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Bloomberg Abandons “Politically Risky Reporting on China”

Protestors in Paris (Pic. courtesy RSF)


Even as French citizens and international press freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF/RWB) mounted protests against visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping in Paris, US financial news giant Bloomberg decided the “company was abandoning politically risky reporting on China.”

Freedom House reported that Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg LP speaking in Hong Kong, Thursday, said, “[t]hat the sheer size of the Chinese economy meant that ‘we have to be there.'”

The move follows reporting by Bloomberg journalists in 2012 of massive wealth accumulated by the relatives of then president designate Xi. China retaliated by blocking the site, which was a huge financial loss to Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s biggest source of income is its financial data service, which was now barred from customers in the world’s second largest economy.
Before Thursday’s announcement, Bloomberg unexpectedly pulled out an investigation in late 2013 on Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, and Communist Party leaders. Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief reportedly told in a conference call “Bloomberg could be ‘kicked out of China’ if it ran the piece.”
In a hard-hitting critique of Bloomberg’s course of action Freedom House said, “Elite corruption, the topic that Bloomberg seems to have specifically shied away from, is perhaps the most volatile and important factor of all, affecting company performance, government functions, and social stability. Businesspeople and other readers will want to know if a company must buy influence and protection from officials, navigate a market warped by corruption-driven spending priorities, or weather eruptions of public anger at official graft.”
Meanwhile in the high-visibility protest in Paris on Thursday, five trucks with photomontages of Xi giving the finger were to be driven near the city’s iconic landmarks to emblemise the Chinese president’s contempt for freedom of information in his country.
“The disconnect between the official discourse about the Chinese dream and the ruthless persecution of independent journalists shows the degree to which Xi Jinping is making fun of the world,” RSF’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire said.
“Article 35 of China’s constitution says that its citizens enjoy ‘freedom of speech [and] of the press,’ but more than 100 Chinese citizens – professional journalists and netizens – are currently in prison simply for trying to report the country’s reality,” he said.
However of the five trucks, four were stopped before entering the city, although one passed in front of the Eiffel Tower. Activists on bicycles weaving the smaller versions of the banner were also in the procession, RSF said.  

Protecting Journalists And HRDs From Digital Surveillance


As new evidence emerged from documents collected by whistleblower Edward Snowden on how American and British spy agencies NSA and GCHQ had secretly monitored WikiLeaks and its founder Juian Assange after his site published classified information on the Afghan war, the New York-based Freedom House on Wednesday released a report on how journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) could better protect themselves from secret surveillance.
The report, ‘What Next: The Quest to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in a Digital World’ also addressed how donors and international support groups defending human rights could collaborate to effectively prevent government surveillance of journalists and HRDs.


The report is the result of a two-day conference in Mexico City in November, “which brought together over 60 policymakers, donors, and activists to explore the full range of emerging threats and best strategies to overcome them; take an honest look at what is and is not working; and chart a path forward for more proactive and realistic solutions to build the resilience, sustainability, and relevance of HRDs and their movements.”
Freedom House’s key recommendations include:
  • Civil society groups should invest resources into a more holistic approach to security training and assistance that addresses HRDs’ physical, digital, psycho-social, and other vulnerabilities.
  • Human rights organizations, technologists and donors should incorporate security protocols into their own practices. For donors, this means forcefully espousing human rights principles as a core of foreign policy and development aid, and making them key talking points when engaging with repressive regimes.
  • Donors, technologists and human rights organizations should focus less on funding new digital security tools and more on training HRDs in the use of existing tools, to emphasize changing behaviors that put them at risk and focusing on contingency planning and security protocols.
  • Donors should use coordinated engagements with countries in which HRDs and other targeted populations are under attack to stress the state’s responsibility to protect these populations. Foreign assistance to these countries should be conditioned on, and provide support for, their implementation of measures to protect targeted populations.
 Meanwhile, speaking on the documents on the WikiLeaks site, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) said, “The NSA’s surveillance, the US government’s attempts to bring judicial proceedings against WikiLeaks and the criminalization of the website’s publisher, Julian Assange, constitute a violation of freedom of information.
WikiLeaks cannot be prosecuted for exercising the right to gather and publish information, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
RSF said there were three secret documents, collected by Snowden and published by Glenn Greenwald and Ray Gallagher, on the surveillance. The first detailed how GCHQ had monitored visitors to the site using the programme TEMPORA, after entering it by secretly acquiring IP addresses of visitors.
The second document revealed efforts by the US to treat Assange as a criminal. “The document reveals that, after WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Logs, ‘the United States on August 10 urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, including Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany, to consider filling criminal charges against Julian Assange,'” said RSF.
“According to a third classified document, the US government considered designating WikiLeaksas a ‘malicious foreign actor,’ which would allow it to be subjected to much more extensive electronic surveillance,” said RSF.

China’s Export To Iran: ‘Clean Internet’

(Pic courtesy US News & World Report)


In a perceptive blog postDaniel Calingaert, executive vice president of the New York-based Freedom House wrote March 2013 how “Authoritarian regimes around the world are exporting their worst practices and working together to repress their own citizens and undermine human rights standards internationally.”
He went on to say that although interactions between regimes are largely opaque, methods of repression are replicated in dictatorial regimes and “direct assistance is provided across borders to crack down on dissent, and joint efforts are made to chip away at international protections for fundamental freedoms.”

Among the areas in which dictatorships cooperate said Calingeart is through technology export.

“China has set the standard for sophisticated methods of control over the internet and actively exports technology for monitoring digital communications. It has reportedly supplied telephone and internet surveillance technology to Iran and Ethiopia and provided several Central Asian governments with telecommunications infrastructure that may increase their ability to spy on their own citizens.”
In an article on February 12, in The US News and World Report, Mark Eades said that Iran had announced recently that it had received Chinese help “to implement its closed ‘National Information Network’ or ‘clean Internet.'”
“For advocates of global Internet freedom, this is international cooperation of the worst kind imaginable. Iran already exercises strict Internet control, including censoring and filtering websites, limiting Internet speed, surveillance of Internet users and state-sponsored hacking. Unsatisfied even with this level of control over Internet use, however, Iran seeks to implement its own closed ‘national Internet’ or ‘clean Internet.’ Such a system already exists in North Korea, almost certainly developed with Chinese help given North Korea’s dependence on China,” writes Eades.
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Stifling Media Could Affect Turkey’s European Integration, Alliance With US – Freedom House

Turkish Police fire water cannon at protests against internet bill (CPJ)


As Turkey continues the crackdown on free speech by targeting journalists and media organisations, as well as stifling internet freedom through legislative amendments, the New York-based Freedom House published, Monday, a report on curbs on media freedom over the past year, but especially following the corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media and Power in Turkey says controlling free debate within the country is not only “further alienating citizens and could potentially threaten the country’s stability,” but “could also put at risk Turkey’s integration with Europe and its strong alliance with the United States.”
“The crisis in Turkey’s democracy is not a future problem,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House and a co-author of the report. “The media face tremendous pressure from the government, and the government now has widened its attacks to other institutions.”
The corruption scandal unleashed a new wave of protests in which media organisations and journalists were targeted. “New anti-government demonstrations in connect with a major corruption scandal in late December saw more police violence. A dozen journalists were injured by police while covering the protests. The Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS), which said journalists’ equipment was also destroyed, has demanded a judicial investigation,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).
On January 17, eight TV stations were issued a warning by the government that they were violating “presumption of innocence” because of their disclosures about the corruption scandal that allegedly involves senior government politicians. “Shortly after the first arrests of high-level suspects on 17 December, the eight TV stations broadcast images of bundles of foreign currency and the shoeboxes allegedly used to store bribes – details that were widely reported in the rest of the Turkish media,” said RSF.
Meanwhile, triggered by the same embarrassment, the Turkish parliament was scheduled to vote on a new Bill on February 3 that would censor further already restrictive internet freedom in the country. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the amendments to Law 5651, “would allow the government to block individual URLs without prior judicial review, mandate Internet data retention for periods of up to two years, and consolidate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into a single association, among other changes.”
Describing the alarming web of censorship contemplated in the amendments Geoffrey King, CPJ’s internet advocacy coordinator said, “[a]s Turkey’s Alternative Informatics Association member Ahmet Sabancı told Index on Censorship, URL blocking would require the government to rely on deep packet inspection, a particularly intrusive form of online surveillance, to help ensure the effectiveness of its new approach.”
The Freedom House report, cataloguing the ever-growing restriction on the media, including wiretapping journalists covering national security stories, referred to “The government is also threatening the separation of powers by putting the judiciary, including criminal investigations, under direct control of the Ministry of Justice. The crisis of democracy in Turkey is not a future problem—it is right here, right now.”
Click hereto read the Freedom House Report

Tortured, Imprisoned and Beterayed, Muhammad Bekjanov Fights Against Uzbek Repression

Muhammad Bekjanov (Pic. PN America)


The prestigious Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Prize 2013, was announced Wednesday. The recipient in the ‘individual’ category was Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov, serving his 14thyear and second sentence in prison, while Sri Lanka’s Tamil-language newspaper the ‘Uthayan,’ attacked 35 times during its 28-year existence was awarded in the ‘newspaper’ category.
This blog featured the life and times of the ‘Uthayan’ in its post, Thursday. Today we will take a brief look at Bekjanov editor of the opposition newspaper ‘Erk’ and the political environment in which he wrote. 

Ranking 163rd (Sri Lanka) and 164th (Uzbekistan) among 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index, there are close similarities in the politico-legal environments in Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan.
The New York-based think-tank Freedom House says, “Uzbekistan’s legal framework ostensibly prohibits censorship and guarantees freedom of speech and the right to independent information. In practice, such protections are systematically ignored by President Islam Karimov’s autocratic government, which exerts near-total control over the media.”
According to Freedom House, conviction for defamation and libel could mean paying hefty sums as damages and imprisonment. In 2012 Viktor Krymzalov was convicted of defamation and ordered to pay US$1350 for an article published without a by-line that he denied writing. Other offences that are legally punishable are the vague “interference in internal affairs” and “insulting the dignity of citizens,” while insulting the president can earn offenders a five-year jail term. In April 2013 Yelena Bondar was fined US$2000 for “promoting national, racial, ethnic, or religious hatred” despite having decided not to publish the offending article.
Freedom House says that virtually all the media organisations are directly or indirectly linked the state, which is totally controlled by Karimov’s autocratic government. Uzbekistan’s National Security Service manipulates what news is published and the fear of reprisals has resulted in extensive self-censorship. One person who dared to challenge the system was Bekjanov.
Bekjanov is one of four journalists imprisoned in Uzbekistan. He and fellow journalist from ‘Erk’ Yusuf Ruzimuradov were imprisoned in 1999. (The other two are Salijon Abdurakhmanov of news website ‘Uznews‘ imprisoned since June 2008, and Dilmurod Saiid – a freelance journalist – imprisoned since February 2009). Prison conditions in Uzbekistan are described by RSF as “appalling.”
Bekjanov is one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists. In January 2012, a few days before due to being released, he was incarcerated for a further five years ostensibly for breaking prison regulations.
He is said to be in very bad health and relatives and friends are only allowed occasional access to him. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a January 25, 2012 statement said, “In 2006, Bekjanov’s wife, Nina Bekjanova, visited him in prison, and told independent news website ‘Uznews‘ that the journalist had lost most of his teeth due to repeated beatings in custody.”
PEN America referring to Bekjenov’s health said, “On June 18, 2003, Bekjanov gave his first interview since his detention to representatives from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), who were allowed to visit him in a prison hospital in Tashkent. Bekjanov said that he had contracted tuberculosis, a disease that has become endemic in Uzbek prisons. Due to torture, he is now deaf in his right ear and one of his legs is confirmed broken.”
  
Bekjanov had begun challenging the State from 1990s by questioning the use of forced labour to harvest cotton and the environment disaster in the Aral Sea. And soon he was to become a critic of the Kiramov regime.  
“The regime took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence its critics. Under torture, Bekjanov was forced to “confess” to being an accomplice to terrorism and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In January 2012, just a few days before he was due to be released, he was sentenced to another four years and eight months in jail on a charge of disobeying prison officials,” said RSF.
CPJ gave details of the new sentence: “At a January 18 hearing held at the penal colony, Bekjanov’s three cell mates testified against him, accusing the journalist of violating a prison order after he argued with them, news reports said. However, ‘Uznews’ reported that the inmates appeared nervous in the courtroom, which led the journalist’s lawyer to believe they had been forced to testify against him.”
“The authoritarian government of Islam Karimov holds the disgraceful record of one of the top journalist jailers in Eurasia,” CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “If Uzbekistan is to rejoin the international community, authorities must release all the journalists they are currently holding in retaliation for their work.”