By Jesselyn Cook
Mexican authorities discovered the charred remains of Salvador Adame’s body this week, more than a month after a group of armed assailants reportedly abducted the veteran TV reporter in the crime-plagued state of Michoacán.
Halfway through the year, Adame’s death brings to seven the 2017 toll of slain press workers in Mexico ― now among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. This grim figure includes at least four reporters who were killed in direct retaliation for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Adame’s colleague described him to CPJ as a “a frequent critic of municipal officials” who covered regional news and politics as the director of local channel 6TV. His killing follows a worsening trend of targeted threats and violence against media professionals in the drug-torn nation.
Targeting And Silencing Journalists
Months earlier, Miroslava Breach Velducea, a crime reporter for national newspaper La Jornada, was killed outside her home in the northern state of Chihuaha. An unknown gunman shot her eight times in front of one of her children.
Breach Velducea’s death, “in a calculated act of extreme violence, has left the best journalism of Chihuahua severely injured, showing the seriousness of the failure of the state that has bled with the impunity of corrupt leaders and criminals for years,” La Jornada wrote in her obituary. “It’s not the death of one more journalist ― it’s the death of our society, which bit by bit has become accustomed to the assassination of its best people, silencing them in all sorts of ways.”
The attacker reportedly left a note at the scene of Breach Velducea’s killing, that read: “For being a snitch.”
CPJ data reveals that the majority of slain reporters in Mexico in recent decades had focused their news coverage on issues of crime and corruption ― most of whom are believed to have been killed in acts of retaliatory repression by criminals seeking to silence their critics.
And in many ways, they’ve succeeded.
“Fear and self-censorship by journalists remains very, very strong,” Emmanuel Colombié, Latin America director for Reporters Without Borders (or Reporters sans frontières), told HuffPost. Some reporters have fled Mexico and others have quit the industry as a result of targeted threats and violence against members of the Mexican press, he noted.
In the border state of Tamaulipas, for example, “there are very few journalists remaining,” Colombié said. “Any kind of news has to be based on the official statements and press releases from the government.”
On its annual World Press Freedom index, RSF ranks Mexico 147th out of 180 countries, due to its “pervasive corruption accounting for impunity.”
Corruption And Impunity
The kidnappings and assassinations of journalists in Mexico often go unpunished due a thriving cycle of corruption and impunity, according to CPJ.
“Endemic impunity allows criminal gangs, corrupt officials and cartels to silence their critics,” the organization explained in a special report released in May.
High-level corruption and organized crime including raging cartel violence have long tarnished Mexico’s ongoing drug war. But these issues, while rampant and newsworthy, have become particularly dangerous for journalists to report on.
“At the local level in certain states, the cartels can have direct influence on the political institutions,” Colombié explained. “They can directly give orders to the local authorities. In some states, powerful governors use their connections with local organizations to punish journalists investigating any kind of topic that can negatively impact them. It’s a very complex situation.”
State governors are among Mexico’s least reputable public authorities, according to a 2017 report by the International Crisis Group. At least 11 governors have been investigated since 2010 for corruption, including fraud, money laundering, nepotism and links to drug cartels.
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Mexican journalist Adela Navarro Bello summarized the haunting plight of her colleagues in a sobering CPJ feature.
“Being a journalist in Mexico means learning to live in the shadow of impunity: the impunity you investigate and report on, and the impunity experienced firsthand,” she wrote. “Those who investigate corruption and impunity risk losing their sense of comfort or, worse, their lives. And after their murders, an incomplete file is the most likely end to an investigation into their deaths.”
Insufficient Response From Mexican Government
After the gruesome, public killing of award-winning drug cartel reporter Javier Valdes sparked international outrage in May, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed for the first time to dedicate “the necessary resources to provide journalists and human rights defenders with the protection they need.”
“Violence against journalists and human rights defenders has opened a deep wound in our society,” he added. “What people expect is results, and a fight against impunity.”
Press freedom advocacy organizations lauded his remarks, but they have observed little real change to date and fear they could be “dutiful statements” ahead of Mexico’s 2018 presidential election.
“We welcome this statement by the president, but the important thing now is to do the follow-up,” said Colombié. “We need to see concrete action and reform to protect journalists.”
Mexico also created a special prosecutor office to investigate crimes against freedom of expression more than a decade ago, but the institution has been largely ineffective in addressing the crisis.
It opened 123 case files between February 2016 and February 2017 including 10 homicides, but it has secured only three convictions.
The agency’s ability to conduct investigations independent of state authority influence is more effective on paper than in practice, according to CPJ, and many journalists are also fearful and hesitant to report crimes against them.
“It’s a tragic reality,” Colombié said. “Journalists are scared, and they don’t trust the authorities to protect them, so they just stop working as journalists and they keep silent.”
Published on the Huffington Post on June 30, 2017.
By Jewel Ike-Obioha
Freedom of the press or media is the freedom of communication and expression through various mediums including electronic media and published materials.
Article 8 of the Tunisian constitution states “the liberties of opinion, expression, the press, publication, assembly and association are guaranteed and exercised within the conditions defined by the law.” Article 1 of the press code provides for “freedom of the press, publishing, printing, distributing and sale of books and publications.”
One would ask if these statements are actually upheld or mere penned down fallacies to justify the press freedom or the lack thereof.
Since the removal of strongman President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2001, Tunisia’s once-stead media have enjoyed a new lease of life but activists and politicians say the government is now seeking to impose some of the same types of controls as before. Media in Tunisia under President Ben Ali was among the most repressed in Africa and the Arab world in part because of his crackdown on opposition and criticism of his autocratic government.
In recent times, however, things are not looking up for the press in Tunisia and their advances are under threat since two major attacks in 2015 killed more than 60 foreign tourists and increased fears of insecurity. Tunisia has since been under a state of emergency and this has given some officials leverage to curtail some rights in the name of national security.
“Government officials seek to control the media and exert pressure through telephone instructions and practices of the old regime have returned” Neji Bghouri, President of the Tunisian journalists union, said during a news conference.
Kahoula Chabeh, a member of the Tunisian journalists union, said that 41 local and foreign journalists were beaten by police, harassed, insulted or treated aggressively just last month in attempts to prevent them from working.
“Police have returned to old practices to tighten up control on journalists, harass them and intervene in their work under the pretext of the state of emergency and the fight against religious extremism,” Bghouri said.
Other African countries are not left out in this press repression that has eaten deep into the continent’s roots.
Press repression in Uganda
In January of 2015, Lwanga was attacked by a police officer while he, Lwanga, was covering a protest march in Kampala on January 21, 2015. The police officer hit Lwanga with a baton multiple times on his shoulders and head until he fell to the ground, and as he fell, the officer drove his boots into Lwanga’s back, damaging his spine in the process. In March 2017, the officer, Joram Mwesigye, was found guilty of assault by a Ugandan court.
Abdullahi Halakhe, Amnesty International’s East Africa Researcher said about the ruling: “Today’s ruling is a rare victory for freedom of the press in Uganda. It sends a clear message that attacks on journalists must never be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances. It will hopefully assure people working in the media that the courts are watching; willing and ready to uphold their rights.
“Press freedom has become increasingly restricted in Uganda with numerous attacks on media outlets seen as critical of the government in the past year. Today’s court decision offers a chink of light in an otherwise bleak outlook and demonstrates that the judiciary is prepared to defend freedom of expression.”
Four journalists tortured in Sudan
On 5th April 2017, Amnesty International reported that the torture of two journalists abducted en route to Jebel Marra, in Sudan’s Darfur region is not only a grave affront to press freedom but also proof the Sudanese authorities have something to hide in the region. The journalists were abducted due to their persistent investigation on the Darfur chemical attacks that occurred earlier in the year.
“For nearly two months, the two journalists were locked up in a prison and tortured, simply for doing their job. They were beaten, subjected to electric shocks, deliberately deprived of oxygen and subjected to mock executions,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
President John Magufuli’s attack on press freedom in Tanzania
In Tanzania, just like Tunisia and most African countries, while the constitution provides for the freedom of expression as a whole, the situation on the ground continues to be antithetical.
After about two decades of highs and lows, the Media Services Act 2016 was finally passed in November 2016. The passing of the act was not well received by the stakeholders, media practitioners and the opposition camp. The government insisted that the act which, however, repels the infamous Newspaper Act 1976 was going to professionalise journalism; while the other side maintains that it is going to continue to muzzle the media industry.
Tanzanian press felt they had gotten hope with the election of current President John Magufuli in November 2015, but little did they know that oppression will commence again with the passing of this Media Service Act.
How Paul Kagame shut down press freedom in Rwanda
Rwanda ranks 171 in the world for freedom of the press. This is indeed a very stifling position and even though the economy of the country seems relatively stable, freedom of expression which is vital is still impeded.
During the last presidential election which gave victory to the same President Paul Kagame, journalists within the country only reported as the government deemed fit. International observers say it was one of the most orderly and peaceful elections in history but the press still faced stifling conditions and this was only obvious to the people experiencing it in the country. It’s as though a veil has been cast on the Rwandan populace that no one dares speak up on any form of press oppression and even if anyone dares write about it, the Intore militia, an indoctrinated group dedicated to the government’s political agenda, immediately denounces and ridicules the authors saying that their lives in Rwanda were happy.
The cases of press oppression go on and on within the continent. In a recent study by Freedom House, Ghana, previously the only press free country in Africa, declined to partially free as a result of increased ethnic violence by the police, military, political party members; the first killing of a journalist in over 20 years and the continuous electricity outage which impairs media coverage.
However, countries like Burkina Faso made great improvements when she underwent a long investigation into the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo. And also, Cote d’Ivoire benefited from continued openings in its private broadcasting market as well as a reduction in harassment against the press. Togo also made some strides in granting the opposition party press access during the last elections.
We are certainly not there yet as only 13 percent of the world’s countries have complete press freedom, forty-one percent has partially free status and forty-six live in not free media zones. But we can try to do better by abiding by the constitutions which grant us freedom of expression.
Published on Ventures on April 13, 2017.
Amnesty International has called on Algeria to amend its laws to remove “restrictions imposed unduly” on media outlets and to release those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
In its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty said the Algerian government must “remove the restrictions imposed unduly on the print media as well as on television and private radio stations by amending the law relating to information and the law on audio-visual activity.”
It went on to call for the release of those detained after exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Amendments to the Criminal Code and the Family Code are also necessary according to the organisation and for the country to adopt a “general law to combat gender-based violence in close cooperation with national human rights organisations” and that “access of victims of sexual violence to support and health services in matters of sexuality and procreation” be facilitated.
The human rights organisation believes that Algeria also has progressed in cooperating with international human rights experts and the ratification of international treaties.
Amnesty International also called for more protection for migrants and refugees and for “the authorities to transpose into national law the provisions of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Optional Protocol of 1967 and other norms of international law relating to the protection of persons in need of International protection and to grant protection to refugees recognised as such by UNHCR.”
The UPR provides an opportunity to review the human rights situation in all UN member countries every five years. Algeria was previously reviewed in 2008 and 2012.
Following its last UPR in May 2012, national and foreign associations called for the ratification of several international conventions, including those relating to the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances and the abolition of discriminatory measures against women.
Published on Middle East Monitor's website on May 8, 2017.