Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Bangladesh Government Arrests Three Journalists As Crackdown Continues

Inqilab’s Ahmed Atik placed on two day remand (Pic. Daily Star)

Bangladesh arrested three journalists of the Bangla-language daily newspaper ‘Inqilab’ on January 9 for publishing “fabricated and false news” heightening fears that the recent upsurge in media repression is continuing.

 Arrests were made under the Information and Communication Technology Act of ‘Inqilab’s news editor, Robiullah Robi, deputy chief correspondent, Rafiq Mohammad, and Ahmed Atik, the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent. Computers and printing equipment were also seized and the press sealed.
The Dhaka-based Daily Starsaid, that while Ahamed Atik was placed on a two-day remand, Robi and Mohammad were denied bail by the Metropolitan Magistrate S. M. Ashqur Rahman.
The offending story was an article on the newspaper’s front page alleging the Bangladesh government had obtained Indian help to quell violence in the country’s Satkhira District before general elections on January 5. The report struck a raw nerve as the Awami League party that stands accused of seeking Indian assistance went on to win the violence-ridden election that the opposition boycotted. Further, the Awami League is characterised as a ‘pro-Indian,’ a controversial issue in a country which has had fluctuating political relations with its mammoth South Asian neighbour.
“They published the sensational news that goes against the country’s sovereignty despite being aware that it was false and baseless,” Dhaka police spokesman Monirul Islam told AFP. “We have arrested three journalists involved with the report. We raided the office following due procedures, only after obtaining a search warrant issued by a court,” Islam said.
The Dhaka-based ‘The News‘ said, “The front-page story quoted reports from two separate news websites and social networking sites, and included reactions from government officials and independent analysts.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) quoted Bangladesh’s information minister, Hasanul Haq Inu, saying the report had intended to cause a riot, damage relations between India and Bangladesh and tarnish the image of the country.
All accounts point to the ‘Inqilab’ as a pro-opposition newspaper.
“The government has leveled very serious allegations against the journalists that should be independently investigated,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz.  “We call for the journalists to be released on bail and for the matter to be thoroughly adjudicated.”
The arrests are of particular concern because only last week onetime editor of the ‘Daily Blitz,’ Salah Uddin Shoaib Chowdhury was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for “intentionally writing distorting and damaging materials” in an article he wrote in 2003. He was however initially charged for blasphemy, sedition and treason.
“[C]houdhury was accused of damaging the country’s image in his articles critical of Islamism and of trying to attend a 2003 conference in Israel with the aim of talking about the emergence of radical Islam in Bangladesh,” commented the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).
On other incursions on media freedom ‘The News’ said, “Last May authorities raided and closed down a pro-opposition television channel after it aired footage of clashes between Islamists and security forces in central Dhaka. A month before the shutdown of the TV station, a popular pro-opposition newspaper, ‘Amar Desh,’ was closed down and its editor arrested for sedition and inciting religious tension.”
Meanwhile RSFhas been tracking four bloggers were arrested for posting material considered blasphemy (“derogatory contents about Islam and the Prophet Mohammed”). Three of them are on bail, while Asif Mohiuddin, who was injured in a murder attempt has been in and out of pre-trial detention.  

US Timid in Taking On Beijing About Journalists’ Visas – China Law & Policy


Reuters’ Paul Mooney (Pic. courtesy CLP)

Written days before the most recent hurdles placed by Beijing preventing journalists of two prominent US media organisations – Bloomberg and The New York Times – from obtaining work visas for the coming year, this two-part article in China Law and Policy (CLP) examines the hurdles before foreign correspondents to stop them from reporting from China.
‘Another American Reporter Banned from Beijing’ by Elizabeth M. Lynch, while unsparing of China’s policy in granting visas is also critical of the US Government’s timidity in challenging Beijing and is cognisant of the consequences if the foreign media is prevented from covering the country comprehensively.
“To date, the U.S. government has remained silent about China’s assault on foreign journalists, even as U.S. citizens and news outlets are increasingly targeted… The U.S. government’s silence is not without its costs.  As the world’s second largest economy and an increasingly bellicose nation, accurate reporting on the country is imperative to the United States. 
“If Beijing is permitted to continue to trifle with foreign journalists’ visas, frank reporting on China will become a relic of the past.  But it is the U.S. government that can prevent this outcome if it chooses to act and not wait for the situation to get worse.  Which it will if the past year is any guide,” said CLP.
The article used Reuters’ Paul Mooney to give a human face to the problem.
“In April 2013, Mooney was summoned to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco for an interview.  But again what should have been a routine affair proved to be a 90 minute interrogation.  Familiar with his articles and prior visa interviews, the consular officer grilled Mooney on some of his more critical articles such as the suppression of Chinese rights activists and the Chinese government’s treatment of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.  According to Mooney, the official ended the interview telling him that if China let him back in he hoped that his reporting would prove more ‘objective,'” said CLP.
Read the article here

Watching China’s Sina Weibo Watchers

As China gets more proficient in censoring the media and controlling opinion overseas (see the November 18 posting on this blog) China-watchers from ProPublica have put together an interactive feature that allows readers to see and understand what images on Sina Weibo (China’s version of twitter)  is most likely to get censored.

“How Sina Weibo censors its users is as revealing as the content that appears on the site, and for the past five months, we’ve been watching the watchers. We’ve created an interactive feature, launching today, that allows readers to see and understand the images that censors considered too sensitive for Chinese eyes,” said the ProPublica article ‘How to Get Censored on China’s Twitter.’
“‘The Chinese language offers novel evasions, such as substituting characters for those banned with others that have unrelated meanings but sound alike or look similar,’ ProPublica quotes Gary King, a political scientist, as saying in his 2013 studyon Chinese censorship. “For example, a nonsensical phrase such as ‘eye field’ looks similar in Chinese to the characters meaning ‘liberty,'” said ProPublica.
Here is the link.

CCP’s Online Offensive Has Chinese Netizens In Retreat

Protests in China

An essay in Global Voices points to an alarming drop of critical posts, including political commentary, in China’s social media during the past three months. The first part of the essay paraphrases Zhu Huaxin, director of the Peoples’ Daily Public Opinion Monitoring Unit announcing at a recent China Internet Media Forum that this was a direct result of a new offensive to win the ideological battle launched by Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He said the CCP had succeeded in persuading online opinion leaders and celebrities to keep to the seven-point self-censorship guideline that makes them exercise more restraint.

“The report shows that the CCP has successfully maintained a dominant position in the online public sphere since the battle began. Zhu explained in his presentation that over the past two months, on leading social media platforms, the total number of messages posted by state-controlled media outlets and government branches have well out-numbered messages posted by ‘public opinion leaders’ or those who use online platforms simply to share their own personal views,” writes Oiwan Lam, a freelance researcher in her essay.
The writer acknowledges the truth of Zhu’s claim but points out that not only is there a fall in the number of comments critical of CCP and the State, but a drop in the number of original postings overall. Oiwan Lam points to online posts of recent natural disasters, which is usually the battleground of critics who raise issues of shoddy government infrastructure that exacerbates the effect of the disaster on communities as well shortcomings in emergency responses that is a direct an outcome of inefficient or indifferent local political functionaries.
“There also appears to be a drop in reporting on natural disasters, an issue that has been sensitive for the Chinese government in the past. While rainstorms and flooding in Beijing last July generated a flurry of online reports and commentary, some of which criticized government relief efforts, floods in Yuyao in October generated far fewer reports. While 60% of citizen posts on the Beijing rainstorms contained some amount of subjective commentary, only 15% of posts on Yuyao floods included subjective remarks,” said Oiwan Lam.
Oiwan Lam however concludes by drawing a reference to the recent explosions in Beijing and Shanxi could be a result of people unable to express dissent through democratic means.
“The CCP may have won a battle in blocking critical opinions from spreading online. However, when people cannot find a way to release their anger towards injustice, they will find another outlet. The recent bombing incidents in Beijing and Shanxi may indicate the emerging of another battlefield, one in which everyone will lose.”
Read the full article here

Media Watchdogs Urge CHOGM Leaders To Get Tough With Sri Lanka

Sandaya, wife disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda at protest

As Sri Lanka (ranked 162nd of 179 countries in the Reporters without Borders’ Media Freedom Index) prepares to hold the biennial Commonwealth Summit in capital Colombo, media freedom watchdogs are asking attending leaders to press the host government for answers for the country’s abysmal standards of media freedom including the murder and disappearance of journalists.

In a letter addressed to leaders of the Commonwealth, which is the 54-member group of Britain’s former colonies, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, “We ask that in formal and private meetings with (Sri Lanka’s) President Rajapaksa, you urge him to ensure a credible, independent investigation into the cases of disappeared and murdered journalists, make the findings public, and efficiently prosecute the perpetrators in an effort to help reverse the pattern of impunity.”

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will be held from November 15 to 17. Human rights violations have a long history in Sri Lanka. However they reached unprecedented heights in the final six months of a civil war fought between successive governments dominated by ethnic Sinhalese and Tamil rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The six-month period that ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the LTTE saw between 40,000 and 70,000 (some figures put it as high as 146,000) people killed. Responsibility for those deaths lie with government troops and the LTTE, both accused of perpetrating war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has not only refused to hold an independent investigation into the alleged war crimes, but is accused of continuing rights violations, including media freedom. This has led to strong protests being voiced against holding CHOGM in Colombo for basically three reasons: 1) it would be legitimising a leadership accused of war crimes; 2) it would be a grave violation of the Commonwealth principles; 3) Sri Lanka could use its position as the Chair of the Commonwealth in the next two years, to fend off an international investigation into war crimes. 
“Critical or opposition journalists continue to face intense intimidation in Sri Lanka. Our research shows that at least 26 journalists have gone into exilein the past five years, which is one of the highest rates in the world. And while work-related murders have declined since 2009, the slayings of nine journalists have gone unpunished over the past decade, which is one of the worst records of impunity in the world. […] At least one journalist has simply disappeared,” says CPJ.
Meanwhile in Britain, the controversy over the Royal Charter that would give Parliament some regulatory control over the media took a new turn in late October. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) wrote to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth asking her not to sign the Royal Charter because it would affect Britain’s standing in the world as a liberal democracy and in the Commonwealth.
“If the UK moves to control the press through the force of law then it will have a terrifying knock-on effect throughout the Commonwealth and much of the developing world where Britain has a key leadership role.
“At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next month in Sri Lanka, the British Government – with The Prince of Wales as your representative – should be campaigning for the protection and expansion of free expression throughout the Commonwealth, not least in countries like Rwanda, Singapore and Sri Lanka itself, which persistently lag at the bottom of world press freedom indices alongside Syria and North Korea. Further, the British Government, which decriminalised defamation in 2009, should also take strong steps encouraging Commonwealth countries to repeal criminal defamation laws. But Britain will be in no position to do that if you have signed a Royal Charter which will be seized on by enemies of free speech everywhere eager to impose similar controls,” the letter said.
Despite uproar on media repression, Sri Lanka seemed in no mood to let up on controlling the media’s access to information during CHOGM. Although it demurring earlier, Sri Lankan authorities agreed to grant press accreditation to visiting journalists covering CHOGM, while reserving the right to deny visas. But while they agreed to allow journalists from Britain’s Channel Four, that produced three documentaries on war crimes in Sri Lanka known as ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,’ the government has denied visas to the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). IBAHRI has jointly organised a meeting with Sri Lanka’s Bar Association on November 13 on the Commonwealth and the independence of the legal profession.
“By denying entry to the IBAHRI delegation the Government of Sri Lanka is demonstrating to the world its determination to block freedom of speech and independent discussion in the country, leaving the Commonwealth Heads cocooned and isolated. If the Commonwealth is to have any relevance in today’s world, it must act swiftly and decisively to ensure that Sri Lanka engages meaningfully with human rights,” said IBAHRI’sco-chair, Sternford Moyo.
In August this year UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai visited Sri Lanka. Coinciding with her visit, RSF and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), a group of exiled Sri Lankan journalists, wrote an open letter to the High Commissioner highlighting deteriorating media freedom conditions in the country.
“As long as crimes against the media and its workforce go unpunished, while perpetrators feel safe with the implicit assurance of impunity, media freedom in Sri Lanka is facing a grave threat. We urge Navi Pillay to remind Sri Lanka’s leaders of their accountability in delivering justice,” said the RSF-JDSletter.