IFJ Asia Pacific Bulletin

To IFJ Asia-Pacific affiliates and friends,

Welcome to the IFJ Asia-Pacific’s monthly e-bulletin. The next bulletin will be issued on 1 May 2014, and contributions from affiliates are most welcome. To contribute, email ifj@ifj-asia.org

Please distribute this bulletin widely among colleagues in the media.

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In this bulletin:

  1. IFJ launches new website
  2. Journalist and family murdered in Afghanistan as Taliban vow to disrupt election
  3. World Press Freedom Day – What are you doing to raise awareness?
  4. Hong Kong Chief Executive Responds to IFJ Press Freedom Campaign
  5. Sri Lankan free speech activists muzzled following detainment on terrorism charges
  6. Journalist killers convicted in historic ruling in Pakistan as media violence continues
  7. Myanmar Parliament Passes Dual Media Laws
  8. Call for action in India after gang rape of journalist
  9. IFJ releases The Stories Women Journalists Tell: IFJ Report on Women in Media in South Asia and calls on an end to violence against women
  10. Delays for thai journalists facing jail time
  11. Journalist unions urge chinese president to allow free movement of foreign media
  12. Bangladeshi journalist falls to death from police rooftop
  13. Filipino media groups file motion against cyber libel laws
  14. Canadian journalist still missing in Cambodia
  15. IFJ raises concern over two separate instances of censorship in China



  1. IFJ launches new website

The IFJ is really pleased to announce the launch of our new website - which will prove a great source of information for you, our members and affiliates. Visit http://www.ifj.org/

It includes more potential for telling your stories, sharing your actions and campaigns and showcasing the training and work you are doing nationally, sub-regionally through the SAMSN and SEAJU networks and across the entire region for important campaigns such as press freedom and impunity.

The IFJ site has lots of number of new features including a ‘SUBSCRIBE TO IFJ’ sectionwhere you can choose the information you want to receive from us. Take your pick of our Global and Regional media states and newsletters and the languages you want to receive them in. The website also has in depthARCHIVESsections which contain many IFJ reports and publication on a range of issues. You can continue to view the website at the same address as the previous one: www.ifj.org; but if you can’t find what you are looking for, our previous website will continue to remain open for the next couple of months at www.publikr.com.

 

  1. Journalist and family murdered in Afghanistan as Taliban vow to disrupt election

On Thursday, March 20, the IFJ was deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the murder of Sardar Ahmad, a 40-year-old senior reporter with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Kabul bureau and members of his family. Ahmad was killed alongside his wife and two of his three children as they sat down to dinner in the Serena Hotel in Kabul.The Taliban, who have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the upcoming Afghanistan Presidential election, claimed the responsibility for the attack.

The condition of Sardar’s youngest son, Abuzar, who survived the attack has been closely monitored by the IFJ and local affiliate AIJA. The family spokesperson, Turaj Rais, nephew of Sardar Ahmad, told us this week that Abuzar was making a fast recovery after waking from a coma on the morning of March 23.

Turaj Rais said: "Please allow me to express my whole family's gratitude and appreciation. We wouldn't be able to make through this horrible time without the prayers of everyone from all over the world.Abuzar is a miracle. He is a strong little man with a heart of a lion. He is recovering at the speed of light. We hope that he will fill the gap in the world of journalism that was created by Sardar's departure"

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The Ahmad family murder comes only two weeks after the brutal killing of Swedish journalist, Nils Horner in Kabul. Horner, who also held British citizenship, was shot dead in a rare daylight attack in Kabul on March 11 by an unknown gunman.

As the April 5 election approaches, the IFJ is calling on Afghani journalists to exercise utmost caution as they go about their work covering the elections and has called on the Afghan interior ministry and justice ministry to carry out full investigations into these attacks. We hope that the Afghan journalism community has a safe week in the lead up to election day and we join our affiliates the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association in calling on authorities to ensure journalists are safe in doing their extremely important work covering the critical vote.

  1. World Press Freedom Day – What are you doing to raise awareness?

World Press Freedom day is on Saturday May 3 and we are calling on our friends and affiliates to join with us in raising awareness for press freedom issues in our region.  In the lead up to World Press Freedom Day, the IFJ Asia Pacific is partnering with the Walkley Foundation for Excellence in Journalism for the second annual 30 Days of Press Freedom campaign. On each of the 30 days leading up to May 3, we will be sharing, highlighting and showcasing stories to raise awareness of press freedom issues in the Asia Pacific.

Follow IFJ Asia Pacific on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific and Facebook.

Follow 30 Days of Press Freedom on Facebook and on Twitter on the #30DaysofPressFreedom hashtag.

We are also interested in sharing your campaigns over the next month! Let us know what activities, demonstrations or online campaigns you are planning to celebrate Press Freedom Day – we would love to share your actions with our followers.

  1. Hong Kong Chief Executive Responds to IFJ Press Freedom Campaign

On March 25 the IFJ received a formal reply from Hong Kong’s Chief Executive of Hong Kong responding to the call from the IFJ and its Hong Kong affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) demanding a stronger stance to defend press freedoms in Hong Kong. The campaign was coordinated with IFEX, the global network for defending and promoting free expression and was supported by 58 international media and human rights organisations.

While the Office of the Chief Executive affirmed its commitment to press freedom in its letter to the IFJ, it failed to give any concrete plan of action to put this commitment into effect nor did it respond directly to the series of incidents highlighted by the IFJ.

The IFJ recently catalogued a series of press freedom violations incidents in Hong Kong between June 2013 and February 2014. On March 7, the IFJ and its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) initiated a global campaign through IFEX, the global network for defending and promoting free expression, calling on the Chief Executive to act immediately to defend press freedom. In just three days, 58 international media and human rights organizations cosigned the letter. (see full list here).

The Office of the Chief Executive said: “The Government is firmly committed to protecting freedom of the press. It is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and an important core value underlying Hong Kong’s success and continued prosperity. Our aim is to maintain an environment conducive to the operation of a free and active press”.

The IFJ congratulates and thanks all those who participated in this important campaign.

 

5.    Sri Lankan free speech activists muzzled following detainment on terrorism charges

The dire situation for journalists and human rights activists in Sri Lanka took global prominence this month in the lead-up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva with the arrest of two leading activists. After two days of global outcry and rallying from the IFJ and other international human rights organisations, the two activists Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan were released without any charges on March 18.

The IFJ has since joined its Sri Lankan affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM) in deploring the Magistrate order issued on both men, restricting their right to speak and demands an immediate lifting on the ban.

The judicial order continues to prevent the two activists from speaking about not only their arrest but also the human rights violations taking place in the North of Sri Lanka that they had been investigating. Fernando and Fr. Praveen, were arrested on March 16 in Kilinochchi and were subjected to lengthy interrogations by the Terrorist Investigative Division of the Sri Lanka Police.

 

6.    Journalist killers convicted in historic ruling in Pakistan as media violence continues

The conviction of the killers of Pakistani journalist Wali Khan Babar has been hailed as a major achievement in a long campaign by the PFUJ and Pakistan’s media against the country’s entrenched culture of impunity.

The IFJ said the outcome “was won through their determination and commitment and actioned by a legal system that has clearly committed itself to achieving justice.”On March 2 the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) acknowledged the significance of the judgement of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorist Court when it handed down the country’s first successful prosecution over the killing of a Pakistani journalist.

The Court’s decision marked only the second time in Pakistan’s history that the murderers of a journalist have been brought to justice. The first was American journalist Daniel Pearl’s killer, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, in 2002.

“This judgement strikes a blow against impunity for journalists’ killers in Pakistan. “The campaign must continue and the media must remain vigilant as it faces these threats against the profession,” the IFJ said.

This dire environment for Pakistan’s media was once again on display earlier in March when journalist Abrar Tanoli was shot in the neck by unidentified gunmen while travelling with his family at Mamsehra. He passed away in the early morning of Monday March 3.

Also this month, on March 28, unidentified armed men opened fire on well-known Pakistan news anchor Raza Rumi while he was in his car on Ferozpur Road in Lahore returning home after finishing his news show for Express News. Although Rumi was not injured in the attack, his driver, Mustafa, was killed and his guard was injured. The PFUJ retailliated with country-wide protests over the attack.

7.    Myanmar Parliament passes historic media laws

Myanmar’s draconian Printers and Publishers Registration Law of 1962 was replaced on March 4 by two bills that were welcomed by the IFJ as the country’s first press laws but were also described as being unnecessarily controlling.

The dual bills, one drafted by the Ministry of Information and one drafted in concert with the Myanmar Press Council, contain measures that suggested that the power of censorship still lies with the country’s authorities.

Implementing such a dramatic change for Myanmar’s media environment is a victory in itself. The IFJ commended the hard work and perseverance of Myanmar’s journalists and the Myanmar Journalists Association (MJA) over recent years to ensure media freedoms are protected and respected as part of the ongoing dialogue now happening between the Thein Sein government and the country’s media.

The IFJ called on any further laws to be created with full consultation with the media and without unnecessary restrictions and controls that would impede the objectives of freedom of expression.

8.    Call for action in India after gang rape of journalist

On March 28 the IFJ was shocked to hear reports of another gang rape of a female journalist in India. The 27-year-old journalist on assignment was allegedly gang-raped by two people in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. The journalist had gone to Asthabhuja temple to research a story on historic temples in Vindhyachal region and was returning hotel late evening when she was abducted, taken to an isolated place, raped by the two assailants and later dumped in a forest area.

The woman, who was associated with a Hindi newspaper in Uttarakhand, lodged a complaint with the police on Friday. The police have arrested one of the accused and are reported to be investigating the case. This incident came just a week after an Indian court found four persons guilty of gang rape of a 23-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai last year. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.

A concerning pattern of incidents in India’s media has brought about heightened public awareness about rising cases of sexual violence generally across the country.

The IFJ endorses the actions of its Indian affiliates in taking a strict and absolute no tolerance stance against harassment and sexual violence against women journalists in India. That means ensuring the safest possible working conditions for female media workers as they go about their daily duties; campaigns on gender equity and education on sexual harassment; and an independent and robust process for complaints that adequately takes into consideration the need for confidentiality for victims.

9.    IFJ releases The Stories Women Journalists Tell: IFJ Report on Women in Media in South Asia and calls on an end to violence against women

The IFJ Asia Pacific office marked International Women's Day (March 7) by calling on media organisations and public authorities in the Asia Pacific to confront violence against female journalists by providing a safe working environment for women in the media and the same week released The Stories Women Journalists Tell: IFJ Report on Women in Media in South Asia.

The report is the first created by the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN), looking specifically at the experience of women journalists in the South Asia sub-region. It sheds light on how women are rapidly joining media’s ranks in large numbers, yet frustratingly still bear the brunt of inequality in newsrooms.

The report’s author, Geeta Seshu, said: “Their primary concerns centred on recruitment, work assignments and promotions; the impact of the contract system and growing job insecurity; the need for greater gender sensitivity in the workplace; sexual harassment and safety.”

Sadly, the report also documents the horrific attacks and killings of women journalists in the region also.

The Stories Women Journalists Tell is the first stage of this important campaign for women in South Asian media and sets the agenda for women journalists across the region.

Download the report here: Women in Media in South Asia Report.pdf

Read the full report online here.

 

  1. Delays for Thai Journalists Facing Jail Time

The IFJ continues to call on the Thai authorities to drop the charges against Phuketwan editor Alan Morison and his colleague Chutima Sidasathian after their appearance date was delayed to April 17.

Morison, 61, a former senior editor at The Age newspaper in Melbourne Australia was accused in December 2013 by a navy captain of “damaging the reputation of the service” and of breaching the Computer Crimes Act.

Since the accusations came about in December 2013, international pressure has built on authorities to make a positive statement about press freedom in Thailand and drop the charges. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists have joined media organisations such as Reuters and the Bangkok Post in voicing concerns over the charges.

Thai Captain Panlob Komtonlok’s allegations of criminal defamation stemmed from a report from July 17 2013 by Phuketwan that quoted a Reuters article critical of the Thai Naval authorities in their handling of the Rohingya boat people issue.

The Phuketwan duo were to face the charges on March 12. The IFJ and its affiliates continue to campaign on this issue.Follow IFJ Asia Pacific on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific and Facebook for updates on the situation.

  1. Journalist Unions Urge Chinese President to Allow Free Movement of Foreign Media

Journalist organisations across North America and East Asia, together with the IFJ wrote to Chinese President Xi and Premier Li on March 10, calling on the leaders to honour the public promise made in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics to allow a free foreign press in China.

The jointly signed letter drew attention to a series of visa delays and incidents involving foreign correspondents working in China over the past year.

The letter, co-signed by the heads of the National Writers Union USA, Newspaper Guild-CWA USA, Screen Actors Guild, Hong Kong Journalists Association and Association of Taiwan Journalists, called on the Chinese leaders to uphold their obligations to defend and implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Article 19 which guarantees every one's right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media without interference. China was re-elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council in November 2013.

The government is yet to respond.

  1. Bangladeshi Journalist Falls to Death From Police Rooftop

On March 1, the IFJ joined the Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF) in expressing concern at the circumstances that led to the death of Bangladeshi journalist

Shah Alam Mollah Sagar. The 41-year-old died after falling off the roof of the Uttara Pashchim Police Station building in the capital city of Dhaka under suspicious circumstances.

Sagar, a reporter working for the Oporadh Domon weekly, was in the police station attempting to solve a feud over a financial dealing. The police claim the fall was an accident, yet Sagar’s family have filed a case alleging that he was murdered for his reporting.

 

  1. Filipino Media Groups File Motion Against Cyber Libel Laws

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), together with the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Press Institute and other journalist groups filed a motion asking the Supreme Court of the Philippines on March 12 to nullify questionable provisions in the Cybercrime Prevention Act, including the contentious provision on online libel.

The petition sought to declare online libel in Sec. 4(C)4 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act unconstitutional because it constitutes prior restraint and curtails journalist’s basic rights to free speech and expression, an anachronism in an age when in many democracies around the world, libel has been decriminalised. 

The petition cites the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party. They said covenant upholds the right to free speech and expression, and maintains no defamation law shall be passed stifling these freedoms. 

The NUJP and the IFJ previously levelled strong criticism at the bill for its inclusion of libel among the crimes that may be committed online. In October 2012 the Supreme Court ordered a 120 day restraining order on the laws after the NUJP was joined by bloggers, netizens, human rights groups and progressive legislators in questioning the legitimacy of the law and demanding its repeal.

 

  1. Canadian journalist still missing in Cambodia

It is now over six weeks since Dave Walker, a 58-year-old journalist and documentary maker, went missing in Cambodia. Walker, whose production company has been based in Cambodia since mid-2012, was last seen leaving his guesthouse in Siem Reap at about 2pm on February 14 to allow a housekeeper to clean it.

On March 6, the IFJ called on Cambodia’s police to escalate their investigations as fears for his safety and well-being intensified.

Walker was in Cambodia filming a documentary tracing Khmer Rouge officials for his own production company Animist Farms Films. He was well-known in Siem Riep among the media community there.

Authoritarianism and censorship is an increasing concern in Cambodia as press freedoms in the country slowly deteriorate and the IFJ has documented that investigative journalists are increasingly becoming the target of violence and retribution.

 

  1. IFJ raises concern over two separate instances of censorship in China

Two separate instances of government sanctioned censorship in China were of significant concern for the IFJ in March.

On March 13, the IFJ voiced concerns about the Central Propaganda Department of China continuing to issue orders restraining the media from reporting on a Malaysian Airlines plane that disappeared on its way to Beijing.As the families of the 154 missing Mainland China passengers on Malaysian Airways flight MH370 waited for information on loved ones, the Central Propaganda Department issued an order to all media demanding that they only republish the reports of state-owned media house Xinhua.

No analysis, commentary or sceptical articles were allowed. A Mainland journalist told the IFJ that the order is similar to those issued when disasters have occurred in the past.

On March 20 we reported on Chinese authorities’ banned reporting on the death of an activist in detention.

Cao Shunli, 52, died from organ failure on March 14 in 309 Military Hospital in Beijing, after being transferred from Chaoyang District Detention Centre on February 16. Cao went missing at Beijing airport on September 14, 2013, as she was en route to Switzerland to attend a training session on UN human rights mechanisms.

A mainland Chinese journalist told the IFJ: “We definitely could not report Cao’s case on the first day. Because of her background and the suspicions that she died due to lack of proper medical treatment, her case has become an international issue.”