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Ethiopian Authorites Use Prison System To Torture Journalist Woubshet Taye

Bernhane and son Fiteh (Pic. CPJ)

In its post on October 17, this bloghighlighted the plight of three Ethiopian journalists – Malaku Desmisse, Woubshet Taye and Eskinder Nega – among many who are behind bars for exposing the country’s brutal government.
On October 13, Taye had been awarded the Press Freedom Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2013. But he was not there to receive it. He was serving the second year of a 14-year jail term after he was falsely charged under the country’s counterterrorism laws. His wife, Bernhane Tesfaye and five-year-old son picked up the award instead.
In a recent interview with Tom Rhodes, the East Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Tesfaye described the inhumanity of Ethiopia’s prison system and the vindictiveness of its government.
A common form of punishment that authoritarian regimes, which adapt the prison system to persecute inmates more than by confining them, is by frequent transfers from prison facility to prison facility. Taye’s experiences are a perfect example.
“It is at Ziway, an isolated facility roughly 83 miles southeast of the capital, where heat, dust, and contaminated water have likely led to a severe kidney infection in Woubshet. The award-winning journalist was meant to receive medical treatment while at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, Woubshet’s wife, Berhane Tesfaye, told me, but it never took place. Suffering in such pain in his ribs and hip that he cannot sleep, Woubshet has not even received painkillers, according to local journalists who visited him,” writes Rhodes.
As Rhodes goes on to say, “While debates over the reasons for Woubshet’s arrest may persist, there is one point on which all sides should agree: Woubshet must be allowed access to medical treatment.”

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Faisal Salih Acquitted By Sudan Court Of Writing “Lies”

Faisal Salih (2nd left) Catherine Antoine (left) at Peter Mackler Award

In a bold move, a Sudan court acquitted editor and columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih, winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, of writing “lies” and “insulting the state” that could have earned him a six-month jail sentence.  

The Global Post and Darfur-based Radio Dabangareported that Salih was exonerated by Judge Esmat Suleiman who said in his verdict that Salih “did not publish lies and did not insult the state” and that “a lot of media published about this case.”
Reacting to Salih’s acquittal, Catherine Antoine, co-founder of the Peter Mackler Award said, “We are relieved to learn that Faisal Salih was cleared of wrong doing while exercising his profession. We hope the Sudanese courts will also clear the other journalist accused in a similar fashion.”
Click here for this blog’s coverage of Salih and media freedom in Sudan: 1), 2), 3), 4), 5), 6) and 7)
Salih was indicted under the Criminal Code after he was one the first journalists to expose the alleged gang rape of Sudan’s democracy activist Safia Ishag by agents of the notorious National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) by calling for “‘serious investigation’ into the activist’s allegation that she was raped in detention,” said the Global Post.
“‘It’s very positive for the freedom of the press and the role of the press in society,’ he [Salih] said, noting that the judge described his article as ‘very objective,'” reported Radio Dabanga following the acquittal.
In March 2011 after Ishag went public about her ordeal, Salih and other journalists denounced the NISS in their writings. The attorney general’s office summoned Salih and two others to be interrogatedafter the security forces accused them of spreading “false information.” Harassment in the hands of state authorities continued well into August with other journalists too being investigated or tried before courts for reporting the torture of Ishag. The NISS said Salih was defamingit by associating its officers with the rape of Ishag.
“An allegation of rape in custody is a grave matter and we are encouraged by the decision of the Sudanese court,” said Antoine in her message after the announcement of Saih’s acquittal.
Accepting the Peter Mackler Award at the National Press Club in Washington DC in October Salih said, “Sudanese journalists are not giving up. They face harassment, detention and threat of violence with great courage and honesty. They are doing all they can to serve their citizens right to know.”

Tanzania’s Parliament Rejects Media Censorship Bill

Tanzania’s Media Confronts Government (Pic. courtesy RSF)

The media and human rights activists expressed relief that the National Assembly of Tanzania had rejected a bill on November 8 that would have increased fines for offences such as “publishing false news” and “incitement to violence.” The bill came before Tanzania’s parliament less than month after a series of publications were closed by the Tanzanian government that resulted in irate journalists refusing to give coverage to two government officers that personified the censorship.

Tanzania‘s 1976 Newspaper Act is widely condemned by media freedom advocates for sweeping powers. The UK-based Article 19 said that fines for the two offences under the amendment would have increased fines from 150,000 shillings (US$93) which they are under the present Act, to 5,000,000 shillings (US$3118).
“Eastern Africa is experiencing an increase in attacks against freedom of expression. The Newspaper Act is terrible as it is, and these amendments show just how far the government is willing to go to stifle freedom of expression. While the rejection of the amendments is positive, Tanzanian MPs should remain vigilant,” said Maina Henry, Article 19’s Eastern Africa Director.
Article 19 also urged the government to table the Media Services Bill and the Right to Information Bill. “Broad consultations should be held with all stakeholders throughout the legislative process to ensure that each bill complies with international standards on freedom of expression and access to information,” Article 19 said.
In October, Tanzanian journalists protested the closure of three newspapers. The three publications banned were Mwananchi, Mtanzania and Mwanahalisi. Mwanahalisi has been banned from July 2012 and Mwananchi, Mtanzania were banned on September 27, for 14 and 90 days respectively. According to a press release by the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), “the two newspapers were accused of publishing provocative and seditious stories intended to incite the public against the government.”
Following this important stakeholders in Tanzania’s private media decided to boycott coverage of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports Minister Fenella Mukangara and Director of Information Services Assah Mwambene from October 8, after they refused to lift a ban on the publications suspended for “publishing articles inciting hostility (…) and thereby endangering peace and social cohesion.”
Please click herefor more on press freedom in Tanzania.

Murder Of French Journalists Worsens Media Freedom In Mali

Bodies of the two journalists arrive in France (Pic courtesy AFP)

The abduction and murder of two French journalists in Mali last week demonstrates the endangered existence of media freedom – as well as other liberties – in a country where the Malian government, the UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA supported by French troops, and Taurag rebels including the group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) maintain security.

The bodies of Ghislaine Dupont (57) a veteran reporter who had covered many conflicts in Africa in her 25-year career with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Claude Verlon (55), a sound engineer with many years experience as a technician in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, were found outside a vehicle into which they had been bundled when they were abducted near the town of Kidal on November 2. They had just completed an interview of Ambery Ag Rissa, a leader of the MNLA for RFI. 
“The summary execution of these two RFI journalists is vile and unspeakable,” Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) secretary-general, Christophe Deloire said. “We feel both outrage and disgust that journalists who had the courage to cover an area such as the Kidal region were shot in cold blood after interviewing someone…”
The killings come in the run up towards national elections scheduled for November 24. In January, the French military intervened in support of the Malian government that was overwhelmed facing an uprising of the rebel Taurag which had established an autonomous region, Azawad. After pushing out the rebels a peace treaty was signed in June and French troops and a UN peacekeeping force stationed to stabilise the region. The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the killings.
“The United Nations should support the investigations in line with its mandate to protect civilians and its new plan for the safety and protection of journalists,” said Mohamed Keita, who coordinates advocacy for Africa for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius “blamed the murder on Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.”
The UK-based Article 19 said, “Mahamane Baby, spokesman for the Malian government promised that ‘some measures will be taken, including the opening of a judicial investigation in Mali.'”
RFI reported that French authorities were in Mali and investigations into the incident had commenced Four persons had been arrested. RFI also mentions contradictions between statements from the French military chief in the area and accounts from other sources.
While this tragic incident is the latest assault on media freedom in Mali that ranks 99th of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index, there has long been a litany of complaints about restriction facing the independent media. 
RSFwhile acknowledging fighting between Islamists and Malian government troops as tensions rise before elections said, “The presence of the large international force that was deployed in northern Mali could have guaranteed better access to information for journalists, but in practice the media were prevented from covering events. Security was used as a pretext for keeping reporters at distance, in what was a clear violation of freedom of information,” RSF said.
It blamed the French authorities in Mali for some of the restrictions on freedom of information.
More unfortunate, elections do not appear as a way whereby democracy or human rights will be restored in Mali soon. 

Somali Media Faces Renewed Challenges: Murder, Raids, Licences

Mohamed Mohamud (Tima’ade) killed by suspected Al-Shabab (Pic:CPJ)

A renewed bout of violence and intimidation on the media in Somalia has drawn international condemnation, although it’s unlikely to deter the country’s lawless authorities and trigger-happy militia that have used their power recently to kill journalists, raid a radio station and censor content on radio by insisting on licences.

That censorship in Somalia goes as far as killing journalists was given a crude reminder when Mohamed Mohamud known as Tima’ade of the UK-based Universal TV, became the seventh journalist to be killed this year when he died at Medina Hospital on October 26 from bullet injuries he received four days earlier. He was shot six times in the neck, head and shoulder.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was not clear who carried out the attack, although the Islamic militia Al-Shabab had claimed responsibility via twitter. Not to be outdone, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdoon, under whom government operatives have been responsible for terrorising the media, also tweeted condemning the killing.
“Condemning these killings is not enough – authorities must do more to apprehend murderers who have struck with total impunity in 2013,” wrote Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa representative.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) described the murdered journalist as a “respected investigative reporter … involved in defending independent media against the provisions of the new media law, which press freedom activists regard as draconian.”
“The government and allied … forces in Mogadishu have largely weakened the Somali hardliners known as Al-Shabaab, but their ability to target the press remains. And while Al-Shabaab is routinely labelled the guilty party, they are not the only ones threatening journalists,” writes Abdiaziz Abdinuur Ibrahim, a guest blogger for CPJ.
On the same day Tima’adedied media in Somalia faced other problems too. On the morning of October 26 the police first sealed the area surrounding Shabelle Media Network in Mogadishu that houses two radio stations – Shabelle Radio and Sky FM, both private owned by the same company. The police then used vehicles to break through, which the radio stations’ listeners could hear until the transmitters were switched off.
The police proceeded to assault employees after confiscating their mobile phones. They were later escorted to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). The equipment and archives of the radio station were dismantled and taken away. The journalists were first told they would be prosecuted but apparently let off after being photographed and fingerprinted when parliamentarians intervened.
According to RSF the raid followed a notice issued five days earlier by Somalia’s Interior Ministry asking Shabelle Media Network to vacate its offices, claiming it belonged to the ministry of information, posts, telecommunications and transport. RSF said it was in retaliation to stations broadcast reports on “declining security in Mogadishu and suspected government corruption.”
The Toronto-based International Freedom of Information Exchange (IFEX) said that on October 24, Shabelle had petitioned the regional court on the eviction and the imminent raid, but the court had rejected the petition. “This stands out as a clear abdication of judiciary responsibilities,” said IFEX.
RSF and 19 other pro-free speech NGOs wrote to Prime Minister Shirdoon before the raid deploring the government agency’s eviction notice to Shabelle. They said in the letter, “As you know, Radio Shabelle seeks to publish free and fair information, and to accurately describe the situation on the ground while avoiding political or religious exploitation of their network.
“Targeted by the radical Islamic militia Al-Shabaab and Hibzz al-Islaam, unfairly accused of serving foreign interests, it has paid a very heavy human tribute over the past years because of its commitment to provide free and independent information to the Somali population, losing ten journalists to violent attacks since 2007.”
RSF said that the threat from Al-Shabab is so real to the journalists from Shabelle initially refused to leave CID headquarters after they were released fearing they would be targeted by the brutal militia. The media watchdog said that many journalists live on Shabelle premises fearing attacks by Al-Shabab.
“In a country notorious for violence against journalists, the Shabelle Media Network building not only housed two radio stations but also served as a safe residence for many of their journalists, now homeless and exposed to violence by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia that has murdered dozens of journalists in recent years,” said RSF
IFEX quoted the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) saying that the ministry of information was putting pressure on the media not to carry stories about the raid and “Consequently, radio stations censored themselves in covering the crackdown in fear of reprisal.”
Meanwhile, independent radio stations (including Radio Shabelle) face more harassment as Abdullahi Ilmooge Hersi, the minister of information, posts, telecommunication and transport, called on all broadcasters to register with the ministry by November 10. “This requirement gives the government a way to put constant pressure on media that might be tempted to be critical,” said RSF.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) meanwhile reported that “The Minister of Information, Abdullahi Ilmoge, announced yesterday that Shabelle Media Network refused to renew its licenses with the Ministry, but the NUSOJ says there is no law that obliges the radio station to pay an excessively expensive license.
“‘The desperation of  the Ministry of Information to control an uncomfortable political news report has exposed their disregard for media freedom and freedom of expression and violated the right of Somalis to receive information,'” IFJ quoted Faruk Osman, secretary general of NUSOJ as saying.