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Forty-five Journalists Among Injured As Ukranian Police Attack Protestors

Protests in Kiev

Journalists were among those injured Sunday, when Ukrainian police attacked protestors who broke away from a 300,000-strong demonstration in Kiev to storm President Viktor Yanukovych’s offices after he refused to sign a free trade agreement and establish deeper political links with the European Union.

 The Huffington Post said that the rally in Kiev’s Independence Square was orderly despite the government banning protests, turned violent when thousands of protestors broke away from the main demonstration and surged towards Yanuchovich’s offices and tried to break through a police cordon with a front loader. They had also thrown rocks and other missiles. The police had used truncheons, tear gas and flash grenades to push them back Huffington Post reported.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that attacks on journalists had left 45 injured. Although the main assault on protestors occurred on Sunday, a smaller opposition rally on Friday was also violently dispersed. RSF noted that “most of the violence against journalists was deliberate.”
“The frequency and gravity of the attacks on journalists indicate a deliberate desire to crush freedom of information,” RSF said. “It is unacceptable that the media have again been the victims of the political unrest they were trying to cover as part of their professional duties.
“The police in particular have been guilty of targeted and disproportionate violence in blatant disregard for their obligation to protect the media. We urge the competent authorities to order the necessary investigations and to punish those responsible for the violence.”
RSF said the 45 injured, which included eight foreign journalists, comprised eight who had been hit by stun grenades and teargas canisters, 26 who had been “beaten by members of the police and the special forces who knew they were journalists” and five had been targeted by demonstrators or persons in civilian dress. Many had to be hospitalised. Index on Censorship (IoC) said that among the journalists injured from the foreign media were correspondents from Associated Press and Euronews.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that reacted sharply to the crackdown and complained to the organisation’s head was confronted with a problem of its own – OSCE’s 2013 chairman-in-office is Ukraine’s foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara.
IoC quoted from the letter Dunja Mijatović OSCE’s representative for the freedom of the media wrote to Kozhara in which she said, “I am especially concerned that in most of the cases, the beatings were reportedly conducted by the law enforcement officers who attacked the journalists and disregarded their press identification. Violence against journalists cannot be tolerated.”
In a related development Freedom House has just published a detailed report on freedom of expression in Ukraine during its tenure as chairman of OSCE. The report’s summary said, “In spite of the generally high quality of legislation, the reality of implementation is less impressive. Citizens may freely express their views, and collect and disseminate information, but access to free and pluralistic media and to public information held by the authorities is inadequate. Journalists’ working conditions are not secure enough to work safely and remedies for violations of journalists’ rights or attacks on journalists are ineffective.”
IoC also quoted the Belorussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reprimanding Yanukovych’s government for the violence. “Being in the centre of events is a journalists’ job, but not a reason to try brutal force on them. We call on the authorities to investigate each incident of attack on our colleagues, and to ensure normal conditions for journalists’ work. Absence of reaction to the violence looks like connivance,” BAJ said.
Huffington Post said Ukraine’s opposition had denounced those who had incited the attack on the presidential offices as government-hired thugs but called on the president to resign. “‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration, it’s not a reaction. It’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader,” reported Huff Post.
The violent rallies are reminiscent of the rallies of 2004 Orange Revolution when protestors occupied the streets to force fresh polls after allegations of fraud surfaced over the presidential election won by Yanukovich. The re-election soon after would bring pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power.

“The Most Closed, Control Freak Administration I\’ve Ever Covered”

President Obama meeting the media (Courtesy CPJ)

A report released, Thursday, denounced the administration of US President Barack Obama for imposing curbs on government transparency though a range of methods that include denying the media access to harmless information by marking it classified and by administration officials refusing interviews to reporters. In his report for the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) former Washington Post managing editor, Leonard Downie, has also revealed the chilling effect pervasive surveillance and harsh punishments under the Espionage Act has on news sources leaking information on government wrongdoing.

Based on a series of interviews with senior US journalists Downie’s report, “The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America” has a number of juicy quotes that highlight the frustration of journalists about the restrictions placed on covering government affairs. It quotes David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, saying, “this is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
The report was sent to Obama accompanied by a letter co-signed by CPJ Chairperson Sandra Rowe and Executive Director Joel Simon with six recommendationsincluding guarantees that journalists in receipt of confidential information would not be prosecuted and on implementing the Justice Department’s guidelines on “overly-broad, and/or secret subpoenas of journalists’ records.”
The White House however pushed back saying that Obama had given more interviews in his four-plus years to news, digital and entertainment media than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did in their respective first terms combined. The report also quoted the White House press secretary Jay Carnie saying, “The idea that people are shutting up and not leaking to reporters is belied by the facts.”
In his interview to Huffington Post Downie, who now teaches journalism at the University of Arizona expressed disappointment on Obama not delivering on campaign promises he made on government transparency.
“What I see here is that Obama campaigned against excessive secrecy, promised to have the most transparent government in American history, signed presidential directives in his first day of office with a lot of fanfare, continues to say in speeches and interviews and press conferences that transparency is a high priority for him, and it hasn’t happened. It doesn’t matter if he’s a Republican or Democrat. It matters what he has promised and has not delivered,” Downie said.

Whose Interested In International Media Freedom Anyway?

Accurate news, responsibly reported, is indispensable for a functioning modern democracy. And when there is an assault on democracy, imperiled institutions and processes are sometimes rescued by discussion and debate these events and trends generate. Sometimes debates are international bringing a global focus onto local events.
Stimulating and sustaining discussions on media freedom globally is the raison d’être for international media watchdogs such as Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, International Federation of Journalists. They believe that by raising issues of censorship, attacks on journalists or the impunity of their killers, international pressure could be brought on the transgressors to become more accountable and eventually for a freer media.
A blog in Wednesday’s Huffington Post raises an issue which, while not focused directly on media freedom, speaks about dwindling interest in international news in general despite our interconnected world.
Falling interest in international news inevitably resonates on what organisations such as RSF or CPJ try to foster: a debate on the importance of media freedom for the world to stay informed of what is happening within countries and in other parts of the world.
But if there is scant interest in world events and processes, what would be the corresponding interest in a free, international media? If there is so little interest in foreign news, why should anyone bother to take media freedom overseas as important enough to invest time or money in crusading for it?
The article does not answer these questions. However, it shows the importance of foreign news and why it matters. The reader can think for herself if foreign news matters, why people should bother about media freedom that enables news to be gathered and transmitted, within as well as outside countries.
You can read the article here

Bradley Manning, Eskinder Nega Victims Of Moral Wilderness Of Their Times

Pfc. Bradley Manning

 Private Bradley Manning, 25, was sentenced today. Thirty-five years in jail. The 1,182 days he has spent in confinement from the time of his arrest will be reduced from his sentence, and 112 more days for abusive behaviour by his tormentors at Quantico. Under the law he will have to spend at least eight years and credited with good behaviour in prison before parole.
Manning was sentenced Wednesday, August 21, by military judge for multiple offences, including under the Espionage Act, for leaking over 700,000 US government documents to the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. Among the material that came to light was a video of a US military operation in Iraq where an Apache helicopter attack killed civilians including two Reuters journalists.
For someone who faced 90 years behind bars, 35 may be seen almost a relief. And that seemed the tone of Manning’s lawyer David Coombs. “Coombs told a group of supporters gathered outside Manning’s courtroom on Friday that the conditions at Fort Leavenworth [where Manning will be incarcerated] ‘did not look anything like Quantico,’ where Manning spent months in solitary confinement and was forced at times to strip down naked at night,” the HuffingtonPost reported.
Although a relief in some ways there are a couple of issues that need to be seen in the right perspective here.
First is that Manning’s treatment at Quantico was pronounced by Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, “as at the minimum cruel, inhuman ad degrading treatment… If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”
Second, although Fort Leavenworth does “not look anything like Quantico” he is being punished for publicising classified documents that brought to light serious wrongdoing by the US Government. In a statement Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, “Following the targeting of Edward Snowden, the disproportionate sentence for Manning hits hard at whistleblowers and shows how vulnerable they are … The Army is sending a clear message to them and to all journalists who dare to report whistleblowers’ disclosures: the United States will strike back severely at anyone who uncovers information of public interest concerning the exercise of official powers.”

Eskinder Nega

Third is the agony of imprisonment. Another whistleblower, the imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, gives a powerful account of it in a letter smuggled out of jail. Pen America notes that Nega was arrested under the country’s wide anti-terrorism laws in September 2011 for questioning the Ethiopian government for holding journalists under the same legislation. A week before, he had published a critical account of the arrest of another government critic Debebe Eshetu also on terrorism charges. Nega was detained at least six times before. His wife Serkalem Fasil, who was also imprisoned in 2005, gave birth to their child in jail.
Sentenced for 18 years and after he lost his appeal, in a letterhe wrote titled ‘I Shall Persevere’ he said: “The government has been able to lie in a court of law effortlessly as a function of the moral paucity of our politics. All the great crimes of history, lest we forget, have their genesis in the moral wilderness of their times. The mundane details of the case offer nothing substantive but what Christopher Hitchens once described as ‘a vortex of irrationality and nastiness.'”
Manning at Fort Leavenworth might be more comfortable than Nega who says he sleeps in the “company of lice.” But nothing can take away the fact that both are victims of the “moral wilderness of their times.”  

Egyptian Military’s Attack Leaves Two Journalists Dead

While two journalists were shot dead and at least as many injured when the Egyptian military stormed pro-Morsi demonstrations in Cairo, Wednesday, an incident last week, resulted in Muslim Brotherhood supporters detaining and assaulting two reporters.
BBC reported that Mick Deane (61), a cameraman working for Sky News was killed while covering the military storming the sit-in protest by supporters of ousted Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, near Rabaa al-Adawiya. Meanwhile Gulf News confirmed that Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz (26), a journalist with its sister publication Xpress was also killed. Abd Elaziz was not official duty. Both were shot dead.  
In other reports of violence, the Huffington Post carried the tweet of Mike Giglio of the Daily Beast, who tweeted, “I’m fine and thanks to all for the concern. Was arrested, beaten by security forces at Rabaa and then held at a local arena. Just out now.”  Huffington Post also reports a tweet from freelance journalist Haleem Elsharani that a Reuters journalist was wounded in the attack: “Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih is being moved to the international medical center after she was shot in the leg.”
BBC said, “Sky’s foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall described Deane as ‘a friend, brave as a lion but what a heart… what a human being … He died doing what he’d been doing so brilliantly for decades.'”
In a separate story BBC commented that reports by Egypt’s media on the attacks was polarised depending on whether they backed the deposed president, or the military that overthrew him. “State-run media and some private TV stations are fiercely anti-Morsi, stressing that his supporters were armed and have caused casualties among the police. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated stations, on the other hand, reserve their ire for the army that deposed the president. They highlight deaths among the protesters, showing gruesome pictures of the dead and wounded.”
This does not mean Morsi’s supporters are cleaner. An August 12 statement by Reporters without Borders (RSF) highlights the experience of two reporters seized and beaten up by supporters of Morsi while covering a march to Nahda Square on August 9. RSF said that Mohamed Momtaz of the newspaper Veto had his camera seized and assaulted repeatedly. He was then dragged to a vehicle, forced to undress and interrogated as a spy. Aya Hassan of Youm 7, who was photographing the incident, was also dragged away, blindfolded and assaulted while under interrogation. “During interrogation, she was ordered to admit political affiliation and to provide the names of people she knew in the interior ministry, the armed forces and in the opposition to Morsi,” RSF said.
Hassan’s account posted on YouTube of the assault as transcribed by RSF: “‘One of the men dragged me by my hair along the ground into an adjacent tent,” she said. “He kicked me in the face until my nose began to bleed. He then gave me a piece of cloth covered in blood, and warned me that I was going to suffer the same fate as the person who had been punished in this place before me.’The Union of Journalists said he was apparently referring to Momtaz.”
The RSF statement also gives another instance of pro-Muslim Brotherhood activists disrupting the work of a journalist. Ironically she worked for Sky News. “On 8 August, for example, Muslim Brotherhood supporters interrupted Sky News correspondent Rufyada Yassin while she was covering a demonstration live,” RSF said.

The Egyptian government has declared an emergency for one month following the violence in Cairo and elsewhere. Media freedom, if anything, will continue to be in great peril.