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Honduras “world’s most dangerous country for journalists”

Reporters Without Borders have described Honduras as “the world’s most dangerous country for journalists in the first quarter of 2010” after a spate of attacks last month left five journalists dead, one wounded and one in exile.

“We are unable to provide you with protection,” local police told José Alemán according to the press freedom group. Alemán, a correspondent for Tiempo, a Honduran daily newspaper, had reported violations of freedom of expression and human rights since the country’s political stability was shaken by a military coup d’etat in June 2009. Reporters Without Borders reports that Alemán fled Honduras after gunmen opened fire on his home and chased him through the streets of San Marcos.

Alemán was fortunate to escape. Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, David Meza, Nahúm Palacios Arteaga, José Bayardo Mairena and Manuel Juarez were all murdered in March.

“There can be no doubt that we face one of the most tragic moments in the history of the Latin American press” declared Alejandro Aguirre, President of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). Peter Kent, the Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Americas) also condemned the violence and added “Canada calls on the Honduran authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible.”

Despite censure of the violence by many groups in the human rights community, this Huffington Post article indicates that the situation on Honduras may not garner the mainstream media attention it warrants. Also Telesur, a South American news agency, has criticized IAPA for overlooking the Honduran issue in favor of “aggression directed at journalists from right wing media.”

Aguirre has previously stated that there is “a siege against the press” in countries allied with the politics of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez even though Honduras and Mexico, the two countries which have seen the most journalists killed this year, are governed by conservative administrations.

However, former Honduran Human Rights Ombudsman, Leo Valladares suggests the injuries and threats received by Karol Cabrera, a journalist known to be in favor of the coup, affirms that there are “dark forces” at work at both extremes of the political spectrum.

Photo Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

US Senators Fight Censorship Worldwide

Following the attacks on Google attributed to the Chinese government earlier this month, five United States senators are publicly urging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her State Department to support organizations that help people living under regimes such as China’s and Iran’s – which “often deny their populations access to Web news outlets and sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter,” according to The New York Times – circumvent restrictions on Internet use.

In a letter written by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and signed by Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), and Bob Casey Jr.(D-PA), Mrs. Clinton is asked to quickly spend $45 million that has been earmarked over the last two years to support Internet freedom but has not been spent.

In December, the State Department asked for financing proposals from organizations with technologies that “maximize free expression and the free flow of information and increase access to the Internet.”

But the senators’ letter argues that the guidelines for which organizations may submit a proposal are too restrictive. One criterion for funding is established presence in a country with a demonstrably repressive regime, an issue for many of the most popular web programs, which operate from U.S.-based servers.

Some critics are also asking whether the State Department has avoided spending the earmarked monies to support Internet freedom organizations with ties to Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is suppressed in China, for fear of antagonizing the Chinese government.

“Officials at the State Department have sacrificed the interests of the demonstrators on the streets of Tehran, the interests of Google, and the principle of Internet freedom in closed societies on the altar of not making China go ballistic,” Mike Horowitz, an adviser to the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, a group affiliated with Falun Gong that makes popular restriction-thwarting tools like Freegate, told the Times.

Mrs. Clinton has not yet publicly responded to the senators’ letter or to these critiques.

Hillary Clinton in the Free Speech vs. Religion Showdown

In an apparent attempt to maintain peace, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been advocating anti-defamation laws to combat religious slander. But a report from the U.S. State Department says the goal should be more dialogue about religion, not less.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during the release of the annual report on international religious freedom, and came out strongly against the proposed anti-defamation laws.

“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faith will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” she said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”

Although Secretary Clinton did not name the OIC specifically, the group of 57 countries has been pushing the U.N. Human Rights council to adopt these resolutions.

Such a broad and difficult to define act like “defamation of religion” could be easily misinterpreted or used to crack down on free speech and ethnic minority groups who are already being persecuted. There is a distinct disparity between defamation and harassment, Clinton and many others agree that there is still much to be done to cut back on the latter. While many can agree that religious persecution and discrimination is a major issue in the Middle East and around the world, this act could easily be used to hurt the cause instead of help.

As the report asserts, free speech and religious freedom can be equally upheld without one compromising the other.

Credit: Flickr, US Army

Media Freedom in Italy: The Slow and Steady Dismantling

The Italian press has a historically rocky relationship with its country’s leaders, and tensions came to a head Saturday when a reported 150,000 – 300,000 came out in Rome to protest Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi‘s recent attacks geared towards the media.

“I am gratified by the energy I can feel here. It will take this kind of energy − and much more − to push back against the forces and the trends that imperil journalism and journalists face today,” said Jim Boumelha, President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Berlusconi, owner of a large portion of the country’s televised and print media, has been increasingly critical of journalists, prompting concerns over a conflict of interest between his role in government and the media. The media mogul turned Prime Minister is suing two left-wing newspapers over their reports of his relations with prostitutes and other young women.

He went on national television to call the media “scoundrels,” urged advertisers not to buy in papers that are critical of him, and even outed as gay the editor of a Catholic paper that has been critical of him.

On The Media reporter Megan Williams says, “This kind of cult of personality approach by both supporters and Berlusconi himself triggers constant comparisons to Mussolini.”

La Repubblica is one of the papers being sued and released this statement saying, “The libel action against ‘Repubblica‘ is the last in a long list of attacks against this daily which can only be seen as attempts at silencing the free press, at benumbing public opinion, at removing us from the international information scene and ultimately at making our country the exception to the rule of Democracy.”

Just three days before the rally, Reporters Without Borders warned that the leader is increasingly closer to being declared a “predator” to the free press.

Italy is currently tied with Tonga for number 73 on Freedom House‘s Press Freedom Index and is above only Turkey for worst offender in all of Western Europe.

Photo Credit: RSF

When The U.S. Is The One To Detain Foreign Journalists

We write a lot about Western journalists being jailed, detained, censored, and even killed while in countries that put minimal value on freedom of speech.

But when Pakistani journalist Rahman Bunairee, 34, sought refuge in the United States, he found himself denied access and detained for 10 days in U.S. custody.

Bunairee covered the actions of Islamic militants in Pakistan while reporting for Voice of America, and it was after these reports that he began receiving threats. According to The Washington Post, Bunairee’s home was destroyed with explosives by militants before they came looking for him at his work.

Contrary to the Pakistani government’s claims that the Taliban was no longer occupying the North Western region of the country, Bunairee reported that militant gunmen were still patrolling in several of the villages; reports that apparently angered the militant group enough to send them after him.

VOA quickly arranged for a visa to get him out of the country, but because the visa did not mention asylum (it was a for a 1-year scholarship program, which, although related to the work Bunairee was involved in, did not match his story when he arrive in the U.S.), he was detained upon arriving in Dulles International Airport.

After 10 days with out comment from U.S. customs officials or the Department of Homeland Security (who cited privacy concerns) Bunairee was finally released. Although he is out of custody, he is still working with lawyers to secure his asylum here in the United States.

Relieved by his release, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement saying, “Bunairee worked as a reporter on the front lines of a conflict of strategic importance to the United States and was brought to Washington by the US-funded Voice of America. We hope that his status in the US will be resolved quickly so he can resume his work as a journalist.”