Friday, February 20, 2009

Bangladesh : Fellowships to Women Journalists

Bangladesh: ARTICLE 19 Awards Fellowships to Women Journalists
ARTICLE 19 in Bangladesh is pleased to announce that twelve women journalists working at the grassroots level have been awarded fellowships to enable them to investigate issues relevant to their local communities.
Working in partnership with Massline Media Centre (MMC), ARTICLE 19 announced the fellowship recipients’ names at an orientation workshop on 17 February. A competitive selection process resulted in a high number of applications from female print journalists working at the district and upazila (sub-district) levels of the country. The fellows will be provided with a stipend for three months, to support them to produce and publish investigative reports on access to information, development and human rights issues. They will also benefit from mentoring by a senior journalist and advice from ARTICLE 19 and MMC.Kamrun Nahar, a fellowship recipient, said that “an ARTICLE 19 fellowship on journalism is a huge recognition of my work and the struggles that we endure, as we continue to bring grassroots issues to the mainstream. I am delighted to be awarded along with other peers in the profession.”Female journalists working at the grassroots face many challenges, including low pay, loose contractual arrangements, and a lack of protection from threats, harassment and litigation. With very limited institutional support and opportunities for professional development, they must often rely on their own individual tenacity and commitment. “This programme will build the capacity and confidence of junior and mid-level female journalists and will enhance their profile as advocates for freedom of expression,” commented Tahmina Rahman, Director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh. “They have a critical role in ensuring freedom of expression and access to information by bringing diverse perspectives from different corners of the country.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:
• For more information please contact Tahmina Rahman, Director ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh at tahmina@article19.org or +0171-303-9669.

Artist Alert :Around the World



Artist Alert


January 2009

Art, in any form, constitutes a key medium through which information and ideas are imparted and received. Artist Alert, launched by ARTICLE 19 in 2008, highlights cases of artists around the world whose right to freedom of expression has been curtailed and abused, and seeks to more effectively promote and defend freedom to create.



Thailand: beware imprisonment for authors mentioning head of state

Australian author and university lecturer Harry Nicolaides has now been sentenced to three years imprisonment for defaming the King of Thailand in his 2005 book.Nicolaides was arrested at Bangkok airport in 2008 under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and has pleaded guilty on charges of slandering the King. According to Nicolaides the book named Verisimilitude is a contextual political examination of Thailand.ARTICLE 19 reported on the case in Artist Alert: September 2008 and highlighted how the Thai authorities use lese majeste or “insulting the King” legislation to limit free speech in a country where the King is also the head of state.Nicolaides is not the first foreigner to be sentenced in Thailand under lese majeste. In 2007 a Swiss national was also given 10 years imprisonment for a similar reason.The Thai government decided in January to create an extraordinary Senate committee to continue to administer the restrictions on free speech, and block 10,000 websites deemed offensive under lese majeste legislation. The Foreign Ministry consequently agreed to build a public relations campaign through its embassies to educate foreigners about the restrictions.

Turkey: famous poet welcomed back after 45 years of exile
After receiving a petition with over 500,000 names Turkey has reinstated the citizenship of deceased poet Nazim Hikmet. Hikmet’s poems, plays and novels were banned and he was imprisoned for a decade before being exiled to the Soviet Union for alleged communist views in 1951. The Turkish government has acknowledged that the charges can no longer be considered a crime, and are in fact an illegitimate restriction of free expression.


China: artists detained for the Olympics are still imprisoned
Seven months after the end of the Beijing Olympics Chinese painter Wang Mingyue and photographer Jin Xiaohui are still imprisoned in Tuanhe forced labour camp under the pretext of “safeguarding the Olympic Games”. Wang and Jin, both alleged members of the banned organisation Falun Gong, were arrested in July 2008 in the run up to games along with many other activists and minority groups. Wang in particular is an internationally acclaimed painter and was asked to paint the portrait of former British Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Lebanon: Golden Globe winning film banned
Israeli film Waltz with Bashir has been banned in Lebanon despite documenting an important period of modern Lebanese history and winning a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. The film observes the 1982 killings of Palestinians in refugee camps that took place by Lebanese militias following the assassination of Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel. The film’s director Ari Folman also briefly examines the role of the Israeli government in the killings, as Lebanon was under Israeli occupation at the time. The ban is part of a larger prohibition of any goods that originate from Israel.


Mexico: publication reveals many fines for perverting traditional songs
The publication of the extent of fines imposed on broadcasters for playing Narcocorrido music in Mexico has revealed far higher levels of curbing than was previously assumed. Narco-corrido is a modern adaptation of a very popular oral tradition from northern Mexico that explores stories about the poor and destitute as well as criminal leaders, similar to some urban rap and hip-hop music. The music is banned in Mexico under the pretext that it glamorises criminals and aids in the recruitment of new gang members.

India: police guard Slumdog Millionaire from slums
Following the ransacking of a theatre in Bihar Indian police are guarding cinemas across eastern India. The protesters argue that the title of newly released film Slumdog Millionaire is derogatory toward the millions of people in India that reside in slums. Civil society activists have also filed public interest litigation against the film.



Yemen: singer faces trial again despite Presidential pardon
Yemeni comedian and singer Fahd al Qarni is yet again facing a court case for insulting President Ali Abdullah Saleh, despite a presidential pardon when the case was brought to court in 2008. Al Qarni’s music is a combination of traditional folk music laced with humour and political criticism of government policies. As the music was not authorised by Yemen’s Ministry of Culture, both vendors and al Qarni have been investigated and charged, and al Qarni was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and a fine in 2008 before being pardoned.

China: international authors call for release of Chinese dissident
International authors including Margaret Atwood, Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan have called for the release of well-known Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo. Liu is a former president of Chinese PEN and was arrested in December 2008 for his part in the production of a publication calling for reforms in China titled Charter 08. Liu, who originally spent years in prison for taking part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, is the only author of Charter 08 to have been arrested.



FOR MORE INFORMATION:
• ARTICLE 19 considers that freedom to create is an essential attribute of freedom of expression, a fundamental human right. It is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) as follows: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”


ARTICLE 19 considers that, in the absence of a specific intention to promote hatred or to commit a recognised criminal offence, censorship or criminal measures against artistic expression are illegitimate. We recognise that art may at times be offensive to some or even to many, but mere offence is not an appropriate threshold for curtailing freedom of expression.



• For more information: please contact Oliver Spencer, oliver@article19.org, +44 20 7278 9292

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rapid Response Assessment Mission to Nepal for the press freedom situation


JOINT STATEMENT

International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission: Rapid Response Assessment Mission to Nepal

The International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission (also known as the International Media Mission) visited Nepal from 5 to 8 February to undertake a rapid response assessment of the press freedom situation in the country. The International Mission was represented by ARTICLE 19, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Media Support (IMS), International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), UNESCO and World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC).
Press freedoms in Nepal continue to face serious threat despite the hope that restoration of democratic rule would improve the situation. The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) recorded a staggering 342 press freedom violations in 2008 alone, including a significant escalation in the number of physical attacks on journalists and media houses. Four journalists - Uma Singh, J.P. Joshi, Birendra Sah and Pushkar Bahadur Shrestha - have been killed since 2006. The International Mission calls on the authorities to undertake prompt, independent and impartial investigation of these and all other cases of murder and disappearances of journalists.Another journalist, Prakash Singh Thakuri, has been missing since July 2007. Late last year the Government withdrew charges against the accused, who was earlier released on bail. Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, assured the International Mission that the case would be reopened. The International Mission also calls for an investigation into killing of Dekendra Thapa, after his remains were found last year.The International Mission is deeply worried over the attacks on media houses, including Kantipur, Himal Media, Ankush Daily, Ramaroshan FM and APCA Group. Such attacks on media workers, publications and property are unacceptable. Those responsible must be held accountable for their actions. Any substantive grievances over work conditions must be addressed through dialogue and negotiation. The International Mission is concerned that due process is not being observed in the cases against Rishi Dhamala, Ram Subhak Mahato, Birendra K.M., Manoj Mahato. The reported kidnapping of Pankaj Das in Birgunj whilst the International Mission was in the country must be swiftly followed-up by the authorities. The ongoing attacks, threats and harassment of media personnel and organisations are having a chilling effect on press freedom. Free and open debate is being undermined with journalists and media being forced into self-censorship, seriously jeopardising the peace and democratisation process currently underway in the country. A pattern in the attacks and harassment is discernible. Critical reporting is being met with violence and perpetrators go unpunished. The authorities are failing in their duty to prevent, punish and redress the harm caused by such attacks. The violations of journalists’ rights is a direct infringement of the public right to information. Furthermore, the links between political parties and some the perpetrators of these violent acts are a matter of serious concern and would indicate the acceptance, and possible complicity, of those political parties in the violence. The Nepali constitution and international covenants that Nepal is signatory to place a positive obligation on the State to prevent these abuses. Conditions for women journalists, already seriously underrepresented in the profession, are of particular concern as they are more vulnerable to attack and harassment, and are being forced to leave their work and sometimes to move away from home due to such pressures.The International Mission notes that as of now, not one person has been convicted for a criminal act against journalists and media houses, and calls on the Prime Minister and Government to follow-up their commitment to end impunity. Moreover, the International Mission demands that all acts of violence against journalists and the media end immediately. The International Mission urges the Government and political parties to implement the recommendations for freedom of expression and press freedom outlined in the Agenda for Change document as swiftly and fully as possible. Specifically, the International Mission draws attention to the following six points, which should be addressed in accordance with international standards and best practice:
· Guarantees of freedom of expression for all and press freedom must be enshrined in the new constitution;
· The Right to Information (RTI) Act should be properly enforced so as to give practical effect to the presumption in favour of disclosure;
· The Government should end control of media and introduce Public Service Broadcasting;
· An independent regulator for broadcasting should be created in place of direct government control;
· Criminal defamation should be abolished and defamation should be addressed only through civil law;
· The Working Journalists’ Act should be implemented and accompanied by regular dialogue between media workers and owners.
Furthermore, the International Mission urges the Constituent Assembly to form a committee to deal with the reforms outlines in the Agenda for Change, as well as to follow and respond to the press freedom situation in the country.The International Mission is convinced that all media stakeholders must rally around the common goal of safeguarding freedom of expression. The International Mission urges the international community to support the national media community in its efforts to defend press freedom. The International Mission remains committed to supporting and defending freedom of expression and press freedom in Nepal together with its national partners.

FURTHER INFORMATION:
• The International Mission travelled to Nepal in February 2009 with only two weeks notice on the request of the Federation of Nepali Journalists and other members of the Nepali media community. The International Mission met with the Prime Minister, Ministers, Constituent Assembly, leaders of Government and opposition political parties, heads of security agencies, media, and civil society organisations. Mission members also visited Janakpur in Dhanusha District, where the journalist Uma Singh was murdered on 11 January 2009. The International Mission incorporates fifteen international organisations, including UN agencies, global media associations, freedom of expression advocates and media development organisations. This is the sixth visit of the International Mission to Nepal, the previous trips being in July 2005, March 2006, September 2006, January 2008 and April 2008.The International Mission thanks the Federation of Nepali Journalists and other national media organisations involved in preparing and hosting the visit, acknowledging the importance of close cooperation with national stakeholders and ensuring a nationally-driven process for ensuring press freedom in Nepal• For more information please contact Sejal Parmar, ARTICLE 19: +44 20 7278 9292, sejal@article19.org, or Sukumar Muralidhara, International Federation of Journalists: +91 98105 18009, Sukumar.md@gmail.com, or Thomas Hughes, International Media Support: +45 2645 6563, th@i-m-s.dk

Mexico:review for the first time by the United Nations Human Rights Council

9 February 2009
ARTICLE 19 Submits Report on Freedom of Expression in Mexico to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review

On the occasion of the fourth session of the Universal Periodic Review, which will examine Mexico for the first time, ARTICLE 19 submitted a report to the human rights council on the situation of freedom of expression, and the issue of impunity in the country.

Mexico will be reviewed for the first time by the United Nations Human Rights Council in the fourth session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Tuesday February 10th. The Review has been created as a mechanism to assess the situation of human rights in all member states. In the context of the mounting threats to freedom of expression in Mexico, ARTICLE 19 has submitted a report on the situation of the exercise of the right to Freedom of Expression. Mexico is currently considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice journalism. In recent years the country has experienced an ever increasing number of cases of threats and violence against journalists. Of these crimes almost none have been brought to justice. ARTICLE19 considers the impunity that is allowed to prevail in the state as one of the most serious threats, not only to the right to freedom of expression but to all human rights. In the report published by ARTICLE19 the following conclusions are drawn on the major threats to freedom of expression in Mexico.
· The failure to address the impunity that currently prevails in the state is born out of lack of political will.
· In the past eight years at least twenty four journalists and media workers have been killed, eight are missing, and many more have been threatened and physically attacked in the practice of their profession
· The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against journalists is in urgent need of reform, to strengthen and clarify its faculties.
· In spite of the fact that a number of new groups of perpetrators of crimes against journalists have emerged in the past few years, the authorities remain the principal aggressors of crimes against journalists and freedom of expression in Mexico.

NOTES TO EDITORS:
• To see full text please visit: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/report-on-the-situation-of-the-exercise-of-the-right-to-freedom-of-expressio.pdf • For more information, please contact Ricardo Gonzalez, ARTICLE 19 Mexico, at ricardo@article19.org, +55 11 30 57 00 42

Bahrain : Reform of Laws Aimed at Silencing Dissenting Voices


9 February 2009
Bahrain: ARTICLE 19 Condemns the Targeting of Human Rights Activists and Calls for the Reform of Laws Aimed at Silencing Dissenting Voices

On 26 January 2009, three prominent Bahraini human rights activists Mr Hasan Mushaima, Secretary General of the Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy (HAQ); Mr Mohamed Habib Al-Muqdad, a scholar and social activist; and Dr Abdul-Jalil Alsingace, Head of Human Rights Unit at HAQ, were arrested. Following almost nine hours of interrogation, Mr Mushaima and Mr Al-Muqdad were held in custody for further interrogation, while Dr Alsingace was released on bail and officially banned from travel out of Bahrain. The Public Prosecutor declared that he would take the necessary measures to pursue cases against them in the courts and prosecute them on charges related to the national security of Bahrain.All three activists are heavily involved in promoting human rights in Bahrain and in documenting cases of abuse. During the interrogation they were questioned about their human rights activism including publishing electronic articles and conducting speeches, seminars and presentations about human right abuses in Bahrain. They were also questioned about their involvement in HAQ, an unregistered grassroots organisation that campaigns for genuine democratic reforms, human rights and civil liberties. The activists were charged of “forming an organisation, outside the provisions of the law, which disrupts the Constitution or prevents any of the State enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duty”, “provoking hatred of the regime” and “inciting violence and the overthrow of the political system”.The first charge is referenced in Article 6 of Bahrain’s anti-terrorism law (Protecting Society from Terror Acts no. 58 of 2006) which states that those who establish an illegal organisation likely to disrupt the Constitution and laws, or prevent any State apparatus from performing its duties, are punishable by life imprisonment. The other two charges are based on the Bahrain Penal Code; promoting the overthrow of the regime by force punishable by five years imprisonment (Article 160) as well as instigating hatred against the regime, punishable by imprisonment of up to three years as per Article 165. The three activists deny all these allegations and consider their arrest and the charges to be politically motivated. In addition to recent interrogation, Dr Abdul-Jalil Alsingace, a prominent Bahrani blogger and critic of the Bahraini regime, has also been subject to a defamation media campaign, lead by state guided media and aimed at human rights defenders. This was following his participation in a debate on religious freedom in Bahrain in the US Congress in October, 2008. “The apparent arrest of three human rights activists for legitimate and peaceful human rights activities is highly deplorable. It is an attempt to silence opposition voices and signals further deterioration for freedom of Expression in Bahrain. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about articles in the Bahraini Penal Code and anti terrorism legislation that are used to deprive Bahrainis of the right to freedom of expression and calls for urgent legal reform” said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.ARTICLE 19 urges the Bahraini authorities to reverse this alarming trend of harassment against human rights activists. We call upon the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Mr. Hassan Mushaima and Mr. Mohammed Habib Almuqdad, withdraw all the charges related to their legitimate and peaceful activities and lift the travel ban against Dr. Abdul-Jalil Alsingace.ARTICLE 19 reminds the authorities that Bahrain acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006 and calls upon the government of Bahrain to reform those provisions in the Penal Code and anti-terrorism legislation that flagrantly violate Bahrain’s international human rights commitments on freedom of expression.

FURTHER INFORMATION:
• For more information: please contact Hoda Rouhana, Programme Officer for Middle East and North Africa, hoda@article19.org,+44 20 7278 9292 PRESS RELEASE