Sunday, February 21, 2010

Iraq: IFJ and ARTICLE 19 Pledge Support for UK Guardian Newspaper in Defamation Case

Iraq: IFJ and ARTICLE 19 Pledge Support for UK Guardian Newspaper in Defamation Case
ARTICLE 19, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the affiliated Iraqi journalists’ union today called on the Iraqi authorities to drop charges of defamation against the British Guardian newspaper and its journalist, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. The IFJ and ARTICLE 19 have filed a joint amicus brief to the Iraqi Appeal Court in advance of its hearing on 27 January.
In November 2009, an Iraqi court ordered the Guardian to pay a 100m dinar (£52,000) fine to the Prime Minister over a story published in April last year under the title “Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq”.

The article quoted three anonymous members of the Iraqi Intelligence Services who alleged that the Prime Minister was running Iraqi affairs with a totalitarian hand, that the Iraqi government was close to the United States and that officials attached to the Iraqi national intelligence service were monitoring intelligence and military activities within the government itself.

The journalists were prosecuted under the Saddam-era Publications Law for reportedly defaming the Prime Minister and the Iraqi Intelligence Services. The court had also asked the newspaper and the journalist to disclose the names and contact details of the three officers. They refused.

The court commissioned a report from a group of three experts nominated by the Iraqi Union of Journalists, who concluded the article was not defamatory and thus no compensation should be granted.

The court disregarded this testimony and instead followed the opinion of a second panel who argued that the Guardian had violated the Publications Law by interfering in Iraqi internal affairs and harmed the reputation of the Prime Minister.

‘‘At the heart of this case is the fight for independent journalism and for protection of sources in Iraq,” says Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “We urge the Iraqi authorities to drop the charges and to put media law reform on their agenda.”

The amicus brief filed by ARTICLE 19 and the IFJ reviews international standards for freedom of expression and argues that the court ruling disregarded well-established international law which guarantees the rights of the media to critically evaluate the activities of governments and their elected leaders. The Republic of Iraq has an obligation to protect the right to free speech in terms of its commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

“The Iraqi government should be protecting journalists, not prosecuting them,” comments Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “Politicians need to be able to tolerate a greater degree of criticism and scrutiny than ordinary citizens, in the name of transparency and democratic process, and any attempts to interfere with the media’s right to report on politicians and public officials amounts to unacceptable censorship.”

NOTES :

• For more information from ARTICLE 19, please contact: Nicola Spurr, Senior Media Officer at nicola@article19.org, +44 20 7324 2500
• For more information from the IFJ, please contact Sarah Bouchetob, Arab World and Middle East Project Officer at sarah.bouchetob@ifj.org, +32 2 235 2205. The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide.

International Special Rapporteurs for Free Expression Highlight Critical Ten Challenges‏

International Special Rapporteurs for Free Expression Highlight Critical Ten Challenges

The four international special rapporteurs on freedom of expression have released their tenth annual Joint Declaration on Ten Key Challenges to Freedom of Expression in the Next Decade. Brought together by ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Law and Democracy in February 2010, the special rapporteurs have issued a Joint Declaration each year since 1999.

The 2010 Joint Declaration, which reaffirms all the previous declarations, acknowledges important advances made for free expression over the past decade, especially regarding the enormous potential of the Internet as a tool for realising the rights to freedom of expression and information. At the same time, the Joint Declaration notes both the long-standing and emerging challenges to the full realisation of freedom of expression and identifies ten key threats as follows:

1. Increasing government control over the media through a range of mechanisms, including political influence over public media, punitive registration and licensing requirements, political ownership, and the use of antiquated rules.
2. Criminal and civil laws on defamation, slander and insult, which penalise statements which are factual or opinions, or which protect the reputations of symbols, state institutions or religions, or allow for overly harsh penalties.
3. Violence against journalists and the failure to prevent and investigate such attacks, and bring those responsible to justice.
4. The failure by a majority of states to adopt laws guaranteeing the right of access to information, and the weak implementation of such laws in many states which have.
5. Discrimination against historically disadvantaged groups who struggle to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
6. Commercial pressures, including a growing concentration of media ownership and the risk that public broadcasters will lose out during processes of digital switchover in many countries.
7. Challenges to the public funding support for public service and community broadcasters.
8. National security interests being used to justify unduly broad limitations on freedom of expression.
9. Government restrictions on the Internet, through the imposition of firewalls and filters, or the blocking of websites and web domains.
10. The limited access to the Internet by vulnerable people, such as the poor, and rural or elderly populations.

“These Joint Declarations elaborate on the meaning of freedom of expression according to different thematic areas,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “Collectively, the Declarations provide important guidance to those wishing to understand international human rights standards on freedom of expression.”

The four special mandates on freedom of expression are Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Miklos Haraszti, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Catalina Botero, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States; and Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

The four special mandates on freedom of expression were brought together by ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Law and Democracy. ARTICLE 19 first brought the special mandates on freedom of expression together in 1999 and they have issued a Joint Declaration every year since then.

NOTES :

• The full text of the Joint Declaration is available here: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/standards/tenth-anniversary-joint-declaration-ten-key-challenges-to-freedom-of-express.pdf
• For more information please contact: David Banisar, Senior Legal Counsel banisar@article19.org or +44 20 7324 2500

Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi Calls Upcoming Elections Illegitimate‏

Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi Calls Upcoming Elections Illegitimate

Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has stated that Burma’s severe restrictions on free expression and access to information will compromise any attempt to hold free and fair elections later this year.

Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest in Rangoon, was speaking this week through her lawyer, Nyan Win. She said that she was unwilling to engage in the election process because the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom of association are consistently denied to Burmese citizens.

According to Nyan Win: “‘If there is no freedom of information and freedom of expression, there will be no free and fair election’, Aung San Suu Kyi said. ‘The basic requirements like freedom of press, speech and campaigning, and also free and fair election will be needed if she has to decide whether or not to contest in election.’”

Suu Kyi also conveyed advice to her party, the National League for Democracy, via Win Tin, a senior journalist and NLD politician released in 2008 from 19 years in prison. She has apparently warned the Burmese people not to believe the regime’s claims that Burma will move towards a more open political environment after the elections. Suu Kyi will not be eligible to contest the elections, not because of her house arrest, but because of her marriage to a foreign citizen, which is proscribed under the Constitution.

Despite various promises from the authorities, it is still not clear when the elections will take place and how they will be implemented. There is no election law in place yet. Sources predict the possibility of a vote on the 10 October 2010 – 10/10/10 is a date with resonance in numerology for the notoriously superstitious military regime.

The regime has neither allowed political parties to campaign nor open offices, although there are reports that the military and military-backed organisations such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) have already begun electioneering. Burmese news website Mizzima, which reports from outside the country, reveals that state-owned media groups are already concentrating resources showing military officials giving out money and meeting with local leaders.

Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, comments: "On the day the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release, we must remember that there are many defenders of free expression trapped in prisons, none more so than in Burma. Hearing Suu Kyi's voice from beyond house arrest is a poignant reminder of the plight of many in Burma and elsewhere around the world who are imprisoned because of their stand for human dignity, and of their incredible courage in the face of adversity and torture."

“A free exchange of ideas and political opinions is absolutely crucial in the lead-up to any democratic election. Clearly, despite Suu Kyi’s bravery in confronting her jailers, Burma will not and does not fulfil any of the normal criteria for a democracy during this election process. We therefore stand by Aung San Suu Kyi in her courageous attempts to call the regime to account for its actions.”

ARTICLE 19 calls on the international community to pay attention to Suu Kyi’s words and to make it clear to the Burmese ruling Junta that no election will be legitimate without unfettered freedom of expression and information and the release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi is an honorary board member for ARTICLE 19.

NOTES :

• For more information contact: Oliver Spencer, oliver@article19.org, +44 2073242500

Three Depressed terrorists

Three Depressed terrorists
Terrorism is inhuman act, an evil concept
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