By NAW BETTY HAN, THOMPSON CHAU
Two local reporters accused of breaking Myanmar’s “draconian” secrecy law for their investigation of the Rakhine crisis are now charged by a court. Rights groups said the ruling deals a “hammer blow” to press freedom in the country, is a “black day” for all journalists and reporters working here, and has thrown serious doubt on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
On Monday, Yangon district judge Ye Lwin decided to allow the Reuters case to proceed to trial, setting a first court date for July 16. Section 253(1) of Myanmar’s Code of Criminal Procedure requires a judge to dismiss charges against accused persons if the evidence presented fails to warrant a conviction. A motion for charges to be dismissed on this basis, submitted by defence lawyers, was effectively rejected by the decision on Monday.
A Turkish court’s June 27 ruling that journalist and writer Mehmet Altan be released after spending nearly two years in prison is a welcome first step for free expression in Turkey, and it should be followed by the release of his brother Ahmet Altan and other unjustly-held journalists, PEN America said in a statement today.
Mehmet Altan and his brother Ahmet, along with Nazli Ilicak, were sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2018 for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through the use of force and violence.
The June 27 decision by the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice was based on the Turkish Constitutional Court’s January 2018 ruling that Altan’s personal liberty and security and the freedom of the press were being violated by his continued imprisonment while his case is being considered.
Although he was released that evening, Altan must report weekly to the local police to sign in and he is under a travel ban. His co-defendants in the case remain in prison, and their appeal will be heard starting on September 21.
“The detention of these journalists was a violation of their rights from the very start,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “This ruling, while very welcome and a great relief for Mehmet and his family, is only a first step in restoring justice in this case. Press freedom in Turkey remains under grave threat until all imprisoned journalists are released and free to write, speak, and travel.”
The case began in September 2016, when Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were detained as part of a wave of arrests of thinkers and writers following the failed July coup attempt.
Arrested for allegedly giving “subliminal messages” to announce the coup on a television roundtable discussion show hosted by Ilicak, the Altan brothers and Ilicak were charged with attempting to overthrow the “constitutional order,” “interfering with the work of the national assembly,” and “interfering with the work of the government” through violence or force. The three have been serving time in pre-trial detention since their 2016 arrests. In February 2018, they were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and the imposition of a state of emergency, over 180 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree. There are now at least 148 writers, journalists, and media workers in prison, making Turkey the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. PEN America has campaigned on behalf of a number of those writers incarcerated or otherwise facing restrictions on their freedom of expression or movement, including the Altan brothers, Ahmet Sik, and Zehra Doğan.
Published on PEN America on July 3, 2018
The Egyptian authorities are pushing through new media and cybercrime laws that would give the state near-total control over print, online and broadcast media. Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian parliament to reject these draconian bills and on the president to return the cybercrime law back to the parliament for amendment.
“These proposed laws would increase the Egyptian government`s already broad powers to monitor, censor and block social media and blogs, as well as criminalize content that violates vaguely defined political, social or religious norms,” said Najia Bounaim, Director of Campaigns in North Africa at Amnesty International.
The proposed cybercrime law was submitted to the president on 5 June for ratification. If passed, it will allow investigative authorities and the police to monitor and block websites for vaguely worded offences, such as publishing content that could incite crime or harm national security.
“Over the past year, the Egyptian authorities have blocked hundreds of websites without legal basis. If passed, these laws would legalize this mass censorship and step up the assault on the right to freedom of expression in Egypt, which is already one of the world’s most oppressive environments for media and journalism.”
The other three draft laws on media, initially approved by parliament on 10 June, also seek to increase the mandate of the media regulation body, known as the Supreme Council for the Organization of Media (the Supreme Council), to include the blocking of websites.
Over the past year, the Egyptian authorities have blocked 500 websites including independent news platforms and pages belonging to rights groups. Security agencies have ordered this without legal basis. In May 2017, the daily al-Masry al Youm newspaper published a report it said it had received from a security agency that claimed that the websites were "publishing false information" or "harming national security".
The Egyptian government claims there is a "need to organise digital news platforms" through the new laws. However it is clear these bills are a way to restrict the right to freedom of expression in a way that violates both international standards and the Egyptian Constitution. The proposed laws seek to allow the blocking of news websites, under the pretext of “protecting national security and public decency”.
The proposed media bills give the Supreme Council the right to block websites and file criminal complaints against digital media platforms and individuals on the basis of vaguely worded offences such as "inciting people to violate laws" and "defamation against individuals and religions”. They also prohibit news websites from creating smartphone apps unless they have special permission from the Council, and prohibit websites from selling any advertising spaces if they are not registered with the Council.
The new bills also create a number of bureaucratic and financial hurdles for digital media outlets. Establishing an online video channel on a website now requires a company to have capital of 2,500,000 EGP.
“Every day we receive reports about people from all levels of Egyptian society who have been persecuted for Facebook posts, tweets, art work, and even personal, unpublished writing that has fallen into the hands of the Egyptian authorities,” said Najia Bounaim.
“This grim situation will be made much worse if these restrictions are written into law, giving the Egyptian authorities sweeping new powers to monitor online content. It is not too late for the authorities to withdraw these laws and commit to allowing a safe and open space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.”
The first law, known as the Law of the Organisation of Press, Media and the Supreme Council of Media, governs the establishment of private media platforms and the behaviour of private and public media. The second law, known as the Law of the National Authority of Press, focuses on the organization of newspapers and news websites run by the state. The third law, known as the Law of the National Authority of Media, focuses on the organization of TV channels and radio stations owned by the state. The Law on Combating Crimes of Information Technology focuses on websites that publish content considered harmful to the national economy or national security.
The Supreme Council was established by presidential decree No. 158 in 2017. Since its establishment it has committed numerous violations against the media, including referring journalists to disciplinary investigations in the Press Syndicate solely for doing their work.
Published on AI on July 2, 2018
By Gulnoza Said
The Committee to Protect Journalists today joined a coalition of 25 other international press freedom organizations to call on Kazakh authorities to drop criminal defamation cases against media outlets Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel and revise the law on dissemination of "false information" often used to silence critical media outlets and journalists.
CPJ has documented how authorities used these repressive laws to raid the newsrooms of Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel, confiscate equipment, detain and question journalists, and block news websites and Facebook pages. The action against Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel came after the outlets reported in 2016 allegations of corruption against a former government minister.
The former minister, Zeinulla Kakimzhanov, and his son, Ilkhalid, filed a defamation complaint claiming the outlets spread false information. Four separate cases are being heard against the outlets. In April 2017, an Almaty court ordered the two outlets and four journalists to pay 50 million Kazakh tenge (US$160,000) in damages, according to local media reports. The three other cases are ongoing.
The joint IFEX letter to Kazakhstan's prosecutor general, Supreme Court, Parliament, and Minister of Information and Communications, called for the law, which levies disproportionate penalties against journalists and media outlets, to be revised and highlighted the threat that such legislation poses to critical reporting and press freedom.
To read the letter, click here.
By Madalin Necsutu
“In the last few years in Moldova, we cannot talk about progress, but more about regression,” Nadine Gogu, executive director of the Independent Journalism Centre in Chisinau, told the Media Policy Forum in the Moldovan capital on Tuesday.
The biggest problems identified by the speakers at the forum related to the increasing politicisation of the country’s media and the alleged concentration of ownership in the hands of proxies for the ruling party, which was described as a threat to the country’s democracy.
The president of the Moldovan parliament, Andrian Candu, told the forum however that “it is important that the media should be allowed to raise its economic capacity”.
Candu argued that the media should have more access to public information and that the debates at the forum should help politicians to improve mass media legislation in Moldova.
But Moldovan media NGOs complained about the unwillingness of the authorities to offer more rights to journalists.
Freedom House described Moldova as a country with a ‘partly free’ press in its 2017 Freedom of the Press index.
Participants at a panel moderated by Tim Judah, a special correspondent for The Economist, stressed the need to increase the level of media literacy in the country as a tool to combat propaganda and so-called ‘fake news’.
The director of Romanian Centre for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadanei, described a successful media literacy programme that was implemented in some schools in Romania with young pupils.
“It is not so much fake news that causes trouble, it is disinformation that comes in many shapes and form and it’s not only about banning content from social media, it is about how to educate people today,” Avadanei said.
BIRN’s Macedonia Country director Ana Petruseva noted how investigative journalism had played a very significant role in the fight against the concentration of media power and the disinformation spread by government-controlled media in Macedonia over the past few years.
“We had a situation when on three to four private TV stations, we could see the same exact report... the only different thing was the voiceover,” Petruseva recalled.
The Media Policy Forum was organised in Chisinau by Freedom House, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Internews, and co-sponsored by USAID, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and BIRN.
Published on Balkan Insight on March 13, 2018
By Dicta Asiimwe, Eric Oduor, Christopher Kidanka and Fred Oluoch
In Kenya, although freedom of the media is guaranteed in the Constitution, there are several Acts of Parliament that duplicate the roles of different agencies.
For example, while the Media Act 2013 gives the Media Council of Kenya powers to regulate the industry with an established independent complaints commission to handle complaints against journalists, the Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Act establishes a tribunal that has the powers to impose fines on journalists and media houses, who are found guilty.
In addition, some clauses in the National Security Service Act 2014, and the Media Authority Act 2013 clearly limit press freedom and freedom of expression. Article 12 of the Act states that a person who publishes, broadcasts or causes to be published or distributed, through print, digital or electronic means, insulting, threatening, or inciting material or images of dead or injured persons which are likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public or disturb public peace is liable to a fine not exceeding $48,543 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.
Human Rights Watch and Article 19 which defends freedom of expression and information recently produced a report detailing how Kenyan authorities have committed a range of abuses against journalists reporting on sensitive issues.
The two organisations documented 16 incidents of direct death threats against journalists and bloggers across the country in recent years, and cases in which police arbitrarily arrested, detained and later released without charge at least 14 journalists and bloggers.
In Uganda, freedom of expression and the press is constitutionally guaranteed under Article 29 which in section 1(b) states that "freedom of speech and expression shall include freedom of the press and other media." These are operationalised under the Press and Journalism Act and Electronic Media Act.
However, Uganda has criminal defamation on the law books, even while the African Court on Human and People's Rights has previously ruled that imprisonment over defamation violates freedom of expression.
The legal regime is replete with restrictions including criminal defamation and sedition that remain on the law books, notably the Penal Code Act.
Laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 holds journalists criminally liable if they are found communicating with a terrorist or terrorist organisation. Journalists could also fall foul of the law for among others "promoting terrorism" purely because of their work.
This law, in addition to others like the Offensive Communications which was passed under the Computer Misuse Act are used by police to harass journalists and editors. Other laws that are a threat to the media include the Anti-Pornography Act, which carry penalties for publishers.
Since the scuffle in parliament late September over the age limit for the president that was broadcast live, the Uganda Communications Commission has closed a radio station in Kanungu district in the western part of the country, which was considered against the age-limit amendment, citing minimum broadcasting standards.
Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ)-Uganda says UCC cites minimum broadcasting standards but does not follow due process, and that it over-steps its mandate when it asks media houses to suspend staff.
In Tanzania, the Media Services Act 2016 that was signed by President John Magufuli early this year, gives the government more powers to interrogate journalists.
Section 60 gives the Information Minister the power to implement the Media Services Act 2016 without further consultation with lawyers and other media stakeholders.
Section 55 of the Act also gives the minister full powers to ban any publication or newspaper that prints information thought to affect the national security and public health.
Section 52 and 50 (2) provides a penalty of three to five years in prison or a fine of between $2,250 and $7,500 for intentionally publishing information that threatens national security, public safety, public order, the country's economic interests, public morality or public health, or that injures the reputation, rights and freedom of other persons.
Furthermore, the law warns anyone who imports media material or publishes it, could be jailed for between five and 10 years, or pay a fine of between $3,600 and $9,000.
Published on All Africa on October 28, 2017.
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School