Friday, August 30, 2013

Remembering Prageeth, Other Journalists on International Disappearances Day

Prageeth Ekneligoda

Journalists makeup many of the world’s missing persons – those of whose fate there is no clear or definitive knowledge. Today, August 30, is international day of the disappeared. According to the records of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 14 journalists have disappeared in the course of their work in the past five years. The overwhelming majority of them are from Mexico – nine.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Jailed for Defamation, Liberian Editor's Health Deteriorates

Protesting for Media Freedom (Photo courtesy

FrontPage Africa reported August 29 that the health of its imprisoned managing editor of Rodney Sieh has deteriorated after he was rushed to JKF Memorial Hospital two days before. Sieh began a hunger strike last week protesting a Supreme Court sentence detaining him pending the payment of US$ 1.6 million as damages to former agriculture minister Chris Toe.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sri Lankan Editor Held at Knifepoint as Gang Searches Documents

Rifled belongings in the home of journalist (Pic. courtesy Sri Lanka Mirror)

A senior journalist was held at knifepoint in her home on Saturday by a gang of five, at least one of whom is a serving soldier in Sri Lanka’s Army, allegedly searching for documents and files. The incident happened a day before the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights arrived in the country on a week-long fact-finding mission.

Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, an award-winning journalist and associate editor of the weekly The Sunday Leader, was held at knifepoint in the early hours of Saturday morning, with her 10-year-old daughter and aged parents. The gang spent over two hours rifling through her belongings including documents and files. Meanwhile, her husband Romesh Abeywickrema, who is the business editor in the same newspaper returning home and seeing suspicious movements in the house, alerted the police. In the ensuing confrontation one intruder was shot dead and two injured as the gang tried to fight its way out. Three policemen too were injured, one critically.

What has followed are sharply differing interpretations from skimpy facts of the intrusion that have come out. While the police and the government-controlled media maintain the incident was a heist that went bust, media watchdogs and the statement of Abeywickrema point to something more insidious – an attempt to either silence her or seize documents in her possession.

Speaking to the privately-owned television station MTV, Abeywickrema said the gang had told her that they had been contracted by someone who was her enemy. “The incident raises serious suspicion as the attackers had spent several hours going through various documents and files after cutting off the phone lines” Free Media Movement’s convenor Sunil Jayasekara said in a statement. The Free Media Movement is respected media watchdog in the country.

Abeywickrema was also at the forefront of the formation a new trade union for journalists. Priyantha Karunaratne, general secretary of the Sri Lanka Journalists Trade Union (SLJTU) said that the “sordid and organized act had been carried out by those who detest and are alarmed at the practice of the SLJTU and journalism of Ms. Mandana Abeywickrema.”

Mandana IsmailAbeywickrema  (Pic
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemning the incident urged the police to act: “[w]e call on the police to determine the genuine motives behind the attack and prosecute those responsible.”

The police however was insistent that the incident was nothing more than attempted burglary. This line of analysis was also enthusiastically taken up by the military. 

“Some statements/reports have even attempted to portray this as an attack on the media. This is far from the truth and we refute all such allegations. The Sri Lanka Army does not approve of any crime and particularly we regret this incident in which a senior journalist has suffered at the hands of a gang of thieves,” Army Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said in a statement.

The incident came a day before UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay arrived in the country on a six-day visit. Her visit is primarily because of a resolution adopted n the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in March this year empowering her to report to it on the human rights situation in the country following the end of the civil war in May 2009. Issuing a statement to coincide with Pillay’s visit, media watchdogs pointed to the Abeywickrema incident as an example of the threat to the media freedom in the country and urged the High Commissioner to address the issue.

“Reporters without Borders [RSF] and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka expect the High Commissioner to be firm in securing a transparent commitment from the Sri Lankan government to bring justice to those who have been victims of grave crimes against media freedom. ‘As long as crimes against the media and its workforce go unpunished, while perpetrators feel safe with the implicit assurance of impunity, media freedom in Sri Lanka is facing a grave threat. We urge Navi Pillay to remind Sri Lanka’s leaders of their accountability in delivering justice,’ said the two organisations,” reads an RSF statement posted on its website. Journalists for Democracy (JDS) is a highly respected group of exiled Sri Lankan journalists living in Europe.

Sri Lanka is placed 162nd of 179 countries on RSF’s Press Freedom Index in 2013.

The Sunday Leader has incurred the wrath of the government several times. Its founder editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was murdered in January 2009 allegedly by government operatives close to the country’s president, Mahinda Rajapakse. His killers have not been brought to justice. Frederica Jansz who succeeded Wickrematunge and carried articles critical of the president’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, was verbally abused and threatened by him. (RSF has designated Gotabaya Rajapakse as a predator of the media). Last year Jansz resigned alleging her editorial freedom was compromised, after majority shares of the newspaper were bought by a businessman with strong government sympathies. She has since fled the country.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Defiant Indian Photojournalist: 'Rape is not the end of life'

Accused in the Mumbai rape of photojournalist (Photo courtesy Fox News)

The rape of a 22-year-old trainee photojournalist of an English-language magazine in Mumbai, India on Thursday, August 22, has reignited concern of the use rape as weapon to silence journalists who are on reporting assignments in lonely and hostile environments.

In situations of armed conflict rape is declared a war crime used by perpetrators with a definite objective in mind – as a form of terrorising individuals and populations into submission. In certain conflicts, journalists, especially women, are raped not only because of their professional role, but also they belong to an ethnic, or tribal or political group that the opposing force is targeting.

“Many of the assaults fall into three general types: targeted sexual violation of specific journalists, often in reprisal for their work; mob-related sexual violence against journalists covering public events; and sexual abuse of journalists in detention or captivity,” writes Lauren Wolfe in ‘The silencing crime: Sexual violence and journalists.’ The report was written for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in June 2011.

Under this three-fold categorisation, the case of the photojournalist from Mumbai appears to be targeted sexual violation as reprisal for her work.

“The authorities must do everything possible to identify and arrest those responsible for this crime and bring them to trial. They must also guarantee the safety of journalists and ensure that this form of attack, one of the worst banes of Indian society, does not recur,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) in a statement.

Five suspects have been arrested by the Mumbai police following the survivor’s description BBC reported. It quoted the Press Trust of India that the outrage has caused India’s Maharashtra State Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to announce, “The case will be tried in a fast-track court to ensure speedy justice to the victim.”

The incident happened when the photojournalist went with a male colleague to an abandoned mill in the city on a photo-shoot. According to RSF the two were confronted by the gang which had accused them of trespassing on private property. The man was also reportedly assaulted and secured by the attackers.

As always, horrendous incidents like this bring up memories of similar incidents. One such is the rape of a Dutch woman on June 27, while she was photographing events at Tahrir square, Egypt. But since the person was not identified it is not known if she was a journalist.

What however is a ray of hope in an otherwise miserable business is the young photojournalist’s defiance. The BBC said, “The victim, who is in hospital with multiple injuries, has said she is anxious to return to work after the attack. ‘Rape is not the end of life. I want the strictest punishment for all the accused,’ she said.”

It was the same defiance that ultimately persuaded Jineth Bedoya, who was raped by rightwing paramilitaries in Colombia while reporting for El Espectador in May 2000. According to CPJ, it had taken Bedoya nine years to speak out about the ordeal she underwent.

“Since she began speaking out, Bedoya said, she has encountered a number of journalists—from Colombia to the United States to Europe—who had been raped or sexually abused but chose to stay quiet because of cultural and professional stigmas. By making her own case more visible, Bedoya said, she hopes to encourage these journalists to ‘denounce what’s happened to them and be able to ask for justice,’” said Wolfe in the CPJ report.

Wolfe concludes: “Sexual attacks against journalists have the effect of silencing the messenger and blocking the dissemination of news and information. In the same manner as other types of attacks, sexual aggression is a direct assault on the internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and access to information.”

But the survivor of the Mumbai rape incident, Bedoya and a number of other female and male journalists who are speaking out about their experiences and denouncing the perpetrators might, hopefully, be the beginnings of change.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mutilated Body of Journalist Found; Killers Unknown

Haji Abdul Razzak (Courtesy RSF)

The mutilated body of another murdered journalist – Haji Abdul Razzak of the Balochi-language daily, Tawar – who went missing in March was discovered in Karachi on Wednesday, August 21. He had been tortured to death.

According to the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) Razzak’s body, found with that of another unnamed person’s, was so badly mutilated that the family took 24 hours to identify it.

“Journalists in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas are constantly the targets of intimidation and violence, and the impunity enjoyed by those who murder them just sustains this climate of terror. The authorities must end it at once by pursuing this investigation to its conclusion,” RSF said.

Four Balochs – Imran Shaikh, Saifur Rehman and Mohammad Iqbal killed a double bombing in Quetta and Mehmood Ahmed Afridi gunned down in Karat – are among a total of seven journalists killed in Pakistan this year, RSF reported.

Meanwhile, the statement by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) delineates the intimidating environment in which Razzak and other journalists work in Pakistan. CPJ said that Razzak had left the Tawar briefly after a journalist from the same newspaper, Javed Naseer Rind’s body was found in November 2011. Rind’s body had bullet wounds in the head and chest and bore marks of torture. But Razzak returned to work in 2012.

CPJ said that at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, Razzak’s family members had accused “Pakistani intelligence agencies of being responsible for the abduction, but did not elaborate.” RSF designates intelligence services with two others – Mullah Mohamad Omar and the Balochi separatists – as “predators of the media” in Pakistan.

Describing the daily Tawar as a “Urdu-language pro-Baluch nationalist newspaper,” CPJ says it “is known for its coverage of the many conflicts between rival groups and the government.” Both media watchdogs said Razzak was linked to a political party, with the CPJ going on to say it was the Balochi National Movement. RSF urged the Pakistani authorities to investigate Razzak’s murder not only to establish the motive but “determine whether it was linked to his work as a journalist.”

“Journalists from Baluchistan face pressure from a number of sources: pro-Taliban groups and Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies, as well as Baluch separatists and state-sponsored anti-separatist militant groups,” CPJ observed

In an interview to the Baloch Hal, well-known Balochi journalist Shezada Zulfiqar, replying to the question why journalists in Balochistan are so vulnerable replied, “Because they are before the public. They also go to separatist leaders, intelligence agencies, land lords, Sardars, Nawabs, etc. In these circumstances, journalists should be very cautious not to cross the ‘invisible red line.’”

Zulfiqar’s urges unity within the journalist fraternity for their protection. “Then they shall neither annoy security forces nor separatist elements by reporting anything against them.”

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Faisal Salih: Paying The Price for Speaking Out In Sudan

Faisal Mohamed Salih

Faisal Mohamed Salih, 53, winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, is a celebrated Sudanese journalist. But he is much more than that. In a country where democratic freedoms and human rights are violated with impunity, he understands that only by fighting on multiple fronts, including for other human rights defenders, can the battle against political barbarism be won.

One such human rights defender is 25-year-old Safia Ishag. A student at Khartoum University in 2009 where she read fine arts, she joined Girifna (We are Fed Up) a pro-democracy movement that opposed the ruling NCP of President Omar al-Bashir. It was a time when the country was gearing up for elections. And as an activist Ishag helped people register to vote.

In January 2011, encouraged by the Arab Spring Ishag was among those who called for democracy in Sudan, attended political rallies and distributed flyers. The protests were met with arrests of many activists.  (Incidentally, journalists too were arrested in these crackdowns by the al-Bashir government. Read Reporters without Borders (RSF) reports here)

“A couple weeks later, Ishaq was kidnapped by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agents and taken to a house, she said. She described being tortured and gang raped multiple times. In between rapes and beatings, they told her they knew she had attended the rallies of January 30 and handed out flyers,” writes Louise Hogan, in the blog Women under Siege.

The saga does not end here. Ishag was one of the few women, perhaps the only one in Sudan who has publicly spoken the torture she underwent in the hands of the NISS.

In March 2011 after Ishag went public about her ordeal, Salih and other journalists denounced the NISS in their writings. The attorney general’s office summoned him and two others to be interrogated after the security forces accused them of spreading “false information.” Harassment in the hands of state authorities continued well into August with other journalists too being investigated or tried before courts for reporting the torture of Ishag. The NISS said Saleh was defaming it by associating its officers with the rape.

Salih’s commitment to empowering defenders of democracy and human rights did not stop with writing about activist Ishag. As director of the NGO Teeba Press he also trains journalists. In countries where journalists realise how fragile the defences of democracy are they take it as a duty to train others who can carry on the good work in the event they themselves are unable to do so for some reason.

“Of course, it’s not safe to speak in Sudan. We are trying to speak out and we are paying the price for it,” Salih has said. Work is trying under repressive governments where censorship is the norm and self-censorship sadly closes the few windows of opportunity that open to test the limits of media freedom. So he spoke to the international network Al Jazeera on April 25 last year. His comments were a response to al-Bashir’s remarks about the conflict in South Kardofan.

The NISS retaliated by asking him to report daily to its offices for 13 days. He was not interrogated about anything but made to sit in office throughout the day. On May 8 when he failed to report to the NISS he was arrested and kept incommunicado and without food or drink for 12 hours. Rearrested on May 9 he was detained for six days. On May 15 the State filed criminal charges for not cooperating with authorities. On May 30, he was acquitted by court.

Faisal Mohammed Salih demonstrates the resilience and courage of journalists all over the world who have to contrive different means to beat state repression. They do it not only by writing about injustice and abuse, but crusading on behalf of the voiceless. Not just exposing criminals, but training others to do so. Risky work indeed, but there is no alternative.

For more on Salih read here

For more on recent development in Sudan’s media read here

Sudan's Faisal Mohamed Salih Wins 2013 Peter Mackler Award

Faisal Mohamed Salih, reporter, editor, columnist and journalism teacher in Sudan, is the winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism.


Washington DC, August 22, 2013 - “I am not giving up,” and again “We are not giving up.”

The National Intelligence and Security Service of Sudan has given journalist Faisal Mohamed Salih frequent cause to express his determination to see a free press unafraid to document government repression take root in his homeland.

As the Sudan Tribune noted, “He is no stranger to confrontations with the security apparatus.” Reporters Without Borders said that “In the face of harsh oppression, Salih remains a steadfast figure of free speech.”

The U.S. State Department singled out Sudan’s efforts to silence Salih in its 2012 report on human rights abuses worldwide.

“The government, including NISS, continued to arrest and torture journalists and harass vocal critics of the government,” the report said. “Authorities continued to target aggressively journalists and publications through contrived legal proceedings, politicized criminal charges, and confiscations.”

“For example, in April (2012) the NISS compelled Al Adwa newspaper Editor in Chief Faisal Mohamed Salih to appear for daily questioning after he criticized the president during an interview on Al-Jazeera. Saleh was arrested and interrogated for nine hours after he failed to appear for a 12th day of questioning,” the State Department report said.

The 53-year-old Salih, a reporter, editor, columnist and teacher now with the Al Khartoum Daily, most notably came to the defense of Safia Ishaq, an artist and activist with the pro-democracy Girifna (We Are Fed Up) group. She charged that in 2011 she was beaten and gang-raped after being dragged off the streets of Khartoum by government agents.

“All I wrote is that I called for an independent investigation of that case,” Salih said, but he was subjected to another round of NISS interrogations and court appearances.

Safia Ishaq had angered the authorities with an exhibit on the plight of women in Sudan. She said later that her captors accused her of being a “communist” and said of her short hair that “this is the style of communist girls.” She vowed to continue to “speak out against these people with my art and send a message – I will be strong.”

Salih, with a degree in journalism from al-Azhar University in Cairo and a master’s from the University of Wales in Cardiff, has worked for 25 years for various Sudanese newspapers and also is director of Programs for Teeba Press at the Media Training, Advocacy, and Consultancy Center.

The struggle to present the news accurately and fairly has been a constant. Sudan is currently ranked 170th out of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

“The African nation is known for its widespread use of intimidation and violence to censor journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The result is a media landscape crippled by state censorship, and self-censorship is practiced by many of the country’s professional journalists.”

Salih has pledged to continue to work across that difficult landscape. “Of course, it’s not safe to speak in Sudan. We are trying to speak out and we are paying the price for it,” he said. The NISS continues daily visits to newsrooms “to decide what is published and what is not allowed.,” he said.

On learning that he would receive the Peter Mackler Award, Salih wrote that “it is an honor for me to receive this award which carries the name of a courageous man and renowned journalist.”

“I look to it as an award to all Sudanese journalists, who are working in difficult circumstances, and all journalists around the world who are facing same situation.”

Richard Sisk Read more about Sudan and the media Read Faisal Mohamed Salih's columns published on

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bradley Manning, Eskinder Nega Victims Of Moral Wilderness Of Their Times

Pfc. Bradley Manning

 Private Bradley Manning, 25, was sentenced today. Thirty-five years in jail. The 1,182 days he has spent in confinement from the time of his arrest will be reduced from his sentence, and 112 more days for abusive behaviour by his tormentors at Quantico. Under the law he will have to spend at least eight years and credited with good behaviour in prison before parole.

Manning was sentenced Wednesday, August 21, by military judge for multiple offences, including under the Espionage Act, for leaking over 700,000 US government documents to the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. Among the material that came to light was a video of a US military operation in Iraq where an Apache helicopter attack killed civilians including two Reuters journalists.

For someone who faced 90 years behind bars, 35 may be seen almost a relief. And that seemed the tone of Manning’s lawyer David Coombs. “Coombs told a group of supporters gathered outside Manning’s courtroom on Friday that the conditions at Fort Leavenworth [where Manning will be incarcerated] ‘did not look anything like Quantico,’ where Manning spent months in solitary confinement and was forced at times to strip down naked at night,” the Huffington Post reported.

Although a relief in some ways there are a couple of issues that need to be seen in the right perspective here.

First is that Manning’s treatment at Quantico was pronounced by Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, “as at the minimum cruel, inhuman ad degrading treatment… If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”

Second, although Fort Leavenworth does “not look anything like Quantico” he is being punished for publicising classified documents that brought to light serious wrongdoing by the US Government. In a statement Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, “Following the targeting of Edward Snowden, the disproportionate sentence for Manning hits hard at whistleblowers and shows how vulnerable they are … The Army is sending a clear message to them and to all journalists who dare to report whistleblowers’ disclosures: the United States will strike back severely at anyone who uncovers information of public interest concerning the exercise of official powers.”

Eskinder Nega
Third is the agony of imprisonment. Another whistleblower, the imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, gives a powerful account of it in a letter smuggled out of jail. Pen America notes that Nega was arrested under the country’s wide anti-terrorism laws in September 2011 for questioning the Ethiopian government for holding journalists under the same legislation. A week before, he had published a critical account of the arrest of another government critic Debebe Eshetu also on terrorism charges. Nega was detained at least six times before. His wife Serkalem Fasil, who was also imprisoned in 2005, gave birth to their child in jail.

Sentenced for 18 years and after he lost his appeal, in a letter he wrote titled ‘I Shall Persevere’ he said: “The government has been able to lie in a court of law effortlessly as a function of the moral paucity of our politics. All the great crimes of history, lest we forget, have their genesis in the moral wilderness of their times. The mundane details of the case offer nothing substantive but what Christopher Hitchens once described as ‘a vortex of irrationality and nastiness.’”

Manning at Fort Leavenworth might be more comfortable than Nega who says he sleeps in the “company of lice.” But nothing can take away the fact that both are victims of the “moral wilderness of their times.”  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Pakistan Landlords Torture Journalists

In countries subject to high levels of repression, prominent violators of media freedom remain the focus of rights groups. Meanwhile, smaller transgressors manage to dodge law enforcement authorities as well as other deterrents like public opinion, to continue their insidious practices. Pakistan is a good example.

Among the prominent abusers of media freedom in Pakistan are the country’s intelligence agencies, especially ISI. The New York-based Freedom House’s latest report – 2012 – speaks mainly about the restrictions the federal government places of media freedom both by enacting repressive legislation and targeting journalists critical of their work. “The physical safety of journalists remains a key concern. Intimidation by intelligence agencies and the security forces—including physical attacks and arbitrary, incommunicado detention—continues to take place.”

Other international media monitors too concentrate on the big fish. For instance, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) names “Mullah Mohammed Omar,” the “Baloch armed groups” and “intelligence services” among the predators of the media in Pakistan. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has documented the death of 10 journalists in Pakistan this year who have died in bomb blasts, murdered by criminals and targeted by government agencies.

But on Monday, August 19, RSF published a statement on two attacks – one on the offices of the Karachi-based Express Tribune and the other on journalist Zafar Wazir in South Waziristan in the Northwest Tribal areas. The killing of Wazir although outrageous is not the focus of this post, the attack on the Express is.

The English-language Express Tribune, the Urdu-language Express News and Express News TV. RSF quoting Express Tribune are located in the same buildings. RSF said two men on a motorbike had peppered the building with 22 shots injuring a two people, a woman and a security guard. RSF quoted Express News CEO Ijazul Haq as having “no clue” to who was responsible.

Writing in the Express Tribune, its editor Kamal Siddiqi enumerates the predators that target journalists in Pakistan. Among them he includes landlords. “At the Hyderabad Press Club, one hears daily the stories of how landlords torture journalists. Our fellow scribes are hung upside down, beaten blue, have their heads and eyebrows shaved as punishment. And yet they keep on writing.”

The landlords of Pakistan are not the ISI. They are mostly local notables living away from the city, with connections to local politicians and sufficient wealth to buy influence that keeps the local police from investigating the crime. What is more, they do not kill because that might compel the government to begin legal proceedings. On the contrary, they torture and humiliate journalists, who in the remote parts of the country lack the resources to fight them as their metropolitan counterparts do. Very little comes out about attacks on these district correspondents on whom Siddiqi bestows the accolade “bravest journalists” who “work in far off places, usually in isolation, and with little in terms of facilities or compensation. And yet they highlight day in and day out the injustices that surround them. The stories of police brutalities, of high handedness by landlords, of killings and beheadings by militants.”

We are yet unsure the causes of the attack on the Express Newspapers’ offices. But they serve to expose a source of muzzling the media in Pakistan that usually remains hidden.     

Monday, August 19, 2013

No Miranda Rights For Miranda

David Miranda (left) and Glen Greenwald

The cooperation national security establishments of western democracies afford each other when embarrassing details of their spying programmes are exposed by intrepid journalists was on full view, Sunday. But the nine hour detention at Britain’s Heathrow airport of David Miranda , also demonstrates something else: how broadly anti-terror laws apply to net in individuals who expose government wrongdoing.

Miranda (28), is the partner of Glen Greenwald of the UK Guardian, who helped US whistleblower Edward Snowden expose domestic surveillance by British and US national security agencies.  

In a report on August 19, the BBC said Miranda was detained for nine hours by the British police under the country’s anti-terrorism law while in transit at Heathrow travelling from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro. He had flown to Germany to consult with filmmaker Laura Poitras who is working with Greenwald on exposes by Snowden. “‘I remained in a room, there were six different agents coming and going, talking to me,’ Mr Miranda said. ‘They asked questions about my entire life, about everything. They took my computer, video game, mobile phone, my memory cards, everything,’” the BBC quoted Miranda saying.

The reason for Miranda's harassment in Snowden, an analyst working for a US contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who in May disclosed secret domestic and international electronic surveillance programmes by the US’s National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden’s leaks drew attention to two programmes in the US. The first is under the Patriot Act, which allows metadata of telephone calls of US citizens to be recorded and accessible to NSA analysts searching for links for potential terrorist threats; the second, PRISM, under Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendment Act, which permits vacuuming vast quantities of digital data including text, photographs and video content, from emails, short messaging and other private communications of non-US citizens from around the world. Snowden’s exposes were first published by the Guardian and the Washington Post. Snowden has sought temporary asylum in Russia.

After the disclosure of US spy programmes Snowden and Greenwald turned the focus on UK’s  domestic surveillance project by General Communication Headquarters GCHQ revealing that British authorities had spied on communications by national leaders present for the G-20's London Summit in 2009. Following this, the French use of electronic spying also came to light

Speaking on the nine hour detention of Miranda, the Paris-based media freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, “We are very disturbed by this unacceptable violation of the UK’s obligations to respect freedom of information and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. By acting in this arbitrary way, the British authorities have just emphasized how necessary and legitimate Snowden’s and Greenwald’s revelations were.”

Among the factors that make Miranda detention troubling is the wide powers antiterrorism laws give security agencies for arbitrary detention of people at airports and almost anywhere.

Greenwald told the BBC, “They never asked him about a single question at all about terrorism or anything relating to a terrorist organisation. They spent the entire day asking about the reporting I was doing and other Guardian journalists were doing on the NSA stories.”

If the agents questioning Miranda had not questioned him about terrorism, it means that anyone travelling through Heathrow (and other international airports in the UK) the British police want to punish for some reason could be detained under anti-terror law. The criteria for being detained and harassed is not committing an act of terror or having connections to a terrorist organisation, but doing something that displeases the British political and security establishment.

According to the BBC, Miranda was stopped at Heathrow under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. “Under the schedule, UK police can stop, examine and search passengers at ports, airports and international rail terminals. A passenger can be held for questioning for up to nine hours and those detained must ‘give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests.’ Any property seized must be returned after seven days, but data from mobile phones and laptops may be downloaded and retained by the police for longer.” Noncooperation could result in a three-month prison sentence.

But crucially, “there is no requirement for an officer to have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone is involved with terrorism before they are stopped,” as the BBC observes.  In other words, the British authorities do not have to justify what was suspicious for removing someone for interrogation.

There are clauses in place to deter arbitrary application however: the decision to apply the law should be based on “current and emerging trends in terrorist activity,” “individuals or groups whose current or past involvement in acts or threats of terrorism is known or suspected,” or “emerging local trends or patterns of travel.” Obviously these restraints were not good enough to prevent the British police from detaining Miranda.

Terrorism Act 2000, which was used to detain Miranda, was followed by a spate of other anti-terrorism legislation in the UK: the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.

In the US meanwhile, among the many shortcomings in the legislations allowing the NSA to eavesdrop, is how broadly they apply. There is very little attempt to narrow down or target potential suspects; instead the objective is to trawl for large quantities of data which nets in for NSA scrutiny the innocent as well as the guilty.

On July 17 John C Ingliss, deputy director, NSA, told a hearing of the US Congress' House Judiciary Committee about the breadth the agency’s surveillance programme by describing the accumulation of phone record data as three ‘hops.’ The Washington Post in its story on the hearing included a comment by Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “[Jameel] said that the NSA has been trying to make it seem as though it peeks at the communications of a tiny subset of people, but that with such hops, it has reviewed the communication patterns of millions. ‘The first hop takes you to 100 people the person called,’ Jaffer said. ‘The second one takes you to 10,000. The third one takes you to a million.’”

So, for security establishments on both sides of the Atlantic, violating the rights to privacy, expression or movement is secondary to casting their nets wide to harass whole populations - the innocent and the guilty.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

CPJ's Guide Addresses Risks To Journalists

Protests in Egypt

In the early hours of August 14, 61-year-old Mick Deane, a veteran with UK’s Sky News was killed. He was shot dead while covering protests by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi as the military charged. With Deane was Xpress journalist Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz (26), although Abd Elaziz was not officially on duty. Many journalists were injured.

On October 29 last year, Somaia Ibrahim Ismail, also known as ‘Hundosa,’ was kidnapped by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). She was tortured for three days for opposing Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir. Her jailers shaved her hair. She was told it was because ‘it looked like the hair of Arabs and she belonged to the slaves in Darfur,’” said RSF in a statement on her ordeal.

“Always, constantly, constantly, every minute, weigh the benefits against the risks. And as soon as you come to the point where you feel uncomfortable with that equation, get out, go, leave. It’s not worth it,” wrote Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press Middle East correspondent who was held hostage in Beirut for nearly seven years, “There is no story worth getting killed for.”

But journalists do get killed and injured while covering wars, or tortured, threatened and murdered when they deal with ruthless dictators. Others suffer the consequences of reporting natural and man-made disasters. There are other forms of insecurity too: In an increasingly digitised world, journalists communicate using the internet and store data in places where they can be hacked.

In a bid to address the often interrelated issues of (in)security for journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published a Journalists Security Guide. Written by Frank Smyth, CPJ’s senior security advisor with a chapter on information security by Danny O’Brian, CPJ’s internet advocacy coordinator, the guide provides thoughtful, concise tips to journalists and journalism students.  

You can access the document here

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sudan's Intelligence Agency Plays Havoc Under the Radar

In the posting on August 13, this blog referred to squabbles between powerful agencies within Iran's ruling establishment and how they appear to have influenced the country’s newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, to abandon an important role for reformists in his cabinet.

While there are moderates in the cabinet, its composition is seen more as a delicate balance of forces for what Rouhani believes is the task ahead – retrieving Iran from the biggest two, interrelated, challenges it is facing – developing nuclear weapons and the devastating effects of international sanctions. An important step towards this goal was to counterbalance the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guardian Corps (IRGC) by pruning its numbers in the cabinet and increasing the number of representatives of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS).

According to Ali Alfoneh of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies the “relatively strong MOIS presence […] is unprecedented.” One of the three members of MOIS in Rouhani’s cabinet of course is the dreaded Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi nominated for the post of the minister of justice.

While the appointment of Pour-Mohammadi is not the first instance of intelligence agencies playing a decisive role in shaping the role of Iran’s media, it might be interesting to look at another country which has as notorious a record of stifling media freedom through its intelligence agency – Sudan. Interestingly, Iran (174th) and Sudan (170th) are among the worst 10 in RSF’s 179-country Press Freedom Index.  

In a statement on April 5, RSF said that Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) had “ordered Al Nour Mohamed Al Nour’s suspension as editor-in-chief of the independent Arabic-language daily Al Sahafa.” RSF said that Al Sahafa had promptly acceded to the order and removed Al Nour’s name from the publication’s masthead. The RSF statement said that AFP had quoted Al Nour saying, “[h]is removal may have been linked to disagreements about the censorship imposed by the security services.”

RSF also drew attention to NISS summoning for questioning Almosalami Alkabbakhi, Al Jazeera’s Khartoum correspondent. The agency accused him of reporting false information and unbalanced reporting. Alkabbakhi was questioned for nine hours on April 3 and 4 and ordered to report for further questioning, RSF said.

One of the most horrifying cases of NISS’s role in suppressing freedom of the media is the kidnapping and torture of Somaia Ibrahim Ismail, also known as ‘Hundosa,’ on October 29 last year. RSF said she was tortured for three days for opposing Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir.Her jailers shaved her hair. She was told it was because “it looked like the hair of Arabs and she belonged to the slaves in Darfur,” said RSF. She was then reported to have taken refuge in her family home on November 6 and later fled the country

NISS’s unwelcome intrusion into media freedom does not stop here. In the same report RSF said that on March 24, NISS had confiscated all copies of the Arabic daily Al-Khartoum and in January, 14,000 copies of another Arabic-language publication Al-Sudani. In another statement, dated January 24, RSF said that the moves appeared to be the result of Al-Sudani reporting the Sudanese opposition meeting in Uganda’s Kampala to take forward the struggle against the Khartoum government.

Meanwhile, New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recorded NISS’s role in closing and banning publications in Sudan. In a statement on June 6, CPJ said that three publications had been banned despite NISS and the Sudan’s information minister expressly agreeing earlier to suspend pre-publication censorship.

CPJ said Madiha Abdella, editor of the opposition Al-Midan, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, had told his staff that NISS had ordered the printing and distribution companies of the newspaper to suspend operations, although Al-Midan’s online version was permitted . CPJ also said that two other newspapers Al-Meghar al-Syasy and Al-Intibaha were banned from publishing on May 24. Al-Meghar al-Syasy was banned for criticising Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir seeking re-election in 2015 and Al-Intibaha for reporting clashes between the military and rebels in the restive South Kardofan region.

“The Sudanese government cannot have it both ways, offering to lift pre-publication censorship while at the same time reverting to its long-standing tactic of banning publications outright,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.

The NISS has not been alone in intimidating journalists. CPJ said in a statement on July 17 that Bloomberg correspondent Michael Gunn was seized, detained assaulted and threatened by the police. Gunn who fled the country on July 2 was covering a meeting of an opposition party in Omdurman when he was taken in. “The journalist said that he was then blindfolded and interrogated for three hours about what he was doing in Sudan. He said he was slapped several times during the interrogation and that he was ordered to unlock his smartphone,” CPJ said.

With Sudan’s independent media stifled and civil society crippled, NISS has very few obstacles in propping up the Al-Bashir regime. And, unlike Iran, the actions of the predators of Sudan’s media takes place with few countries bothering about them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Egyptian Military's Attack Leaves Two Journalists Dead

While two journalists were shot dead and at least as many injured when the Egyptian military stormed pro-Morsi demonstrations in Cairo, Wednesday, an incident last week, resulted in Muslim Brotherhood supporters detaining and assaulting two reporters.

BBC reported that Mick Deane (61), a cameraman working for Sky News was killed while covering the military storming the sit-in protest by supporters of ousted Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, near Rabaa al-Adawiya. Meanwhile Gulf News confirmed that Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz (26), a journalist with its sister publication Xpress was also killed. Abd Elaziz was not official duty. Both were shot dead.  

In other reports of violence, the Huffington Post carried the tweet of Mike Giglio of the Daily Beast, who tweeted, “I’m fine and thanks to all for the concern. Was arrested, beaten by security forces at Rabaa and then held at a local arena. Just out now.”  Huffington Post also reports a tweet from freelance journalist Haleem Elsharani that a Reuters journalist was wounded in the attack: “Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih is being moved to the international medical center after she was shot in the leg.”

BBC said, “Sky’s foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall described Deane as ‘a friend, brave as a lion but what a heart… what a human being … He died doing what he’d been doing so brilliantly for decades.’”

In a separate story BBC commented that reports by Egypt’s media on the attacks was polarised depending on whether they backed the deposed president, or the military that overthrew him. “State-run media and some private TV stations are fiercely anti-Morsi, stressing that his supporters were armed and have caused casualties among the police. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated stations, on the other hand, reserve their ire for the army that deposed the president. They highlight deaths among the protesters, showing gruesome pictures of the dead and wounded.”

This does not mean Morsi’s supporters are cleaner. An August 12 statement by Reporters without Borders (RSF) highlights the experience of two reporters seized and beaten up by supporters of Morsi while covering a march to Nahda Square on August 9. RSF said that Mohamed Momtaz of the newspaper Veto had his camera seized and assaulted repeatedly. He was then dragged to a vehicle, forced to undress and interrogated as a spy. Aya Hassan of Youm 7, who was photographing the incident, was also dragged away, blindfolded and assaulted while under interrogation. “During interrogation, she was ordered to admit political affiliation and to provide the names of people she knew in the interior ministry, the armed forces and in the opposition to Morsi,” RSF said.

Hassan’s account posted on YouTube of the assault as transcribed by RSF: “‘One of the men dragged me by my hair along the ground into an adjacent tent,” she said. “He kicked me in the face until my nose began to bleed. He then gave me a piece of cloth covered in blood, and warned me that I was going to suffer the same fate as the person who had been punished in this place before me.’ The Union of Journalists said he was apparently referring to Momtaz.”

The RSF statement also gives another instance of pro-Muslim Brotherhood activists disrupting the work of a journalist. Ironically she worked for Sky News. “On 8 August, for example, Muslim Brotherhood supporters interrupted Sky News correspondent Rufyada Yassin while she was covering a demonstration live,” RSF said.

The Egyptian government has declared an emergency for one month following the violence in Cairo and elsewhere. Media freedom, if anything, will continue to be in great peril.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Iran's Murder Minister gives Little Hope for Media Freedom

The honeymoon is over. Optimists believing Iran’s new leader, President Hassan Rouhani would deliver on loosening control of the media even minimally, are no longer so impressed.

In most countries that censor the media, authorities rely on two broad methods to accomplish their goals. The first is by censors, either aided by regulations or acting ad hoc, who control the content which finds its way into the public sphere. The other method is by coercing the producers of that content to publish or broadcast what the authorities like.

Following his election, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) asked Rouhani to make good the pledge he made during his election campaign and release political prisoners – many of whom are bloggers and journalists. In other words, RSF’s target was those who had been coerced by the regime for producing anti-government material rather than censorship regulations that prohibited certain journalistic content. In its June 21 posting, this blog quoted RSF’s June 18 statement, “Your campaign promises included references to a desire to work for freedom of expression and media freedom, and the release of all political prisoners…”

But on August 8, RSF in a joint statement with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) and Human Rights Watch asked Rouhani to withdraw “immediately” his candidate for the minister of justice – Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi – because of strong allegation of human rights abuses during earlier stints in office. His earlier appointments included the post of interior minister during the first term of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and as deputy minister of espionage from 1990-1999.

In its statement RSF said, “Human Rights Watch, in a 2005 report, “Ministers of Murder,” documented Pour-Mohammadi’s direct role in the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners. In the summer of 1988, Pour-Mohammadi, then a top deputy to the intelligence minister, sat on a commission charged with interrogating thousands of political prisoners and ordering many of them to the gallows.”

“Instead of installing Pour-Mohammadi as justice minister, authorities should abide by their international obligations and investigate his role in committing egregious rights abuses and parliament should refuse to confirm him if the nomination goes forward,” RSF quoted Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of ICHRI as saying.

Although Rouhani was inducted as president only in August, he was elected on June 14 and the interim was not free of journalists’ arrests. On July 9, Faribah Pajoh was rearrested and in a statement by RSF said “she is now in solitary confinement in Evin prison’s Section 209, which is controlled by the intelligence ministry.” She is in poor health after her first imprisonment in 2009.

“Fariba Pajoh was arrested again arbitrarily, probably on the orders of one of her former jailers in the intelligence ministry and clearly without any legal grounds,” RSF quoted Nobel Peace Prize-winning Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on July 16 that seven Iranian journalists of the website Majzooban-e-Noor were sentenced to a total 56 years in jail. The charges included, “forming the illegal Majzooban-e-Noor group with the intent to disrupt national security … propaganda against the state … insulting the Supreme Leader and participation in disrupting public order,” CPJ said.

“This is a worrisome trend coming so soon after the presidential elections,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator. “The Iranian government is squandering an opportunity to open a new chapter that renews the right of free expression.”

However, other commentators writing on Rouhani’s selection of his cabinet say he is constrained because he has to balance different political forces. The enduring streak in the Iranian president is his pragmatism and they see his sidelining of reformists as a way of balancing the different factions that came together to elect him. “‘Pleasing a single Iranian faction through cabinet nominations is a difficult enough task; pleasing all of them can be likened to completing a Rubik's cube,’ said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel,” Reuters reported on August 5.

A less than comfortable aspect of the balancing different factions in the Rouhani cabinet is the pruning down the members of the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran (IGRC) that have traditionally played an important part in guiding the affairs of Iran. They have been ‘balanced’ by four members of the Ministry of intelligence and National Security (MOIS). Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi is one of them.

A relatively strong MOIS presence … is unprecedented. So is the sharp drop in IRGC presence. This shift could be a sign of increased struggle for power between the strongest security arms of the regime,” says Ali Alfoneh of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defence of Democracies.
In all this it is likely that media freedom will be the victim. The problem is with international concerns about Iran’s race for the nuclear weapons and its involvement in Syria, freedom of the media could end up get on the backburner.