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“I am the victim of a political conspiracy” – Le Quoc Quan

Le Quoc Quan speaks to court during his appeal (Pic. courtesy CPJ)

Hanoi‘s Peoples’ Court of Appeals rejected Monday the appeal of blogger and dissident Le Quoc Quan, 41, against a 30-month jail sentence imposed in October. The sentence for tax evasion also includes a hefty fine of 1.2 billion dong (US$57,000).

Quan who has been on hunger strike protesting prison conditions for the past 17 days briefly fainted during the proceedings, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF). However Quan’s Ha Hui Son lawyer told Voice of America that he had become very tired but did not faint.
The appeals court said after a half-day session that no new evidence had been presented to overturn the lower court’s decision. “The defendant did not show regret and took a disrespectful attitude towards the court,” said court president Nguyen Van Son, confirming the jail term and a fine of around US$ 57000,” said Agence France Presse (AFP).
AFP quoted Quan saying “I am the victim of a political conspiracy. I object to this trial.”
Although he was tried for tax evasion there is widespread conviction that Quan has been imprisoned as punishment for his outspoken blog focusing on official corruption and human rights abuses including religious freedom.
“Today’s appeal court ruling against blogger Le Quoc Quan underscores the severe constraints on judicial independence in Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “It is clear that Quan was imprisoned for his expression of dissenting opinions, not a faulty tax disclosure. We call on Vietnamese authorities to release all imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally.”
While Hanoi’s Court of Appeals upholding the 30-month sentence is cause for outrage, of equal concern are prison conditions under which Quan is held as well as his health. On February 2, Quan, who is a devout Catholic, began a hunger strike protesting that he was not given access to legal documents, a copy of the Bible and a Catholic priest. 
“We also sound the alarm about Quan’s state of health. He has been on hunger strike for the past 17 days in protest against the treatment he is receiving, and he briefly lost consciousness during today’s hearing. So we call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” said Benjamin Ismail head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
RSF has also drawn attention to the lack of process in the way the appeal was conducted. The organisation said in a statement, “We condemn the way the hearing was conducted. Hundreds of people who had come to support Quan were kept away from the courthouse and only his mother and wife were allowed to attend.”
RSF went on to say that journalists watching proceedings on CCTV in another room could not see Quan’s reaction to the judge’s ruling as the feed was cut off immediately after the order.
Quan was arrested on December 27, 2012 after the BBC published his article criticising a constitutional provision that accorded the Communist Party of Vietnam a preeminent position in the country. Prior to that Quan was arrested in March 2007 when he returned to China after completing a stint as Reagan Fascell Fellow at Washington DC’s National Endowment for Democracy. He was released without charges after being detained for 100 days. He was arrested again in 2011 and released without charges. In August 2012 he was severely injured in an assault.  
Following the failure of the appeal RSF promised, “In the coming days, we will do everything possible to ensure that this blogger’s voice can be heard more easily. We are going to start translating and circulating his articles so that more people can read his criticism of Vietnam’s human rights violations – criticism that the authorities did not want to hear.”

AFP To Co-sponsor Peter Mackler Award

The international news agency Agence France-Presse has joined the advisory board of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, the Mackler family announcedtoday.
“AFP is very happy to provide support for the award issued in memory of Peter, who played such a vital role over nearly three decades in building the agency’s international activities and reputation,” said David Millikin, AFP’s director for North America who will represent AFP on the advisory board.


 A project established in memory of long-time AFP correspondent Peter Mackler, the award annually honours an international journalist who has achieved success under repressive conditions.
“AFP brings precious international help and support to our project,” said Camille Mackler, one of Peter’s daughters and the project director. “Five years on, we all have witnessed the positive impact of the award. AFP’s contribution will strengthen our capacity to support independent journalism around the world, and more specifically in countries that impede free speech.”
The project was established in 2008 in collaboration with the international NGO Reporters without Borders, a key partner.
The late Peter Mackler spent 30 years of his journalism career at AFP in Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States as a correspondent, war reporter, editor and bureau chief, among other capacities. He mentored young AFP correspondents and established an independent journalism training program for students and foreign journalists.
The award has honored J.S.Tissainayagam from Sri Lanka, Ilya Barabanov from Russia, Karla Rivas from Honduras, Lukpan Akhmedyarov from Khazakstan and Faisal Mohamed Salih from Sudan.
“The Mackler family has created something of great importance, not only for the award’s recipients but for the nations where courageous reporters know their work is being followed and recognized abroad,” said Marcus Brauchli former executive editor of the Washington Post and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. The honorees are selected by daughters Camille and Lauren Mackler, and Catherine Antoine, Peter’s wife.
“The award is a great source of inspiration when individual journalists, often working alone, confront powerful governments and organized criminal gangs,” said J.S. Tissainayagam who received the award while jailed in 2009.
Recipients are flown to the US in October for an award ceremony at the National Press Club. In New York, they address students and faculty of the Columbia University School of Journalism, and in Washington, D.C., they meet with policy makers in think tanks and government agencies.
The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism is a project of the Global Media Forum, a U.S. non-profit company.

Turkey Passes Draconian Laws To Stifle Internet

Protesting  internet censorship in Ankara (Pic.

On Wednesday, February 5, Turkey adopted Law 5651 that imposes greater restrictions on an already stifled media. During its passage through parliament, the bill came under fire from the opposition and was later criticised by sections of Turkey’s business community and the European Parliament. Notwithstanding that, the new reality in Turkey will be government agencies authorised to block websites without a judicial order and carry out surveillance through deep packet inspection.

AFPquoted Bilgi University’s law professor, Yaman Akdeniz saying the powers given to the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB) as “Orwellian” and that the measures will “move Turkey away from the European Union in terms of Internet policy, perhaps a few steps closer to China.”
The AFP report included reactions from European regional organisations OESC and the European Union: “Dutch MEP [member of the European Parliament] Marietje Schaake said that in Turkey’s EU accession talks, Brussels needed to tell Ankara such legislation is ‘unacceptable’ and that ‘the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are at the centre of EU policy.'”
Prime Minister Tyyip Erdogan and his government have been facing mounting protests against repression and corruption. Last year Turkey violently suppressed a popular protest in Istanbul’s Gezi Park that saw six deaths. Later last year the media highlighted stories of large-scale corruption that implicated senior politician in the government party. On both issues Erdogan blamed the media – especially the social media – of spreading falsehood and creating unrest. He said during the Gezi Park crisis, “There is a problem called Twitter right now and you can find every kind of lie there.”
“Erdogan, Turkey’s all-powerful leader since 2003 is openly suspicious of the Internet, branding Twitter a “menace” for helping organise mass nationwide protests in June in which, six people died and thousands injured,” says AFP.
“Social media was not Erdogan’s biggest problem. His biggest problem was that citizens whose lives and nation harmed by his rule, were fighting back, and they had found an effective medium through which to organise and express their protest. Twitter was the problem because its users had identified Erdogan as the problem,” writes Sarah Kendzior, who writes on politics and the media in a post to Al-Jazira.
Kendzior says that when the powerful condemn the medium it is the marginalised messenger they are after. “It is a tactic reminiscent of dictators facing a challenge to power: Target the medium, slander the messenger, ignore the message.”

Media, Freedom Of Expression Suffer In Hounduras’ Post-election Violence

Protestor hit by teargas cannister (Pic courtesy Rebel Reporting)

Hopes that the November 24 presidential election would usher in an era of democratic governance and respect for human rights – especially freedom of expression and information – suffered a setback after rival candidates claimed victory at the polls that resulted in street violence, where journalists also became victims.

 The election – the first since a 2009 coup that installed President Porforio Lobo Sosa in power – witnessed two rival candidates, Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed ex-president Manuel Zelaya of the left-leaning Libre Party, and Juan Orlando Hernandez of the conservative National Party claiming victory.
Although the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced Hernandez’s victory 34% to 29%, with 68% of the votes counted by early Wednesday, Castro denounced the results claiming massive electoral fraud.
 “‘[t]he TSE (electoral council) hid 19 percent of the ballots on election night which altered the outcome,’ Zelaya wrote on his Twitter account. ‘Within 48 hours results from around the country will be in’ and the alleged fraud will be ironed out, he said,” reported Agence France Press (AFP).
‘We will confirm our victory, and if it were the opposite, we also would acknowledge it,’ Zelaya said warning: ‘Nobody should speculate; we will look at the dimensions of the fraud – and what was properly done,” AFP continued.
The controversy sparked clashes in Tegucigalpa between the police and university students demonstrating in support of Castro. “About 100 police in helmets and riot gear used gas and then truncheons to beat the chanting youths and send them scrambling. Students fled from police, running to their nearby campus, and at the entrance gates authorities lobbed more tear gas at them,” AFP said.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said two journalists, photographer Mario Fajardo (La Tribuna) and correspondent Víctoria Aguilar (Globo TV) had lost consciousness due to exposure to teargas during standoff. On November 22, Cesar Obando Flores(radio station Libre Estereo) complained of receiving death threat over the telephone demanding that he halts election coverage, RSF said.
“We call for an end to acts of intimidation and violence against journalists and we urge both the government and the opposition to respect their work,” RSF said. “The authorities must guarantee the safety of journalists and must punish the police officers responsible for so much violence.”
Beyond attacks on journalists, police action against the university students is also an assault on freedom of expression. The website Rebel Reporting said, “The protests started at around noon outside of the gates of the university.  Several hundred students reportedly blocked traffic.  Soon after, police arrived and, using force and teargas drove the students back through the university gates.  Once the students were locked in, the cops continued to use teargas and long, heavy sticks (rather than traditional batons) to beat students.
“The tear gas was produced in the U.S.  Much of that used was military-grade gas. No one was allowed to leave the university during the violence, as the police brutally attacked and the protesters made occasional attempt to defend themselves by throwing stones. Many were trapped inside the university some who were not even originally part of the protest, with no way out,” Rebel Reporting said.
Although the election is disputed by Castro and her party, AFP said, “The governments of Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica congratulated Hernandez. Nicaragua’s leftist President Daniel Ortega also recognized Hernandez as the winner. European Union and Organization of American States observers called Sunday’s voting process transparent and non-problematic.”
AFP also noted that Zelaya was elected president in 2005, but when he showed an inclination to move leftward politically by reforming the constitution and was deposed in the 2009 coup, there was “no vocal or active opposition from the United States – a fact that deeply undermined US credibility.”
On November 19, RSFcalled for “overhaul of the entire media.” It said that attacks on journalists and other human rights defenders in Honduras have taken place against a background of generalised violence. The media watchdog demanded, “The protection of journalists and other news providers and the fight against impunity need to be addressed during the next parliamentary period.”
The 2011 winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was Honduras’s Karla Rivas, news director of Radio Progresso. Before the election RSF interviewedher on the state of the media in Honduras.

Peter Mackler, Remi Ochlik Honoured At Event In Washington

Photograph by Remi Ochlik exhibited at the event

The Embassy of France in the United States hosted a reception on World Press Freedom, Wednesday, honouring two journalists greatly admired for their commitment, dedication and self-sacrifice. One was the French news service AFP’s veteran, Peter Mackler, who died at 58 in 2008, and in whose memory the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was created. The other was Remi Ochlik, the young French photographer who died at Homs in 2012, while covering the war in Syria.
Speaking at the event, Catherine Antoine, the wife of Mackler said about journalists fighting for media freedom, “Many are forced to give up or give in to self-censorship. Others courageously push forward, motivated by respect for the truth and dedication to journalistic ethics. We can’t really blame those who choose to avoid danger. But, in turn, we must recognize those who choose to take personal risk on the values we hold dear.” 

Peter Mackler
 Peter Mackler won many accolades, one which described his long and dedicated service to AFP as the “driving force behind transforming the agency’s English language service into a global powerhouse.”
Also honoured was Remi Ochlik whose extraordinary commitment to war photography was displayed at the reception with an exhibitof his photographs taken at different conflicts of the Arab Spring. The tragedy of his death and the importance of keeping alive his memory through the photographs were highlighted in a message from his girlfriend Emilie Blachere read at the event.
It was really important to Remi to continue his work on Arab revolutions. He was obsessed; he wanted to describe, with his pictures, the atrocity of the war in Syria. And he was right. Everyone knows that ‘zero risk’ doesn’t exist, but nobody could live thinking that. We were prepared for everything but not for the worst. But I was, I am so proud of him.”
(Please see the full text below)
The French ambassador to US, François Delattre, speaking, paid a tribute to Mackler: “Throughout his amazing career, he followed and reported on many conflicts: both wars in Iraq as well as the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Peter Mackler devoted his life to the universal right to information. He worked hard to share his experience in emerging countries and to train many journalists and reporters, particularly in Iran and Malaysia.”
About Ochlik, Delattre said, “The brevity of his life did not prevent him from being singled out by international critics on several occasions, whether for “The Battle of Libya,” which won a World Press Photo award, or for his reporting in Tripoli, or on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in Tunisia, which earned him the Grand Prize of the European Journalism Festival.”
Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) also spoke.
The winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Jouralism is Sudanese journalist Faisal Salih, who will be honoured at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington DC on October 24.
Announcing the event Antoine said, “[t]his year, you must know that we are honoring Sudan’s Faisal Mohamed Salih at the National Press Club in three weeks. Faisal is a remarkable man and if you want to know more, you need to join us on the 24th. Ambassador Lyman who is right here with us is the keynote speaker. Please, come and show your support.”
The full text of Catherine Antoine’s speech
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Monsieur l’ambassadeur, merci pour votre hospitalité dans cette belle maison.
I have to start with something sad, but bear with me because it gets better.
Five years ago, on a beautiful Friday afternoon in June, my husband passed away suddenly.
It was the beginning of a personal tragedy for my daughters and me, but something else happened.
We received hundreds of messages, emails, letters, phone calls from people around the world who wanted to share what Peter had meant during their career.
Journalists in Bagdad, in Islamabad, in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong ; in Bosnia, Kosovo, India told us how much Peter had been and continued to be an inspiration.
My husband was a consummate reporter. For him, journalism was not only a profession, it was a way to be in life. He was immensely generous with his time, his experience, his knowledge, mentoring young reporters and discussing journalistic ethics – issues close to his heart – as well as safety in situation of conflict.
When he passed away, as is the custom in this country, people asked where they could make a donation.
One of my daughter said « We must continue Papa’s work Â» and the other said « Let’s create an award in his name. Â»
So we did – in collaboration with Reporters without Borders, an organization my husband and I have always admired.
Year after year, we have been able to help and recognize a reporter who operates in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
In 2009, JS Tissainayagam was in jail, accused of terrorism for his reporting on the civil conflict in Sri Lanka.
Today, Tissa is right here with us. He actually runs a very interesting blog – PM Media Freedom – that I recommend. You can find a link on the Peter Mackler Award website.
The following year, we recognized Ilya Barabanov, a young man from Russia whose reporting on corruption in the secret police prompted raids on the publication he still works for.
In 2011, we honored the courage of a woman, Karla Rivas, editor of a community radio in Honduras. Karla staunchly refused to be intimidated by the military. She started her acceptance speech by reading the name of 16 Honduran reporters who had been gunned down in 28 months.
Last year, Lukpan Akhmedyarov from Kazakhstan received the award. We were lucky to have him among us because thugs had left him for dead six months earlier. He had been literally beaten to a pulp, after he reported on corruption in local politics. He was an inspiring speaker at the award and at Columbia University where our winners traditionally address the students and faculty as well.
And this year, you must know that we are honoring Sudan’s Faisal Mohamed Salih at the National Press Club in three weeks. Faisal is a remarkable man and if you want to know more, you need to join us on the 24th. Ambassador Lyman who is right here with us is the keynote speaker. Please, come and show your support .
Now, you might wonder « Why should we care ? Why should we be concerned about the fate of reporters in Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Sudan ? We live here, in this beautiful city of Washington DC – designed as you know by a French man, le major L’Enfant. Â»
You should care deeply, for many reasons. The one I’ll mention tonight is the fact that our own press is battered, and foreign correspondents are so few now. Our own professional media are undergoing drastic budget cuts at a time when reporting from overseas has never been so costly, and so dangerous.
Sure, activists, even ordinary people send tweets and posts video on YouTube.
But who’s there to bring perspective, to double check the facts and tell us in the end « what does it all mean ? Â»
Most often, only the local press is left to take the risks to report the truth; and they do it with little or no protection. They most often are subjected to threats to their lives, threats of torture, threats to their family.
Many are forced to give up or give in to self-censorship. Others courageously push forward, motivated by respect for the truth and dedication to journalistic ethics.
We can’t really blame those who choose to avoid danger. But, in turn, we must recognize those who choose to take personal risk on the values we hold dear.
I could go on, but let me stop here for now.
Five years after my husband passed, our goal is to make the award permanent.
To do so, we need your support. Tissa, Karla, Faisal deserve your support.
Please, come to the award ceremony at the National Press Club on October 24th, buy a ticket – it only costs 25 dollars – or better, make a donation so we can continue this work.
Thank you.
Emilie Blachere’s message was read by Delphine Halgand, director in Washington of Reporters without Borders (RSF)
For the past six months, Rémi and I had talked about his project to go to Homs.
He wanted us to go together but I couldn’t. I encouraged him to go there but to be careful.
On this particular day, the 10 th of February 2012, he left. It was the last time I saw him.
And he was smiling. And I was so happy. That’s why today, I have no regrets about his trip in Syria.
It was really important to Remi to continue his work on Arab revolutions. He was obsessed; he wanted to describe, with his pictures, the atrocity of the war in Syria. And he was right.
Everyone knows that « zero risk » doesn’t exist but nobody could live thinking that.
We were prepared for everything but not for the worst.
But I was, I am so proud of him. I haven’t felt like laughing since the day of his death.
But this particular evening, I will drink for you, Rémi, for all photographers here, in Washington and others in the world who show the world not as we imagine it but the world as it is : beaufitul, amazing but so so vicious.
It’s really important that his pictures don’t die with him. We have to show them anywhere we can. And we will.
Thank you.