Thursday, May 27, 2010

Images of Mohammed provoke censorship

26 May 2010

Images of Mohammed provoke censorship

Caricatures of Prophet Mohammed on Facebook sparked outrage and censorship in Pakistan last week. Authorities embarked on a large-scale crackdown of the Internet, blocking up to 1,000 sites, including Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, report the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" was an event created by Swedish Facebook users, inviting people to post drawings of Prophet Mohammed on the social networking site. Any depiction of the Prophet is forbidden by Islam.

In response, demonstrations took place throughout Pakistan on 19 May condemning Facebook, and the site itself was blocked by Pakistani officials for being "blasphemous and sacrilegious". Thousands have supported the ban, and some have called for the blocking of all Western websites.

But one local cyber activist disagrees. According to PPF, he told the press, "While we recognise that sites on the Internet are used to spew hatred and incite violence, we steadfastly believe that governments have no right to control access to information."

After the cartoons were made available on YouTube, the Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, Google, Twitter, some parts of the BBC, and Internet access through BlackBerry mobile service, reports ARTICLE 19.

Participants of a media forum who met in Karachi to discuss the ban were assaulted by protesters who accused the group of blasphemy.

In the past, Pakistan has blocked access to YouTube, Blogspot and Flickr, as well as sites that revealed information about corruption linked to political officials and human rights abuses by the army.

More Info:

Pakistanis protest in Karachi yesterday against Facebook. Access to YouTube has now also been blocked. Photograph: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Editor sentenced to 166 years in prison

19 May 2010

Editor sentenced to 166 years in prison

A Turkish newspaper editor accused of being a member of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was sentenced to 166 years and six months in prison on 13 May, and charged with spreading PKK propaganda, report the IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He had been facing an equally absurd 525 years in prison. The disturbing sentence comes on the heels of a new BIANET media monitoring report, which reveals that 216 people, including 69 journalists, were tried in free expression-related cases during the first three months of 2010.

Editor Vedat Kurşun was convicted on 103 counts of "helping and abetting the PKK organisation by spreading propaganda" and "glorifying crimes and criminals" in articles published in 103 issues of Turkey's only Kurdish-language newspaper, "Azadiya Welat". The court's decision is viewed as highly disproportional and politically motivated, says BIANET. RSF called the decision a clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory.

The numbers in the BIANET report present an increase from the first quarter of 2009, when a total of 110 people were tried in free expression-related cases; 60 of those were journalists.

The report documents the cases of Vedat Kurşun and "Revolutionary Democracy" editor Erdal Güler; both are presently in prison because of their work. At least 32 journalists were in jail during the first three months of 2010 for alleged participation in illegal organisations. While ten journalists were released from prison during this time, 21 are still behind bars.

Bangkok ablaze; two journalists killed and several others wounded

19 May 2010

Bangkok ablaze; two journalists killed and several others wounded

Protesters torched Bangkok in revenge this week after the Thai army  dismantled red shirt demonstrations in the centre of the city.
Protesters torched Bangkok in revenge this week after the Thai army dismantled red shirt demonstrations in the centre of the city.
via AP
Downtown Bangkok has spiralled into a flaming battleground after close to two months of anti-government protests, with at least 39 dead, including two journalists killed in clashes, and hundreds wounded. Thai troops broke through the encampment of red shirts today, cracking down on the movement and triggering more violence, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and other IFEX members. The media have taken a heavy toll - several media outlets were targeted or closed down to protect staff, and other journalists have been shot and wounded. The government has imposed a night-time curfew across the country.

Although several red shirt leaders surrendered and called off the protests, protesters reacted by setting fire to the stock exchange, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store complex, banks, and attacking newspaper offices and a television station. The protests have now spread to northeast Thailand where demonstrators torched more buildings.

Throughout this red shirt fury over social injustice, the media has been under constant attack from all sides. The government has tried to control the flow of information by blocking websites, and shutting down satellite TV channels that it claims were inciting violence and promoting red shirt propaganda. Journalists and media outlets have been attacked by protesters who accused the media of biased coverage.

Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi died after being shot in the chest during the recent offensive, and at least three demonstrators were killed. A Dutch reporter Michel Maas and a US documentary filmmaker suffered from gunshot wounds. The army shoots "everything that's moving and don't ask if you are a reporter before shooting," said Maas. Another journalist was wounded in a grenade attack in the capital on 19 May.

Rioters set fire to the Channel 3 building, a government TV station, and set 10 news vehicles ablaze, reports SEAPA. Several media organisations, including the "Bangkok Post" and "The Nation", sent staff home, fearful that mobs would attack the compounds.

"About 100 employees of the Channel 3 TV station were trapped on the roof of their high-rise office, but most were later rescued by helicopter," reports "The Guardian". Meanwhile, radio stations sympathetic to the red shirts have aired "incendiary commentary," says SEAPA.

After government troops cordoned off the protesters' site by cutting off water and electricity and setting up roadblocks to prevent red shirts from joining their comrades last week, three journalists were wounded in skirmishes on 14 May. Canadian journalist Nelson Rand, working for France 24 TV channel, was shot three times. Subin Namchan, a photographer for the Thai-language newspaper, "Matichon", and Supawat Wanchantha, cameraman for Thai Voice TV Channel, were both shot in the legs. The next day, Thai reporter Chaiwat Poompuang, working for "The Nation", was also shot in the leg while covering clashes.

On 13 May, "International Herald Tribune" reporter Thomas Fuller narrowly missed being killed when a sniper fired a bullet into the head of a red shirt rebel commander whom he was interviewing. On 10 April, Reuters journalist Hiro Muramoto was shot and killed while covering fighting between protesters and security forces.

Attacks on the press "will ultimately deprive Thais of the information, news and commentary they need to understand and navigate these perilous days," said SEAPA. The press freedom organisation is also urging journalists to not take sides and to provide reliable information.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Russia: European Court Must Ensure that Religious “Hate Speech” Laws Conform with International Standards on Freedom of Expression

For immediate release 18 May 2010

Russia: European Court Must Ensure that Religious “Hate Speech” Laws Conform with International Standards on Freedom of Expression

International human rights standards concerning hate speech indicate that only forms of expression which actually constitute “incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” should be banned, according to the amicus curiae brief submitted by ARTICLE 19 to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Yuriy Samodurov and Lyudmila Vasilovskaya v Russia.

The case concerns the criminal prosecution for religious incitement of the organisers of an exhibition titled Caution Religion! which opened at the Andrei Sakharov “Peace, Progress and Human Rights” Museum in Moscow in January 2003. The exhibition featured exhibits by contemporary Russian artists around the theme of the dangers of rising clericalism. Shortly after the opening of the exhibition, an organised group of Orthodox believers broke into the exhibition hall and destroyed a significant number of exhibits. Although there was a criminal investigation into the incident, there was no subsequent criminal prosecution of the alleged perpetrators. The applicants in the case, the director and the curator of the museum, however were charged and successfully prosecuted under Article 282(2) of the Criminal Code for ‘inciting hatred and enmity’ and ‘degrading the dignity of individuals who belonged to the Christian religion in general and Orthodox Christianity and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular.’ The Russian district and appeal courts found that the applicants had committed an offence under this provision and fined them 100,000 roubles (RUR) (approximately €3,000) each.

ARTICLE 19’s brief to the European Court of Human Rights draws on relevant international human rights law, as well as regional human rights law and jurisprudence, non-binding international standards (notably the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality) and comparative approaches to laws concerning incitement to religious hatred. In the opinion of ARTICLE 19, these authorities indicate that laws on incitement to religious hatred should be carefully defined and construed to only limit particular forms of expression which have the potential to cause harm to individuals and which are incompatible with the underlying values of human rights, such as respect for pluralism. They should not limit freedom of expression in order to protect or support a particular religious group or point of view as such.

ARTICLE 19 has submitted the brief in the hope that the European Court of Human Rights will hold that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in connection with the applicants in this case.


• For the brief of 15 May 2010 see:
• For the admissibility decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 15 December 2009 in the case Yuriy Samodurov and Lyudmila Vasilovskaya Application No 3007/06 see:
• For the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality see:
• For more information, please contact Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer, ARTICLE 19,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Burma: Final Condemnation for Upcoming Elections as NLD Ceases to Exist as Political Party

10 May 2010

Burma: Final Condemnation for Upcoming Elections
as NLD Ceases to Exist as Political Party

On 7 May 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, winners of the last elections in 1990, ceased to exist as a legal political party in accordance with the military regime’s implementation of new election laws. Many NLD offices have closed down, signboards have been removed and NLD members face impending arrest and abuse.

The NLD decided not to contest upcoming elections in Burma, due to be held sometime towards the end of 2010, because of the absence of a free and fair environment. NLD leader Tin Oo told Irrawaddy: “We can't accept the 2008 constitution and operate under its unjust provisions. If we do, we will just be an organization that listens to what authorities say and agrees with them. Look at who has registered for the election. Most of them are groups with friendly relationships with the regime.” The military regime placed so many restrictions upon the NLD that it had little option but to refuse to register.

NLD members have cleared out the head office and have outlined their plans to do “social work with a political angle.” Some members have also formed a new party called the ‘National Democratic Force’ and registered with the military in order to maintain an overview of the process from the inside.

Local sources have already reported that NLD members are being arrested and abused in Arakan and Mon states.

Despite there still not being a date for the elections, the military-backed ‘Union Solidarity and Development Party’ has now begun campaigning across the country, including on all state-owned channels.

Political parties are important organs for representing aggregated preferences and opinions, and their unobstructed participation is a fundamental part of free and fair elections. A free media, and respect for freedom of expression and access to information are also vital to free and fair elections. A free and professional media informs the electorate, communicates policies, frames election issues, holds parties accountable, and creates a diverse and pluralistic election where all parties have equal opportunities to express their views.

By in effect denying the NLD the chance to take part in the election, the military regime is violating the people’s right to access a range of viewpoints and express themselves freely through the electoral process. Furthermore, the absence of free and fair elections, including specific protections for a free media, is likely to further increase political and economic instability in Burma.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the international community, particularly China, India, and the ASEAN states, to recognise that the withdrawal of the NLD means that the forthcoming elections are illegitimate. ARTICLE 19 urges governments to use all means at their disposal to ensure that the electoral laws be amended so as to allow for political equality and popular control.


• Read ARTICLE 19’s Joint Statement on the Media and Elections at:
• For more information please contact: Oliver Spencer,

IAPA calls for signatures to petition as another journalist is murdered

28 April 2010

IAPA calls for signatures to petition as another journalist is murdered

A Honduran journalist was shot in the head by an assailant waiting for him after he finished anchoring a show at a local television station, report the Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members. He is the seventh journalist killed this year. IAPA is calling on hundreds of thousands of newspaper readers to sign a letter addressed to the president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, asking him to set up legal mechanisms to confront violence against journalists and the impunity linked to these crimes.

Jorge Alberto Orellana, 50, was host of the programme "En vivo con Georgino" (Georgino Live) in San Pedro Sula, northern Honduras. His work focused on local news and cultural events. He did not report on organised crime, and local police say personal motives may be behind the killing, but IAPA reports that he had received death threats.

The journalist had previously worked for the country's leading network Televicentro, and had left because of the station's editorial position which favoured the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

ARTICLE 19 and C-Libre have tabled a submission to the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Honduras, to be held in November, describing the deterioration of freedom of expression and press freedom. The submission described the intensely vulnerable condition of the media, including attacks and censorship of journalists and human rights defenders, unjust use of criminal laws to restrict free expression, a failure to promote media pluralism and diversity, a failure to fully protect freedom of information, and inappropriate and highly restrictive regulation of the media.

IAPA is urging the international community to sign the letter to the Honduran President, which will be published in 400 newspapers in the western hemisphere. The letter says: "We take the liberty of calling your attention to these cases, urging you to please instruct your country's relevant authorities not to cease their respective investigations and not to allow these murders to go unpunished."

At a meeting on 27 April in Miami, IAPA presented a letter to the President, urging him to set up legal and judicial reforms to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press, among numerous recommendations.

To sign IAPA's letter, click here:
Dear Mr. President

Three Nigerian journalists slain

Three journalists slain

Three Nigerian journalists were killed in separate incidents on 24 April, report the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and other IFEX members. One journalist was shot dead in his home, and two others were hacked to death by rioters while trying to cover local unrest.

In the city of Jos, Muslim rioters - enraged over finding an allegedly Muslim corpse close to a church - attacked and killed editor Nathan S. Dabak and reporter Sunday Gyang Bwede. Both journalists worked for a Christian newspaper, "The Light Bearer". They were on their way to interview a local politician when they were stabbed by rioters.

Jos is located in the central Plateau State. The area has experienced a history of clashes between its Christian and Muslim communities, with journalists suffering deadly consequences.

In a Lagos suburb, two gunmen broke into the home of Edo Sule Ugbagwu, a court reporter for "The Nation" newspaper. The intruders demanded money. When Ugbagwu shouted at them to leave, they shot him in the head and left without taking anything. It is unclear if the murder was connected to his work but the circumstances were suspicious, according to details provided by his family to MRA.