,” says Ulrike Gruska of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The organization’s just-published annual report shows a total of 141 journalists, bloggers and media workers were killed because of their work. Of these, six were media employees and 47 were bloggers – the report describes these as “citizen journalists.” In addition, 88 professional journalists were killed in the course of their duties – more than at any time since the introduction of the RSF annual reports in 1995.

“The 88 journalists killed in 2012 lost their lives while covering wars or bombings, or were murdered by groups linked to organized crime (including drug trafficking), by Islamist militias or on the orders of corrupt officials,” the report said.

Al Husseini Abu Dief 

Al Husseini Abu Dief died filming the unrest in Cairo

Al Husseini Abu Dief died filming the unrest in Cairo

Egyptian journalist Al Husseini Abu Dief was shot dead in early December while filming unrest in Cairo. The 33-year-old photojournalist from the daily newspaper Al-Fagr, who trained at the DW Akademie, was covering the presidential palace, where he wanted to film the clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsi. According to an eyewitness, Al Husseini Abu Dief was shot at close range by an unknown assailant. Six days later, he died of his injuries.

2012 was particularly dangerous for citizen journalists, bloggers and Internet reporters. Five died in 2011 – but in 2012 there were 47 deaths around the world, 44 in Syria alone. “In Syria, many people have tried to break through the regime’s information blockade,” Gruska said, “by getting information out of the country, whether in the form of blogs and video messages or mobile phone videos. And we had to rely on this heavily in our Syria coverage in Germany because there were hardly any professional journalists on the ground.”

Syria: deadly for journalists

Mazen Darwish

Mazen Darwish – whereabouts still unknown

The report calls Syria a “cemetery for news providers.” “The problem for Syrian colleagues is they very often get caught in the crossfire,” explains Nils Butcher, editor of Zenith magazine, which focuses on the Arab and Islamic world. “To many rebels, employees of state television do not count as neutral observers of the war. Islamist groups in particular have systematically attacked, abducted and executed Syrian state media journalists.”

Even employees of Russian media are in great danger, said Metzger, who last did research in Syria in October 2012. He also gave examples of abuses by government troops, such as the bombing of an opposition press center. A total of 65 media workers were killed in Syria in 2012 while working. Some 21 were imprisoned, including Mazen Darwish. “Being a journalist in Syria is like walking on a minefield”, Darwish once said. “No one can say when a mine will explode.” Among others, the 38-year-old founded the “Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression”. Darwish was arrested in February 2012. Where he has been held ever since is unknown.

Reporters Without Borders is now honoring Darwish with an award for his courage and commitment. Also awarded for 2012 is the Afghan newspaper “8Sobh”, meaning “Eight o’clock in the morning.”

Cameraman at work silhouettes side view (photo: sahua)141 journalists, bloggers and media workers were killed because of their work in 2012

Brazil: World Cup fever and murder of journalists

The report says 2012 was a “black year” for Somalia, where 18 journalists were killed, more than ever before in a single year. In Pakistan, 10 journalists and media workers were killed. For years, the country has been one of the most dangerous places for working journalists, writes RSF.

Journalists also live dangerously in Mexico – especially if they are writing about organized crime, and thus about drug trafficking and the links between criminal bosses and civil servants. Six journalists were killed there in 2012.

Reporters Without Borders also counts Brazil among the most dangerous countries – even though it is the venue for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. Five reporters have died here – two were apparently murdered because they were researching cases of drug smuggling.

More journalists in jail than ever

The other numbers RSF released also give cause for deep concern: more than 1,000 journalists and bloggers were arrested in 2012. A further 2,000 reporters were threatened or attacked.

At present, 193 journalists are in prisons worldwide, 70 in Turkey alone. In the case of 42 of them, RSF is sure that there is a connection with their profession. China also imprisons professional and citizen journalists – at present there are about 100 behind bars, most of whom have been there for many years are are living in inhumane conditions. Often corrupt regional officials are behind the judgments, to get rid of their harshest critics.

‘Eritrea arrests journalists and leaves them to rot’

Eritrea currently has 28 journalists in jail – sometimes in solitary confinement in underground cells. The report reserves its harshest criticism for this East African country: “One of the planet’s few remaining totalitarian dictatorships and ranked last in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Eritrea arrests journalists and leaves them to rot in prison on the least suspicion of posing a threat to national security or taking a critical view of government policies.”

Journalists face dangers in other countries, too: Oman and Cuba, for example, took steps against bloggers critical of the government, the report said. It also leveled harsh accusations at Iran. In Africa, northern Mali was the main source of concern. The report did not offer criticism of Western countries.


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