Sunday, February 21, 2010

UK: Supreme Court Reaffirms Open Justice Principle and Orders Identification of Terror Suspects

UK: Supreme Court Reaffirms Open Justice Principle and Orders Identification of Terror Suspects
ARTICLE 19 welcomes today’s unanimous decision of the Supreme Court ordering the identification of five persons who had their assets frozen by the Treasury for suspicion of supporting terrorist activities. The judgment emphasises the principles of open justice and the public interest, and provides important guidance for the courts when attempting to balance the right to privacy with the right to freedom of expression.

All the individual appellants had been designated under the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 or the Al-Qaida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006, or both. Under these orders, which give effect to UN resolutions, the Treasury may freeze the funds and assets of individuals who are suspected of facilitating terrorism.

The appellants had argued that the anonymity orders were necessary because identifying them as claimants in the substantive proceedings would infringe their right to respect for their private and family life, as protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). ARTICLE 19 had joined the Guardian News and Media Limited and other groups in arguing that the names should be made public as a matter of public interest.

Lord Rodger delivered the judgment on behalf of the seven-judge Court, rather than the usual five. The Court said that the competing claims of privacy and freedom of the press needed to be balanced; and that the decision on which interest should prevail depended on the facts of each particular case, and “whether there is a sufficient general, public interest in publishing a report of the proceedings…to justify any resulting curtailing of… right to respect for their private and family life”.

The Court reviewed the history of the anonymity of individuals in court proceedings in the UK and European courts, noting that the lower courts seemed “to grant the anonymity orders without any prolonged consideration and without explaining their thinking”.

The individual appellants argued that their anonymity was necessary because they faced social and physical harm if they were indentified publically, especially since the Treasury orders could not be effectively challenged in court.

However, the Court found that the right of free expression was more compelling. It emphasised the importance of editorial independence and the need to inform the public, noting that without names stories are likely to be “devoid of…human interest” and less likely to be read and stimulate discussion.

The Court pointed to the negative consequences of the anonymity orders upon communities: “Concealing identities simply casts a shadow over entire communities” and even helps “to foster an impression that the mere making of the orders justifies sinister conclusions about these individuals”. Finally, the Court held that the “public has a legitimate interest in not being kept in the dark about who is challenging” the orders, noting that the limits would also affect press coverage that may be supportive of the individuals.

In conclusion, the Court held that there was a “powerful general, public interest in identifying” the individuals which justified overriding their privacy rights.

Although the Supreme Court reserved its judgment on the matter of anonymity orders in control order cases, its concluding assertion raised questions about their validity, stating that, “many of the same issues would obviously arise if an application were made to recall anonymity orders made in any outstanding control order proceedings”.

“ARTICLE 19 believes that the Court’s judgement sets an importance precedent for open justice and reaffirms the public’s right to know in matters of grave public importance,” says Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer for ARTICLE 19.

NOTES :

• The judgment in HM Treasury (Respondent) v Mohammed Jabbar Ahmed and others (FC) (Appellants) and others, HM Treasury (Respondent) v Mohammed Jabbar Ahmed and others and another (FC) (Appellant) and R (on the application of Hani El Sayed Sabaei Youssef) (Respondent) v HM Treasury (Appellant) is available here: http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/docs/uksc_2009_0015_judgmentV2.pdf
• For more information please contact: Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer sejal@article19.org +44 20 7324 2500

Mexico: Three Journalists Murdered in First Weeks of 2010

Mexico: Three Journalists Murdered in First Weeks of 2010
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican authorities to fully and immediately investigate the killings of another three journalists in recent weeks. A total of 904 killings took place across the country in January 2010, making this the bloodiest month in a decade.
Just last weekend, several incidents involving gunfights took place. A shooting that killed 16 people, most of them teenagers with no apparent ties to drug gangs, in the northern city of Ciudad Juárez, proves a context of widespread violence amid President Felipe Calderon’s “war against organised crime”.

In these circumstances, journalists face ever increasing risks to their safety when exercising their profession. On the evening of 29 January, in the southeastern state of Guerrero, the journalist Jorge Ochoa Martinez was killed by an unidentified person when leaving a restaurant.

Ochoa Martinez was murdered at the seat of the municipal government of Ayutla de los Libres, 100 kms away from Acapulco. The journalist was director and editor of the local daily El Sol de la Costa and the weekly El Oportuno newspapers. It has not been established yet whether the killing was connected to his work as a journalist.

Valentín Valdés Espinosa, a reporter for the local newspaper Zócalo de Satillo, was found dead on 8 January in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila State. The body of radio journalist José Luis Romero, who worked for Línea Directa, was found on 20 January, although he may have been killed soon after his abduction in December 2009. Both men had been tortured before being executed.

ARTICLE 19 actively documents and analyses cases of aggressions against media workers in Mexico and there is clear evidence that these attacks cannot be viewed in isolation from the ongoing violence against civilians in this country. It is also clear that the Mexican Government is failing to properly investigate attacks and that a state of impunity for crimes of assault, kidnapping and murder prevails. ARTICLE 19 is extremely concerned that the criminal justice system is failing – a concern that is echoed by the National Human Rights Commission, along with Cencos, a national partner organisation of ARTICLE 19.

“Despite the large number of attacks against the journalists and editors in Guerrero, and countrywide, there is a massive degree of impunity,” states ARTICLE 19 Mexico Director, Dario Ramirez. “The Mexican authorities must take the necessary steps to adequately investigate these cases and bring to justice the perpetrators of such terrible crimes.”

ARTICLE 19 also expresses our condolences to the families of these three journalists, who have died so needlessly, and offers our solidarity to the whole journalistic community,” continues Ramirez.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican Government to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and to ensure all the necessary security measures media workers trying to exercise this right, in accordance with its international human rights obligations.

NOTES :

• For more information, please contact Ricardo González, ARTICLE 19 Programme Officer: Freedom of Expression, ricardo@article19.org, +52 55 10 54 6500 ext. 103.

Artist Alert January 2010

Artist Alert
January 2010


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.

Uzbekistan: Photographer Charged with Defamation


Uzbek photographer Umida Ahmedova was charged with defamation in Uzbekistan on 16 December 2009, related to the 2007 publication of a book of photographs and a documentary film commissioned by the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent. The book, Customs of Men and Women, contains more than 100 images of local people and customs. The Tashkent Prosecutor’s Office has charged Ahmedova on the basis that this work constitutes “an insult and slander of the Uzbek people” and portrays local people as backward.

The Uzbek Government stipulates that any publications or media materials produced by NGOs or international organisations must be approved by state officials, including the Cabinet of Ministers. Specific topics such as poverty, gender equality, feminism, domestic violence and human rights may now be construed as “hostile” to national culture and tradition.

Criminal defamation in Uzbekistan carries a sentence of six months in prison or three years of hard labour, and Ahmedova is unable to leave the country before her trial.

Burma: Documentary Videographers Jailed


Another two videographers working for Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based television channel, have been sentenced to long prison terms in Burma. The videographers became famous internationally for the film Burma VJ which documented the 2007 Saffron Revolution when Buddhist monks led widespread protests against the military regime. The film has been shortlisted for the 2010 Academy Awards and has already won an award at the Sundance Film Festival.

According to the Burma Media Association, videographer Ngwe Soe Lin was handed a 13-year prison sentence by a secret court held inside Rangoon’s Insein prison on 27 January 2010. He was convicted under the Burmese Electronics Act and the Immigration Emergency Provisions Act.

On 30 December 2009, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported that another videographer, Hla Hla Win, had been sentenced to 27 years in prison. She was also convicted under the Electronics Act. The channel estimates that 14 of its reporters and videographers are now in prison.

Denmark: Controversial Cartoonist Attacked at Home


Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist whose images of the prophet Muhammed with a bomb in his turban created an international outcry in 2006, was attacked in his Aarhus home on 1 January 2010. According to Danish newspaper Aften Posten, a 28-year-old Somali man, who was already under surveillance by security services, smashed his way into the 75-year-old cartoonist’s house, brandishing an axe and a knife. Westergaard, who was with his five-year-old granddaughter, locked himself inhis specially fortified bathroom and called the police.

The attacker left the house after failing to smash down the door and was arrested at the scene. He appeared in court on 2 January 2010, charged with the attempted murders of Westergaard and a policeman.

Westergaard lives under close police protection and only emerged from hiding last year, after his cartoons sparked protests at Danish embassies worldwide and threats against his life.

Westergaard’s cartoons have also been rejected from an auction being held to raise relief funds for Haiti. According to the Copenhagen Post, television programme Go’morgen Danmark organised the auction and asked celebrities to donate personal items. However, following the attack on Westergaard, the auctioneers Lauritz.com refused to accept his work, stating reasons of security.

Tibet: Filmmaker Imprisoned for Praise of Dalai Lama


A Tibetan filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen, has reportedly been sentenced at the end of 2009 to six years’ imprisonment in China for his film Leaving Fear Behind. The film was shot in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and showed interviews with over 100 Tibetans discussing the upcoming games and their views of the Chinese government. The film also contained footage of Tibetans praising the Dalai Lama.

Wangchen was arrested in March 2008, shortly after they finished shooting and had smuggled the footage out of the country. He was reportedly tortured in prison and is now suffering from hepatitis B.

According to the film’s website, Wangchen had no legal representation during his trial held in Xining, and his family were only informed of his sentence after he had already begun serving it. There is also no clarity about what charges were used to convict Wangchen.

Ukraine: Public Morality Commission Censors Artists


A group of artists, writers and human rights activists joined together in Ukraine on 15 January to protest the continued censorship of art by the National Expert Commission for the Protection of Public Morality. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the artists and writers are planning to launch new projects that aim to tackle the Commission’s stranglehold over what can be classed as art. The artist Oleksandr Roitburd states: “I lived for 30 years in a country called the Soviet Union, and now I feel that this commission is bringing it with them. I really would like to laugh at them, but in fact it’s not funny. It’s foul and frightening.”

Sri Lanka: Cartoonist Abducted in Election Run-Up


A cartoonist and journalist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, was reportedly kidnapped days before the Sri Lankan presidential elections on 26 January 2010 and has not been seen since. This disappearance was just one of several incidents targeting independent or critical media workers in the run-up to the elections. According to the Cartoonists Rights Network, Eknaligoda had created work that was sympathetic to the opposition candidate’s position.

Reporters Without Borders states that Eknaligoda had noticed he was being followed for the three days preceding his disappearance. He had previously been kidnapped in August 2009.

Egypt: Graphic Artist Fined for Violating Public Morality


The author and publisher of the first graphic novel in Arabic for adults were fined 5,000 Egyptian pounds each on 21 November 2009, after a court ruled that the book violated public morality.

Metro, by Magdy el-Shafee, features a protagonist who works as a computer engineer and robs a bank in Cairo, and also touches on social and political themes. Censors found it to contain insults, violence and modest sexual imagery.

In April last year, police raided the premises of publishing house Dar-el Malamaeh, and confiscated copies of the book. Booksellers were prevented from stocking the book too. The charges against el-Shafee and publisher Mohammed Al-Sharqawi were brought by well-known Egyptian lawyer Derbashy al-Saleh, who is allegedly renowned for bringing cases against journalists and writers.

Indonesia: Historical Books and Films Banned


The Malaysian Insider has reported that the government of Indonesia is continuing to ban works portraying Indonesia’s recent history. In December 2009, Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji announced that an Australian film about the 1975 invasion of East Timor would be banned. He also banned a book on the aborted 1965 communist coup. In January, a book on the current presidential incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was also banned. Supandji stated that the books would: “erode public confidence in the government, cause moral decadence or disturb the national ideology, economy, culture and security”. Book stores are also refusing to sell sociologist George Junus’ Membongkar Gurita Cikeas: Di Balik Skandal Bank Century, which makes allegations about the country’s President, for fear of getting into trouble.

Austria: Artworks Removed, Folded and Posted Back


The Mayor of an Austrian town, Bruck an der Leitha, caused controversy in January 2010 by unilaterally ordering the removal of works by local artist Kurt Schloegl. According to the newspaper NÖN, Schloegl had been commissioned by the arts council to produce a series of public artworks, some of which were critical of supposed political interference in art.

Mayor Richard Hemmer subsequently cancelled one of Schloegl’s projects, entitled “Witches, Whores and Queens”, declaring it morally unsuitable in a Catholic country. Schloegl lodged a complaint with the police, only to be told that the Mayor had ordered the local fire chief to remove the artworks. The artist has now also alleged that the Mayor vandalised his work after a painting was torn up, folded into an envelope and posted to him.


NOTES TO EDITORS:

• For more information: please contact Oliver Spencer, oliver@article19.org, +44 20 7324 2500

Brazil: Arson Attack Destroys Radio's Broadcasting Studio‏

Brazil: Arson Attack Destroys Radio’s Broadcasting Studio

The studio of radio broadcaster Nova Coari, based in Coari, Amazonas state, was completely destroyed by an arson attack on 8 February 2010. The broadcaster had been a vocal critic of the city mayor, and the local press and blogosphere has suggested that the crime might have been politically motivated. The attack is an example of the very difficult situation faced by journalists working for small media outlets in the northern areas of Brazil, highlighted in ARTICLE 19’s 2007 Brazil Mission Statement on the State of Freedom of Expression.

On the morning of 8 February, two gunmen subdued Nova Coari’s employees and then set the station’s only studio on fire. According to press reports, the station had been already the target of two attempted arson attacks. Antônio Maduro, the civil police commissioner in Coari, said he is investigating the attack, but that no suspects have so far been apprehended.

ARTICLE 19 condemns this attack, which unfortunately reaffirms the claim in its 2007 Statement that threats and attacks against the press and broadcasters are more common in northern and remote regions of Brazil. ARTICLE 19 calls on the authorities to undertake a proper investigation of this crime, in order to bring those responsible to justice.

In its 2007 statement, ARTICLE 19 affirmed that “interviews with media workers pointed out that violence against journalists is still very present in Brazil, but its exact extent and characterization may be under-explored (...) ifferent methodologies used to monitor cases of violations to freedom of press by different local actors make it difficult to fully assess the extent of the acts of violence, their number and type. People and associations seeking to monitor the situation pointed out that the small number of professionals involved, and the fact that many cases of violence occur in very distant regions, may result in under-estimating the full extent of the problem and abuses”.

ARTICLE 19 once more encourages civil society organisations, journalists’ unions, industry associations and others to review their respective coverage and approach on cases of violations to freedom of press in Brazil, in order to address possible gaps in their reporting activities.

NOTES :

• For more information please contact: Paula Martins, Brazil Coordinator, paula@article19.org, +55 11 3057 0042.
• The 2007 Brazil Mission Statement on the state of freedom of expression is available at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/brazil-mission-statement.pdf

Iran: UN Human Rights Council Reviews Situation for Free Expression

Iran: UN Human Rights Council Reviews Situation for Free Expression

As the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) meets today in Geneva to engage in its Universal Periodic Review of Iran, ARTICLE 19 again raises serious concerns about the failure of the Islamic Republic to respect and promote freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 made a formal submission to the HRC in September 2009, ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The Iranian Constitution contains a number of restrictions on freedom of expression, as well as harsh interpretations of what might be considered “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of public”. ARTICLE 19 is also expressly concerned about the punitive Press Law which restricts content and uses bureaucratic obligatory licensing procedures to control publishing, media and individual writers. Media legislation is used to silence opposition voices from political dissidents and human rights defenders. There are also particularly harsh penalties for transgressions of these laws, which include imprisonment, flogging and banning.

ARTICLE 19 monitors the arbitrary arrests and harassment of journalists, writers and bloggers, along with travel restrictions placed on those attempting to travel within and outside the country. We note that these practices go against international standards for freedom of expression contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified.

ARTICLE 19 criticises the state monopoly on television and radio broadcasting, and the prohibition of private or independent broadcasters as being inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression. In addition, ARTICLE 19 notes that the prohibition on satellite channels restricts incoming foreign news and that there is widespread internet censorship.

ARTICLE 19 condemns these severe violations of freedom of expression in Iran and urges the HRC to call on the Islamic Republic to account for its actions. Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director recommends that the HRC advise the Iranian government to: “repeal Iranian legislation that acts to unfairly restrict freedom of expression; abolish criminal punishment under media legislation and replace these with civil punishment; reform the licensing system for print and broadcast media; stop the arbitrary arrests and harassment of journalists and bloggers; and refrain from internet censorship.”

ARTICLE 19 urges the Iranian Government to take immediate action to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and freedom of information is protected, and that writers, journalists, editors, bloggers and activists enjoy the full freedom to express their views and share information.

NOTES :

• To read a Farsi version of this press release, please visit: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/iran-farsi-un-human-rights-council-reviews-situation-for-free-expression.pdf
• For the full text of the submission, see http://www.article19.org/pdfs/submissions/iran-article-19-submission-to-the-un-universal-periodic-review.pdf
• For more information please contact: Amir Bayani, Iran Programme Officer, amir@article19.org, +44 20 7324 2500

Mexico: New Special Prosecutor Must Focus Political Will in One of World's Deadliest Places for Journalists‏

Mexico: New Special Prosecutor Must Focus Political Will in One of World's Deadliest Places for Journalists

ARTICLE 19 calls on Gustavo Salas Chávez, newly appointed Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against the Media, to promote and guarantee effective investigation of aggression against journalists and combat Mexico’s prevailing culture of impunity.

Chávez replaces Octavio Orellana, who was widely regarded as ineffective at stemming the number of attacks and murders of media workers in Mexico. Orellana claimed that the frequent murders of journalists, eleven in 2009, were not related to their work.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against the Media (FEADP) was established in 2006 but has lacked the political will to investigate crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice. Organisations such as the National Human Rights Commission have complained that FEADP is ineffective. The limited and ambiguous mandate of FEADP together with a lack of political will has resulted in a large number of cases being declared “on reserve” whereby all investigations are suspended until new evidence arises. Only a few cases are being formally investigated and just four cases in four years have seen charges brought.

According to international standards, Special Prosecutor Chávez must:
• Be independent
• Be impartial
• Have the necessary capacities and knowledge to develop his post
• Base FEADP investigations on a human rights perspective, protect the rights of victims, and avoid re-victimisation
• Train FEADP personnel on the right to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 calls on Chávez to reform FEADP’s legal framework in line with international standards, and implement prosecution and protection mechanisms based on the right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 also calls on FEADP to meet its obligations in the area of transparency and accountability.

ARTICLE 19 reiterates its call to the Mexican Congress to approve such necessary reforms in order to empower the federal authorities to investigate crimes against those practicing journalism.

NOTES :

• For more information please contact Cynthia Cárdenas, Legal Adviser, cynthiac@article19.org, +52 55 10546500 ext. 107