Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the press law amendments that President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law yesterday because they deal a new series of blows to media freedom in Kazakhstan, especially to investigative journalism and access to state-held information.
As Kazakh press legislation already contained many draconian provisions, hopes were raised by the original announcement that it was to be amended, and again when journalists were consulted about the changes, as this is not customary in Kazakhstan.
But these amendments will just make things worse. After the lower house passed them in late November, RSF joined Kazakh press freedom groups in urging the senate to reject them – but to no avail.
“Far from the announced intentions, this package of amendments obstructs the activities of journalists even more and makes them more vulnerable to pressure,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“We deeply regret that, although media professionals were consulted, their opinions were ignored. The authorities need to understand that journalistic freedom and independence would benefit society as a whole and the country’s development.”
Under one of the most controversial amendments, journalists are required to obtain the permission of persons named in their articles before publishing information involving matters of “personal and family confidentiality.”
Kazakh law already protects the right to privacy and medical confidentiality, among others, and this new form of confidentiality is left undefined, opening the way to the broadest possible interpretation. Investigative journalists fear it could obstruct their reporting, especially coverage of corruption. There is similar concern about a ban on “information violating lawful interests,” which are also not defined.
One of the amendments complicates the right of access to state-held information. The length of the time within which officials must answer journalists’ questions is more than doubled, with the result that by the time journalists get their answer, there is every chance it will no longer be newsworthy. Furthermore, officials are also given the right to classify certain answers.
Under one of the amendments, Internet users are required to identify themselves before posting a comment on a news website, and their information will be stored for three months. This suggests that there could be a further increase in the number of people being jailed because of their online comments, which has already grown sharply in recent years.
The package nonetheless does include a few positive amendments that were the result of the prior consultation with media representatives and NGOs. The right of control over one’s own photographic or video image is restricted during public events and a procedure is established for settling press-related disputes out of court.
Also, the authorities will no longer be able to impose such drastic sanctions as the confiscation of a newspaper issue or the closure of a media outlet in response to minor regulatory violations. It should nonetheless be pointed out that the leading independent media outlets have already been forced to close on the basis of such minor violations.
There have been almost no independent media outlets in Kazakhstan since the simultaneous closure of all the leading national opposition newspapers in December 2012. This dire situation has been compounded by the judicial system’s readiness to cooperate in arrests of outspoken journalists and bloggers.
Kazakhstan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Published on Reporters Without Borders on December 29, 2017
Vietnamese bloggers and rights activists are being beaten, threatened, and intimidated with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Vietnamese government should order an end to all attacks and hold those responsible accountable. Donor governments should tell the Vietnamese authorities to end the crackdown, and that repressing internet freedom, peaceful speech, and activism will carry consequences.
The 65-page report, “No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam,” highlights 36 incidents in which unknown men in civilian clothes beat rights campaigners and bloggers between January 2015 and April 2017, often resulting in serious injuries. Many victims reported that beatings occurred in the presence of uniformed police who did nothing to intervene.
“It’s bad enough that activists in Vietnam have to risk prison for speaking out, but now they have to risk their safety on a daily basis simply for exercising their basic rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Vietnamese government needs to make it clear that it will not tolerate this kind of behavior and bring to an end this campaign against rights campaigners.”
Human Rights Watch has documented a strategy of beating bloggers and rights activists across the country, including in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Vung Tau, as well as in provinces such as Quang Binh, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Binh Duong, Lam Dong, and Bac Giang.
In many cases, assaults have occurred in public view on Vietnam’s streets, such as in the beating of environmental activist La Viet Dung, in July 2016, who was attacked on his way home from a social event with the No-U Football Club in Hanoi. Unknown men struck Dung with a brick and fractured his skull.
In May 2014, unknown men beat rights activist Tran Thi Nga on the street in Hanoi with an iron rod, breaking her right knee and left arm. Assaults also occurred in public spaces such as in a café. In June 2016, an unknown man punched democracy campaigner Nguyen Van Thanh in the face in a café in Da Nang. When police arrived, instead of investigating the assault they detained Nguyen Van Thanh for several hours and questioned him about his political writings.
In other cases, unknown men took activists into cars or vans, beat them, and abandoned them in a deserted area. For instance, in April 2017 a group of men in civilian clothes wearing surgical masks abducted rights activists Huynh Thanh Phat and Tran Hoang Phuc in Ba Don (Quang Binh province), took them into a van and drove away. The men used belts and sticks to whip Phat and Phuc in the van and then abandoned them in a forest. In February 2017, a group of men in civilian clothes abducted rights activists Nguyen Trung Ton and his friend Nguyen Viet Tu, also in Ba Don, dragged them into a van and drove away. The men stripped off Ton’s and Tu’s clothes, covered their heads with their jackets, and then hit them with iron tubes before abandoning them in a forest. Nguyen Trung Ton suffered multiple injuries and underwent surgery in the hospital afterward.
“The fact that thugs abducted activists in broad daylight, forced them into vans, and beat them demonstrates the impunity with which activists are persecuted,” said Adams. “The Vietnamese government should understand that tolerance of these violent attacks will lead to lawlessness and chaos instead of the social order and stability it says it is striving for.”
Activists have also been beaten after participating in public events, such as pro-environment protests, demonstrations to call for the release of fellow activists, or human rights-related events. In December 2015, rights campaigner Nguyen Van Dai went to give a talk about human rights and the constitution at a parish in Nam Dan district (Nghe An). As Nguyen Van Dai and three fellow activists were leaving the area, a group of men wearing surgical masks stopped their taxi, dragged them out of the car, and beat them.
Even the act of showing solidarity by visiting the houses of former political prisoners or welcoming a political prisoner home has triggered violence against activists. In August 2015, a group of bloggers and activists including Tran Thi Nga, Chu Manh Son, Truong Minh Tam, Le Thi Huong, Phan Van Khanh, and Le Dinh Luong went to Lam Dong to visit former political activist Tran Minh Nhat after he was released following four years of imprisonment for allegedly being affiliated with a banned overseas political party. As the activists were leaving town in different buses, unknown men in civilian clothes got onto the buses, dragged them off, and beat them in public.
In all but one case included in this report, Human Rights Watch has found that no perpetrator has been identified and prosecuted – despite the fact that victims often report their beating to the police. On the contrary, some victims, including activists Nguyen Van Dai and Tran Thi Nga, were later arrested and charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code. This raises the question about the relationship the authorities have with the assailants in these cases, which range from apparent passive tolerance to active collaboration.
The report draws on incidents reported in foreign media including Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, the BBC, Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, social media including Facebook and YouTube, politically independent websites such as Dan Lam Bao (Citizen Journalism), Dan Luan (Citizen Discussion), Viet Nam Thoi Bao (Vietnam Times), Tin Mung Cho Nguoi Ngheo (Good News for the Poor), Defend the Defenders, and individual blogs. Many of the assaults included in this report have never been published in English. They are also not reported in Vietnamese state-affiliated media.
“State media censorship drives many peaceful critics in Vietnam to express their concerns online,” said Adams. “This pattern of assaults on bloggers and activists is clearly intended to silence critics, who in many cases have no other way to voice legitimate concerns.”
A recent increase in recorded beatings coincided with a temporary decrease in politically motivated arrests during the period in which Vietnam was negotiating with the United States over participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Vietnam’s human rights record was a major focus of the negotiations and US congressional debate. It is possible that the government of Vietnam wanted to show a decrease in political arrests and trials but still pursued measures to crack down on dissent. Ironically, many of the victims of beatings were former political prisoners, including Tran Minh Nhat, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, Chu Manh Son, and Mai Thi Dung. However, recent evidence suggests that a new surge of arrests has occurred in tandem with continued beatings of activists.
“These brave activists and bloggers suffer persecution on a daily basis, yet they do not give up their cause,” said Adams. “International donors and trade partners with Vietnam should support their struggle by urging the Vietnamese government to stop the beatings and to hold these violent assailants accountable.”
Published on HRW on June 18, 2017.
By Lauren Heuser
The architects of Canada’s constitution considered a free press so vital to democracy that they worked to grant it special protection. “Freedom of the press” is listed in the Charter right after freedom of expression in the spelling out of our fundamental rights. Listed separately, freedom of the press is clearly not meant to just protect free expression — although the press must have free expression, too — but also journalists’ ability to engage in, say, investigative work that requires reporters to promise confidentiality to their secret sources.
So it’s a bit surprising, then, that it might require a private member’s bill — emanating from the Senate no less — for the confidentiality of journalistic sources to finally receive robust legal protection in this country. Bill S-231 will, once passed, enact stringent protections for journalists acting to protect the identity of their confidential sources.
With a free press protected by the Charter, a bill like this shouldn’t even be necessary. But as a series of scandals have shown, it clearly is. Senator Claude Carignan introduced S-231 last fall following shocking revelations that Quebec police had been spying on dozens of journalists. In April, the bill was given an added burst of urgency following news that Canada had fallen yet again in the annual World Press Freedom Index. Now in 22nd place (down from 8th in 2015), Canada ranks behind Samoa and Suriname and other countries most of us would have difficulty finding on a map.
But Bill S-231 is by no means all it will take to fix the erosion of press freedoms in Canada. Both the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament could do more to safeguard the press — although in the government’s case, “doing more” would sometimes require doing less.
Generally speaking, the Supreme Court has not been shy about giving broad meaning to the Constitution, interpreting most Charter rights liberally. But when it comes to the Charter’s press guarantee, the court has been surprisingly restrained. As Benjamin Oliphant (who, full disclosure, is a friend) observed in a 2013 McGill Law Review article, freedom of the press occupies a “neglected place in our constitutional framework.”
The Supreme Court, for instance, ruled in a 2010 case involving this newspaper (R v. National Post) that journalists’ protection of confidential sources did not merit aconstitutional shield. The justices regarded it as dangerous to grant “constitutional immunity” to journalists’ newsgathering activities, reasoning that it would allow just about anyone to offer constitutional immunity to others who had told them secrets.
Instead, the court has generally preferred to analyze media cases through the lens of other Charter rights, particularly the freedom of expression. But as Oliphant points out, this framework isn’t always well suited to assessing media cases, because journalists engage in a range of newsgathering functions that are not directly “expressive” in nature.
He calls on the court to instead develop a separate Charter framework to evaluate cases of state interference with “non-expressive” press activity. This would be applied not only to confidential-source cases, but other newsgathering activities as well — such as disputes over access to information requests, the openness of tribunal hearings, or other state conduct that might “chill” reporters. This framework would ensure greater protection for journalists even without the government passing laws to protect specific press functions.
But enhanced constitutional protection isn’t the only way Canada’s media could be strengthened. Reporters Without Borders (which publishes the Press Freedom Index) considers a country’s legal framework as only one of several factors when evaluating how free a nation’s press is.
It also looks at things like the “transparency of the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news;” the “degree to which the media are able to function independently of sources of political … influence;” and the “environment in which news providers operate.”
On each of these metrics, Canada could be doing a lot better. Just last week, federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault released her office’s annual report, which criticized the government for using its Access to Information Act to impede transparency, meaning the act is being used to undermine the very thing it was created to do.
The government, meanwhile, has shown itself to be unconcerned with the importance of media independence. In addition to owning and funding the biggest news organization in the country, it has more recently been consulting with industry leaders about the prospect of subsidizing incumbent media companies. If media organizations began to rely on the government as a source of survival, journalistic independence would be difficult to find just about anywhere.
Finally, and not unrelatedly, Reporters Without Borders considers the “environment and self-censorship” factor. The government certainly isn’t responsible for the kind of Twitter mobbings and toxic online comments that might encourage journalists to bite their tongues more often than they used to. But Ottawa does subsidize many of the media organizations that were embroiled in the recent cultural appropriation debate that resulted in some journalists being disciplined or dismissed. The CBC demoted Steve Ladurantaye as managing editor of The National news broadcast over his politically incorrect tweeting. If there is one workplace that you’d expect to stand up for an employee’s right to express controversial opinions, you’d think it would be a newsroom.
Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of such principles when, like the CBC, an organization’s main aim is to please. And when newsrooms start acting like politicians in this regard, it’s a worrying sign that our Charter ideal of a free and independent press is in serious trouble.
Published on The National Post on June 15, 2017.
Press freedom in India suffered a fresh blow on Monday when the country’s main investigative agency raided homes and offices connected to the founders of NDTV, India’s oldest television news station. The raids mark an alarming new level of intimidation of India’s news media under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The story is a bit tangled, but here’s the gist: The Central Bureau of Investigation says it conducted the raids because of a complaint that NDTV’s founders had caused “an alleged loss” to ICICI, a private bank, related to repayment of a loan. In 2009, ICICI said the note had been paid in full. Not really, the investigators said: A reduction in the interest rate had saddled the bank with a loss — hence the raid.
That doesn’t wash. India’s large corporations regularly default on debt with nary a peep from authorities. In fact, even as India’s state-owned banks are holding bad debt of about $186 billion, Mr. Modi’s government has hesitated to go after big defaulters. But suddenly we have dramatic raids against the founders of an influential media company — years after a loan was settled to a private bank’s satisfaction. To Mr. Modi’s critics, the inescapable conclusion is that the raids were part of a “vendetta” against NDTV.
Since Mr. Modi took office in 2014, journalists have faced increasing pressures. They risk their careers — or lives — to report news that is critical of the government or delves into matters that powerful politicians and business interests do not want exposed. News outlets that run afoul of the government can lose access to officials. The temptation to self-censor has grown, and news reports are increasingly marked by a shrill nationalism that toes the government line.
Through all this, NDTV has remained defiant. Last year, its Hindi-language station was ordered off the air for a day as punishment for reporting on a sensitive attack on an air base, but it stood by its reporting, insisting that it was based on official briefings.
Praveen Swami, a reporter for The Indian Express newspaper, warned on Twitter that Monday’s raids were “a defining moment,” adding: “The last time this sort of thing happened was during the Emergency,” a reference to the strict censorship of 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency and ruled as an autocrat. Sadly, Mr. Swami’s warning is warranted. The Central Bureau of Investigation said on Tuesday that it “fully respects the freedom of press.” Even if that’s true, the question still outstanding is whether Mr. Modi does.
Published on The NY Times on June 7, 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.