Reporters Without Borders welcomes an agreement reached by the White House, leading Democrats senators and a coalition of news organizations on Oct. 31, 2009 , regarding the Free Flow of Information Act (FFOA). Under this new deal, reporters and unpaid bloggers engaged in gathering and disseminating news can protect their sources, without facing fines or jail time if federal judges consider ther information of public interest. However, nonconfidential information, like unpublished interview notes or news footage that has not been televised, continue to be unprotected and will have to be disclosed if requested by federal judges.
“By reaching this agreement,the Obama administration moderates its position“, the organization said. “This procedure will allow journalists and bloggers to explain why it is in the public interest to keep their sources confidential.But the disclosure of sources from unpublished material, for national security reasons, still exists and we deeply regret that provision has not been watered down”.
The Free Flow of Information Act is a bipartisan bill, also known as the “Media Shield Law”. The bill was passed in the lower house by 398 votes to 21 on Oct. 16, 2007 after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Aug. 1st, 2007. A different version was adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct, 4, 2008.
This bill is sponsored by Democratic senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Charles E. Schumer of New York. The Shield Law bill would “maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media.”
An amendment added to the bipartisan bill would create a federal shield law for journalists that does not differentiate between amateur bloggers and internet journalists anymore. The version approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee defines journalists in a large concept and would in principle apply to all those “engaged in journalism” even if they are not necessarily being paid for their work. A journalist is defined in the Senate version as someone who regularly reports and writes as a salaried employee and disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means.
“We are glad that bloggers would be protected by this bill and hope that nothing will call this decision into question”, said the press freedom organization. “Including them is a positive step for online free speech and can be an example for other countries which wish to adapt their media laws to the new means of communications means“.
While the House version takes into account any subpoenas, this version of the bill grants only a qualified privilege, not an absolute one, and provides protection only in case of subpoenas asking for information related to confidential sources.
Reporters Without Borders today voiced anger at the murder of journalist Vladimir Antuna García, found dead last evening after he was abducted on his way to work, pointing the finger of blame at state prosecutors who knew he was getting death threats but failed to protect him.
The journalist, who worked as a security specialist on the daily El Tiempo de Durango, was found to have died of “asphyxia from strangulation” but his body also bore bullet wounds to the head and abdomen, official sources said. A message was found near the corpse but its contents have not yet been revealed.
“We send our condolences to the family of Vladimir Antuna García. We feel rage over this murder which could have been prevented”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“Durango state prosecutor’s office knew about death threats Vladimir Antuna received but did nothing to protect him. The murder a few months ago of Eliseo Barrón (see the release of 28 May 2009), probably by the same people, should have alerted the authorities. It is unacceptable. Durango state, a bastion of organised crime where there is complete impunity, has become a torment for those defending a free press and openness in news and information,” it said.
“Once again, we call on the federal authorities to set up protection programmes to put an end to this grisly toll”.
Antuna was the target of a murder attempt on 28 April this year when shots were fired at his home. Moreover, the Centre for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) said he had received regular anonymous threats about his news reports both on his mobile phone and at the newspaper office.
A few days after the brutal murder of Eliseo Barrón, on 26 May 2009, Antuna said that he had been receiving threats for several months from suspected members of Zetas, a criminal gang linked to the Gulf Cartel. The CEPET added that Antuna had exchanged information with Eliseo Barrón about police corruption and organised crime shortly before his death. Barrón’s killers, members of Zetas who were arrested on 6 June, have admitted to the murder, which they said was intended to force the local press into self-censorship (see the release of 16 June 2009).
This latest murder brings to 56 the number of journalists killed because of their work since the start of 2000. Mexico is ranked 137th out of 175 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2009 world press freedom index.
Reporters Without Borders deplores the fact that the Chinese authorities blocked the Berlin Twitter Wall website (www.berlintwitterwall.com) just days after its launch on 20 Octoberand urges the government to allow its citizens to access this special Twitter site, which is dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The site allows people to express their comments about the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and their related hopes and wishes. The initiative has had a great response, including in China, where nearly 2,000 Internet users had left a message on the virtual wall – most of them demanding an end to censorship in China – before access was blocked.
“Chinese Internet users must not be prevented from accessing the Berlin Twitter Wall,” said Reporters Without Borders, which supports this interactive campaign. “Initiatives like these are important platforms for the promotion of freedom of speech as well as for critical voices and protest.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Just a few weeks ago, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Chinese representatives argued in favour of the promotion of cultural exchange. Yet many foreign news outlets and social-networking sites remain inaccessible to Chinese users.”
The Berlin Twitter Wall website was launched by Kulturprojekte Berlin as part of the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. By using the hashtag #fotw (fall of the wall),Twitter account holders can post comments wall that appear automatically on theberlintwitterwall.com site.
YEMEN: Un giornalista condannato a 2 anni di carcere e alla sospensione a vita dal lavoro di giornalista, il suo direttore ad un anno di carcere (sospeso) e alla sospensione per un anno, per aver pubblicato un articolo intitolato “Armi di distruzione di massa”, in cui si criticava la condotta della guerra contro i ribelli sciiti nel nord del paese
Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned the decision of a court specialising in press offences that sentenced journalist Munir Al-Mawari of independent weekly Al-Masdar in his absence to two years in prison for libelling President Ali Abdallah Saleh and also banned him for life from working as a journalist. The newspaper’s editor, Samir Jubran, was sentenced in the same case on 31 October to a one-year suspended prison term and a one-year ban on exercising his profession. The case against the two Al-Masdar journalists related to an article published in May this year, headlined “Weapon of mass destruction”, in which Al-Mawari criticised the conduct of the war against Shiite rebels in the north of the country. “The aim of these convictions is to gag Yemen’s independent press once and for all. It is unacceptable that a government or even a judge should ban journalists from writing, whether for a limited period or for life”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The international community should urgently come to the aid of Yemeni civil society before it is too late,” the organisation added. The secretary general of Yemen’s journalists’ union, Marwan Damaj, condemned the verdict which he said was the harshest sentence against Yemeni journalists since 1990. “The goal of this sentence is (…) to silence Yemeni journalists who are trying to deal with sensitive issues with vigour and courage”, he added. The editor said that as far as he was concerned the sentence amounted to banning the newspaper itself. Al-Mawari, who has lived in the United States since 1994, told Reporters Without Borders that the sentence was “absurd”. “It is ridiculous to condemn someone for what they write. There is no law in any country that allows a ban preventing someone from writing. I have done nothing illegal, but it is clear that this decision was made by the president himself, even though in the article I only criticised his policy, I did not criticise him as a person”. Since he wrote articles in 2006 criticising the re-election of Ali Abdallah Saleh, the government-run press has not accepted a single article from Al-Mawari. “When an independent newspaper accepts one of my articles, it runs the risk of being prevented from printing”, added Al-Mawari. He said he had not written a single article for the independent press in Yemen in the past three months, so as not to give the authorities extra reasons for banning the newspapers. Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders has had no news since 18 September of journalistMuhammad Al-Maqalih, who went missing in mysterious circumstances. His colleagues meeting in the capital Sanaa on 20 October for their weekly gathering repeated a call for his release. Yemeni journalist Abdelkarim Al-Khaiwani, receiving a press freedom award in Algiers on 28 October, publicly accused the authorities of having abducted Al-Maqalih. “The security services kidnapped my colleague, we must show solidarity”, he said after receiving the Omar Ourtilane prize awarded by Algerian daily Al-Khabar. “The only way to defeat this is to put pressure on the powerful,” he said, in a bid to alert international public opinion about press freedom in Yemen. He was reacting to recent statements by a top intelligence services official, denying any state involvement in the disappearance of Al-Maqalih. Several newspapers have been the target of censorship in recent weeks for attempting to cover military operations in the north and south of the country. Even before its editor’s conviction, Al-Masdar had been ordered by the authorities to delete some articles in its 13 October edition. Issue no 61 of the newspaper Al-Watani, dated 18 October, was also seized because of an article about rebel operations in the south of the country. The newspaper Hadith Al-Madina had its no 18 issue withdrawn from newsstands on the unilateral order of the information ministry, on the pretext that the distributors had not provided him with a copy of the newspaper for prior approval. It carried an article by its editor, Fakri Qassem, analysing the impact of current conflicts on Yemen’s socio-economic situation. Reporters Without Borders was relieved to learn of the release on 30 October of freelance journalist Saddam Al-Ashmuri, who was arrested in Marib, 120 km east of the capital on 22 October, just after he interviewed Ghalib Zaidi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the region.
IRAN: Rilasciata su cauzione una delle giornaliste in sciopero della fame, l’atra rimane in prigione
Iranian journalist Henghami Shahidi was today released from prison on payment of bail of nine million tomans (about 75,000 euros) on the order of the 26th chamber of Tehran’s revolutionary court. She had been moved to the hospital wing of Evin prison on 31 October as a result of a week-long hunger strike.
Journalist Fariba Pejoh is still being held in section 209 of the same prison. Her family, who visited her yesterday, said that she had ended her hunger strike, begun on 26 October, because of very serious health problems. One worried family member told Reporters Without Borders, “She is very weak and can no longer bear her prison conditions”.
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the health of journalists Henghameh Shahidi and Fariba Pajooh who have been on hunger strike for one week.
Both women are seriously ill and “will not be able to hold up much longer”, their lawyer and families have said. Shahidi was yesterday moved to the hospital wing of Evin prison.
“We are holding the chief executive of the judiciary, Hojatoelslam Sadegh Larijani, personally responsible for the state of health of these two journalists, which is the result of their appalling prison conditions”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“They are being held in solitary confinement and their most basic rights, including the right of visits from their families and their lawyer are not being respected. The injustice leaves these women with no other alternative but to put their lives at risk”, it added.
Shahidi, journalist and editor of the blog Paineveste, was arrested on 29 June and has spent 50 days in solitary confinement in section 209 of Evin prison. A bail application made by her lawyer has been turned down, on the order of the Tehran prosecutor, and she remains in jail. She told her family on 24 October that she had begun a hunger strike and was refusing to take her medication. She has heart problems and is severely depressed.
Pajooh, a journalist for reformist publications, including Etemad-e Melli, the INLA news agency and several foreign media, was arrested on 22 August 2009, and then taken to Evin prison. She was also editor of the blog http://www.after-rain.persianblog.ir/. She also began a hunger strike, on 26 October. She is protesting against her continued imprisonment, which after two months in temporary custody, was extended for a third time. Her lawyer, Nemat Ahmadi, has already informed Reporters Without Borders that he has not been able to see his client. The journalist has a serious ulcer and her family is extremely anxious about her health.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
Paris, 28 October 2009
Dear Secretary of State Clinton,
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom worldwide, would like to draw your attention to the disturbing deterioration in the press freedom situation in Morocco on the eve of your official visit to that country on 2-3 November.
Ten years after Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne in 1999, the record is very uneven. The start of his reign saw real advances but they were followed by reverses and tension, especially from July 2009 onwards. Courts have ordered Moroccan newspapers to pay more than 2 million euros in fines and damages since 1999, while journalists have been sentenced to a combined total of 28 years in prison.
Although fewer topics had seemed to be still off-limits in recent years thanks to the independent press’s tenacity and an apparent desire on the part of King Mohammed to ease restrictions, the Royal Palace has reaffirmed some of the taboos in recent months, especially those affecting the image of the king and members of the royal family.
Prosecutions are being brought against news media and journalists, who are being sentenced to jail terms or to pay exorbitant damages awards as the judicial system deploys an arsenal of sanctions designed to intimidate and financially asphyxiate the independent press.
At the end of a trial that did not respect defence rights, a Rabat court sentenced Driss Chahtaneof the newspaper Al-Michaal on 15 October to a year in prison over an article about the king’s health. Two other journalists, Rachid Mahamid and Mustapha Hayrane, were given three-month jail terms in connection with the same article and all three were ordered to pay several thousand dirhams in damages. Chahtane was arrested and jailed that evening.
As a result of a supreme court ruling on 30 September, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, one of Morocco’s few independent newspapers, was ordered to pay 250,000 euros in damages on 18 October in connection with a libel suit brought in 2006 by a think-tank based abroad over an article about Western Sahara. If the weekly is forced to pay, its survival will be in doubt.
On 26 October, a court in Rabat gave Ali Anouzla, the editor of the daily Al-Jarida Al-Oula, a one-year suspended jail sentenced and fined him 10,000 dirhams (885 euros) on a charge of publishing false information and “mendacious allegations and facts with the intention of causing harm” in a 27 August article that contradicted a bulletin about King Mohammed’s health. Bouchra Eddou, a journalist charged with complicity in the same case, got a three-month suspended sentenced and a fine of 5,000 dirhams (455 euros). Both say they will appeal.
Taoufiq Bouachrine, the publisher of the Casablanca-based newspaper Akhbar al-Youm, and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar will be the targets of two parallel lawsuits on 30 October in connection with a cartoon of Moulay Ismaïl, a cousin of the king, that appeared in its 26-27 September issue. One of the actions, brought by the interior ministry, accuses them of “attacking an emblem of the kingdom.” The other, brought by Ismaïl himself, is demanding 266,000 euros in damages for “failing to accord due respect to a member of the royal family.” The newspaper’s headquarters have meanwhile been closed and are being guarded by police.
Reporters Without Borders has just completed a visit to Morocco in which it met with journalists and representatives of Moroccan media in difficulty and publicly expressed its support at a news conference yesterday in Casablanca.
Reporters Without Borders urges you to use the opportunity offered by your visit to Morocco to talk about the difficulties that the independent media are facing and to raise this crucial issue with the Moroccan authorities. The aim of the Forum of the Future which the US government set up in 2004 is to promote democratisation in the Broader Middle East and North Africa region. Press freedom is an essential component of this democratisation.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this matter.
BIRMANIA: Almeno tre giornalisti e blogger arrestati nel giro di vite sul gruppo Lin Let Kye, una rete cittadina di volontari che ha aiutato le vittime del ciclone Nargis, che ha devastato il sud del paese l’anno scorso
Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association condemn the arrests of at least three Burmese journalists and bloggers in a crackdown on Lin Let Kye, a citizen network of volunteers that has been helping the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the south of the country last year.
“Last month, the authorities released several journalists who had been arrested for covering the post-Nargis situation, but now the security forces are arresting more journalists for the same reason,” the two organisations said. “We call for them to be released without delay.”
Paing Soe Oo, a blogger and active member for the Lin Let Kye group, was arrested at his home in Dagon Seikkan, near Rangoon. The police who arrested him confiscated some of his notes which contained the names of other Lin Let Kye members. Journalists Thant Zin Soe and Nyi Nyi Htunwere also arrested for their membership in the group.
The authorities have repeatedly obstructed coverage of Cyclone Nargis’s effects by both Burmese and foreign journalists. Burma was ranked 171st out of 175 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
COLOMBIA: La giornalista Claudia Julieta Duque, sotto un programma del ministero degli interni di protezione per i giornalisti, ha detto a RSF delle vessazioni e intimidazioni che riceve da parte dei servizi segreti
Journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, who is under an interior ministry protection programme for journalists, has told Reporters Without Borders of harassment and intimidation by the intelligence services, who obtained information about her from her alleged protectors.
Duque, of Radio Nizkor, is about to present a file to the authorities exposing the persecution she has suffered since 2001 at the hands of the Department of Administrative Security Department (DAS). Some evidence is already in the hands of the office of the Public Prosecutor.
Several individuals attempted to get into her home, when she was absent on 16 October, although her brother, who was in the apartment at the time, managed to deter them.
The intruders left the apartment but remained in the building and can be seen on security cameras talking on mobile phones. The building’s caretaker, who was tipped off by the journalist’s brother, did not however intervene and let them out of the building without questioning them or informing anyone and they left in four cars waiting outside.
The behaviour of the intruders makes it hard to imagine it was an attempted theft. The day of the incident, the journalist’s telephone was blocked between 12am and 7pm and two of the building’s 20 security cameras were not working.
Added to this string of “coincidences” was a series of suspicious phone calls made to her family wanting to know where the journalist was. Duque has also said that she has been regularly followed since July.
“Knowing the past history of the DAS in spying on journalists and the media, which we have several times condemned, it is hardly surprising, albeit outrageous, that the journalists’ protection programme should itself be infiltrated by the intelligence services”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“After the “chuzadas” (dirty war) scandal, this case is even more devastating for the presidency. Sooner or later President Alvaro Uribe will have to take responsibility for the abuses that are directly endangering the lives of journalists, when he should, on the contrary, protect them”, it added.
The journalist on 23 October handed a letter to the interior ministry protection programme, in the presence of a representative from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for a directive to outlaw spying and discrimination against journalists working as columnists and commentators.
She also made a series of practical demands in relation to her safety. She is now refusing to be escorted, given that these former bodyguards were those who apparently revealed information to the intelligence services between 2006 and 2007.
The journalist also disclosed that before she was protected by bodyguards, the DAS had been tapping her phone calls and monitoring her emails, had filmed her while she was travelling, took photos of her daughter, all in a threatening context for the profession - condemned by Reporters Without Borders in 2004.
Duque has also said that she has evidence that a charge of “insult and slander” that was pending against her for five years, pressed by the ex deputy director of the DAS, Emiro Rojas, was part of the secret services’ persecution strategy against her.
Duque has however decided to keep her protection. “I have a duty to expose what has happened, but I will stay in the programme because the state has the duty to protect me”, she told Reporters Without Borders.
After leaving the protection programme in April 2008, she rejoined it after the constitutional court ordered the interior ministry to guarantee her safety and the DAS to hand over illegally obtained information.
Reporters Without Borders said it hoped the involvement of the UN, sought by Duque, would finally lead to a thorough and impartial investigation of the actions of the DAS.