IFJ Asia Pacific Bulletin: March 2015

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In this bulletin:

1.       International Media Solidarity Delegation visits Sri Lanka

2.       IFJ releases “Trail of Violence” report – Asia-Pacific tops killed list

3.       US-Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death

4.       SEAJU launched press freedom campaign

5.       Staff exodus from Hong Kong broadcaster as news service compromised

6.       Australian journalist Peter Greste freed from Egyptian jail

7.       Indian editor arrested for republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoon

8.       Another Filippino radio journalist silenced by death

9.       Chinese journalist association hearing flawed

10.   Continued abuse of Sedition Act to harass media in Malaysia

11.   Suspect arrested for murder in Afghanistan of Swedish journalist

12.   Military junta tightens screws on Thailand’s press freedom

13.   Vale AINEF President Subodh Bose

14.   Indonesian journalists paid under the minimum wage

15.   IFJ and Japanese media condemn the murder of Kenji Goto

16.   Journalist killer convicted in the Philippines

1. International Media Solidarity Delegation visits Sri Lanka

An international solidarity delegation visited Sri Lanka this week to explore the fragile state of press freedom in the country in the wake of the presidential election that ousted Mahindra Rajapaksa in January. The delegation comprised IFJ, IFEX and IPI and visited the country on the invitation of IFJ affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM).

During the five-day visit, the delegation travelled to Sri Lanka’s north to meet with journalists from Jaffna as well as provincial and regional journalists. It then visited the country’s capital, Colombo, for meetings with government ministers, metropolitan journalists and unions and conducted a national press conference and civil society forum on media freedom.

Government representatives promised the delegation that the long-awaited Freedom of Information act would be tabled within a month. It also vowed for action on impunity for crimes against journalists, with the opening of investigations into the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge in 2009 and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda in 2010. The delegation noted the near universal agreement by journalists that the situation in Sri Lanka had dramatically improved since the January 8 elections, yet there remains uncertainty particularly in the north in Jaffna.

Read more here and here.  

2. IFJ releases “Trail of Violence” report – Asia-Pacific tops killed list

The IFJ has launched its 24th annual report detailing the journalists and media workers killed around the world. The 2014 report, Trail of Violence, calls for a united front to deliver media safety across the world with the death toll for 2014 reaching a shocking 118 targeted killings plus another 17 media workers killed accidentally in the line of their work. The IFJ said the report confirms a pattern of increasing violence against journalists which has reached record levels over the last decade despite massive global efforts to stave off increasingly brutal attacks.

“No country should aspire to hold the title of the most deadly for journalists, but sadly too many governments have allowed the targeting of media workers to remain a low priority,” said Asia-Pacific acting director, Jane Worthington. Sadly, for the Asia-Pacific, the prognosis is grim. The Asia Pacific was the deadliest region for journalists in the world in 2014, with 39 killings. Pakistan topped the global list with 14 murders. Followed by Afghanistan with nine, and the Philippines Philippines with four murders.

Read the full report here.

3. US-Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death

The global community has reacted in shock to the brutal murder this week of US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy. Roy was hacked to death and his wife wounded in the machete attack on February 26 outside a busy book fair near Dhaka University. A founder of the Mukto-Muno (Free-mind) blog, Roy published articles on scientific reasoning and religion and had received threats before, the most recent saying he would be killed upon his arrival in Dhaka. Based in the US, Roy was visiting Bangladesh to launch two of his books. His wife was also critically injured in the attack of the pair as they travelled by rickshaw from the book fair. This week (March 2), radical Islamist Farabi Shafiur Rahman was arrested for the attack. Rahman had threatened Roy several times over Facebook, including the most recent threats. Rahman is a member of the banned pan-Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The IFJ condemns the brutal attack and gives its condolences to Roy’s family and colleagues at this extremely sad time. Roy is the second blogger brutally murdered in Bangladesh in the last 12 months. Read more here and here.  

4. SEAJU launches press freedom campaign

The South East Asian Journalists’ Union (SEAJU) has launched a campaign over the deterioration of press freedom across the region in recent months. The network of South East Asian media unions expressed concern at ongoing attempts to control and limit freedom of expression. In recent months, serious violations have occurred in Myanmar with journalists threatened with legal action by the military over the reporting of allegations; in Thailand with the cancellation of a media forum and the proposed new ‘Cyber-Security Bill’; in Malaysia with the arrest of political cartoonist Zunar; in the Philippines with the brutal murder of the second journalist for 2015 and in Indonesia where freedom of expression continues to be repressed in Papua, for both local and international journalists. The continued use of the legal system to silence journalists is also a worrying trend in the country.

SEAJU said: “They systematic suppression of freedom of expression across the region is a grave cause of concern. SEAJU is determined to stand together to fight continued attacks on press freedom and call governments to account.”

Read more here

5. Staff exodus from Hong Kong broadcaster as news service compromised

Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air broadcaster, Broadcasting Television of Hong Kong (TVB) has come under strong criticise with reports of political impartiality. In recent weeks TVB has employed a former Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) secretary as a managing editor, who will focus on political news content. It is understood that the former DAB secretary was employed for over a decade by DAB, the largest oldest pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong.

The recruitment has received internal and external criticism with a number of TVB employees expressing concern that the political independence of the organisation will be compromised. Several veteran journalists have resigned in recent weeks, while others have told the IFJ that morale within the news room is very low.

Read more here.

6. Australian journalist Peter Greste freedom from Egyptian jail

After a long and painful wait by family, friends and media around the world, Australian national and Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste was released from an Egyptian prison on February 2. It came after almost 400 days in detention. Greste, along with colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, was arrested in December 2013 and charged with ‘distorting the country’s image abroad’ and ‘fabricating news to aid the Muslim Brotherhood’, which the government has declared a terrorist organisation. The three men were sentenced to between seven and ten years each.

But on January 1, 2015, Egypt’s court of cassation ordered a retrial of their case. On February 13, Greste’s colleagues were also released from jail on bail after 411 days in jail. However, the pair remain in Egypt facing their retrial. The campaign for justice for Fahmy and Mohamed continues.

Read more here  and here.

7. Indian editor arrested for republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Shirin Dalvi, editor of the Urdu daily Awadhnama was arrested on January 29 for reprinting a cartoon originally published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Dalvi was arrested under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which bans malicious and deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings.

Dalvi was arrested in Mumbra, in Mumbai’s financial district and later released on anticipatory bail by the court. Awadhnama has since ceased publication and Dalvi has said she fears for her life, now wearing a hijab to conceal her identity. Indian journalist unions have described the attacks against Dalvi as a “witchhunt”.

Read more here.

8. Another Filippino radio journalist silenced by death

On February 14, Maurito Lim was brutally murdered after being shot in the face as he got out of his vehicle outside his workplace at radio station dyRD. The 71-year-old was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead at 1.15pm. Lim hosted a daily radio show Chairman Mao on Board and was a noted critic of local officials linked to illegal drug trade in his hometown of Bohol.

Lim is the second journalist murdered in the Philippines in 2015. Nerlita Ledesma was killed on her way to work on January 8. Sadly, another journalist, Alberto Martinez also died in late January, ten years after a failed assassination attempt left him paralysed. Lim is the 35th journalist murdered under the Aquino administration, and the 172nd journalist murdered since 1986.

Read more here.

9. Chinese journalist association hearing flawed

Chinese journalist, Chai Huiqun of Southern Weekly, was named as a journalist from one of three media outlets detailed in a hearing of the All China Journalists Association (ACJA). According to ACJA, which operates under direction of the Communist Party of China, Chai, along with three other media outlets produced ‘false reporting’. Chai has refuted the claims and says that the hearing by ACJA is flawed with impartiality.

Read more here.

10. Continued abuse of Sedition Act to harass media in Malaysia

The South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU) have criticised the continued use of the Sedition Act in Malaysia in an attempt silence government critics. On February 10, cartoonist Zulfiki ‘Zunar’ Anwar Uljaqur was arrested by five police offices and held in police custody on court allowed extended detention until February 13, when he was released on bail.  Prior to his arrest Zunar released a cartoon criticising the conviction of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges.

Zunar has not yet been charged, but under the Sedition Act 1948, he could face a maximum of three years in jail. This is not the first time Zunar has faced police interrogation under the Sedition Act. In 2010 and 2014 he was investigated and between 2009 and 2010 the Home Ministry banned five of his books.

11. Suspect arrested for murder in Afghanistan of Swedish journalist

On January 30, the Afghan security agency arrested a commander of the terrorist organisation Mahaz-e-Fadaiyan for the 2014 murder of Swedish-British radio journalist Nils Horner. The arrest was a breakthrough in the murder case. Horner was brutally murdered in a rare daylight shooting in Kabul in March last year with Mahaz-e-Fadaiyan claiming responsibility two weeks after. The group has said it targeted Horner because he was an MI6 spy. Horner had arrived in Afghanistan only a few days earlier and was working for Sveriges Radio.

Read more here.

12. Military junta tightens screws on Thailand’s press freedom

On January 30, the Thai military junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued a directive that saw the cancellation of a media forum in Bangkok. The forum, Asia Media Barometer: Thailand 2014 was organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Thai Journalist Association (TJA) to launch a report measuring Thailand’s media landscape. However the NCPO cancelled the event sighting that FES had not followed procedure to gain permission to host the event.

In addition, in early January 2015, the junta has looked at ways to increase their surveillance and on January 7, the ‘Cyber Security Bill’ was approved which aims to oversee threats to national security. This bill along with nine others proposed in January could be used against freedom of expression and violate the right to privacy and persona information.

Read more here.

13. Vale AINEF President Subodh Bose

Subodh Bose, President of the All Indian Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF) and respected journalist passed away on February 13, in Kolkata India. The 84-year-old had a long career in the media spanning six decades. He is respectfully remembered for his tireless work as a trade unionist across India, as founding member of IFJ affiliate AINEF and as a well-respected veteran journalist.

Read more here.   

14. Indonesian journalists paid under the minimum wage

The Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Alliance of Independent Journalists, Indonesia) has found that the majority of media companies employ journalists under the provincial Minimum Wage (UMP). AJI released the findings of a wage survey with the Media Worker’s Federation, Indonesia (FSPMI) in which it looked into the employment practices of 60 media companies. The survey found that the average minimum wage of journalists was 3million (US$237) rupiah a month.

Read more here.

15.  IFJ and Japanese media condemn the murder of Kenji Goto

The IFJ joined Japanese and international media in condemning the brutal murder of freelance journalist Kenji Goto by IS militants in Syria. The murder came after numerous efforts to save the journalist failed. Goto was working in Syria covering the conflict for his own media company, Independent Press, an online news portal that reports on conflict, refugee populations and poverty. Goto had begun working in Syria when the conflict broke out four years ago and was internationally regarded for his journalism in the humanitarian sector.

The IFJ offers their deepest condolences to Kenji’s family and colleagues across Japan and the region who are mourning the senseless killing of a courageous journalist.

Read more here.

16.  Journalist killer convicted in the Philippines

On February 5, one of the co-accused in the 2010 murder of journalist Miguel Belen was finally convicted for the brutal killing. It is a significant breakthrough for a journalist murder accused to be found guilty with the Philippines – widely acknowledged globally as a haven of impunity for journalist murders. Belen was working as a part-time radio journalist, when he was shot several times on July 9 in Iriga City. Eric Vargas was sentenced to ‘reclusion perpetua’ (life imprisonment) or 40 years and was ordered to pay Belen’s widow PHP 50,000 (US$1,128) in moral damages, PHP 100,000 (US$2,256) in exemplary damages and PHP 75,000 (US$1,692) in temperate damages.

Read more here and here