South Asia Media Solidarity Bulletin: AUGUST

Welcome to the monthly e-bulletin of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN). The next bulletin will be sent on September 15, 2016, and your inputs are most welcome.

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In this bulletin:

1.       Press freedom groups demand release of Bangladeshi journalist

2.       Pakistan cybercrime law, a setback for FOE

3.       Approval of defamation law in the Maldives increases media restrictions

4.       Suicide blast kills two cameramen in Baluchistan, Pakistan

5.       Media freedom crackdown continues in Bangladesh

6.       Journalists removed from court and arrested in Kerala, India

7.       Civil unrest leads to media crackdown in Kashmir, India

8.       SAMSN Blogs

a.       Calculating the Loss of a Maldivian Journalist, by Daniel Bosley

b.      Trolls Target India’s Media Women, by Sujata Madhok

c.       In any Kashmir emergency, why is Press always the first casualty? by Bismah Malik

9.       Police files complaint over Outlook India cover story

10.   India's Malini Subramaniam among winners of 2016 International Press Freedom Award

11.   Pakistan bans ARY TV host for 45 days

12.   Maldives' first private TV channel, DhiTV, shuts down (Maldives Independent)

13.   Court acquits journalist Somaru Nag in Chhatisgarh (The Scroll)

14.   India expels 3 Chinese journalists (Hindustan Times)

15.   When Oligarchs Go Shopping (RSF)

16.   Internet Landscape in Pakistan 2016 (Bytes for All)

17.   Freedom of Expression on Internet in Nepal (Freedom Forum)

18.   Application open for The Ochberg Fellowship, by Dart Center Asia Pacific


1. Press freedom groups demand release of Bangladeshi journalist

The IFJ, Reprieve, Index of Censorship, Reporters Without Borders and 21 other international press freedom organisations have demanded the immediate release of UK-Bangladeshi journalist, Shafik Rehman, who has been in police custody since April 16, 2016. Rehman, an 81-year-old prominent journalist, was arrested based on allegations that he conspired to murder Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The joint letter that was sent to Bangladeshi Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Anisul Huq, called for Shafik’s immediate release as, after more than three months since his arrest,  he is yet to be charged and his health is deteriorating. Read more here; and the joint letter here.

2. Pakistan cybercrime law, a setback for FOE

The National Assembly, the lower house of the Pakistan parliament, officially approved the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) 2016, on Thursday, August 11. The Bill, which has been dubbed a ‘draconian law’, was originally passed by the Assembly on April 13; however, it was knocked back by the Senate, parliament’s Upper house. After more than 50 amendments to the PCEB and it was unanimously adopted by the Senate on July 30. Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain will now sign the PCEB in law.

The PCEB has received widespread criticism from opposition parties, stakeholders and media groups for the provisions which many believe will curb freedom of expression in Pakistan. Particular criticisms focused on the vague wording in the bill, which is open for misinterpretation, restrictions on freedom of expression online and access to information. Criticisms also focused on the sweeping powers granted to the state authority to conduct surveillance on citizens. Many argued that the provisions of the law could specifically be misused to target journalists’ sources and whistleblowers. Read more here; read the statement by the Bytes for All here; read the statement by the Digital Rights Foundation ‘The PECB Passes. R.I.P. Online Freedom?’ here; and read the Dawn’s editorial ‘Draconian Cyber Law’ here.

3. Approval of defamation law in the Maldives increases media

The Maldivian Parliament passed the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Bill on August 9 with 47 Members of Parliament voting in favor and 31 voting against. The act was presented to Parliament for voting despite international condemnation. The law criminalizes defamatory speech, remarks, writings and actions and empowers state authority to shut down media for its ‘defamatory’ contents. The law includes a fine between MVR 25,000 (US$1,621) to MVR 2million (US$130,000) or up to six month of imprisonment for slander, remarks or content that threatens national security or breaches social norms. Individual journalists found guilty face fines between MVR50, 000 (US$3,242) and MVR150, 000 (US$9,727).  In addition, journalists could be forced to reveal sources of information. Read more here; read detail of how the new law curtails press freedom here. President Abdulla Yameen ratified the bill on August 11.

Meanwhile, recent incidents have shown that the Maldives government is growing intolerant towards media freedom. On July 27, two journalists, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, chief operating officer of the Raajje TV, and Ahmed Azif, assistant editor of Sun Online, were arrested as opposition supporters attempted to perform a prayer inside an Islamic centre in Malé. They were released after four hours. On the same day, riot police officers blocked a silent protest staged by journalists against defamation bill. On July 29, Shammoon Jaleel, a popular opposition activist, was arrested on suspicion of using social media to “foment unrest in society and incite hatred among the public towards the security forces.” Read more here.

4. Suicide blast kills two cameramen in Baluchistan, Pakistan

On Monday August 8, 30 year old Shahzad Khan, a cameraman with Aaj TV, and 26 year old Mahmood, a cameraman of Dawn News, were killed, while a reporter with Dunya News, Fareed Ullah, was seriously injured when a bomb went off on the gate of the emergency department of the Civil Hospital in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province in Pakistan. The blast killed at least 53 others and injured over 30 people. The journalists were at the scene covering the mourning of advocate Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was shot dead earlier today. Mahmood succumbed from his injuries some hours after the attack. Khan and Mahmood are the 4th and 5th journalists to be killed in Pakistan and the first two in Balochistan province in 2016. Read more here.

5. Media freedom crackdown in Bangladesh continues

On August 4, the Bangladesh Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission (BTRC) ordered all International Internet Gateway service providers in Bangladesh to block access to 35 websites. Blocked websites included pro-opposition Sheersha News and Amar Desh Online, a news site of a pro-opposition Bengali daily that was shut down in 2013 following government’s cancellation of its license. The BTRC said they were blocked ‘for making objectionable comments about the government’. Read more here.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Police arrested editor Shadat Ullah Khan, executive editor Maksudul Haider Chowdhury and newsroom editor Pranto Polash of online news portal on August 8 at their offices in Nayapaltan, Dhaka following a story addressing rumours that Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, had been killed. Following the arrests, the Press Information Department cancelled all temporary and permanent press accreditation cards for nine journalists from, without providing a reason. The journalists were released on bail on August 14 by a Dhaka court. Read more here.

6. Journalists removed from court and arrested in Kerala, India

Kerala Police barred journalists from reporting at the City Court on the long running ‘Ice Cream Parlor Sex Scandal’ case on July 30. The case relates to an illegal brothel where a number of politicians reportedly frequented and the proceedings have been allegedly obstructed by those in power. Police forced the journalist out of the court room and off the court premises. As they forced the journalists away, media workers from AsiaNet TV were arrested and detained for a number of hours at the local police station. Although the police defended their actions, saying they were acting on ‘court orders’, the court denied ordering any restrictions on media personnel. Read more here; read the IJU statement here and the NUJI statement here.

7. Civil unrest leads to media crackdown in Kashmir, India

On July 16, Kashmir authorities banned the publication of all newspapers in Kashmir for three days, following police raids of media houses in Srinagar including the Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir, Daily Kashmir Images and Kashmir Observers. During the raids, police immediately halted the printing of editions and confiscated printed papers due for release. This is the first incident of a formal ban on the media by the state government of Kashmir & Jammu.

The government also had all cable networks taken off air, but they were returned on Saturday evening. The incidents come after mobile internet services were suspended on July 8, and remain suspended.

The government spokesperson said that ‘the undesirable step was taken to ensure peace’, following unrest which left dozens dead, with clashes between security forces and protests over the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani on July 8. However, editors called the ban an attack on the freedom of the press. Read more here.

8. SAMSN Blogs

a.    In any Kashmir emergency, why is Press always the first casualty? by Bismah Malik

It appears a norm that during any kind of emergency in the valley, it is the local press who are the first casualty. After the state government, run by the Peoples Democratic Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), failed to pacify the angry protestors on the streets it resorted to curbing the freedom of local newspapers in the valley. Readmore.

b.      Calculating the Loss of a Maldivian Journalist, by Daniel Bosley

One man was abducted on August 8th, 2014, but two crimes have been perpetrated against the Maldivian public. Two years and two crimes. After 24 agonising months for Rilwan’s countless supporters, it can no longer be disputed that a group of people conspired to abduct this intelligent and passionate writer, and a second group then worked to cover up that fact. The first group may never be caught, most having been skirted off to jihad or returned to the dark recesses of Male’s criminal underworld. But those guilty of the second crime still walk tall; drawing salaries, cutting ribbons, and further curbing the rights to free expression that Rilwan worked to exemplify. Readmore.

c.       Trolls Target India’s Media Women, by Sujata Madhok

In recent months some women journalists, such as ND TV’s high-profile editor and anchor Barkha Dutt have lodged formal complaints with the police after they received death threats. Kerala TV anchor Sindhu Suryakumar also lodged a complaint after she received numerous threatening phone calls and online messages. Anchor and writer Sagarika Ghosh has long faced troll trouble. Freelance journalist Swati Chaturvedi has lodged a police complaint alleging sexual harassment and defamation. She writes, “Journalists especially women are hunted for sport, abused, slandered and hounded by trolls who hunt in hyena-like packs….I was incredulous the first time I faced a lynch mob on Twitter. Because I refused to keep quiet when these anonymous paid handles called me, among the printable things, a “prostitute”, I was branded an “abuser”.” Readmore.


9. Police files complaint over Outlook India cover story

Outlook magazine’s recent cover story on trafficking of tribal girls, by freelance journalist Neha Dixit, has attracted the First Information Report (FIR). After the report was published, Dixit was subjected to intense abuse and harassment on social media. To make matters worse, an FIR was filed at Latasil Police Station in Guwahati against Outlook’s publisher Indranil Roy, editor Krishna Prasad and Dixit. The trio has been accused of inciting communal hatred by complainants Bijon Mahajan, Mominul Awwal (members of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party).

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) has expressed outrage at the attempt to intimidate and silence media and journalists. A group of journalists, activists and academics, powerfully  condemned the FIR.. In an interview with The Hoot, the editor Krishna Prasad refused to be muzzled by FIR over its story but on August 13, executive director and publisher of Outlook group, Indranil Roy, announced the appointment of Rajesh Ramachandran as the new Editor-in-Chief replacing Prasad.

10. India's Malini Subramaniam among winners of 2016 International Press Freedom Award

Malini Subramaniam, a freelance journalist from India, who was attacked and harassed after she reported on human rights abuses and the conflict between Maoist groups and state forces in Chhattisgarh, has been named one of the winners of the Committee to Protect Journalists’International Press Freedom Award 2016. The CPJ will honor journalists from Egypt, India, Turkey, and El Salvador with its Awards. The journalists have faced threats, legal action, and imprisonment. More here.

11. Pakistan bans ARY TV host for 45 days

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has imposed a 45-day ban on the ARY News programme ‘Live with Dr Shahid Masood’ on August 11. PEMRA said Dr Shahid Masood alleged — in a programme aired on June 22 — that the son of the Sindh High Court chief justice was kidnapped because the chief justice took a bribe and then did not make good on his promises. Meanwhile, after a widespread protest, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on August 12 directed PEMRA to depute an officer of directorial rank or above to explain under which authority it imposed a ban on the programme.

12. Maldives' first private TV channel, DhiTV, shuts down (Maldives Independent)

The Maldives’ first private TV station DhiTV has been switched off. Its last broadcast aired at midnight of August 11. News of the closure was abruptly announced to staff, just a day after the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives dominated parliament and approved a draconian defamation law. DhiFM, a radio station affiliated with the TV station, DhiFM plus, and the Dhivehi Online website were also shut down. More here.

13. Court acquits journalist Somaru Nag in Chhatisgarh (The Scroll)

Journalist Somaru Nag, who was arrested on charges of aiding Maoists in Chattisgarh's Bastar area in July 2015, was acquitted by a local court on July 21. Additional District Judge Niranjan Lal Chouhan quashed all charges against Nag, citing lack of evidence. Nag was arrested along with another journalist Santosh Yadav, who is still in jail. More here.

14. India expels 3 Chinese journalists (Hindustan Times)

India has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, by refusing to renew their visas to work in the country, a move that could worsen the already strained relations between the two countries. The three journalists were ordered to leave India by July 31. Journalists Wu Qiang and Lu Tang head Xinhua’s bureau in New Delhi and Mumbai respectively. The third, She Yonggang, is a reporter based in Mumbai. Read more no link.

15. When Oligarchs Go Shopping (RSF)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a report entitled “Media: When Oligarchs Go Shopping” on July 20. This report uses the term “oligarchs” to refer to billionaires who create or take over media empires to serve their business or political interests. The report describes the current situation of the media world in which journalism and freedom of information face an invisible wall of money and conflicts of interest. Read the report here.

16. Internet Landscape in Pakistan 2016 (Bytes for All)

Bytes for All, Pakistan, in its latest report named ‘Internet Landscape of Pakistan 2016’ raised concern over the declining state of fundamental rights in online spaces highlighting the government’s strategy of fighting terrorism by infringing upon civil liberties. According to the report, while access and speed of the Internet has improved, the Pakistan still remains far behind the rest of the world. Increased access has also come with increased state control over the internet in the form of continuing censorship, greater monitoring of online activity and legislation open to interpretation, trampling on the basic rights of citizens while meting out harsh punishments. Read the report here.

17. Freedom of Expression on Internet in Nepal (Freedom Forum)

Freedom Forum has published a report on “Freedom of Expression on Internet in Nepal” featuring the present practice of FoE on internet in Nepal and analysis of the existing policy, laws and constitution affecting the FoE practice. Nepal’s practice and policies are compared to the international standards and best practices. Read the report here.

18. Application open for The Ochberg Fellowship, by Dart Center Asia Pacific

The Dart Center Ochberg Fellowship is a unique seminar program for veteran and mid-career journalists who wish to deepen their knowledge of emotional trauma and psychological injury, and improve their reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy. Fellows attend an intensive weeklong program of seminars held at Columbia University in New York City. Program activities include briefings by prominent interdisciplinary experts in the trauma and mental health fields; conversations with journalist colleagues on issues of ethics, craft and practice, and a variety of other opportunities for intellectual engagement and peer learning. The Ochberg Fellowship covers roundtrip travel, lodging, meals and expenses directly related to participation. More information here.


SAMSN is a group of journalists’ trade unions, press freedom organizations and journalists in South Asia that work together to support freedom of expression and association in the region.

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If you have information on a press freedom violation or matters relating to media freedom and journalists’ rights in South Asia, contact staff at IFJ Asia-Pacific so that action can be taken. To contribute to this bulletin, email[email protected]