Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eritrea Houses World's Biggest Prison For Journalists

A tiny country on the east coast of Africa, Eritrea and its 5 million inhabitants don't often make the international news stage. But it is more politics than population that keeps the country out of the press. Eight years after a government mandate that shut down all private news outlets and ended free speech, Eritrea now matches China and Iran in the number of journalists it has detained without trial.

Reporters Without Borders announced that Eritrea now holds at least 30 journalists in prison, adding that four of the journalists who were detained in the September of 2001 crackdown have died due to harsh prison conditions which included metal containers and underground cells.

Aaron Berhane is the former editor of Setit, the largest private paper in Eritrea before it was shut down. He managed to escape to Canada after the fateful announcement in 2001, one of the few among his peers and colleagues who is not dead or in jail. He writes about the first time he heard the government announcement of the media blackout, saying:

I was in bed when my wife turned on the radio to listen to the morning news. 'Starting today, September 18, 2001, the government has ordered all private presses to stop their publications,'" he recalls. "I felt as if I was dreaming. I didn’t move my head. I was still under the blanket."

Berhane got lucky. He wasn't home the night the police came to his house to arrest him and he is still able to practice journalism. He now runs Meftih, a community paper geared towards helping other
Eritreans in Canada.

There is no government interference or police harassment here and there is respect for the rule of law. In Eritrea, it’s not the law that rules, it’s one person that rules the law," says Berhane. "I hope that one day my country will enjoy the blessings that I experience here in Canada and that my colleagues will be eventually set free."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Citizen Journalism and Twitter in Uganda

In the midst of riots and anti-government protests leading up to the 2011 elections in Uganda, the government has continued to clamp down on the press. And as the Committee to Protect Journalists reports, citizen journalists and social media sites are helping to fill the void.

At least four radio stations were recently shut down and news broadcasts have been replaced by sitcoms or kept light, with no mention of the protests. A Ugandan talk show host, Kalundi Serumaga, was also arrested, along with four journalists from Uganda's largest daily paper.

Internet availability has almost doubled in Uganda since 2007, boosting blogging and micro-blogging activity and opening up more channels for information. BlogSpirit is one site that aggregates blogs from Uganda and can be accessed from around the world. Although daily papers have so far been allowed to continue to print, Ugandans are turning to these sites for immediate updates and reports.

CPJ writer
Rebekah Heacock says she was constantly checking her Twitter account in hopes of hearing from her friends and colleagues in Uganda. One friend wrote: “Okay. We're like running for our lives.” Another tweeted: "Wow...everyone hurry and turn to [Ugandan television station] NBS for a riveting report on...wait for it...how to play golf."

You can read Heacock's full report at CPJ here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Please Join Us At the Peter Mackler Award Ceremony

Reporters Without Borders / The Peter Mackler Award

October 2, 2009
6.00 PM

Join us for the presentation of the First annual


Recipient : J. S. Tissainayagam
Keynote Speaker: Marcus Brauchli

National Press Club - 529 14th Street, N. W.
Washington DC

Cocktail reception to follow with Silent Auction to benefit the Peter Mackler Award

Please, RSVP at info@pmaward.org by September 20.

Rogue Journalism: From Iran to Refugee Camps

What do you do when you have the manpower, the brainpower, and the news itself, but you don't have the right to print? These journalists--one reporting out of a heavily censored country and the other from a country where the refugee residents have no rights--got around the government barriers to create functional and even sophisticated news outlets.

T.P. Mishra is the President of the Third World Media Network and the editor of the Bhutan New Service. In his new online series for Media Helping Media, he is outlining how refugees can start their own media organizations from their refugee camps. Because these temporary camps often become permanent homes where many end up spending the majority of their lives, the need for schools and other community fundamentals arises. But with out any rights in the country you call home, the task becomes even more difficult.

And if you want to fill an information void but can't be on the ground, Kelly Golnoush Niknejad explains in Foreign Policy how she managed to start a remote news bureau in Tehran.

To be based in Tehran means to constantly be censored and to self censor just to ensure you will be able to remain in the country, according to Niknejad. "You are likely to have to work with a semiofficial minder or show your articles to an agent from the intelligence ministry before it is published," says Niknejad. "I was once offered access to any official I wanted, if I were willing to submit. I declined."

What might have saved Niknejad's Tehran Bureau is that from the beginning, her and her classmate from Columbia decided that they would not become a purely oppositional outlet. Instead of becoming an underground news source read in small circles, they sought interviews from those with varying political opinions and even attempted to get official accreditation.

Like Niknejad, Mishra also attempted to follow the law as much as possible. In fact, his first rule is to know the country's laws. And as he goes on to explain, to know which ones need to be followed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

French Journalist Murdered Covering Violence in El Salvador

Christian Poveda, a 53-year-old French photojournalist and filmmaker, was killed on September 2 in El Salvador, a victim of the rampant violence he had hoped to help bring to an end.

Poveda first went to El Salvador in the early 1980s, to cover the Central American country's long, bloody civil war as a photojournalist. He returned after the armed conflict was over to document the brutality and poverty faced by members of street gangs, particularly the Mara 18 and rival Mara Salvatrucha gangs, which "make up a huge criminal network that runs from Los Angeles, where a diaspora of Salvadoreans lives, down through chunks of Central America." He spent 16 months filming the gangs for his film La Vida Loca, a disturbing documentary which won entry and awards in many high-profile South and Central American film festivals. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in April, Poveda said that while the gang members could be "savage," they were "people of their word" and "victims of society," and that he was not frightened of them.

But while touring his film in El Salvador last week, he was found dead in his car, having been shot in the head, in the rural region of Tonacatepeque. Salvadoran police vowed to work "tirelessly" to find the killer or killers, although - as Poveda's film showed - anonymous gang murders in the country often go unsolved by the overworked police force.

The son of Spanish Republicans who sought refuge in France, Poveda reported from Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, and during the civil wars of the 1980s in Nicaragua and El Salvador. "Christian Poveda was a respected journalist; a professional who never hesitated to take great risks in the name of freedom of information," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Peter Mackler Award In The News

In the wake of our announcement naming J. S. Tissainayagam as the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, the Peter Mackler Award has been featured prominently in many news outlets. Below please find a non-exhaustive list. Check back often for updates!

-Reporters Without Borders: click here;
-BBC.com: click here;
-MSN.com: click here;
-Voice of America: click here;
-Christian Science Monitor (USA): click here;
-The Washington Times (USA): click here;
-The Hindu (India): click here;
-The Deccan Herald (India): click here;
-Zee News (India): click here;
-Indian Catholic News (India): click here;
-Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka): click here;
-Brisbane Times (Australia): click here;
-The Jakarta Globe (Indonesia)" click here;
-Cyberpresse.ca (Canada): click here;
-Romandie News (Switzerland): click here;
-Saudi Gazette (Saudi Arabia): click here;
-UK Tamil News (UK): click here;
-W Radio (Colombia): click here.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee Speak Out About Their Arrest

Laura Ling and Euna Lee shed new light on the details of their arrest in statement released today and restated their hopes that in the publicity surrounding their case, their original intention for being in the region will not be forgotten.

Of their time in detainment in North Korea Ling and Lee said, "There are things that are still too painful to revisit." For now at least, they hope to keep the focus on the story they were there to cover: the extreme hardship in North Korea that sends people fleeing to China, only to face a different kind of struggle.

Although they express some regret for seemingly crossing the unmarked border, there are clear undertones of defiance towards the country that kept them locked up in conditions they are still unable to describe, and pride in the work they were doing.

"Totalitarian regimes the world over are terrified of exposure," the women said. "Journalists have a responsibility to shine light in dark places, to give voice to those who are too often silenced and ignored."

You can read the statement in full here.

Photo Credit Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

J.S. Tissainayagam: Convicted as a Terrorist for Acts of Journalism

As reported yesterday, PMA is proud to announce J.S. Tissainayagam, known to friends as "Tissa", has been awarded the first Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. Having been sentenced to 20 years in prison in a country crippled by conflict, we hope to bring recognition to both a region and a reporter very much in need of it.

Sources close to the case who will remain anonymous for their own safety say that today Tissainayagam has been moved to the Welikada prison J block. His supporters are pushing for him to be moved to the New Magazine Prison J block, so he will be with other political prisoners.

Tissainayagam's case is unique in that he is one of the only journalists in a democratic state to be arrested under his own country's terrorism law, with the main evidence against him being his own published work.

Vincent Brossel is a reporter with the Asia-Pacific desk of Reporters Without Borders who has followed Tissainayagam's case closely. According to Brossel, charges by the Sri Lankan terrorism investigative division are relatively uncommon in themselves. "In fact, it is the first time a case against a journalist has gone so far," says Brossel. "In the past, journalists have been accused of directly supporting the LTTE, but in the case of Tissa, he wasn’t carrying weapon or actively conspiring."

Instead, the case against him was built with his articles, written for such prestigious publications as the English language Sunday Times and the news site Outreachsl.com, where he is an editor.

Tissa, like many others in the Tamil ethnic minority, does not identify himself with the violent separatist group LTTE, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"Even the prosecutor was not able to give any material evidence or witness to link him to terror or LTTE," says another journalist close to the case.

In his many years as a journalist, Tissa has worked with the UN, UNICEF, and Amnesty International, who has called him a "prisoner of conscience". He filmed a documentary on children who were orphaned as a result of violence in the east.

In addressing World Press Freedom Day, President Obama even gave mention to Tissainayagam, saying, "“In every corner of the globe there are journalists in jail or being harassed. Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J. S. Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka, or Shi Tao and Hu Jia in China.”

In his statement to the court shortly after his arrest in March, Tissa said "I was and am still an advocate against terrorism. I have criticized terrorism in whatever form. I never advocated violence, my objective was to generate non violent means of resolving the conflict, my research, writings and work was towards achieving this."

Lawyer in Tissainayagam’s defense, Anil Silva said his client “was never a racist and he at no time tried to arouse hatred. Now he has been punished for what he wrote as a journalist. This will be a lesson to other journalists, too.”

His lawyers say he will appeal the conviction.

Photo Credit: AFP/Ishara S.Kodikara