Monday, April 26, 2010

Cameroonian Editor Dies in Prison

The BBC have reported that a Cameroonian journalist died in prison last Friday after allegedly being denied proper medical treatment during his incarceration. The 38 year old was known to have prior health problems, MSF had described him as having "high blood pressure and asthma."

Germain C. Ngota Ngota, editor of the Cameroon Express bi-monthly private newspaper, was arrested along with two colleagues, on March 10th and charged with "imitating the signature of a member of government," an offense carrying a sentence of up to 15 years.

"We hold them (Cameroonian authorities) responsible for his death," said CPJ Africa Program Co-ordinator Tom Rhodes. The press freedom organization had previously sent an open letter that asserted that Ngota was held in response to his discovery of possible corruption surrounding a purchase made by a state-run oil company. Ngota's investigation cast a shadow of doubt over the progress of Operation Sparrowhawk, an ongoing drive by the Cameroonian government to stamp out corruption.

In February, Cameroon's Minister of Communications, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, defended Operation Sparrowhawk from accusations in the French press that indicated that the anti corruption initiative was selective. In an interview on Cameroon Radio and Television(CRTV), the minister told reporters that the measures taken by government were not selective and urged journalists not to allow "destabilization forces" within their ranks.

According to Pana, the Senegal based African news agency, Bakary also denied that Ngota did not receive adequate medical attention in a press conference held after news of his death broke out. While he recognized that Ngota's medical file confirmed that he was ill, he was treated by prison doctors and did not display symptoms that suggested that he required emergency attention. However, Bakary did concede that the conditions at the prison needed to be improved and called for an investigation into Ngota's death.

The Cameroon Journalists Trade Union has urged the government to set up an independent commission to investigate Ngota's death. RSF have also called for an investigation "so that the dead man's colleagues, who are extremely fragile, physically and psychologically, do not end up succumbing to the same dreadful prison conditions."

Photo Credit: Le Jour

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Trial After Trial for Yemeni Journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists have reported that Yemeni editor Mohamed al-Maqalih has had fresh charges brought against him for articles criticizing the government. The CPJ states that this is the latest of a series of allegations which "constitute a pattern of judicial harassment."

Al-Maqalih, editor of Al-Eshteraki, the website of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party, was summoned by the country's Press and Publications Court in response to an article written in 2005 which criticized President Ali Abdallah Saleh's plans to seek re-election in 2006 despite promises made that he would not do so. Article 103 of Yemen's Press and Publications Law prohibits journalists from criticizing the head of state and Hael Salem, al-Maqaleh's lawyer, told the CPJ that his client could be facing up to two years in prison if convicted.

Al-Maqalih is also currently standing trial before a state security court. He has been accused of supporting Shi'ite Zaidi rebels, the minority insurgent group has been fighting against the Sunni government since 2004.

This news comes less than one month since AFP reported that Al-Maqalih was released from custody for "health and humanitarian reasons." The journalist was abducted in September and was held incommunicado until January 31st when he was finally given permission to speak to his family. Al-Maqalih asserts that he was tortured during his confinement, however, his complaints have not been addressed in either of his trials.

Freedom House's 2009 edition of Freedom of the Press, considers the press in Yemen to be "not free." The report reveals that the country's Ministry of Information influences most of the news in Yemen through strict licensing laws, control of printing presses and the ability to manipulate advertising subsidies. Additionally, the Yemeni parliament is currently considering a draft media law to replace Article 103 which has been described by the Union of Yemeni Journalists as "worse than the law currently in force."

"What is happening in Yemen now is very serious...The international community must intercede as a matter of urgency," Reporters Without Borders said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Friday, April 2, 2010

Honduras "world's most dangerous country for journalists"

Reporters Without Borders have described Honduras as "the world's most dangerous country for journalists in the first quarter of 2010" after a spate of attacks last month left five journalists dead, one wounded and one in exile.

"We are unable to provide you with protection," local police told José Alemán according to the press freedom group. Alemán, a correspondent for Tiempo, a Honduran daily newspaper, had reported violations of freedom of expression and human rights since the country's political stability was shaken by a military coup d'etat in June 2009. Reporters Without Borders reports that Alemán fled Honduras after gunmen opened fire on his home and chased him through the streets of San Marcos.

Alemán was fortunate to escape. Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, David Meza, Nahúm Palacios Arteaga, José Bayardo Mairena and Manuel Juarez were all murdered in March.

“There can be no doubt that we face one of the most tragic moments in the history of the Latin American press” declared Alejandro Aguirre, President of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). Peter Kent, the Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Americas) also condemned the violence and added "Canada calls on the Honduran authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible."

Despite censure of the violence by many groups in the human rights community, this Huffington Post article indicates that the situation on Honduras may not garner the mainstream media attention it warrants. Also Telesur, a South American news agency, has criticized IAPA for overlooking the Honduran issue in favor of "aggression directed at journalists from right wing media.”

Aguirre has previously stated that there is “a siege against the press" in countries allied with the politics of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez even though Honduras and Mexico, the two countries which have seen the most journalists killed this year, are governed by conservative administrations.

However, former Honduran Human Rights Ombudsman, Leo Valladares suggests the injuries and threats received by Karol Cabrera, a journalist known to be in favor of the coup, affirms that there are "dark forces" at work at both extremes of the political spectrum.

Photo Credit: European Pressphoto Agency