RSF Reports 2

From 19th December 2017                                                                                                                                            CLICK HERE FOR REPORTS BEFORE 19th December 2017


Two Iranian journalists arrested, beaten, now reportedly in a coma


Published 22.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is extremely concerned about the fate of two journalists who were arrested during violent clashes between police and members of a Sufi religious order called the Gonabadi Dervishes. The journalists were beaten and, according to some sources, are now in a coma.

At least seven people, including three police officers, were killed, around 100 people were injured and more than 300 arrests were made during the three days of clashes, from 19 to 21 February, in the north Tehran district of Pasdaran.

Those arrested included Reza Entesari and Kasra Nouri, two reporters for the Sufi news website Majzooban Nor, and several other Majzooban Nor employees including Faezeh Abdipour. The only independent source of information about the the Gonabadi Dervishes, Majzooban Nor has been posting reports and video footage of the violence by police and plainclothes militiamen.

Witnesses say the two journalists were badly beaten and arrested on the night of 19 February. The authorities have not as yet issued any statement about their arrest and have yet to tell the families where they are being held or what their present condition is.

According to several detainees who were freed in the past 48 hours, the journalists were taken to Imam Sajad police hospital in Tehran shortly after their arrest because their physical condition was worsening. Some of the sources said they are now in coma.

We are extremely concerned about the physical condition of these two journalists,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran desk. “The lack of transparency and denial of justice surrounding their arrest and hospitalisation is unacceptable. We remind the regime’s highest officials of their duty. They have undertaken to respect international human rights conventions. They are the ones who are responsible for these journalists’ lives.”

Entesari and Nouri have already been arrested and jailed several times in the past, while the Gonabadi Dervishes have been persecuted by the regime’s fundamentalists for the past decade.

One of world’s most authoritarian regimes, Iran is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

TURKEY

Verdict imminent in trial of 29 journalists and media workers


Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its condemnation of the politically-motivated trial of 29 journalists and media workers that resumed today in Istanbul and is expected to end tomorrow. Many of them could get long jail terms. Twenty-one of them have already been held for the past 18 months.

The trial’s imminent conclusion comes in the wake of the life sentences that three well known journalists, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, received last week for allegedly abetting the July 2016 coup attempt that the government blames on the once influential Gülen movement.

Because the defendants in this trial worked for media outlets that supposedly supported the Gülen movement, they are alleged to have constituted its “media wing.”

On 6 February, the prosecutor requested 15-year jail terms for 23 of the defendants* for “membership of a terrorist organisation.” He also requested prison for Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık for “supporting a terrorist organisation,” the withdrawal of the proceedings against Hüseyin Aydın and a separate trial for two defendants who are on the run, Said Sefa and Bülent Ceyhan.

The prosecution’s case has focused on the defendants’ journalistic activities and political views, and above all on the fact that they worked for media outlets such as Zaman, Meydan, Nokta, Bugün TV and Haberdar, which it has portrayed as Gülen mouthpieces.

Although the prosecutor recognised that Aksoy and Çulhaoğlu have “no link with the illegal organisation and its ideology,” he nonetheless accused them of “legitimising the actions of the organisation,” of “presenting it as a victim” and of “discrediting the justice system” by criticising police raids on Zaman and other pro-Gülen entities since 2014.

At the same time, the prosecutor requested the withdrawal of the charge of “trying to overthrow the government and constitutional order” against 13 of these journalists – an extremely serious charge that was added in March 2017 solely to ensure that they remained in detention after a court ordered their conditional release. The three judges who ordered their release were suspended a few days later.

“The Turkish courts are again being used to execute an act of political revenge,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We again demand the immediate release of all journalists held without proof of direct and individual involvement in violent acts. This trial highlights the urgent need to reform Turkey’s terrorism law and to lift the state of emergency, which are being used to silence critics.”

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.


* Ali Akkuş, Abdullah Kılıç, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Emre Soncan, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Yakup Çetin, Cuma Uluş, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Ahmet Memiş, Davut Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Oğuz Usluer, Atilla Taş et Yetkin Yıldız.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director




Additional five-year jail term for Bahraini blogger Nabeel Rajab

Published 21.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces the persecution of Bahraini blogger and human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who has been sentenced to five years in jail for tweets.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the Bahraini regime’s continuing persecution of Nabeel Rajab, an imprisoned blogger and human rights defender who received an additional five-year jail sentence today for tweets in 2015 criticising torture in Bahrain and the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen.

Bahrain’s high court convicted Rajab of offending Saudi Arabia, which has been fighting Yemen’s Houthis since 2015 with the support of Bahrain and other allies, and of insulting the Bahraini interior ministry by reporting criticism of cases of torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison.

Rajab, who is also president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, is already serving a two-year jail sentence, which he received last July on a charge of “spreading rumours and false information” for criticising the Bahraini authorities in TV interviews.

“We condemn this unjustified sentence and call for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate release,” RSF said. “We are appalled by the way the Bahraini authorities are persecuting a man whose only crime has been to use his right to free speech to draw attention to human rights violations.”

Rajab has been arrested a total of six times since 2011. His health has suffered and he has been hospitalized several times during his many spells in prison. He was released under a royal pardon for “health reasons” in July 2015 but was arrested again in June 2016 and has been held ever since.

According to RSF’s “barometer,” a total of 15 journalists and citizen-journalists are currently detained in Bahrain in connection with the provision of news and information.

A small Gulf state that hosts the US Fifth Fleet, Bahrain saw a wave of protests in 2011 that prompted allegations that Iran was backing an attempt to topple the government. This led to a crackdown on dissent and an increase in censorship, which has been reinforced this year in the run-up to elections.

Bahrain is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


Taliban impose taxes on independent Afghan media

Published 19.02.2018

 

As well as often threatening Afghanistan’s news media, the Taliban have in recent months been forcing media outlets in several provinces to pay arbitrary taxes that are tantamount to a ransom to be allowed to continue operating.

The targets have included Ghaznavian, a privately-owned TV station based in the southeastern province of Ghazni.

Ghaznavian CEO Ahmad Farid Omari said on 19 December 2017: “The Taliban contacted us by telephone at the start of the spring and demanded 400,000 afghanis (25,000 euros), saying it was the tax they are now imposing on media throughout the country. After several reminders and threats, we paid.”

Mohammad Aref Noori, the head of the Ghazni Union of Journalists and Media, said: “For the past three months, the Taliban have been asking media outlets for their turnover figures in order to assess the new taxes they must pay, and then send them threatening letters and warnings to make them pay up.”

The victims of these Taliban ransom demands have included two radio stations, Radio Killid and Radio Sama, both of which were asked to provide their turnover figures so that their tax could be calculated.

The representatives of these radio stations said they immediately alerted the local and national authorities but the authorities claim that the media outlets refused to provide all the evidence of these threats that they needed in order to locate and prosecute those responsible.

At the same time, the authorities nonetheless claim that they have the situation under control and that they can guarantee the safety of these media outlets.

In the light of this situation, protecting media and journalists must be a priority for the Afghan authorities,” said Reza Moini, the head of the Iran/Afghanistan desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “The Taliban are the media’s enemies and their goal is to create news and information black holes. The media and the authorities must together find a solution to prevent the Taliban from taking the media hostage and demanding ransoms.”

The security situation is worsening by the day. The authorities have proposed reinforcing protection for media premises. This may be effective but it has the drawback of cutting off media from their community. Experience also shows that this kind of protection is not effective in small towns. It is not just the media outlet itself that is targeted, but also its journalists and other employees.

Omari, who is very critical of the lack of action by the authorities, says he paid the ransom in order to protect his own life and the lives of his 18 employees and because he did not think the security forces could guarantee their safety. After speaking out, Omari is now under threat not only from the Taliban but also from the authorities, who accuse him of “collaborating with the enemy.”

After nine months of these threats, Radio Killid had to slash the number of its employees and Radio Sama is financial difficulty.

“We decided not to pay these ransoms and we told the authorities about these threats against the radio station and our employees on site, but they have done nothing,” Killid media group CEO Najiba Ayubi told RSF. “We are now broadcasting by satellite but with only two technicians. Sixteen employees have been laid off. And we cannot cover local news.”

According to the information obtained by RSF, other media outlets have paid ransoms. Taliban spokesman Zabiollah Mojaeh has also confirmed that the Taliban have received these taxes. In reality, the government does not have complete control over provincial towns and villages.

Afghanistan is ranked 120th out of 180 countries in 


As the Maldives authorities extend a 15-day-old state of emergency, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges them to respect the right to report the news and condemns the latest violence against journalists, in which around 20 journalists were attacked and two were arrested while trying to cover an opposition protest on 16 February.

As the country sank deeper into an unprecedented political crisis amid mounting press freedom violations, Raajje TV’s Hussain Hassan and VTV’s Leevan Ali Nasir were both the victims of police violence when arrested during the demonstration on the evening of 16 February in Malé, the capital.


Badly injured and unconscious, Hassan was rushed to Malé’s ADK hospital and was flown to Sri Lanka on Sunday night to receive additional treatment, narrowly avoiding the police officers who pursued him to the barrier of the international departures area in Malé airport.


“The violence by the security forces against journalists trying to do their job is completely unacceptable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The authorities must cease their intimidation attempts and must respect the Maldives constitution, which guarantees media freedom even during a state of emergency. And it is completely intolerable for the government to hold journalists responsible for this political crisis.”


The vice-president of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Abdul Raheem Abdulla, accused Raajje TV and VTV of “spreading discord” while, in a tweet, the PPM’s parliamentary leader went so far as to accuse the two TV channels of organizing the demonstration without producing any evidence to support this claim.


A police communiqué accused the journalists of “spreading false information” and behaving like demonstrators, and denied any use of violence against them, although in fact the police did not hesitate to beat reporters covering the demonstration and to use teargas against them.


In all, about 20 journalists working for various media outlets were treated in hospital for the injuries they sustained during the protest.


President Abdulla Yameen’s government has been stepping up its harassment of the media and its press freedom violations ever since proclaiming a state of emergency on 5 February, which has just been extended for another 15 days. Last week, RSF and other NGOs issued a joint appeal to the authorities to let journalists work without risk of reprisals.


Maldives is ranked 117th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



TURKEY: German-Turkish journalist finally freed after a year in prison


Published 16.02.2018

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is relieved that Deniz Yücel, a journalist with German and Turkish dual nationality, was finally freed today but stresses that he should never have had to spend a year in prison and calls for the withdrawal of the judicial proceedings against him.

Ending 367 days of provisional detention without charge, Die Welt’s Istanbul correspondent walked out of Silivri high security prison today shortly after an Istanbul court accepted the charges finally presented by the prosecutor’s office and ordered his conditional release pending trial.

Although free, he is now facing the possibility of an 18-year jail sentence on a terrorist propaganda charge.

“We are delighted that Deniz Yücel has finally recovered the freedom that should never have been taken from him,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It is absolutely outrageous that he had to spend a year in prison before finding out what he is charged with. We call for the immediate withdrawal of these proceedings, which are entirely political in nature."

Get more information from RSF’s most recent press release on this subject (14.02.2018)


Seven years after its revolution, Libya is losing its journalists
Published 16.02.2018


The crisis for press freedom in Libya has reached an unprecedented level seven years after the country’s revolution. The open conflict between two rival governments has made journalism extremely dangerous. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the impunity for violence against journalists, who continue to flee abroad.

The press freedom that began to develop in 2011 has been obliterated since then by political conflict and violence. The state has been torn apart by the power struggle between two rival factions, one in the west and one in the east, a fight that has made journalistic independence impossible and has turned journalists in targets.

At least 18 journalists have been killed since the revolution. The two main military factions undermining the state since 2014 are “Al Karama” in Benghazi and “Fajr Libya” in Tripoli. News reporting has become virtually impossible because of the political polarisation. Silencing journalists is a permanent goal for the many militias in both factions and their commanders.

In these circumstances and given the prevailing impunity for violence, journalists often have no choice but to flee abroad. Libya has been steadily losing its journalists and media outlets. According to RSF’s tally, 67 journalists have fled the country and eight Libyan media outlets are now operating from bases in other Middle Eastern countries.

RSF has also registered many cases of disappearances, abduction and torture, especially this year. In most of these cases, the terrorised victims or their families did not want to be identified.

Annabaa TV stopped broadcasting on 15 March 2017 when its Tripoli suburb headquarters were set on fire by one of western Libya’s militias. This militia also obtained a list of the TV channel’s employees and posted it online. The publication of the list – giving their full names, the department where they worked and their salaries – triggered a wave online hate comments against the TV channel’s journalists, who were suddenly very exposed.

RSF and the Libyan Centre for Freedom of Press (LCFP) set up a crisis unit with the aim of assisting Annabaa TV’s journalists and, if necessary, helping them to leave Libya to guarantee their safety. Since then, 40 requests for help have been received by the crisis unit, and assistance has been provided to the 13 journalists most in danger, who were able to move to Tunisia and subsequently move again to Turkey to resume working for Annabaa TV after it relocated there.

The situation for journalists and media in Libya is untenable,” RSF said. “The country is haemorrhaging journalists, who prefer to go into exile in order to continue reporting or chose to stop all journalistic activity because it has become too dangerous. Those who decide to stay are trapped and must choose between the rival factions. Media freedom and independence is nonetheless crucial for democracy and the rule of law.”

Enthusiasm crushed by instability

The months that followed Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow in 2011 saw the emergence of new media that displayed incredible energy and enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm was unable to resist the ensuing political instability and violence. The crimes against press freedom have been ignored and the perpetrators have enjoyed complete impunity.

Legislative progress has meanwhile been slow and inadequate. In November 2017, RSF and seven other free speech and press freedom NGOs sent a letter to the Libyan constitution drafting committee calling for amendments to the draft constitution so as to bring it into line with international standards for protecting free speech and press freedom.

A constitution that guarantees press freedom, the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and the safety of journalists would sent a powerful message to all those who violate media freedom every day, a message that would help combat the prevailing impunity for crimes of violence against journalists.

Libya is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.



TURKEY

Turkish court sentences three journalists to life imprisonment


Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the sentences of life imprisonment with no possibility of a pardon that an Istanbul court passed on three well-known journalists today, in what has been a terrible day for press freedom in Turkey. 

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak received the heaviest possible sentences after being convicted on various charges including “trying to overthrow constitutional order” for criticizing the government during a TV broadcast on the eve of an abortive coup d’état in July 2016. 

“By passing sentences of this severity on the basis of such a weak case, the Turkish judicial system has made a fool of itself in the eyes of the world,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “These sentences are a political reprisal of incredible violence and confirm that the most absolute despotism now reigns in Turkey. They also set a terrible precedent for all the other journalists who are wrongfully accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt.” 

Despite their advanced age, the three journalists spent more than a year and half in provisional detention before receiving today’s sentences. A constitutional court decision in January ordering Mehmet Altan’s release was never carried out, in a major blow to the rule of the law. The rights of the defence were repeatedly violated during trial, which RSF observed.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

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Oligarch uses “right to privacy” to censor Russian media


Published 14.02.2018

 

 Credit: Olga Maltseva / AFP

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a Russian court decision ordering websites to immediately remove photos and videos of a meeting between leading Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko on the grounds that they constitute a “violation of privacy.” RSF regards the order as blatant act of censorship.

Moving quickly on 9 February, the day after the court’s decision, Russia’s telecommunication surveillance agency, Roskomnadzor, ordered no fewer than seven online media outlets to take down the photos and videos illustrating articles about the supposedly “informal negotiations” between Prikhodko and Deripaska.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was responsible for drawing attention to the photos and videos when he reposted them as part of an online video report, said their publication was in the public interest but the two influential public figures involved insisted that they invaded their privacy.

The media outlets had to respond to a court decision that had not yet been published and to which they could not get access. They complied because they were under threat of being blocked. But some, such as Mediazona, filed a court appeal against the censorship.

On 10 February, Roskomnadzor said it had complied with an order issued by a court in Ust-Labinsk, the district in the far south of Russia that is Deripaska’s base. The independent news website The Bell said it was the first time that such urgent measures have been taken in Russia to defend privacy.

Going to the source of the content, the court also ordered the blocking of 14 Instagram posts and seven YouTube videos. As Russian Internet service providers still lack the technical ability to restrict access to specific web pages, Instagram and YouTube risk being blocked in their entirety within Russia if the offending content is not removed by this evening.

“We urge the Russian authorities to lift these disproportionate measures, which prevent information from circulating freely,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The European Convention on Human Rights and related court rulings clearly establish that public figures cannot claim the same privacy rights as ordinary citizens.”

The scandal erupted on 8 February when Navalny, who is well known for his anti-corruption investigations, reported that Prikhodko was seen on Deripaska’s yacht off the Norwegian coast in August 2016.

His claim was based on publicly availably content including the photos and videos posted on Instagram by a female escort who was with them on the yacht and who has related her experiences in a book. Reposted on YouTube the same day, Navalny’s video account has already been viewed more than 4 million times.

Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent


Seven Bahraini journalists rendered stateless since 2011


Published 14.02.2018

 

Credit: AFP

Stripping its citizens of their nationality is a penalty to which the Bahraini regime increasingly resorts. A total of seven journalists and citizen-journalists have been rendered stateless in retaliation for their reporting since a wave of anti-government protests began exactly seven years ago today, on 14 February 2011.

Statelessness has become a common penalty in Bahrain, in some cases with the aim of putting pressure on media outlets that might otherwise be tempted not to toe the government line.

Of the seven journalists and citizen-journalists who have been the victims of this punishment, three are currently serving jail terms, and the other four are living in exile.

Three stateless journalists in prison

The photographer Ahmed Al Mousawi was arrested in 2014, mainly for taking photos of anti-government protests, and was sentenced on 23 November 2015 to ten years in prison and the loss of his citizenship.

The journalist Mahmoud Al Jaziri and the blogger Ali Al Maaraj were stripped of their nationality on 30 October 2017 in a political trial in which they and five others were convicted of having links with an alleged terrorist cell. Some of the defendants said they were tortured during interrogation.

Employed by Al Wasat, a newspaper closed by the authorities in 2017, Al Jaziri was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Al Maaraj, who had already spent 27 months in prison for “insulting the king” and “abusing information technology,” was given a life sentence.

“Punishing those who do their job as journalists with either imprisonment or deprivation of nationality is grotesque,” RSF said. “Bahrain has not signed the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness but it has signed the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which says: ‘Everyone has the right to nationality; no one shall be arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their nationality.’ Covering opposition protests or reporting what government opponents say constitutes neither terrorism nor a threat to state security.”

Four stateless journalists in exile

Fearing imprisonment, the other four journalists were already in self-imposed exile when they were deprived of their citizenship.

Ali Abdel Imam, the founder of the BahrainOnline news website, Ali Aldairy, the founder and editor of the Bahrain Mirror newspaper, Al Nabaa TV TV presenter Abbas Busafwan and Hussein Yousef,blogger, were all stripped of their nationality by the interior ministry on 31 January 2015.

No court ruling was required because, under a 2014 amendment to Bahrain’s citizenship law, the interior ministry alone can withdraw Bahraini nationality from anyone who is deemed to have helped an enemy state or whose loyalty to Bahrain is questionable.

The children of those penalised in this way are also stripped of their nationality. Ali Abdel Imam has a son who was born stateless in the United Kingdom.

A total of 579 Bahrainis have been stripped of their nationality since 2012. Fifteen journalists and citizen-journalists are currently imprisoned in Bahrain in connection with their work. They include Nabeel Rajab, who is facing the possibility of an additional 15-year jail term on 21 February.

Bahrain is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.


CHINA: From Snake to Dog, five dark years for journalism


Published 14.02.2018

 

 

As China prepares to celebrate its New Year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that more than 50 journalists and bloggers are currently imprisoned and that, from the Year of the Snake (2013) to the Year of the Dog (2018), President Xi Jinping has built his authority on the ruins of the freedom to inform.

Once again, dozens of journalists and bloggers will spend the Lunar New Year festivities in prison while Xi – China’s president since late 2012 and recently confirmed for another five years – continues to impose his vision of a society based on censorship and surveillance, a society from which journalistic ethics and the citizen’s right to information are barred.

“We urge the international community to put more pressure on the Chinese government to release imprisoned journalists and bloggers,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia desk. “Independent journalism is essential for human and civil rights and, contrary to what the government says, is entirely compatible with Chinese culture, as we can see in Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

Anti-rumour campaign

In early 2013, at the start of the Year of the Snake, many hoped that the new president would fan the winds of openness and reform but, although his family was a victim of the Cultural Revolution, Xi set about restoring a media culture worthy of the Maoist era.

With his “anti-rumour campaign,” President Xi quickly reined in media that, under his predecessor, had cautiously begun to reflect the variety of opinions being expressed in Chinese society, and he now insists that journalists act as relays of “the Party’s propaganda.”

The Chinese Communist Party Publicity Department (CCPPD), which oversees the actions of 14 government ministries, provides the media with a daily list of topics to be highlighted and topics that are banned, on pain of sanction. Even China-based foreign correspondents complain of the harassment to which they are subjected by the authorities.

Setting an example

The journalist Wang Jing was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in April 2016 because she had covered a politically-motivated suicide attempt in Tiananmen Square. After being arrested in 2014 for allegedly providing a foreign media outlet with confidential documents and being forced to “confess her crimes” on TV, former Deutsche Welle correspondent Gao Yu was given a five-year jail sentence. It was subsequently commuted to house arrest but she has not been allowed to travel abroad for the medical treatment she needs.

Citizen-journalists and bloggers who have tried to pick up the torch of independent journalism are nowadays the favourite targets of what is called “residential surveillance at a designated place,” a label that officializes the abduction, incommunicado detention and torture of activists by the state.

The blogger Wu Gan, 44, was sentenced to eight years in prison for drawing attention to government corruption. Lu Yuyu, 38, a citizen-journalist who documented protests, was sentenced to four years in prison. Zhen Jianghua, 32, a journalist who founded an anti-censorship website called Across the Great FireWall, is still being held incommunicado.

Mistreatment

The regime does not sentence free speech defenders to death, but mistreatment of detainees is extremely common and last year Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel peace laureate, and Yang Tongyan, a blogger, both died from cancers left untreated while they were in prison.

Yiu Mantin, a Hong Kong-based book publisher also known as Yao Wentian, was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2014 despite his poor health and advanced age (he is now 75) because he had planned to publish a book critical of President Xi. Gui Minhai, 53, a Chinese-born Swedish publisher who had been preparing revelations about Xi’s mistresses, was kidnapped in Thailand the same year and has been kept ever since in China, where he is being prevented from getting treatment for a serious neurological ailment.

Observers are also concerned for the survival of other detainees. They include Huang Qi, 54, the recipient of an RSF prize in 2004 whose website, 64 Tianwang, was awarded an RSF prize in 2016. He has been held provisionally for more than a year. They also include citizen-journalist Ilham Tohti, 48, recipient of the Sakharov Prize in 2016, who is serving a life sentence; Liu Feiyue, 47, the founder of the human rights NGO Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch; and Liu Xia, 56, Liu Xiaobo’s widow, who has been isolated from the outside world for the past eight years.

Internet under surveillance

With journalists and bloggers reined in, President Xi is now targeting the only spaces left for freely reported news and information – social networks and messaging apps. In 2017, the Internet regulatory authority banned journalists from quoting any information from social networks and any information that had not been previously “confirmed” by the government.

The regime is also gradually shutting down foreign VPN services, which allow users to circumvent the “Great Firewall,” and is banning anonymous online comments. Internet surveillance now targets each of China’s 770 million Internet users, many of whom have already been given prison sentences for nothing more than privately-expressed comments.

In an opinion piece published in seven languages, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire recently urged the world’s parliamentary democracies to take action to resist the “new world media order” that China is trying to impose beyond its borders. China is one of the last five countries, 176th out of 180 countries, in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.




Slovene media owned by oligarchs, corrupt politicians

Published 13.02.2018

 

A European Union member since 2004, Slovenia successfully transitioned to democracy but has not been as successful in defending press freedom. Media ownership is nowadays overly concentrated in the hands of oligarchs and corrupt politicians, endangering editorial independence. A report by Blaz Zgaga:

Media in Slovenia: among criminals, politicians and "the barbarians"

Once praised as a role model country for the Balkans, Slovenia as the most developed part of former Yugoslavia, an EU and Nato member today, is facing many challenges in its media landscape. The transition from a former socialist republic to a parliamentary democracy brought some successes and failures where the media ownership structure seems to remain one of the major blunders, as media owners openly or covertly control editorial policies.

During the transition period local oligarchs made a fortune mostly by collaborating with local post-communist politicians in dubious privatisation processes, which was arbitrary and similar to developments in Russia and other transitional countries. An important issue that affects Slovenia’s media landscape nowadays is that almost all mainstream media owners are under criminal investigation for gross crimes by the FBI-like National Bureau of Investigations and Special Prosecutors which deals with corruption, organised crime and terrorism. Some of them were convicted already.

Stojan Petrič, owner of the Kolektor industry and construction group, who in 2015 purchased the previously most influential daily Delo and the tabloid with highest circulation Slovenske novice, is under investigation for abusing his position and the trust in his business activity. The police revealed that a group of perpetrators, including Petrič, gained at least 1.8 million euros of illicit money.

But his actions as the new owner of Delo are troubling too. Immediately after the takeover he appointed Gregor Knafelc, chief of public relations in Petrič’s main holding company FMR, as acting editor-in-chief of Delo. Knafelc, without a single day of journalistic or editorial experience, consequently fired many of Delo’s media workers, mostly renowned and experienced journalists, and thereby significantly changed the editorial policy of following and covering business related topics. Knafelc was replaced on 1 December 2017 with new acting editor-in-chief, therefore the newspaper will remain without an editor with a full mandate for the next period again.

"Loyalty" and "unity"

In an unusual interview given in February 2018 to his own newspaper Delo, Petrič said that he expects "loyalty" and "unity" from Delo journalists. He praised the Chinese political system and said that smaller nations should follow the Chinese model. He also announced new media takeovers in Slovenia.

Delo today is just a pale shadow of the respected and influential newspaper it once was, comparable to The Times or Le Monde in the UK and France. However, Delo’s credibility crisis did already start in 2005, when Janez Janša’s right-wing government came to power and started meddling intensively with the editorial policy, helped by then owner Boško Šrot, who is serving a sentence of five years and ten months for abuse of office authority in a chain sale trading of a 7.3 per cent stake in the holding Istrabenz in 2007, and who had been given an additional sentence of 5 years in 2014 for abusing his position or trust and for money laundering. Šrot is still in prison.

In October 2017 prosecutors filed a request for a court investigation against Stojan Petrič and co-defendants, who denied any wrongdoings.

Slovenia’s second largest newspaper Dnevnik is owned by the DZS financial group since 2003. DZS’s main business is the tourism industry. Its owner Bojan Petan is under criminal investigations in Slovenia and other countries for different crimes. He faces up to eight years in prison for the alleged crime of abuse of position or trust in business activity during the privatisation of the Terme Čatež tourist resort which allegedly resulted in dozens of millions of euros of illicit gains and damages to the company. Additionally, he was investigated for organised crime and money laundering by special prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He denied any wrongdoing.

Business operations in offshore countries

Petan was also co-owner of the major advertising, PR and lobbyist agency Pristop, together with his business partner Franci Zavrl, the founder of Pristop and former owner of the left-leaning weekly magazine Mladina, who is the husband of investigative journalist Anuška Delić who worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on the Panama and Paradise Papers. Both Petan and Zavrl have business operations in offshore countries and have been investigated by the police for the alleged misappropriation of dozens of millions of euros. The Slovenian elite criminal police conducted house searches in Petan’s and Zavrl/Delić apartments and many other offices in June 2014. Also this investigation is ongoing, and the accused deny all wrongdoing.

Finally, Bojan Petan is well connected, and his business empire serves as a safe haven for many former intelligence and government officials. Sebastjan Selan, former chief director of the main Slovene intelligence agency Sova became one of the most important managers in his business empire. Some other former spies work for DZS, too. Meanwhile former government spokesperson Darijan Košir became the news deputy editor of Dnevnik and simultaneously runs his own PR company.

A criminal case against Petan is still pending. He denies any wrongdoing. But prosecutors dropped the charges against Zavrl in this case. However, this was not the only close encounter of Zavrl with police investigators. He was investigated by Finnish and Luxembourg police for alleged money-laundering of millions of euros in the Patria arms deals*, which was one of the major scandals in Slovenia during the past decade. Also these criminal charges have been dropped.

Former Prime minister Janez Janša, who was together with Zavrl arrested in 1988 by the Yugoslav People’s Army in a “Roška trial” which triggered the so called “Slovenian spring”, a popular movement which lead to democratic changes and Slovenia’s succession movement in then Yugoslavia, was convicted to two years in prison for bribery in the Patria deal. The conviction of Janša was confirmed by all of Slovenia’s regular courts, including the Supreme Court. However, the Constitutional Court later repealed these judgements and demanded retrial in the Patria bribery, then a statute of limitations had passed.

Illicit gains

The third mainstream daily Večer was purchased from Delo by Uroš Hakl and Sašo Todorovič. They paid just one million euro for this newspaper in 2014, but the deal was mostly financed by debt and they immediately started to sell some real-estate owned by the newspaper to finance the takeover.

Todorovič is the former chief executive officer of T-2 telecommunication provider. Hakl is the former director at the Pristop PR agency and was also investigated for the alleged abuse of office and official duty. Hakl and co-perpetrators allegedly made more than a million euros of illicit gains from state aid, that was given to the most impoverished Slovene region. Hakl is facing up to eight years in prison. The criminal case against the co-owner of Večer is currently under court investigation, and he denies all wrongdoing, too.

Another media mogul is Martin Odlazek, who is also a printing and waste management “baron”, and who was sentenced to six months in prison for abuse of position and trust in business activity in 2013. He served his sentence under house arrest. But his criminal past didn’t prevent him from expanding his media empire and starting the new tabloid Svet24 and many other weekly magazines, including the purchase of the right-leaning weekly Reporter. He also owns several Slovene radio stations.

In Slovenia’s television landscape the public broadcasting service RTV Slovenija continues to serve as a political playground for major political parties who implement their influence on the editorial policy though the programme council where 21 of 29 members are elected by the parliament. A recent example happened in July 2017 when new CEO Director General of RTV Slovenia Igor Kadunc attempted to replace the director of the tv programme Ljerka Bizilj for violating editorial standards as she supported news-editor Jadranka Rebernik who approved the promotional programme of the neo-Ustasha Croatian singer Marko Perković 'Thompson' in prime-time. Kadunc’s proposal was then repealed by the programme council with a majority of votes from right-wing council members. This case confirms that politics are still controlling public broadcaster editorial policy through many proxies.

The owner of the majority shares of the smaller private television station Planet TV and 100 per cent shares of the widely read online outlet Siol.net is the state owned major telecommunication company Telekom Slovenije which again offers many channels for political influence behind the scenes.

The small party television station Nova24TV, founded by the right-wing SDS that is led by Janez Janša, on the other hand received significant financial investment from Hungary. Some Hungarian media owners who are close friends of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban invested at least 800.000 euros in this small TV station and in exchange received significant capital shares in a media outlet that is constantly spreading right-wing political propaganda. Also SDS’ weekly magazine Demokracija is owned by friends of Orban today. Janez Janša, whose party is a member of the European People’s Party, is closely affiliated with Orban and his anti-immigration and anti-liberal politics.

But the seismic shift in the Slovene media landscape happened in July 2017. Pro Plus company was the owner of the tv channels POP TV and Kanal A who are reaching 70 per cent of the viewers in the Slovene market and who receive an even higher share of advertising revenues in Slovenia. The company was bought by United Group, owned by the New York based private equity firm KKR (Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts) for 230 million euros. Before that, Pro Plus belonged to Central European Media Enterprises (CME) incorporated in the tax haven of Bermuda.

"The Barbarians at the Gate"

Two founders of KKR, Henry Kravis and George Roberts are known as inventors of leveraged buy-outs and their take-over of the RJR Nabisco company in the US was made into a Hollywood movie in 1993: The Barbarians at the Gate. However, these “barbarians” find strong support for lobbying in the Balkans in KKR Global Institute chairman David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and commander of US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. He served also in the Nato peace operation in the Balkans.

Petraeus visited Slovene Prime Minister Miro Cerar on 18 May 2017 and lobbied for the purchase of Slovenia’s major television company which also owns the most visited online outlet: 24ur.com. Additionally, KKR bought Croatia's most watched tv channel Nova TV simultaneously, but Croatian regulators did not approve this part of the deal. Minority shareholder and chairman of United Group, Dragan Šolak met premier Cerar on 19 April 2017, too.

Without a doubt, after Petraeus’ lobby work the Slovene Agency for Protection of Competition Protection Agency (CPA) did probably greenlight the 230 million euros KKR deal despite the fact that such an investment is creating a vertical integration in the media and telecommunication markets as it bears the danger of a monopoly in many other local markets. Moreover, the appointment of CPA’s new director Andrej Matvoz raises many questions about his independence. Despite him lacking any experience in this demanding field of law, he was appointed by the Minister of Economic Development and Technology as acting director. But the Slovene court later declared the decision as illegal. Additionally, the Slovene Commission for the Prevention of Corruption filed charges against Matvoz for cheating in an expert exam to the Slovene police. Nevertheless, all these serious questions didn’t keep the ruling political coalition from confirming Matvoz in the parliament.

Intensive lobbying is also confirmed by a decision of Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture which formally determined that Pro Plus is not a related party of POP TV and Kanal A programmes which are owned by Pro Plus with 100 per cent of the shares. Thus, the Ministry of Culture excluded itself from making any decision about the United Group (KKR) takeover in its role as a regulator of the media industry.

United Group, registered in the Netherlands, also owns the SBB and Telemach telecommunications company, SportklubTotal TVNet TV and many other media companies in the region of former Yugoslavia. It reaches 1.74 million households and made 488 million euros of revenues in the last year. It is one of the most important telecommunication and media providers in the Balkans, offering also mobile phone services, and it airs the N1 TV channel, the local partner of CNN in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia.

The Serbian-Slovenian minority owner of United Group, Dragan Šolak – one of the richest man in the Balkans – regularly operates in offshore countries. According to the Croatian weekly magazine Nacional*, its subsidiary United Media with headquarters in Zürich, Switzerland, managed to funnel 6.7 million euros out of Croatia to secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein and Cyprus for broadcasting licenses without paying any significant tax. Additionally, KKR and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are hiding their ownership of United Group behind a complex corporate structure with more than a dozen offshore companies in tax havens of Delaware, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.

Among such a concentration of media owners with a criminal past and present, with corrupted politicians as well as aggressive Wall Street barons it’s almost impossible to work as a professional independent journalist in Slovenia. Many experienced journalists already left their profession or were forced to leave. On the other hand, a new generation of young journalists seems to be fully adapted to business interests and the goals of new media owners. Professional solidarity among Slovenian journalists lies in the long forgotten past. The professional and personal ethics of journalists who are serving these criminals, politicians and “barbarians” tend to reach new lows again and again.

By Blaž Zgaga for European Centre for Press & Media Freedom

* The Patria scandal was unearthed in 2008 in collaboration between Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund (YLE) and author of this article.

** The investigative story in Nacional was written by the author of this article.

The author of this article started his journalistic career at the national desk of the newspaper Delo in 1993. In 1998 he joined Večer where he spent the next ten years. In 2007 he initiated the petition against censorship and political pressure on journalists which was signed by 571 Slovene journalists, one quarter of all professional journalists in the country. Because of mobbing and censorship he quit Večer and works as a freelance journalist since 2008. He is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and one of the Information Heroes of Reporters Without BordersHis articles are regularly published in the Croatian weekly magazine Nacional.

Three months to the day after the arbitrary arrest of two journalists in Phnom Penh, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is publishing a report about the tragic decline in the freedom to inform in Cambodia, where the independent media are now in ruins as a result of constant depredation by Prime Minister Hun Sen's regime.

Imprisoned since 14 November on espionage charges, former Radio Free Asia reporters Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin are above all the collateral victims of the offensive that Hun Sen has waged against the independent media for the past six months in order to pave the way for general elections in July.


The aim of the report published today is to detail this tragic reversal for the media in Cambodia. It is based on research carried out by Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, during a visit to Cambodia in October 2017 (see attached).

Cambodia Daily, the country’s oldest English-language newspaper, suddenly learned on 4 August that the tax department was demanding 6.3 million US dollars (5.3 million euros) in supposed back taxes. If the newspaper couldn’t pay, it would just have to “pack up and go,” Hun Sen said. No audit had been carried out and no document was produced to support the government’s claim. In the absence of any possibility of appeal, Cambodia Daily published its last issue on 4 September.


Harassing independent media


The Cambodian authorities brazenly tried to play innocent by repeatedly insisting that Cambodia Daily’s closure was the result of nothing more than a tax problem. However, it emerged a few days ago that they told Internet service providers on 28 September to block access to Cambodia Daily’s still functioning website and to its Facebook and Twitter pages although they are based outside the country.


This clearly shows, if any proof were needed, that Hun Sen’s government persecutes independent media. A total of 32 radio stations, including Radio Free Asia’s Phnom Penh bureau, were shut down at the end of August. Their common feature was a lack of subservience towards the government. The closures have been accompanied by persecution of journalists. In fact, anything goes in order intimidate the media. This is why RSF has joined other international and Cambodian NGOs in issuing a statement (see attached) demanding the immediate release of Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who are facing up to 15 years in prison.


Mass media control


The war against independent media has left the field free for media outlets that take their orders from the ruling party. This is clear from the Cambodian Media Ownership Monitor (MOM) carried out jointly by RSF and the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM), an updated version of which is published today. It shows that media ownership is largely concentrated in the hands of a small number of leading businessmen linked to the ruling party. This is particularly so with the broadcast media. The four main TV channels, which have 80% of Cambodia’s viewers, are all run by government members or associates.


An independent regulator should be in charge of issuing licences to broadcast media and press cards to journalists but the information ministry is responsible for these functions in Cambodia, executing them in a completely opaque manner.


New information vehicles


When the traditional media are so closely controlled, the only hope lies with the Internet and citizen-journalists. Internet and social media use is exploding within Cambodia’s young and connected population. In 2017, 40% of Cambodians got their news primarily from Facebook. However, Facebook included Cambodia in the six countries where it began trialling a new set-up in October in which the independent news content is hived off to a secondary location called the Explore feed. The effect has been drastic. In a matter of days, the Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer-language Facebook page lost 45% of its readers and traffic fell 35%.


Meanwhile, a survey showed that the prime minister’s Facebook page received 58 million clicks in 2017, putting him third in the click ranking of the world’s politicians, just behind Donald Trump and India’s Narendra Modi. But many are sceptical, to the point that a former opposition leader recently filed a legal suit against Facebook in a US federal court in San Francisco, demanding that it hand over any information indicating that Hun Sen bought millions of “likes” from foreign “click farms” in order to boost the appearance of invincibility ahead of July’s parliamentary elections.


Pursuing the fight


There can be no democracy without independent media but media independence is in greater danger now in Cambodia than at any other time in its recent history, which still bears the deep scars of the Khmer Rouge era. The fight for the freedom to inform in Cambodia must therefore be pursued at all costs.


Ranked 132nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Cambodia is likely to fall in the 2018 index.

Revolution anniversary – 39 years of news control and censorship in Iran



Published 13.02.2018

 

On the 39th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its condemnation of the regime’s harassment of journalists and citizen-journalists. Thirty-nine years after the revolution, as young men and women protest in the streets, the Islamic Republic is trying to reinforce its news control both at home and internationally.

For the past 39 years, the regime’s control of news and information has been implacable and its persecution of media independence has been unparalleled. The exact number of journalists arrested and convicted during this dark period in Iran’s history – especially during the purge years – is still not officially known.

RSF has tallied abuses since Mohammad Khatami became president in 1997. At least 350 media outlets have been closed, more than 800 journalists and citizen-journalists have been detained and interrogated and around 500 of them have been given prison sentences ranging from three months to 19 years. All have been denied their rights. Millions of Internet pages of freely and independently reported news and information have been censored. Citizen-journalists active on social networks are nowadays at the heart of the fight for freedom of news and information and political change in Iran.

In what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calls “the freest country in the world,” no independent media has survived the past 39 years of police and judicial harassment. Since 2000, Khamenei has waged a merciless war against the emergent reformist press, calling it the “operational base of foreign enemies within the country.”

Despite having resisted, the pro-reform media have been losing the resources they need to cover developments freely and independently. And to tighten control and censorship even more, a newly proposed law will turn journalists into civil servants who will get their press cards directly from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

The regime’s persecution of the freedom to inform does not just target domestic media. it also targets the international media, even if the regime has always tried to keep up certain appearances.

Toeing the official line

According to a list on the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation’s official website, a total of 155 media outlets from 32 countries have bureaux in Iran that are staffed by a total of 305 foreign journalists.

Officially, they include 75 radio and TV outlets but the real number is smaller because each of the different language services of media outlets such as France 24 or Al Jazeera are counted separately. Fifteen of them are Lebanese or Iraqi outlets such as Al-Manar and Al-Mayadin (Hezbollah’s two TV channels) and Al-Tajah and Al-Fart (Iraq’s Shiite TV channels). The latter four outlets are wholly funded by the Iranian regime.

There are 14 foreign news agencies. Aside from AP, AFP and Itar Tass, most are from pro-Iranian Muslim countries. The Islamic Radio and Television Union, created and funded by the Islamic Republic, consists of 210 Muslim media outlets from 35 countries, its website says. Most of these outlets are officially regarded as foreign media, although funded by the regime. As well as relaying propaganda, they constitute a fake news world network that helps to suppress the freedom to inform. They mainly carry the same news reports as the Iranian state media.

Other foreign news agencies in Iran are closely watched and harassed. A former Tehran-based AFP reporter said: “The regime exercises its control by placing journalists within the agency who can tell the authorities what’s going on there, or by threatening the foreign journalists who don’t accept the censor’s rules. There have been several cases of journalists who have even been accused of indecent behaviour and have been threatened with imprisonment.”

Since 28 March 2012, when the Iranian authorities withdrew the accreditation of the Reuters journalists in Tehran for “propaganda against the government,” Reuters has had no bureau in Iran. As a result, Reuters nowadays often covers Iranian news more freely than the agencies that still have a bureau there, which have to censor themselves to avoid losing their accreditation or to avoid harassment or even prosecution in Iran.

Choosing “good” journalists

Aside from the Muslim countries with a media presence, the foreign journalists in Iran are either correspondents who are based there or visiting reporters. In both cases, the regime prefers them to be of Iranian origin and to have dual nationality (one of them Iranian). Dual nationals can be accused of spying at any time, so it is easier to control them and make them accept that certain subjects are off limits.

It must be pointed out that Iranian law does not permit dual nationality. Dual nationals are regarded as Iranians, and as Iranians alone. Several dual national journalists have been jailed in recent years for “collaborating with foreigners” or “espionage.” They include Roxana Saberi and Jason Rezaian.

On condition of anonymity, a dual national journalist with an international media outlet told RSF: “Two days after I applied to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for accreditation, I received a call to discuss my situation. They asked me to go to a hotel. I asked who I was talking to, knowing full well it was the brothers from intelligence. Two men were waiting for me there. Very politely, they made it clear that I should not cross the red lines, which are covering Khamenei or the opposition and, in general, showing ‘the decline in the situation.’ Sometimes they sent me phrases to insert in my articles. For them, neutrality and balance meant censorship. I cooperated during the two years I was in Iran.”

A committee consisting of representatives of three ministries – Culture and Islamic Guidance, Foreign Affaires and Intelligence – has a file on each foreign journalist and media outlet. The attitude of the journalists and their media determines whether they get the visas they need. Reporting critical of the regime leads to negative points in the file. But the committee takes account not only of coverage of Iran but also of international coverage, especially of countries regarded as Iran’s enemies, such as Israel and the United States.

According the information obtained by RSF, several journalists who received visas and are currently in Iran have been prevented for moving about freely in the capital. In particular, they have been prevented from covering protests and from contacting government opponents or the families of political prisoners.

One of world’s most authoritarian regimes, Iran is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Inaction by Mexican authorities in 21 disappearances of journalists since 2000



Published 12.02.2018

 

On the tenth anniversary today of Mexican journalist Mauricio Estrada Zamora’s disappearance, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the appalling level of impunity in Mexico, where there have been at least 21 unsolved disappearances of journalists since 2000.

Aged 38, Estrada lived in Apatzingán, in the western state of Michoacán, where he was a crime reporter for a local daily, La Opinión de Apatzingán. He left the newspaper on the evening of 12 February 2008 and was never seen again. His car with found later that night with the lights on and the doors open in the nearby town of Buenavista, colleagues told RSF at the time.

Two days later, the newspaper’s management accused a Federal Investigation Agency police officer known as “El Diablo” (The Devil) of kidnapping Estrada. Three weeks before his disappearance, Estrada had written a story that reflected badly on this police officer, creating a conflict between the two. El Diablo was subsequently transferred to Mexico City.

Ten years later, Estrada’s disappearance is no longer being actively investigated. The failure to identify those responsible has been unbearable for Estrada’s wife, María Dolores Barajas. “I don’t understand,” she said. “How is it possible that no leads have been pursued? My life is full of questions without answers.”

Barajas complains of a lack of support, including judicial support, from the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims (CEAV), from which she has been seeking assistance since 2011. She is now threatened with eviction from her home for failing to make payments on the mortgage contracted by her husband.

Of the at least 21 journalists who have disappeared in the past 18 years, at least eight have missing for more than ten years, according to Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH).

With 12 journalists murdered since the start of 2017, the Mexican authorities are clearly already failing in their duty to protect media personnel,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.

At the same time, they don’t assume their responsibility to conduct thorough investigations into the many cases of missing journalists or to ensure that the families of the victims get adequate compensation. The federal prosecutor’s office must redouble its efforts to provide concrete responses to the disappearance of Mauricio Estrada Zamora and all the other cases of journalists missing in Mexico.”

The involvement of state agents has been suspected in most of these cases, because the missing journalists were covering stories linked to local politics, corruption or public security. This is unbearable for the families, because the perpetrators are often able to pressure witnesses and investigators, and even get investigations closed.

The most recent case of a journalist disappearing is that of Agustín Silva Vázquez, 22, a resident of Matías Romero, in the southern state of Oaxaca. This young crime reporter for El Sol del Istmo, a regional daily, was last seen on 21 January.

A few days before he disappeared, he covered a military operation resulting in the seizure of firearms and the arrests of three persons. Silva’s father said an individual identifying himself as the lawyer of the three detainees had asked Silva to testify in their defence, and Silva had refused.

Mexico is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.


At least 15 journalists held arbitrarily in Saudi crackdown

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the release of around 15 Saudi journalists and citizen-journalists who have gone “missing” in a wave of arrests that began last September. They include Saleh Al-Shehi, a journalist who was sentenced yesterday to five years in prison on a charge of insulting the royal court.


Al-Shehi’s arrest was not official until the 8 February announcement of his sentence, which includes a five-year ban on leaving the country on completion of the jail term. His disappearance was reported on social networks in January but he stopped writing his column in the Al-Watan newspaper in mid-December. He accused the royal court of involvement in corruption and nepotism during an appearance on a Dubai-based Saudi TV channel on 8 December after making similar allegations in an article in November.

 

According to RSF’s information, he is one of at least 15 journalists and citizen-journalists to have been detained in a wave of arrests that began in September although none of these arrests or the existence of charges had been officially confirmed until yesterday’s announcement of Al-Shehi’s sentence.


The information obtained by RSF from various sources indicates that these “missing” journalists are being held arbitrarily by the Saudi regime. But it is still very difficult to say exactly how many are being held because of the secrecy with which the authorities have acted and because some of the families refuse to talk for fear of reprisals. For security reasons, RSF cannot reveal all the names it has obtained. But we can report that the victims are mainly being questioned about what they have written in the press and on social networks (Twitter and Snapchat) and about their TV appearances. The authorities reportedly accuse them of disloyalty towards current Saudi policy.

 

“We are concerned about this wave of secret arrests,” RSF said. “Nothing in Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical situation justifies treating either professional or non-professional journalists as dangers to state security and arresting them without clear grounds. We regret that, despite the openness and modernity of his discourse, Mohammad bin Salman’s appointment as Crown Prince last June has led to additional persecution of journalists. We all for the immediate release of all these journalists, who are being held arbitrarily.”

 

Wave of arrests

 

Those detained include Essam Al Zamil, an economist and businessman who is well known as a citizen-journalist on social networks. He was reportedly arrested in September on his return from an official visit to the United States with a Saudi delegation.


According to the information obtained by RSF, he is being held in the eastern city of Dammam and has been interrogated about tweets since 2011, in particular, his tweets about the future sale of the Saudi company Aramco, which he has opposed. He has reportedly been charge with incitement against the state and inciting sedition in these tweets.


Those detained also include Jamal Farsi – a citizen-journalist and journalist with several Saudi media outlets as well as a liberal, pro-reform businessman – who was reportedly also arrested in September. According to some sources, it was his tweets and videos cautioning against VAT and the sale of state companies that got him into trouble.


Mustafa Al-Hassan, a blogger who is well known on Twitter and as the founder of a pan-Gulf forum that encourages civil society development, went “missing” in September. He is also a journalist with the daily Sahifat al YoumSahifat al Youm, and a university academic and researcher.Two years ago, he began writing about literature and taking less interest in politics because of the political climate and health problems.


A satirical and critical blogger known by the blog name of Al Banakhi has reportedly been detained since December.

 

Repressive arsenal reinforced

 

Imprisoning journalists is not new in Saudi Arabia. At least three journalists and eight citizen-journalists are currently serving jail sentences in connecting with their reporting. Turad Al Amri, a famous journalist and commentator, is said to have been arrested in November 2016 although the authorities have never confirmed this.

 

Harassment of journalists has increased since last June. Some journalists who were abroad have preferred to stay there. Some have been forced to resign from what are regarded as “enemy” media. Others, according to our information, have chosen to censor themselves or to withdraw altogether from what was the only space left for free speech – social networks.


Many journalists and citizen-journalists have been the targets of campaigns of insults and intimidation on Twitter, carried out at the behest of the crown prince’s advisers. The deployment of these troll armies recalls the operations by “King Salman’s electronic army” in 2015 and 2016.


In December 2017, the Saudi media were urged to display more patriotism, although the regime has tolerated no media freedom for years and has always taken great care of its international image. Activists and journalists can easily be prosecuted under a new terrorism law adopted in November, which has been criticised by the United Nations and international human rights NGOs.

 

Writing prohibitions are common. One was imposed on Ahmed Adnan, a Saudi journalist in Lebanon, at the end of last month. The journalist Jamal Al Khashoggi was banned in late 2016 and was banned again in 2017, after which he opted for self-imposed exile in the United States.

 

Saudi Arabia is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

 

__________________________________________________

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



Turkish journalists: European Court must render justice before it is too late

Published 09.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the European Court of Human Rights to respond quickly to the end of the rule of law in Turkey, where the courts have been ignoring a constitutional court order to release two journalists, Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, for the past month.

Turkey’s constitutional court raised hopes when it ruled on 11 January that the provisional detention of these two journalists was unconstitutional and ordered their immediate release. But now, four weeks later, the order has still not been carried out. Ignoring its final and binding nature, lower courts have refused to execute it and have rejected all the appeals filed by the journalists’ lawyers.

“The refusal to free Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan constitutes a major blow to legality and institutions in Turkey,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu said. “It is now clear that Turkey is trampling on the rule of law and is offering no effective recourse to its imprisoned journalists. The European Court of Human Rights must render them justice before it is too late.”

The Turkish judicial system is now in a race with the European Court, which agreed last year to prioritize the petitions filed by around 20 Turkish journalists who have been held for more than a year. But these petitions, which are backed by RSF and 12 other international NGOs, are limited to the issue of their provisional detention. They will have little effect after the Turkish courts have finished trying the journalists.

The trial of Mehmet Altan, his brother Ahmet Altan and the well-known journalist Nazlı Ilıcak is due to resume on 12 February and the court could issue its verdict the same week. The trial of Şahin Alpay and his 29 fellow defendants is due to resume on 5 April.

Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay are both facing possible life imprisonment on charges of trying to overthrow the government and links with “terrorist organisations.” Their only “crime” was to work for the newspaper Zaman and criticise President Erdoğan during a TV broadcast.

After the non-execution of its 11 January ruling, Turkey’s constitutional court agreed to urgently examine a new appeal by the two journalists’ lawyers. But, on the grounds that their physical and psychological integrity is not in danger, it has refused to again order their immediate release until it has considered the substance of the case.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.


__________________________________________________

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director




Russia: Kaliningrad editor held for past 100 days on trumped-up charge

Published 08.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the immediate release of Igor Rudnikov, an independent newspaper editor in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, who will complete his 100th day in detention on a trumped-up charge of extortion on 9 February.

The editor of the weekly Novye Kolesa, Kaliningrad’s oldest independent newspaper, Rudnikov is well known for determined investigative reporting that had already resulted in two murder attempts against him and many prosecutions.

Arrested on 1 November, he was transferred a month later to Moscow, where he is currently held under a provisional detention order valid until 1 April. The violence to which he was subjected at the time of arrest has not been investigated, although members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) can be heard in a video held telling their superiors they gave him a good beating.

rvHis arrest, combined with the confiscation of Novye Kolesa’s server and data storage devices, has been a blow for the newspaper. Retail sales have not fallen, but advertisers have backed off and donations have dried up, so the survival of Kaliningrad’s leading independent publication is not assured.

No convincing evidence against Rudnikov has been produced in the 100 days since his arrest on the sole basis of claims by Gen. Victor Ledenev, the head of the local branch of the Investigative Committee, which is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes in Russia.

The complete lack of hard evidence and the many procedural flaws reported by his lawyers reinforce the suspicion that he is the victim of a politically-motivated reprisal. Colleagues point out that Novye Kolesa had revealed in June 2017 that Gen. Ledenev owned a luxurious country home that had not been declared, and that he therefore had every reason to get rid of Rudnikov.

A former FSB member, Ledenev was Chechnya’s prosecutor-general from 2008 to 2013, a period marked by systematic impunity for crimes of violence attributed to close associates of the region’s strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov. The crimes included well-known journalist and human rights defender Natalia Estemirova’s murder in 2009. All this did not prevent Ledenev being promoted to head the Investigative Committee in Kaliningrad in 2013.

“What with arbitrary provisional detention, trumped-up charges and impunity for police violence, Igor Rudnikov’s case is emblematic of what goes on in Russia,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We demand, in the strongest possible terms, this journalist’s immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges against him.”

Russia is ranked 148th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

State of emergency in Maldives, journalists harassed and attacked

Published 06.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to harassment and threats against journalists in Maldives after the government tried to prevent coverage of opposition activities in the wake of a surprising supreme court decision last week and finally proclaimed a state of emergency yesterday.

Media freedom has been repeatedly violated since the supreme court announced its decision on 1 February that detained opposition politicians should be freed and opposition parliamentarians should be reinstated.

Journalists, especially reporters for Raajje TV, an opposition TV channel, have been the victims of police violence, especially while covering joyful opposition demonstrations. Teargas has been used indiscriminately against media personnel and one journalist, Sun Online reporter Muaviyath Anwar, said a policeman struck him with a baton when he showed him his press card.

“This government must cease its grave violations of the freedom to inform,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Amid the current political tension, it is essential that journalists should be able to do their work with complete freedom.

“The proclamation of a state of emergency must not be used as grounds for press freedom violations. Instead of stigmatising independent media, the authorities need to understand that allowing journalists to publish information of interest to the public is the best way to avoid an escalation.”

Ismail Sofwan, member of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, which polices the broadcast media, warned commercial TV stations after the supreme court decision, threatening them with closure if their reporting jeopardised “national security.”

Ruling party deputy chief Abdul Raheem Abdullah meanwhile called on the security forces to immediately close Raajje TV, which has at the same time been the target of threats for several days.

President Abdulla Yameen’s government has been under pressure ever since the supreme court issued its decision overturning the conviction of political prisoners and ordering the reinstatement of a dozen opposition parliamentarians who had been stripped of their mandates.

The government has been trying to prevent media coverage of the ensuing turmoil, as parliament was closed and successive police chiefs were fired to prevent implementation of the supreme court decision.

In an attempt to gag political prisoners, the Maldives Correctional Service has already issued a communiqué on 29 January warning that it would bring judicial proceedings against journalists and media outlets that reported statements by detainees.

RSF is alarmed by the decline in freedom of information and the increase in violence against journalists in Maldives. Yameen Rasheed, an influential blogger, was stabbed to death in his home in April 2017, probably the victim of censorship because of his coverage of government corruption. There has not yet been any credible investigation into his death.

Maldives is ranked 117th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

 

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


SOUTH KOREA: RSF decries Olympics opening ceremony ban on Reuters

Published 06.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to rescind its decision to ban Reuters from covering the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because it published embargoed photos. RSF regards the ban as disproportionate.

Last week, Reuters released photos of a rehearsal for the opening ceremony while they were under embargo” (banned from publication before a specific date). The London-based news agency quickly acknowledged that they were sent by mistake and asked clients not to publish them.

The IOC nonetheless decided that Reuters will not get media passes for the opening ceremony on 9 February. According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, the IOC has also decided to “enforce strong penalties on media companies and their reporters who disobey embargoes of the opening and closing ceremonies.

The IOC press office said the ban imposed on Reuters was in line with penalties imposed in previous cases of embargo violations but it declined to specify what sanctions would be imposed if other media outlets violated embargoes.

These retaliatory measures targeting all media are disproportionate and unjustified,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Journalists must respect professional rules but the right to censor assumed by the IOC is dangerous and shocking, as are the threats of reprisals against all journalists.”

The IOC found itself embroiled in a media controversy during the Beijing Summer Olympics ten years ago, when then IOC president Jacques Rogge personally intervened to deny that the head of the IOC press committee had told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that IOC members had negotiated the blocking of certain “sensitive” websites during the coverage of the 2008 Olympics.

 

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



China must stop harassing foreign reporters
Published 03.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Chinese authorities to stop obstructing the work of foreign journalists after the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) released a report last week showing a sharp increase in harassment of its members.

What with being followed, arrested, roughed up, threatened with expulsion or discovering that pressure has been put on their sources, foreign reporters are finding it increasingly difficult to work in China. Of the 117 members who responded to the FCCC survey, 40% reported that conditions have worsened, as against 29% last year.

“Harassing foreign journalists and then posing as a victim when they publish annoying reports will not help the Chinese government to improve its image,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “Such behaviour is all the more shocking because the regime does its best to exploit the freedom available to journalists in democratic countries in order to develop its propaganda network there.”

Visa or accreditation denial

Using the threat of non-renewal of their press visas, the classic method of pressuring foreign reporters, is on the rise. Fifteen percent of the respondents said they had been threatened, three times as many as last year. Six percent said they had been directly threatened with expulsion, a percentage that has also tripled.

The threat of expulsion hangs over every foreign correspondent and is sometimes carried out. Ursula Gauthier, a French journalist, was expelled at the end of 2015 because of an article that caused displeasure. The New York Times and Al Jazeera saw reporters expelled in 2012, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail in 2009.

Denial of accreditation is also on the rise. Many leading international media outlets – including the BBC, Economist, Financial Times, Guardian, New York Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun, Libération and Voice of America – were prevented from covering a Politburo Standing Committee meeting on the official grounds of “lack of room.” It seems to have been a punishment for criticising President Xi Jinping in editorials.

Forbidden areas

Restrictions on freedom of movement have increased significantly. Three quarters of the respondents who went to the troubled Xinjiang region in China’s far west said the area in which they were allowed to move about had been reduced.

Like the North Korean border area, it seems that this region is subject to “special restrictions.” When Globe and Mail reporter Nathan VanderKlippe went to Xinjiang last August, he was detained, questioned, followed to his hotel and his laptop was confiscated for 12 hours.

But harassment is no longer limited to the special regions and officials all over China are now reluctant to let foreign journalists operate freely. “Police and other local authorities increasingly tried to claim that prior permission is required to report in their area,” Wall Street Journal reporter Josh Chin said.

Threats and violence

Two South Korean journalists were badly beaten by Chinese security officials while covering a visit by the South Korean president to Beijing. The incident was indicative of the lack of consideration that the regime shows towards the foreign media. It is no surprise that more than half of the FCCC’s respondents said they had been subjected to interference and harassment and 8% reported physical violence.

BBC News crew was accosted in Hunan in February 2017 by a group of men in civilian dress who refused to identify themselves. They manhandled the journalists and smashed their video equipment. Later, under the supervision of uniformed policemen and officials, the journalists were forced to sign a statement confessing to “behaviour causing a bad impact” and trying to conduct an “illegal interview.”

Shortly after Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo’s death in July, the authorities prevented the foreign media from entering the hospital to which he had been confined. Voice of America reporter Yibing Fengand and his assistant, Ai Lun, were jostled by plainclothes police and their equipment was damaged.

Pressure on sources

Foreign journalists are nowadays also discovering a more insidious form of pressure: harassment of their sources and those who provide logistic help. A quarter of the respondents said some of their contacts had been harassed, detained or summoned for interrogation.

When filming on remote location, locals were warned against talking to us and even told not to help us with places to eat or sleep,” BBC News reporter Kathy Long said. She added: “Several companies which offered us filming facilities of political pilgrimage sites subsequently withdrew their offers after government/local authority pressure to do so.”

Even when there is no sign of officials, fewer and fewer Chinese agree to cooperate with the foreign media for fear of sanctions. AFP’s Beijing bureau chief, Patrick Baert, who first reported in China in 1997, said: It is as hard as ever to contact the authorities and to find people who can talk, who are not afraid to talk.”

China is ranked very near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index (176th out of 180 countries).


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


VIETNAM: Four years in prison for Vietnamese blogger
Published 02.02.2018

 

After Vietnamese blogger Ho Van Hai’s four-year jail sentence at the end of secret trial yesterday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the international community to step up its pressure on Vietnam to end its repeated violations of the freedom to inform.

Charged with “anti-state propaganda” under 88 of the penal code, Hai, age 52, was sentenced to four years in prison followed by two years of house arrest. After being held for more than a year, he was tried behind closed doors in Ho Chi Minh City without his lawyers being present.

Hai was arrested on 2 November 2016 for blogging about education and the environment, and above all for drawing attention to a toxic spill from a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese company Formosa that poisoned millions of fish.

“Yet again, a citizen has been severely punished just for trying to inform civil society in a country where all the media are closely controlled,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“It is high time to end this terrible crackdown on citizen-journalists that began nearly two years ago. We urge the international community to remind Vietnam, a UN Human Rights Council member, of its obligations. We also call on its trade partners to open their eyes to how Vietnam suppresses freedom of information, and to draw the appropriate conclusions.”

The European Parliament adopted an urgent resolution in December 2017 calling on the Vietnamese authorities to stop persecuting citizen-journalists and to free all the imprisoned bloggers.

More than 25 bloggers were imprisoned, convicted or expelled in 2017. The reports about prison conditions are alarming. After a prison visit on 29 January, the wife of Nguyen Van Daia blogger held since December 2015, said the conditions were shocking. She said he had to sleep on a concrete surface and had almost never left his cell in more than two years.

Vietnam is ranked almost at the bottom of RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index – 175th out of 180 countries.


Two journalists found murdered in southwestern Guatemala

Published 02.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Guatemalan authorities to lose no time in investigating the murders of two journalists, Laurent Castillo and Luis Alfredo de León, whose bodies were found yesterday, three days after they were reported missing.

Both journalists were based in Coatepeque, in the southwestern department of Quetzaltenango, where Castillo was a reporter for the Nuestro Diario newspaper and De León worked for Radio Coatepeque.

They were reported missing on 29 January, after leaving the previous day to cover a carnival event in Mazatenango, the capital of the nearby department of Suchitepéquez, according to local press reports.

Farmers found their bodies yesterday in a sugarcane field near Santo Domingo, a small town 8 km south of Mazatenango. Their hands were tied and both had been shot in the head. The motive for this double murder is not yet known.

The Prensa Libre newspaper quoted a source close to the Castillo family as saying he had recently changed his phone number after receiving many calls trying to extort money from him. He covered mainly sports and cultural events.

We urge the authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation and to not rule out the possibility that the motive was linked to the victims’ work as journalists,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.

Guatemala is a country marked by violence and its media are particularly vulnerable. The creation of a national mechanism for protecting journalists, which we have been requesting for several years, should be a priority for the government.

Two journalists, Danilo Lopez and Federico Salazar, were murdered in the same region in 2015. A parliamentarian, Julio Juárez, is currently being held on suspicion of instigating their murders.

Guatemala is ranked 118th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.


RSF urges China to free New York-based journalist’s wife

Published 02.02.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Li Huaiping, the wife of New York-based Chinese-American journalist Chen Xiaoping (Sam Chen), who says the Chinese authorities are holding her in attempt to stop his embarrassing revelations about the Chinese leaders.

Li was kidnapped from her home in the southern city of Guangzhou on 18 September after sending a distress SMS to her husband as he was about to conduct his sixth and final interview with Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire who fled to the United States and has repeatedly threatened to reveal information about China’s leaders.

Although Li has had the right to reside permanently in the United States since late 2016, she chose to remain in China to look after her mother. The Chinese authorities confiscated her passport a few days before her abduction.

Employed by Mirror Media since 2012, Chen at first said nothing about his wife’s abduction because he hoped she would be released. But, after obtaining no news of her, he finally published an open letter to President Xi Jinping on 13 January.

video was posted on YouTube the next day that showed Li criticising her husband’s activities in a robotic voice and claiming that she severed contact with him for sentimental reasons. Chen thinks the Chinese authorities kidnapped her in order to dissuade him from continuing his interviews with Guo.

“People are often abducted and held incommunicado by the Chinese authorities nowadays, and there can be little doubt that Li Huaiping was taken hostage to prevent her husband from publishing revelations,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia desk. “We call for her immediate and unconditional release and we urge the international community, especially the US authorities, to put pressure on Beijing.”

Abduction has become official practice in China since Xi Jinping became president in 2013. Called “residential surveillance at a designated place,” it allows the authorities to deprive detainees of their constitutional rights and to subject them to all sorts of abuses including torture, mistreatment and denial of medical care.

China is ranked very near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index (176th out of 180 countries).


__________________________________________________

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

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Two Brazilian journalists murdered in two days

Published 19.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this week’s targeted killings of two Brazilian journalists in the space of two days and urges investigators to focus on the probability that their murders were linked to their work. One was a website reporter who covered corruption, the other was a controversial radio show host.

Ueliton Brizon was riding a motorcycle with his wife on 16 January in the Santo Antônio district of Cacoal, the municipality where he lived in the northwestern state of Rondônia, when he was approached by a gunman on another motorcycle, who calmly shot several times and then drove off.

Brizon often wrote about local political corruption and mismanagement for the Jornal de Rondônia, the online newspaper that he owned. He was also politically active and worked with the Humanist Party of Solidarity (PHS). A statement by the Association of Cacoal Journalists (ACJ) said he was regarded as ethical and serious about his work.

Jefferson Pureza Lopes, the host of a programme on local radio station Beira Rio FM, was shot by two masked gunmen who burst into his home in Edealina in the west-central state of Goiás on 17 January.

The Edealina police said they would consider all possibilities and recognized that his controversial programme, which covered local events and had many listeners in the region, “did not please the local governors.” The radio station was the target of an arson attack in November 2017, the perpetrators of which were never identified.

The authorities in Rondônia and Goiás must quickly identify those responsible for these cowardly and horrible murders and bring them to justice,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.

Those investigating these murders must focus above all on the likelihood that they were linked to the victims’ work, especially as violence against the media – in particular, critical and independent journalists – keeps on recurring in Brazil to the point of constituting one of the main threats to free speech.

At least 26 Brazilian journalists have been killed in connection with their work since 2010. In the most recent previous incident, Verbo Online news website reporter Gabriel Barbosa da Silva narrowly escaped a murder attempt late last month in Embu das Artes, a municipality in Sao Paulo state.

Brazil is ranked 103rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



Refusal to free two journalists signals end of rule of law in Turkey
Published 15.01.2018

 

The journalists Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan are still in prison, four days after Turkey’s constitutional court ordered their release. Istanbul courts refused to free them again today, continuing to defy the country’s highest court.

In terms of straying from the rule of law, Turkey is now deep into uncharted terrain. Today was the fifth time that lower courts used one pretext or another to defy the ruling that the constitutional court issued on 11 January.

“The imprisonment of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan was already shocking and now it is illegal,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “If they are not freed very soon, it will be clear that no vestige of the rule of law remains in Turkey. We call on the European Court of Human Rights to take note. The European Court appears more than ever to be the only recourse available to Turkey’s imprisoned journalists.”

Alpay was arrested in July 2016, Altan two month later. In separate cases, both are facing possible life sentences on charges of “trying to overthrow the government” and links with “terrorist organisations.”

Many other journalists, including Deniz Yücel, Ahmet ŞıkNazlı Ilıcakand Ahmet Turan Alkan, are also being detained unjustly in Turkey.

For more information about this case see:

RSF’s reaction to the constitutional court ruling

The reaction of RSF and seven other NGOs to the initial refusals to execute the ruling


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director

Turkey must implement Constitutional Court decision to free journalists

Published 12.01.2018

 

Lower courts fail to release journalists, government spokesperson criticises ruling.

A High Criminal Court of Istanbul has defied a Constitutional Court’s ruling that the rights of journalists Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay to liberty and freedom of expression have been violated and the two journalists should be released from custody. The lower court said the judgment was a “usurpation of authority” and therefore could not be accepted.

Initially, the lower courts impacted by the ruling said the detentions would be reviewed after the top court’s reasoned decisions were formally communicated. In turn, the Turkish Constitutional Court then released its judgments and posted notes on social media saying that they are available and accessible online. Nevertheless, the journalists remain in detention.

The reaction from the deputy prime minister and government spokesperson, Bekir Bozdağ on 12 January, was disturbingly similar to the reasoning of the lower court issued later in the day. He objected to the decision, claiming that the Constitutional Court had “exceeded” its authority. Bozdağ, who served as justice minister for several years until the latest cabinet reshuffle last July tweeted, “The Constitutional Court has acted as a first instance court by making an assessment of the case and the evidence. (…) The Constitutional Court cannot act as a Supreme Court of Appeals”.

PEN International, ARTICLE 19, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, European Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who have campaigned on Altan’s and Alpay’s cases since their detentions and submitted third party interventions on the cases to the European Court of Human Rights, expressed dismay that the decision has not been carried out and the implications for the rule of law in Turkey.

“We are profoundly concerned about the lower courts’ lack of implementation of this historic decision by the Constitutional Court and that it is the direct result of political pressure on the court, which would amount to interference with its independence. Together, this gravely undermines the separation of powers and the rule of law in Turkey,” said Carles Torner, executive director of PEN International. “Basic principles of justice, both legal and moral, require the lower courts to implement this decision and release these journalists – who have languished in prison for over a year – without delay.”

These were the first rulings that the Constitutional Court had made involving detained journalists since the attempted coup of July 2016, following which scores of journalists have been detained. Ruling on individual applications filed on behalf of Alpay and Altan, the court said their detentions led to violations of the “right to personal liberty and security” protected under article 19 of the Constitution and “freedom of expression and the press” protected under articles 26 and 28.

The court stated that “press freedom as a specific element of freedom of expression has vital importance in democracies. It includes not only the dissemination of ideas and information, but also society’s access to those ideas and information,” dovetailing the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence on the role of journalism and the importance of press freedom in a democratic society. The decision was taken by an 11-6 majority vote. It was widely expected that the ruling would set the precedent for the release of other journalists in the country.

Under the Turkish Constitution’s article 153, all Constitutional Court rulings enter into force immediately and are binding for the legislative, executive and judicial organs, including the administration and officials.

“The EFJ is demanding that journalists be freed immediately following the decision of the Turkish Constitutional Court. The refusal of the 13th and 26th Criminal Courts to implement the decision of the upper court is a direct attack on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary”, said Ricardo Gutierrez, General Secretary of the EFJ.

Altan, a professor of economics and newspaper columnist, was arrested on 10 September 2016, along with his brother, Ahmet Altan, on charges stemming from their alleged links to a network led by Fethullah Gülen, which the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organisation, “Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)”, and orchestrating the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016. He was jailed pending trial on 22 September 2016 and is currently charged with “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order,” a crime which carries an aggravated life sentence. Lawyers for Altan filed applications before the Constitutional Court on 8 November 2016, complaining that his rights were violated and seeking his release.

Alpay, a 73-year-old journalist, was arrested on 27 July 2016 as part of an operation targeting former columnists and executives of the shuttered Zaman daily and was imprisoned pending trial on 31 July. He is accused of “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order, the government and Parliament,” charges carrying three aggravated life sentences, and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organisation.”

PEN International, RSF and others have been monitoring Mehmet and Ahmet Altans’ criminal court proceedings and have intervened in the Altans’ and in Sahin Alpay’s cases before the European Court of Human Rights concerning their detention.



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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


Azerbaijan: abducted journalist gets six years in “terrifying” signal to exiles

Published 12.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the six-year jail sentence that an Azerbaijani court passed today on Afgan Mukhtarli, a journalist who was brought back by force from self-imposed exile in neighbouring Georgia. As well as unjustly punishing its victim, this iniquitous sentence is meant to intimidate his fellow journalists.

The lack of evidence did not stop the court in the northern city of Balakan from convicting Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani investigative reporter and activist, of smuggling, crossing the border illegally and refusing to comply with instructions from the police – trumped up charges designed to disguise the fact that he was abducted from his refuge in Georgia and brought back against his will.

“The sentence imposed on Afgan Mukhtarli sends a terrifying signal to his colleagues in exile,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Only a very firm response from the international community would be able to reassure them – that punitive actions abroad by President Ilham Aliyev’s regime will not be tolerated.”

Mukhtarli was kidnapped on 29 May 2017 in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, when he had lived in self-imposed exile for three years. All evidence to the contrary, the Azerbaijani authorities claim that he was arrested at the border with 10,000 euros in his pockets. A diabetic, he has lost a lot of weight in prison and is suffering from high blood pressure.

Mukhtarli worked for IWPR and the Meydan TV independent news website, often writing about high-level government corruption in Azerbaijan. Shortly before his abduction, he said he was being closely watched and that he was concerned for his safety and the safety other Azerbaijani dissidents in Georgia.

Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The Aliyev regime has done everything possible to crush media pluralism in recent years, throttling all of the most outspoken media outlets financially or closing them by force. At least 13 journalists and two bloggers are currently detained in connection with their reporting.

__________________________________________________

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



Turkey’s constitutional court orders release of two journalists


Published 11.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes today’s constitutional court decision finally ordering the release of two journalists, Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, and calls for the release of all the other journalists who are unjustly detained in Turkey.

The ruling has ended a year and a half of silence by the constitutional court. Decapitated by the arrests of three judges and paralysed by the collapse in the rule of law, the court had not issued any decision since the government proclaimed a state of emergency in July 2016.

Today’s decision came as the European Court of Human Rights was close to issuing its own ruling on the petitions filed by Altan and Alpay, which were backed by RSF and other NGOs. Altan has been held since September 2016 and Alpay since July 2016.

“Finally! We have waited too long for this moment,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s Turkey representative. “The arbitrary detention of Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay was a real scandal and we are relieved it’s finally over. This ruling must now serve as precedent. We call on the courts to immediately release all the other journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned.”

The constitutional court also recognised that Turhan Günay, the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s books editor and a former member of its board, was detained illegally. Arrested in October 2016, he was released provisionally in July 2017.

Although Altan and Alpay should now be released, they are still being tried on charges of “trying to overthrow the government” and links with “terrorist organisations” and are still facing the possibility of life imprisonment. Altan’s trial is due to resume on 12 February, Alpay’s on 5 April.

Altan is being tried with two other journalists who are still in prison. Alpay has 29 co-defendants who are all still detained. Aged 73, Alpay has cardiac problems and has lost nearly 50% of his hearing since his arrest.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional
journalists detained.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director




“Proof of life” of journalist abducted a year ago in Syria

Published 10.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is delighted to learn that, almost exactly one year after South African freelance photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed was abducted by gunmen in northwestern Syria, his colleagues have obtained proof that he is still alive.

Gift of the Givers, the South African humanitarian NGO with which Mohamed was working at the time of his abduction, has reported in a statement that questions drafted by his family were conveyed through intermediaries to his supposed abductors and that, according to the family, only Mohamed could have given the answers that came back.

Until now, the NGO and Mohamed’s family had not been able to obtain any reliable information about his status since his abduction a year ago and they still do not know why he was kidnapped.

“We are relieved to learn that Shiraaz Mohamed, a freelance journalist who went to Syria to document the humanitarian situation, is still alive,” RSF said. “Although the identity of his abductors is still unknown, we call for his immediate and unconditional release and that of all the other journalists currently held hostage in Syria.”

Mohamed and two Gift of the Givers employees were abducted on 10 January 2017 by armed men who identified themselves as “representatives of all the armed groups in Syria” and said they wanted to resolve a “misunderstanding.” The NGO’s two employees were released shortly thereafter.

The military defeats suffered by Islamic State in 2017 and the loss of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria have yet to be reflected in any improvement in security for journalists. And RSF has not as yet been able to obtain any information about the fate of the journalists who had been held by Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa, cities recently recovered by Iraqi forces and a US-backed Arab-Kurdish coalition.

At least 29 journalists and citizen-journalists, including seven foreign journalists, are still held hostage by armed groups in Syria, which is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



RSF and English PEN urge Theresa May to fulfil pledge to repeal punitive law


Published 10.01.2018


Reporters Without Borders - known internationally as Reporters sans frontières (RSF) - and English PEN have written to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to fulfil the Conservative Party's manifesto pledge to repeal the punitive Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. A full year after the consultation on Section 40 closed, there has still been no response to the more than 140,000 submissions received.


The full text of the letter is below.


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Rt Hon Theresa May MP

10 Downing Street

London

SW1A 2AA

 

10 January 2018

 

Dear Prime Minister,

 

We are writing to register our concern over the government’s failure to respond to the consultation on Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which closed one year ago today on 10 January 2017. Further, the Conservative Party Manifesto of May 2017 pledged to repeal Section 40, and yet eight months on, no action has been taken to honour that commitment.

 

Our organisations, English PEN and Reporters Without Borders, drafted a joint submission to the consultation, calling for the repeal of Section 40, which we believe poses a serious threat to press freedom. In our submission, we noted:

 

“Section 40 would introduce an unprecedented chilling effect for publishers and journalists in the UK, leading to self-censorship and a reduction in public interest reporting. The essential role of the press in our democracy would therefore be undermined, as well as the scope for any writer to investigate matters of concern and national interest for the public”.

 

We note that the continued presence of Section 40 is one of many current threats to press freedom in the UK. It is part of a worrying trend that resulted in the UK dropping to 40th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index, published in April 2017, and there has been further deterioration since then.

 

We urge you to take immediate action to fulfil the Conservative Party’s pledge to repeal Section 40, and to ensure a timely response to the more than 140,000 stakeholders who engaged in good faith in the consultation of last year. Eliminating the threat posed by Section 40 would be a step in the right direction towards improving the UK’s worrying press freedom record.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Antonia Byatt, Interim Director, English PEN

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



RSF urges Myanmar to free two Reuters reporters

Published 09.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the immediate release of two Burmese reporters working for the Reuters news agency who are due to appear in court again in Yangon tomorrow, when new charges could be brought against them.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been held since 12 December, when they were arrested immediately after being handed documents by two mysterious policemen they met in a Yangon restaurant. The police later announced that they were “arrested for possessing important and secret government documents related to Rakhine State and security forces.”

They are currently facing up to 14 years in prison under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, a 1923 law that is rarely used except to make the media understand that the military do not want to be the subject of investigative reporting. It was last used against four journalists in 2014.

“None of the claims made by the authorities in this case seems to be credible,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The two journalists had the misfortune to take an interest in what is happening in Rakhine State, where 650,000 members of the Rohingya community have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the army’s operations.

“What with the lack of transparency, the failure to respect proper legal procedure and the fabrication of evidence, everything suggests that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being used by the authorities as scapegoats in order to deter overly curious reporters.”

The authorities said that the two policemen who gave the reporters the documents were also arrested under the Official Secrets Act at the same time. But the two reporters say the detained police officers were not the ones who gave them the documents. The authorities have not explained this glaring inconsistency.

Ever since the Rohingya refugee exodus began in late August, journalists have been systematically denied access to the region, an issue that RSF raised with Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in September.

In an extremely troubled situation that may have involved “elements of genocide,” according to the United Nations, it is essential that journalists should be able to go there and document what is happening. And now they should above all be free to cover implementation of the accord signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23 for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, which is supposed to begin on 23 January.

Myanmar continues to languish in the bottom third of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and is currently ranked 131st out of 180 countries.


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director



Chinese regime’s true face – one of the worst free speech predators

Published 09.01.2018

 

As the Chinese government tries to project the image of a modern, powerful nation with a great future for French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that China is one of the world’s worst countries as regards respect for the freedom to inform.

President Xi Jinping is receiving Macron with great fanfare, and hopes that little attention will be paid to the delicate issue of the systematic human rights violations on which his rule is based. RSF nonetheless reminds all concerned that China is ranked very near the bottom of the RSF World Press Freedom Index – 176th out of 180 countries.

At least 15 professional journalists and 39 citizen-journalists are currently detained in China, according to RSF’s latest tally. The government no longer sentences press freedom defenders to death but it gives them long jail terms and has a deliberate policy of mistreating them and denying them medical care while they are detained.

Both Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel peace laureate, and Yang Tongyan, a blogger, died last year from cancers that were left untreated while they were detained. The artist Liu Xia (Liu Xiaobo’s widow) and the journalist Huang Qi, a 2004 RSF Press Freedom laureate and founder of the 64 Tianwang website (which was awarded the RSF prize in 2016), are currently detained in isolation and in such appalling conditions that colleagues fear for their lives.

“While France can justify developing its relations with China, it cannot ignore the massive violations of the freedom to inform,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia desk. “We count on President Macron to firmly remind the Chinese of France’s commitment to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to press for the release of prominent detainees such as Liu Xia and Huang Qi.”

 

New world information order

Under President Xi, Internet surveillance has come to be practiced on an industrial scale and the Great Firewall keeps 750 million Internet users away from foreign news websites. At least 2 million people are employed to censor and spy on them, that is to say, one censor for every 375 Internet users. Several people received jail sentences last year for comments posted online or made during private chats on messaging services.

In a recent opinion piece published in seven languages, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire urged the world’s parliamentary democracies to take a stand against the danger of contamination by China’s repressive model.

It is no longer just a question of Chinese “internal policy,” as the government claims. In practice, China is doing more and more to project its “new information order” internationally, an order based on censorship and surveillance, one that leaves no room for journalistic ethics and the public’s right to information.


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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


Iran tries to censor coverage of protests by media based abroad

Published 05.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Iranian government’s attempt to silence coverage of the current wave of protests by Persian-language media based outside the country, which are a major source of alternative news and information for Iranians.

Domestic media outlets under strict government control have ignored the anti-government protests in more than 100 cities throughout the country during the past eight days, in which 22 people been killed and around 17,000 have been arrested, including several citizen-journalists.

Yesterday, the Iranian embassy in London wrote to the United Kingdom’s Office of Communications (OFCOM), which regulates the broadcast media, asking it to censor Persian-language media based in the UK on the grounds that their coverage of the protests had been inciting people to “armed revolt.”

The letter’s two main targets are Manoto, a privately-owned TV channel based in London, and BBC Persian, the state-owned BBC’s Persian-language TV channel, which many Iranian activists and intellectuals nonetheless criticise for not distancing itself sufficiently from the Iranian government line.

After disrupting Internet access and blocking social networks, the Islamic Republic of Iran is using the need to combat calls for violence and support for terrorism as a pretext for silencing the last sources of freely and independently reported news and information used by many Iranians,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF’s Iran/Afghanistan desk.

RSF has previously criticised the attempts by the Iranian judicial system and intelligence services to influence the Persian-language sections of international media outlets by putting pressure on Iranian journalists based abroad and on their families still in Iran.

Iran is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.




Eight-year jail term for Chinese anti-corruption blogger

Published 04.01.2018

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the eight-year prison sentence that a Chinese court has imposed on Wu Gan, a blogger who campaigned tirelessly against government corruption until his arrest in 2015.

A court in the northern city of Tianjin passed the sentence on 26 December after convicting Wu of “subverting state power” at the end of a trial held behind closed doors. Aged 44, Wu had used the blog name of “Super Vulgar Butcher” ever since taking up the case of a rape victim who fatally stabbed her assailant, a Chinese Communist Party official.

“Wu Gan’s conviction just for expressing his opinions is a flagrant violation of the Chinese constitution, which guarantees free speech,”said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “After reasserting control over the media, President Xi Jinping is now in the process of silencing individual bloggers and commentators, the last obstacles to his goal of a society in which news and information is totally controlled.”

Wu was arrested on 19 May 2015 as part of a round-up of around 200 human rights lawyers and activists who worked on sensitive cases. Several members of this group, dubbed “709,” have received prison sentences but Wu has been given a heavier sentence than anyone else, almost certainly because he refused to plead guilty.

Another member of this group of activists, human rights lawyer Xie Yang, was convicted of subversion in the south-central city of Changsha on the same day but was not given a sentence after pleading guilty.

The world’s biggest prison for journalists and bloggers, China is ranked near the bottom of RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index – 176th out of 180 countries.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


In crackdown on protests, Iranian regime targets freedom to inform

Published 03.01.2018

 

 
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Iranian regime’s arrests of around ten citizen-journalists in the past few days and the restrictions it has imposed on access to social networks an attempt to censor information about a wave of protests throughout the country.

Some 60 cities throughout Iran have now been affected by the anti-government protests, in which around 1,000 people have been arrested since they began six days ago, according to various Iranian sources.

Although President Hassan Rouhani promised more freedom during his election campaign, the authorities have been carrying out targeted raids and arrests in order to identify and neutralise dissident networks and to intimidate journalists.

Four citizen-journalists who work for the Majzooban Nor website – Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam, Mohammad Reza Sharifi, Faezeh Abdipour, and Kasra Nouri – were the subject of heavy-handed arrests by intelligence ministry agents on 31 December and were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison. Nouri previously served a three-year jail sentence from 2012 to 2015.

In all, around ten citizen-journalists have been arrested, according to the information gathered by RSF. Some of these arrests were filmed by persons who were themselves then arrested, as seen in a video posted on journalist and human right activist Masih Alinejad’s Facebook page.

It was partly to prevent this kind of video footage from circulating on social networks that Internet access was partially or totally disconnected on the night of 31 December. The authorities also blocked access to Instagram and the instant messaging app Telegram. Telecommunications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahormi accused Telegram, which has 40 million users in Iran, of encouraging an “armed uprising.”

Telegram founder Pavel Durov pointed out on Twitter that, on 30 December, Telegram had itself shut down one if its channels, Amadnews, which was showing its subscribers how to use Molotov cocktails against the police. According to Durov, the Iranian authorities nonetheless began blocking access to the entire app the next day because it had refused to shut all opposition channels that use Telegram, including those calling for peaceful protests.

Durov noted in a tweet yesterday that, while Telegram and Signal are still being blocked by the Iranian authorities, WhatsApp continues to be accessible. Facebook and Twitter have been inaccessible in Iran since 2009.

RSF condemns this latest crackdown on the freedom to inform in Iran and calls on Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, and David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to intercede quickly to protect Iranians’ fundamental rights.

The Iranian government must adhere to the undertakings it has given to respect international standards, including those established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency responsible for information and communication technologies.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been on RSF’s list of “Enemies of the Internet” for the past 15 years. The regime fears the circulation of freely and independently reported news and information, which it regards as attempted “subversion.”

As the traditional media are censored and controlled, it is citizen-journalists active on social networks who play a key role in political change in Iran. But trying to thwart the regime’s determination to maintain a blackout on news and information is not without risk. RSF is aware of at least 94 arrests of Internet users in 2017, including Telegram users. Around 20 are currently detained.

At the same time, the regime has not abandoned the idea of establishing a “Halal Internet” – a national online information network – and is already using “intelligent filtering” to restrict and control access to the Internet, especially to social networks.

The authorities recently violated the principle of net neutrality by introducing different connection charges for the national and international Internets. Access to the international Internet now costs more than access to the censored and monitored national (or “Halal”) Internet.

Iran is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


Germany: Landmark ruling against the BND

Published 27.12.2017

 

Following a ruling with immediate effect the German foreign intelligence agency BND is no longer allowed to collect and store the call detail records of Reporters Without Borders Germany (RSF Germany) phone calls in its metadata analysis system "VerAS." The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig delivered a decision last Wednesday (13 December 2017) upholding a complaint lodged by RSF Germany. With this ruling for the first time in decades restrictions have been imposed on the BND's metadata gathering.

The ruling shows that it is worthwhile for human rights organisations to go to court to defend themselves against the mass storage of data by the BND. Thanks to this ruling other individuals and organisations with the same complaint can now stand up to the BND” said RSF Germany’s executive director Christian Mihr. "The ruling is a historic success for Reporters Without Borders because we have succeeded in setting boundaries on the BND’s activities. At the same time it strengthens our own activities because persecuted journalists from authoritarian states like Uzbekistan or China need to be able to rely on their communications with us remaining confidential.”

RSF Germany had lodged a complaint against the BND with the Federal Administrative Court, the court of first and last instance for this case, on 30 June 2015. The lawyer Niko Härting represents RSF Germany in the proceedings. The complaint is directed among other things against the VerAS system with which the BND has also been gathering the communications metadata of German citizens since 2002 – without any legal basis.

The entire “Foreign-Foreign Signals” communication as well as conversations between persons in Germany and abroad and call detail records that were supplied to the BND by friendly intelligence services are affected by these surveillance measures. The storage operation is so comprehensive that it can also include journalists who are only indirectly connected via several other communication partners with, for instance, a terrorist suspect.

In a hearing that took place in December 2016, RSF Germany had already scored a partial victory when the Federal Administrative Court ordered the BND to provide clarification about its metadata gathering. At the hearing, the BND’s representatives were forced to admit that the VerAS system can be used to analyse every node in a contact network – in principle “even to the 14th level.”

In another section of the lawsuit RSF Germany accused the intelligence agency of spying on its email traffic with foreign partners, journalists and other persons through its signals intelligence surveillance. In December 2016, the court ruled that this part of the lawsuit was inadmissible. In April 2017, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe refused to admit for examination RSF Germany’s constitutional complaint against this decision on the grounds that RSF had not adequately demonstrated that the organization was directly affected by the BND’s surveillance.

For this reason at the beginning of December RSF Germany lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) over the mass surveillance practices of the BND.

Germany currently ranks 16th out of the 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index.

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


Press release


TURKEY

Unfair trials illustrate continuing onslaught on free speech in Turkey


On 25 and 26 December 2017, the Aachen Peace Award organisation, PEN Belgium/Flanders, PEN International, PEN Turkey and Reporters without Borders (RSF) observed several hearings in the cases of Cumhuriyet daily, the Academics for Peace and the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign, which took place in Çağlayan court house in Istanbul.

‘These cases, individually and together, illustrate the onslaught on the right to freedom of expression in Turkey,’ said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. ‘We continue to call for the release of all journalists who are in prison for their journalistic activities and for the restoration of pluralism in Turkey.’

On 25 December the Cumhuriyet hearing, scheduled to take place over two days and turn on hearing expert and witness testimonies, was cut short after the judge interrupted Ahmet Şık’s defence statement and expelled him from the courtroom for allegedly disrupting the proceedings, after which defence counsel requested the recusal of the judges.

‘The trial has been characterised by procedural violations throughout. The lack of respect for the right of defence in yesterday’s hearing once again clearly shows the lack of independence and impartiality of the judiciary in the case’, said Laurens Hueting, Europe Programme Coordinator for PEN International.

Cumhuriyet staff are facing criminal charges for allegedly supporting terrorist organisations. The prosecution is based primarily on a misreading of articles that appeared in the newspaper and insignificant contacts between journalists and sources. Murat Sabuncu, investigative reporter Ahmet Şık, executive board president Akın Atalay and accountant Emre İper remain in pre-trial detention, as the case is adjourned to 9 March.

‘Critical journalism is not a crime and is in fact essential in a democracy’, said Vice-President of PEN Belgium/Flanders Isabelle Rossaert. ‘We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sabuncu, Şık, Atalay and İper and a dismissal of the charges.’

On 26 December, hearings were held in several cases of the Academics for Peace, who are part of a group of more than 1100 academics on trial. They are facing criminal charges for allegedly propagandising for and supporting a terrorist organisation, based on their undersigning of a declaration that calls for peace in the South-East of Turkey. It remains unclear whether also charges based on article 301 of the criminal code, ‘insulting Turkishness’, will be pursued. All cases were adjourned until April in light of the lack of clarity concerning the charges.

‘The state should not hate people for peacefully expressing their opinion. These trials, instituted for calling for peace and dialogue, go against the most basic of democratic and human values,’ said Denis Dion Dreisbusch of the Aachen Peace Award.

Also on 26 December, the case against RSF’s representative in Turkey Erol Önderoğlu, prominent human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and writer Ahmet Nesin continued. They are being tried on charges of propagandising for a terrorist organisation, condoning crime and inciting crime for their participation in a solidarity campaign in mid-2016 with Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, which was facing judicial persecution and was eventually forcibly closed in August 2016. In total, 41 people have been or are being prosecuted for their participation in the solidarity campaign with the newspaper. The case was adjourned in light of the absence of Nesin, who lives in exile in France.

‘We call for all on-going prosecutions to be dismissed and for the reversal of convictions in the cases related to Özgür Gündem,’ said Deloire. ‘The censorship of Özgür Gündem and the persecution of their supporters are an unacceptable attack on free media and those who stand up in its support.’ 

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director


Egypt : Al Jazeera producer held without trial for the past year

Published 22.12.2017

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Amnesty International have issued a joint statement calling for the immediate release of Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian journalist who was arrested in Cairo exactly one year ago and has been held provisionally ever since.

Employed as a producer in Doha by Qatari TV news broadcaster Al Jazeera (the Egyptian government's bugbear), Hussein was arrested on 23 December 2016 after returning to Egypt to spend the holidays with relatives still living in Cairo.

For no apparent reason, the Egyptian authorities detained him, searched and filmed his family's home, and interrogated his relatives. He spent several months in solitary confinement after his arrest and his health has deteriorated in prison. There are no grounds for the charges brought against him – “publishing false information,” “receiving foreign funding” and “belonging to a banned group” – and his trial has still not begun.

RSF and Amnesty International urge the Egyptian authorities to free him at once. They also call for the immediate release of all the other journalists currently detained in Egypt.

Egypt is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

 

Here is the PDF of the joint statement.

Related documents
 

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REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (RSF)

Rebecca Vincent
UK Bureau Director




Press release
19.12.17
   
RSF round-up: these figures are alarming
  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is releasing its annual round-up of violence and abuses against journalists throughout the world. A total of 65 journalists were killed in 2017, 326 are currently in prison, and 54 are held hostage.

The 65 journalists who were killed were either fatally injured in the course of their work (for example, in an artillery bombardment) or were murdered because their reporting angered someone. The murdered reporters were the majority – 60% of the total figure.

Although these figures are alarming, 2017 has been the least deadly year for professional journalists (50 killed) in 14 years. Journalists are of course fleeing countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya that have become too dangerous, but RSF has also observed a growing awareness of the need to protect journalists. The UN has passed several resolutions on the safety of journalists since 2006 and many news organizations have adopted safety procedures.

The fall does not apply to deaths of women journalists, which have doubled. Ten have been killed in 2017, as against five in 2016. Most of these victims were experienced and combative investigative reporters. Despite threats, they continued to investigate and expose cases of corruption. The victims include Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, Gauri Lankesh in India and Miroslava Breach Velducea in Mexico.

In another noteworthy trend in 2017, some countries that are not at war have become almost as dangerous for journalists as war zones: 46% of the deaths occurred in countries where no overt war is taking place, as against 30% in 2016. There were almost as many deaths (11) in Mexico as in Syria, which was the deadliest country for journalists in 2017, with 12 killed.

"Investigative journalists working on major stories such as corruption and environmental scandals play a fundamental watchdog role and have become targets for those who are angered by their reporting," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "This alarming situation underlines the need to provide journalists with more protection at a time when both the challenges of news reporting and the dangers are becoming increasingly internationalized."

Like the death toll, the number of journalists in detention has also fallen. The total of 326 journalists in prison on 1 December 2017 was 6% fewer than on the same date in 2016. Despite the overall downward trend, there is an unusually high number of detained journalists in certain countries, such as Russia and Morocco, that did not previously number among notable jailers of journalists. Nonetheless, around half of the total number of imprisoned journalists are being held in just five countries. China and Turkey are still the world's two biggest prisons for journalists. They are followed by Syria, Iran, and Vietnam.

Finally, 54 journalists are currently held by armed non-state groups such as Islamic State and the Houthis in Yemen. Almost three quarters of these hostages come from the ranks of local journalists, who are usually paid little and often have to take enormous risks. The foreign journalists currently held hostage were all kidnapped in Syria but little is known about their present location.

See the full round-up here

* These figures include professional journalists, non-professional journalists and media workers.

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REPORTERS SANS FRONTIÈRES/ REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS
Pauline ADES-MEVEL
Responsable du bureau UE/Balkans 
Head of EU-Balkans desk
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