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Censorship in Crimea As Russian Troops Takeover

Russian soldiers in Crimea

International monitors have protested eroding media freedom in the autonomous region of Crimea in southern Ukraine, as the Russian military began overrunning the region from February 28. Crimean authorities censored media networks seen as hostile, prevented journalists from outside the region entering Crimea, while attacks on journalists have also been reported.

“We remind all parties to the conflict that they have a duty to protect journalists and allow them to work without hindrance,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

“Those who hold power in Crimea and the armed militias controlling the region must do everything possible to ensure that the local media can resume operating, to restore communications infrastructure and to lift the barriers preventing some journalists from entering the peninsula,” he said.
RSF said the main independent television network in Crimea, Chernomorka, had been ordered to go off air since March 3, for reasons the organisation said was “beyond our control.” The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said “Crimea’s State Television and Radio Transmitting Center (TRTC) forced the independent Chernomorka, off the air.” CPJ added that Ukrainian media had published a letter by S. N. Dotsenko, head, TRTC, saying “broadcasting had been stopped because of reasons that were unrelated to his agency, but did not offer further details.”
RSF said that although Chernomorka continued to broadcast via cable, satellite and the internet, but its internet was brought down by a cyber attack.
RSF said the state-controlled broadcaster GRTK Krym “whose headquarters was overrun by soldiers” is the only television channel left to local viewers.
CPJ reported Aleksandra Kvitko, Chernomorskaya’s chief editor telling Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency, “Only two local channels are broadcast on the territory of the autonomous republic – Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya and Crimean state broadcaster GTRK Krym. By turning off Chernomorskaya, regional residents have been stripped of their right to choose. Now, we all must have only one, ‘correct’ opinion.'”
Meanwhile, on March 1, RSF said a 30-man militia calling itself the Crimea Front had stormed into the offices of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Simferopol and prevented journalists from leaving the building for some hours. They were eventually freed and allowed to take some equipment with them. “The militia also told the journalists that the ‘Crimea Front’ was ready to provide them with enough to live on, and to reach ‘an agreement on proper coverage of the events,'” said RSF.
In a related story CPJ said, “The Center for Investigative Journalism reported today that members of the regional parliament of Crimea blamed Ukrainian media for ‘spreading panic’ and ‘imposing incorrect and biased information’ about the events in the region. The MPs threatened to ‘shut off the flow of deceitful and biased information in order to save the public from negative impact.'”
Meanwhile, RSF said journalists from the Ukraine were prevented from entering Crimea at checkpoints along the border. Bohdan Kutyepov, a reporter for television station Hromadske, said he was turned back by armed men who had “threatened to open fire if the journalists tried to take photos of them.” Kutyepov was with colleagues from Inter TV, CDFand France 24. Two other journalists, Igor Trubayev (Khersonskie Vesti) and Oleg Zaychenko(Tvoya Pravda), from Kherson were also forced to turn back from a checkpoint at Armyansk, said RSF.
RSF also reported that several journalists had been attacked in Crimea, giving details of two ATRcameramen assaulted in Simferopol while filming militiamen guarding a building used by the regional government’s ministers.  There were also incidents in eastern Ukraine, RSF added.
In another incident, CPJ reported that Tatyana Rikhtun, the chief editor of the website Sevastopol 911 was assaulted and her camera snatched as she filmed Russian soldiers surrounding the Ukrainian navy base. She had reported the incident to the regional police and asked them to investigate.
With escalating tensions in Crimea and one journalist killed over 160 journalists injured in clashes in Ukraine in the past four months, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European affiliate European Federation of Journalists issued an advisory to journalists planning to visit Ukraine.
“Given the many brutal attacks against journalists in Ukraine in recent months and the ever increasing tensions in the country, we urge journalists covering events to remain mindful of their safety at all times and to ensure they take every step necessary to protect themselves. No story is worth the loss of a life,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.

One Journalist Killed And Many Injured In Kiev Clashes

Vyacheslav Veremyi (Pic. IFJ)

At least one journalist has been reported killed during clashes between protestors and the police in Ukraine’s capital Kiev. The BBC reported that Vyacheslav Veremyi, a journalist working for the Russian newspaper Vesti was pulled out of a taxi by masked men and shot dead.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) confirming the death of Vermeyi “by unknown assailants” said that there were reports of 30 journalists being seriously injured and many more hurt.

Violence that erupted on Tuesday left 25 dead – that included 14 protestors – and 100s injured, said the BBC as police moved into Maidan or Independence Square in Kiev to confront protestors holed up there.
The protests seemed to subside Monday following an announcement of talks to settle outstanding issues between the protestors and the opposition on the one hand and the government on the other. However, it was rekindled the next day as moves to reduce President Viktor Yanukovych’s constitutional powers were opposed by government representatives in the parliament. This was followed by the police assault on the protestors in the square.
IFJ in a statement condemned the murder of Vermeyi and “called on all sides involved in the ongoing protests to end the deliberate targeting of journalists and to uphold the freedom and safety of media professionals who are doing their jobs and reporting on events that are in the public interest.”
Meanwhile a group of international media monitors including IFJ, World Association of Newspapers, Article 19, Reporters without Borders, International Media Support, Open Society Foundations and the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the OSCE, are on a three-day fact-finding mission in Ukraine, IFJ said.

Murder of Cambodian Journalist Latest In Saga Of Impunity

Cambodians read local newspaper (Pic courtesy AFP/RFA)

Suon Chan, 44, who worked for a local Khmer-language newspaper Meakea Kampuchea, was murdered on the evening of February 1, in Peam Chhkork in central Cambodia, allegedly by a group of fishermen. Though yet to be officially confirmed, the likely motive is because he wrote against illegal fishing.

Chan was killed after he was attacked outside his home, apparently when he stepped out to buy cigarettes. He was beaten with bamboo sticks and stones and others who came to help him were also assaulted. He died on the way to hospital from head and neck injuries. The attackers have escaped.
“Like the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) and the United Nations, we urge the authorities to shed light on this act of savagery, to not rule a possible link to the victim’s work, and to bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head, Asia-Pacific desk of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
There is however some ambiguity regarding the motive of the killing. RSF reported that Peam Chhkork’s police chief, Duong Vuthy, had initially attributed the murder to Chan’s articles about illegal fishing, but had later retracted saying the police were investigating the motive. He had said however admitted that four main suspects and were being sought by the police.
The Washington DC-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) also reported contradictory statements by the police. It said Chhokiri District’s police chief, Morm Thon, had told RFA’s Khmer service that three persons had been identified, but had denied Chan was killed because his recent articles had led to a raid b the police on illegal fishing.
“Through my investigations, the murder is not related to these articles,” he said. “It was a violent fight. We are working to arrest the suspects,” RFA quoted Thon saying.
But unlike what he told RSF, RFA quoted Duong Vuthy attributing the killing to Chan’s reporting on illegal fishing. “So far, we do not know the exact reason for this journalist’s assassination, but according to our preliminary investigation, it is related to the rancour between the victim and the group of suspects, because he used his influence as a journalist in reporting and writing about the suspects’ illegal fishing activities in the commune,” he said.
What is disturbing is the killing is another example of impunity that murderers of journalists enjoy because the government and the police are reluctant to pursuing perpetrators.
RFA said the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) issued a statement, Monday, saying the killing was an affront to freedom of expression in the country. The statement said journalists “are regularly targeted for their work and where a culture of impunity for these crimes reigns. The majority of these deaths have not been properly investigated, with the perpetrators still at large and rewarded with complete impunity for their crimes.
“CCHR urges the Royal Government of Cambodia to ensure that a full and impartial investigation into Suon Chan’s death is conducted and that the perpetrators are brought to justice, not only to ensure justice for Suon Chan’s family but also to promote a culture of respect for and protection of journalists and their work.”
RSF echoed CCHR’s warning against impunity. It said, “If it is confirmed that Suon Chan was killed because of his work as a journalist, this murder would constitute yet another grave violation of freedom of information in Cambodia. A thorough investigation is needed to end the tradition of impunity for those who murder journalists in Cambodia.”
Chan is the 12th journalist killed in Cambodia since 1994.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) while condemning the incident also drew attention to recent attacks on media freedom in Cambodia. It said, “Chan is the 12th journalist to be killed in Cambodia and the first since Virakchun (Hero) Khmer Daily journalist Hang Serei Oudom was brutally murdered in an axe attack in Rattanakiri province in September 2012.
“The IFJ is deeply concerned about journalist safety in Cambodia in recent weeks, following an attack by Cambodian authorities on an AFP photographer during a peaceful protest on January 27. The demonstration, led by president of independent station Radio Beehive FM Mr Mom Sonando, was held to demand a TV license and an expansion of radio frequency,” IFJ said.
In 2013, Cambodia ranked 143rd of 179 countries in RSF’s press freedom index.

Twenty Al-Jazeera Journalists To Be Tried In Egypt

Media freedom in Egypt took a turn for the worse Wednesday, after the prosecutor’s office charged 20 journalists of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity and social peace by broadcasting false information.”
The onslaught by the Egyptian government installed after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammad Morsi regime last year, has intensified in recent times against journalists seen as supporting the Brotherhood. As far as foreign correspondents go, journalists from media organisations based in two countries – Qatar and Turkey – also seen as supportive of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood government have been the main targets.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that on August 28 ‘Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr’ (a Cairo-based Al-Jazeera affiliate) was declared illegal and on September 3, it, and three other channels, was closed on the grounds of “threatening social peace,” “disseminating rumours and false, misleading reports” and “inciting hatred and public disorder.”
On September 10, the Cairo offices of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) were raided by the police. Mounting intimidation led to TRT suspending its operations temporarily, said RSF.
RSF said of the 20 journalists, 16 who are Egyptian have been charged for membership of a terrorist organisation. The other four are Australian Peter Greste, two Britons and a Dutch citizen. They are charged with “collaborating with [these] Egyptians by provide them with money, equipment and information (…) and broadcasting unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war.”
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said “This is the first instance of terror-related charges against journalists and foreigners since the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in December. Al-Jazeera has denied the charges, demanding its reporters be freed.”
Of the 20, eight are already in custody the others have been declared as fugitives by the Egyptian government.
IFJ said Greste, a Peabody Prize winning Australian journalist and former BBC correspondent had written emotional letters, smuggled out of prison, about the conditions in which he and his colleagues are held.  
“In the letters, he said that he had his first walk in the ‘weak winter sunshine’ after spending ten days being locked in his cell 24 hours a day when not being questioned, while he expressed his fear that writing the letters might result in his harsh treatment, saying: ‘I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session – four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.”
He said that his two colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were held in worse conditions as they were accused of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wrote Greste: “Both men spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul-destroying tedium.”
“This attempt to criminalize legitimate journalistic work is what distorts Egypt’s image abroad. The government’s lack of tolerance shows that it is unable to handle criticism,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “We call on authorities to drop these outrageous charges and release all journalists from jail immediately.”
IFJ and its affiliate Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have also published statements and written letters demanding the release of the Al-Jazeera journalists.

Taliban Kills Three Journalists, Vows To Attacks “Propagandists” Again

                                                                        Pic courtesy RSF

Three TV journalists from the Express Media Group were murdered on January 17 in Karachi, capital of Pakistan’s violence-wracked Sindh. The Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility.
Media watchdogs expressed outrage at Islamabad’s lethargy in pursuing investigations into incidents of violence against journalists and media institutions by Islamist groups, government intelligence agencies and others, and said this had bred a culture of impunity. The January 17 incident is the third armed attack since August on the politically liberal Express Media Group.

“It is time that the Sharif government took its obligations seriously, to ensure justice is done and that the media is able to operate in Pakistan without fear of deadly reprisal. As long as impunity runs rife in Pakistan, journalists and media workers will continue to die,” said the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Similar sentiments were echoed by Pakistani and other international media freedom monitors.
Waqas Aziz (technician), Ashraf Yusuf (security guard) and driver Khalid Khan of ‘Express News,’ were killed when their van parked in North Nazimbad, a suburb of Karachi, during a routine coverage was attacked by four gunmen on two motorbikes who opened fire with silencer-fixed pistols through the vehicle’s open window. A cameraman, identified as Mehtab, also in the vehicle, survived the attack. IFJ said 17 shell casings from 9mm and 32-bore pistols were recovered from the crime.
IFJ and the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) seemed to accept that TTP was responsible for the incident. “TTP representative Ehsanullah Ahsan said his group was responsible for the shooting. Speaking by telephone on the ‘Express News‘ programme Kal Tak, he said that, ‘in the war of ideologies all media channels including ‘Express News‘ are acting as propagandist and as rival party,'” said RSF.
However, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed reservation. While noting that Ehsanullah Ehsan had contacted ‘Express News’ and indeed claimed responsibility for the attack and Reuters had reported that a “regional Taliban leader” had too claimed the attack, CPJ said, “The Taliban had also rushed to claim responsibility for the 2012 murder of Mukarram Khan Aatif, but local journalists soon cast doubt on their claim. Journalists in Pakistan are targeted not only by militants, criminals, and warlords, but also by political parties, the military, and intelligence operatives.”
While identity of the attackers are important what has outraged journalists most is the impunity enjoyed by the killers. RSF said, “[Ehsan] warned that the TTP would continue to attack all news media ‘that are involved in carrying out propaganda against us.’ Referring to an earlier attack on the ‘Express Media‘ group in December, [Ehsan] added: ‘We had not incurred any loss of life so we attacked them again.'”
There have been no arrests over the two earlier attacks on the Express Group. On August 17 four gunmen opened fire at the its offices in Karachi injuring a journalist and a security officer and on December 3 a homemade bomb was lobbed into the same premises wounding a security officer.
“Despite visiting the Express Media office in Karachi twice and constituting investigation teams to probe the two incidents, law enforcement agencies have been unable to arrest even a single perpetrator,” the IFJ charged.
The killing brings to four the number of journalists killed this year in Pakistan and 10 fatalities made the country the third worst for journalists and media workers in 2013, said IFJ. Pakistan ranks 159th of179 countries in RSF’s Media Freedom Index.