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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.  

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.

Thai Law Bans Journalists Covering Violence To Wear Body Armour

Bangkok protests cause traffic snarl (Pic. Asian Correspondent)

When the police and the anti-government protestors are equally trigger-happy how do journalists protect themselves? By using body armour.
As clashes turn increasingly violent in Bangkok, Thailand, an international media freedom monitor has demanded that the law banning journalists from wearing body armour be withdrawn as fear mounts that they could become targets caught in the midst of clashes.

“While the basic rule of covering conflicts safely by not standing between opposing forces is inviolable, recent clashes in Bangkok have shown that the danger area is apt to change rapidly and with little or no warning,” says John Le Fevre, a guest blogger for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The street protests began late last year stemming from confrontation between the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the opposition Democratic Party. Simmering unrest flared into open clashes when the Shinawatra government attempted to push through legislation providing amnesty to offenders to include the name of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother. Billionaire and a former prime minister, Thaksin is accused of corruption and is in exile, but is said to control Thailand’s politics through his sister.
Fearing that clashes were undermining her legitimacy, Yingluck proposed national elections for February, which she is likely to win. The opposition has denounced the move and asked instead for an appointed peoples’ council. The clashes between law enforcement and the opposition Democratic Party has resulted in grave destruction. The confrontation intensified over the weekend as opposition forced a shut down of Bangkok to paralyse the government.
Among victims of this violence are of course journalists. For instance Nick Nostitz, a freelance German journalist was injured on November 26 when he was falsely identified by members of the opposition as a pro-government Red Shirt. There have been other acts of coercion such as threats and exploiting the law to stifle freedom of the media as well.
On December 26, a reporter was hit by a rubber bullet in front of the Thai-Japanese Stadium Din Daeng. He was clearly identifiable by a green armband.
It is in the context of rising anarchy that journalists have asked they be legally permitted to wear body armour. Body armour such as vests and helmets are illegal to be worn by journalists in Thailand. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said this had led to journalists purchasing substandard equipment in the market.
IFJ’s President Jim Boumelha said in a letter to Thailand’s prime minister, “There are also genuine concerns that the planned protests in the capital Bangkok next week are likely to put journalists at an even greater risk for their physical safety. We therefore urge your government to review its stance on body armour and issue permit and possession licenses so that the professional, committed journalists covering the events in Bangkok and across Thailand can legally protect themselves.”
The firsthand account by Le Fevre shows the choices open to individual journalists. “As a younger photojournalist working in areas of conflict, I tended to shy away from using body armor due to the physical strain of the added weight and decreased mobility. However, given the randomness in which firearms have been used by PDRC protesters in this conflict and by the Thai army in 2010, coupled with increasing age and slower mobility, I’ve determined that body armor is essential for my street-level reporting.”
But Le Fevre’s acceptance of reality is little solace in bureaucracy-riddled Thailand. Since he can only procure substandard body armour in Thailand, he was prepared to import it from overseas.
“The Thai Customs Department advised that I would first need to acquire import licenses from three separate government agencies, including two different Ministry of Defense departments. Thailand’s Arms Control Act stipulates that a permit is required to possess such items, with fines and imprisonment penalties for non-compliance,” he writes.
After a endless procedures to negotiate past stubborn officialdom including obtaining a criminal background check Le Fevre remarks, “Until allowances are made for the legal import and possession of body armor, Thai and foreign reporters will be forced to either break Thai law by possessing and wearing the items without a proper permit; play Russian roulette with costly items sent by mail, subject to seizure and forfeiture by the Thai Customs Department; or continue to be exposed to lethal threats while reporting.”
In his letter to the Thai PM, Boumelha addresses this problem: “Your  government should implement a fast-track system so that as many journalists as possible can be safely equipped to perform their work before the planned shutdown announced for 13 January during which clashes are expected.”
Meanwhile violence continued in Bangkok. On January 13, Associated Press reported, “Overnight, an unidentified gunman opened fire on protesters camped near a vast government complex, shooting one man in the neck who was admitted to a nearby hospital, according to the city’s emergency medical services.”

In Sri Lanka, “Media Dogs” Should Not Report Protests

The Sri Lanka Army opened fire at villagers protesting contaminated groundwater, killing at least three persons and injuring 15 others, including two journalists covering the incident. One journalist reported his camera was smashed, while the other said that she could not seek medical attention despite her injuries due to a lockdown of the area.
The demonstrations began on August 1, when authorities refused to heed repeated representations by residents of Weliweriya, a village northeast of Colombo, against a glove manufacturing factory discharging effluents. Residents said the effluents contaminated groundwater, thereby polluting water wells. The demonstrators, said to number between 4000 and 6000, were first asked to disperse by the police and army. When the crowd grew restive and began pelting stones, the army opened fine with live ammunition. The dead includes a 17-year-old boy.
The Paris-based international media freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF) commenting on the incident placed it in the context of deteriorating standards of media freedom in Sri Lanka.
“We are very disturbed by the repeated use of violence against journalists in Sri Lanka,” RSF said. “At best, the police take no action when journalists report that they have been the targets of violence. At worst, the army itself, equipped with lethal weapons, organizes and executes these attacks, as it did in Weliweriya.”
Sri Lankais placed in the162nd position of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index.
Meanwhile, there appears to have been a plan to block media coverage of the attack beforehand. Associated Press (August 1) reported, “Kanchana Dissanayake, editor of Sinhala-language ‘Ada’ (Today) newspaper, said that his photographer was admitted to a hospital after being beaten by soldiers. He claimed the soldiers said that ‘media dogs’ should not cover the protest and smashed his camera. Another female reporter said on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals that soldiers first targeted journalists because they wanted the media away before turning on the protesters. Many reporters were hiding for many hours into the night, she said.”
The female reporter referred to in the AP story, Deepika Adikari of the daily Lankadeepa, in an account to Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times (August 4) said, “‘One of the soldiers said it was the media that aggravates everything. Saying this we were taken to a side… I suffered an injury to my forehead. As a soldier attempted to grab my camera I dropped it on the ground so that a villager could take it and escape,’ she said.”
The Sri Lanka Journalists’ Trade Union in a statement on August 3 said, “She (Adikari) was assaulted by a soldier with a pole when she was on a roof trying to escape the onslaught. Despite her injuries, Adhikari was unable to receive any medical attention until around 9.30 p.m. She had to stay from 6 p.m. till around 9.30 p.m. to escape from the military attack.”
The SLJTU statement went on to say, “The journalists who were attacked last evening claim that they were subjected to such harassment even when they have identified themselves as media personnel covering the event. The military personnel have at the time referred to the media personnel as ‘dogs in the media.'”
Following the incident, the US embassy in Sri Lanka issued a one-line statement: “The U.S. Embassy is concerned about the violence in yesterday’s protest in Weliweriya, and urges the Government of Sri Lanka to respect the rights of people to protest peacefully, and urges restraint from all sides.”
Sri Lanka‘s Daily Mirror said on August 2, the Sri Lanka Army announced an internal inquiry would be launch on the incident: “Army Commander Daya Ratnayake has appointed a Board of Inquiry headed by Adjutant General of the Sri Lanka Army Major General Jagath Dias to inquire into the allegations levelled against the army during the  Weliweriya incident.”
Sri Lanka‘s military enjoys high levels impunity that has shielded it in the past. The military is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war against Tamil rebels that ended in 2009. But fearing that the military would escape blame in a domestic inquiry, human rights observers have asked for an international investigation into the incidents. Similarly, the military was largely exonerated in the brutal crushing of a rebellion in southern Sri Lank that killed more 60,000 Sinhala youth between 1987 and 1990. Therefore it is unlikely the army inquiry will conducted justly.
Meanwhile, in a swift if clumsy move to escape censure, the Director of Government Information (the body tasked with providing State policy on the media) Ariyaratne Athugala said, “all media institutions should take the responsibility for the assault on journalists during yesterday’s incident in Weliweriya and said the government could not be held responsible for it,” reported the Daily Mirror on August 3.

Shadi Sadr: Activist, Journalist, and Human Rights Lawyer Arrested in Iran

The recent arrest of journalist, activist, and lawyer Shadi Sadr in Iran shows that the country still is not safe for anyone who decides to speak out against the government.

Amnesty International announced on Friday that Shadi Sadr was violently arrested amidst a wave of activist arrests made by Iranian officials in recent months. Sadr was walking along a busy road with a group of women on their way to morning prayers when men in street clothes dragged her into their car. She managed to escape–losing her headscarf and jacket in the struggle–but was recaptured and beaten with batons before being taken to an unknown location. No reason was given for the apparent arrest.

“In reality, Shadi Sadr has never endangered national security, unless the Iranian national security is inextricably based on the oppression of women,” says Rochelle Terman who has worked with Sadr.

Sadr is a human rights lawyer who has done extensive work in women’s rights. Until it was shut down by authorities, she ran a legal advice center for women named Raahi. She also founded the first website dedicated to the work of Iranian women’s rights activists in Iran and is a member of Women’s Field where she has worked on the “Stop Stoning Forever” campaign.

“This is the latest of a continuing series of high profile arrests of Iranians – students, journalists, intellectuals, political and civil society activists,” said Malcolm Smart, Middle East Director for Amnesty International.

Since her illegal capture she has been held in Tehran’s Evin prison and her home and office has been searched. Sadr, who has a husband and ten year old daughter, was arrested in 2007 among 33 other women brought in for conducting a peaceful protest of the unwarranted arrest of 5 other female activists.

Sadr’s friend who was with her at the time of the arrest shares this account of the events:
“It was then one of the officials from the opposite side attacked her and was pulling onto her scarf. Shadi was resisting his force when the scarf came undone. Shadi again escaped. This time two other people appeared unexpectedly, one of them carrying a spiral baton. They took Shadi and beat her violently while she continued to resist them.” You can read the full account on the Women’s Field site here.