Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Condemns Conviction of Journalists for Defamation

Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Condemns Conviction of Journalists for Defamation

Two senior journalists were found guilty and sentenced to prison on defamation charges in a Baku district court on 22 July 2009. ARTICLE 19 condemns the conviction of Faramaz Novruzoglu and Sardar Alibeyli, editor-in-chief and deputy editor of Nota newspaper, and calls upon the Government of Azerbaijan to repeal all provisions relating to defamation from the Criminal Code.

Novruzoglu (also known as Faramaz Allahverdiyev) and Alibeyli were convicted under Articles 148 and 147.2 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code and each was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. Another Nota journalist, Ramiz Tagiyev, was also sentenced to six months’ conditional imprisonment.

Novruzoglu and Alibeyli have both faced previous convictions for defamation. Just two days before, on 20 July, Alibeyli received another seven-month conditional sentence on defamation charges. In January 2007, both journalists were convicted on defamation charges as the result of a lawsuit filed by the Minister of Internal Affairs. Alibeyli received a sentence of 18 months of “reformatory works” and Novruzoglu was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment; he was released almost a year later after a presidential pardon.

“It is deeply ironic that these latest convictions occurred on 22 July – Azerbaijan’s National Press Day,” comments ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, Dr Agnès Callamard. The events also take place amidst an international outcry about the continued detention of two Azerbaijani bloggers on spurious charges, and just one day after the UN Human Rights Committee examined Azerbaijan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including those related to the country’s freedom of expression commitments.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the current provisions on defamation and insult in the Criminal Code, along with the Government’s unremitting implementation of these provisions, represent a serious impediment to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.

ARTICLE 19, together with other international organisations such as the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have repeatedly urged the Government to abolish criminal defamation. Just this week, on 21 July, UN Human Rights Committee experts stated that libel and slander should be civil, rather than criminal, offenses. These latest convictions highlight once more the need for defamation to be decriminalised in Azerbaijan

“Such enforcement of criminal defamation provisions has a chilling effect on the work of journalists and other media workers, who may engage in self-censorship out of fear of prosecution”,
says Callamard. “These sorts of criminal defamation provisions send the wrong message about the country’s commitment to human rights and freedom of expression, and we call on the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate them from the law”.


• For more information please contact: Nathalie Losekoot, Senior Programme Officer, Europe, at: +44 796 985 6069 or nathalie@article19.org; or Barbora Bukovska, Senior Director for Law, at: +44 207 324 2500 or barbora@article19.org;
• For a full analysis of Azerbaijan’s defamation laws, please see ARTICLE 19’s Memorandum on Laws of the Republic of Azerbaijan Relating to the Protection of Reputation, available at http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/azerbaijan-defamation-2004.pdf.
• For more detailed information about the UN Human Rights Committee’s review of Azerbaijan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, go to http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/E5775263F214EA6EC12575FA0037210B?OpenDocument

Amnesty International is awarding Aung San Suu Kyi

Prosecutors for Burma's military government have made their final arguments in a case that could send pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to prison for five years.

Defense lawyer Nyan Win told that despite nearly four hours of closing arguments Monday, the prosecution's case seemed "legally weak."

Prosecutors accuse Aung San Suu Kyi of violating the terms of her house arrest in May by allowing an American man to rest at her home after he swam there uninvited.

The court also heard from the American's lawyers, and received closing statements from two female companions living with Aung San Suu Kyi. All of them could face jail time.

Lawyer Nyan Win said the court trial has adjourned until Tuesday, when Aung San Suu Kyi's legal team will respond to the prosecution's arguments.

Nyan Win said the team is seeking to question a witness from the Foreign Ministry, who reports say told a human rights group that Aung San Suu Kyi was detained for her own "security" and not on criminal charges.

A verdict in the case is not expected for a couple of weeks.

A researcher for the human rights group Amnesty International says the trial has not been free or fair. Benjamin Zawacki says Aung San Suu Kyi should not have been detained in the first place.

The 64-year-old peace and democracy activist has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest.

Amnesty International is awarding its highest honor to Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday.

The Ambassador of Conscience Award is to be formally announced at a concert in Dublin by Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2 and an award winner himself.

Source : Burma Wraps Up Case Against Aung Sang Suu Kyi ,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sri Lanka: Deteriorating Press Freedom Continues Post-Conflict

Sri Lanka: Deteriorating Press Freedom Continues Post-Conflict

Today the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka, of which ARTICLE 19 is a member, issued an open letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressing extreme concern over the deterioration of press freedom despite the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka has outlined an 11-point plan to the government of Sri Lanka to redress the perilous condition of press freedom.

In particular, the Mission has asked the government to:
1. Combat impunity through the creation of a Special Prosecutor's Office for the investigation of crimes against the media;
2. Put in place effective measures to ensure that all journalists can work safely.
3. Release imprisoned journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and his colleagues B. Jasiharan and V. Vallarmathy;
4. Release the first results of the investigation into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge;
5. Provide full and unconditional access to the IDP camps for all media;
6. Repeal the Press Council Act No. 5 of 1973;
7. Introduce training for the police, army and the intelligence agencies on freedom of expression;
8. Award financial compensation to journalists who have been arbitrarily detained, beaten or otherwise harassed by security forces;
9. Invite the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom and Expression to visit Sri Lanka;
10. Work with the state-owned media to ensure the immediate end to direct verbal attacks and threats against independent journalists and press freedom activists; and
11. Introduce structural legal reforms to create an enabling environment for a free and independent media.


o For more information please contact Toby Mendel, a19law@hfx.eastlink.ca , tel +1 902 431-3688.
o The full text of the letter can be found at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/letters/open-letter-to-his-excellency-president-mahinda-rajapaksa.pdf

Poland: ARTICLE 19 calls on Polish President to Veto Media Law

Poland: ARTICLE 19 calls on Polish President to Veto Media Law
Today ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression issued an open letter to Polish President Lech Kaczynski urging him not to promulgate the country's new Law on Public Activity within the Sphere of Media Services.
ARTICLE 19 believes that the recently adopted Media Law ("Ustawa o zadaniach publicznych w dziedzinach mediów") fails to meet international standards on public service broadcasting and should not enter into force unless significantly improved.

In particular, ARTICLE 19 is concerned with that the new legislation does not secure financial, editorial and regulatory independence of the country's public service broadcaster and leaves it vulnerable to potential political and financial pressures. Noting the importance of public service media for Polish society, and stressing the obligation of Poland to abide by international standards, ARTICLE 19 has called on President Kaczynski to veto the law and to send it back to parliament for further revision.

o For more information please contact Anoush Begoyan, Programme Officer for Europe at anoushb@article19.org or tel +44 20 7324 2500.
o The full text of the letter can be found at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/letters/poland-law-on-public-activity.pdf

Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Deplores Harassment of Internet Journalists

Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Deplores Harassment of Internet Journalists

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Government of Azerbaijan to immediately drop the politically-motivated charges of hooliganism against two journalists, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, who are currently being held in pre-trial detention.

Milli, who works for ANTV Online, and Hajizade, a video blogger, were detained on 8 July 2009, after they reported being assaulted in a Baku restaurant to police. They were allegedly attacked in a restaurant by two individuals who demanded that they stop discussing politics; Milli and Hajizade had been sitting with a group of young people, discussing the activities of their youth organisations. When Milli and Hajizade appealed to police at the Sabail District Police Department and requested medical assistance, they were instead detained under charges of "hooliganism" (under Article 221.2.1 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code). On 10 July, the Sabail District Court ordered Milli and Hajizade to be detained for two months in pre-trial detention.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that these events are another measure by the Azerbaijani authorities to silence independent and opposition journalists.

This is not the first time the Azerbaijani authorities have used criminal charges, such as "hooliganism" to intimidate journalists in cases considered to be politically motivated. In November 2007, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Azadliq, Ganimat Zahid, was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison in March 2008. A similar charge was used in the case of Yeni Musavat columnist Mahal Ismayiloglu, who was convicted on 1 July 2009 and received a two-year suspended sentence.

"It is unacceptable that these two men, who were subjected to an unprovoked attack, should now face criminal charges," comments Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "The authorities are persecuting the victims, rather than the perpetrators, in a manner which looks entirely politically motivated."

Milli and Hajizade's detention happens against a backdrop of other disturbing actions by the Azerbaijani authorities, which have had a negative impact on freedom of expression in the country. For example, on 10 May 2009, police used physical force against four journalists who were covering events related to the annual Flower Holiday, as well as beating members of the public and detaining approximately 50 demonstrators. In addition, the Azerbaijani authorities have yet to disclose the findings of their investigation into the killing of 13 people at the State Oil Academy in Baku on 30 April 2009. Journalists attempting to investigate these killings were prevented by authorities from accessing information.

The Government of Azerbaijan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and ARTICLE 19 calls on the authorities to respect its commitments under international law. We also request the authorities to immediately release Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade without charge, and to thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for assaulting them.


o For more information, please contact Nathalie Losekoot, Senior Programme Officer, Europe, nathalie@article19.org ; tel +44 20 7324 2509.
o The "Flower Holiday" is an annual celebration of the birthday of former President Geydar Aliyev on 10 May. This year students called for it to be cancelled, to commemorate 13 people killed at the State Oil Academy in Baku on 30 April 2009.

United Kingdom to Decriminalise Defamation

13 July 2009

United Kingdom: United Kingdom to Decriminalise Defamation

On Friday, 10 July 2009, the government of the United Kingdom formally committed to decriminalising defamation by doing away with the common law offences of sedition, seditious libel and defamatory libel.

The proposed amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill was originally put forward in the House of Commons by Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Dr Evan Harris, after discussions with ARTICLE 19 (of which he is a board member). Lord Lester of Herne Hill also tabled a debate in the House of Lords last Thursday.

ARTICLE 19 has been campaigning for the decriminalisation of defamation, both in the UK and globally, for many years. Of the 168 countries surveyed by ARTICLE 19, 158 have criminal defamation laws and 113 countries have laws offering special protection to the most powerful and privileged figures in public life. These laws shield public figures from criticism, public scrutiny and investigation by virtue of the power they hold, thereby eating at the very heart of global efforts to promote good governance and combat corruption.

ARTICLE 19 warmly welcomes this initiative to abolish criminal defamation in the UK, which will make Britain the first Western European country to take this step. Even where criminal defamation laws have fallen into disuse, as was largely the case in the UK, the existence of these laws on the statute books provides more repressive governments around the world with the excuse they need not only to refuse to repeal of defamation laws but also to make active use of such laws to imprison journalists, writers and others.

The UK will now join other countries which have done away with criminal defamation, including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine in Europe, and Ghana, Sri Lanka, the United States, New Zealand and Mexico globally.

“This measure will send a very strong and clear signal globally that democracies do not have criminal defamation laws,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19. “No longer will repressive countries be able to justify their criminal defamation laws on the basis that such laws exist in established democracies such as the UK.

“Defamation, both civil and criminal, is one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression in the world today. It is a global problem that requires global action,” continues Callamard.

Dr Harris comments, “The acceptance by the Government that our retention of these repressive laws causes much more harm than good is welcome. The UK must set an example to the world in getting rid of anti-free speech offenses.”

ARTICLE 19 urges other countries to follow suit and do away with criminal defamation.


• For more information please contact: Toby Mendel, Senior Legal Counsel, a19law@hfx.eastlink.ca, +1 902 431-3688.
• ARTICLE 19 has conducted extensive research into criminal and civil defamation worldwide and has published our findings in a series of online maps, which are located at: http://www.article19.org/advocacy/defamationmap/map/.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

41 Journalists Jailed in Iran

Watchdog Report: 41 Journalists Jailed in Iran


The press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders says it is concerned by what it calls the growing repression of journalists and cyber-dissidents in Iran.

In a report issued Sunday, the RSF (known by the French acronym for Reporters Sans Frontieres) announced the detention of five more journalists. RSF says 41 journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran a month after the country's contested election.

RSF says Iran is currently the world's biggest prison for journalists, and is becoming the world's most dangerous place for them to operate.

RSF says the recently-detained journalists include photographers Majid Saidi and Tohid Bighi, blogger Henghameh Shahidi, and journalists Somaieh Nosrati and Said Matinpour.

According to RSF, four of the five are being held in secret locations with no information about their condition being released to their families or legal representatives.