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Conflict Takes Heavy Toll On Journalists

In what has been a grave four days for the profession, journalists in at least three hotspots – Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine’s Crimea – have come in harm’s way.

On Tuesday, Swedish journalist Nils Horner was shot dead in Kabul. Canadian freelance photographer Ali Mustafa was killed by a barrel bomb in Aleppo on Sunday, while on Saturday, Abdul Qadar, a cameraman working for Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV station was shot dead while covering clashes between Syrian forces and rebels in Deir Al-Zour.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Ukrainian journalist Olena Maksymenko ofUkrainsky Tizhden and freelance photographer Oles Kromplyas went missing on the Crimean border.

Horner’s death was confirmed by the Swedish embassy in Kabul reported Associated Press. AP quoted Gul Agha Hashinmi, head of Kabul’s Criminal Investigation Department saying two suspects had been nabbed over the shooting that had taken place in an affluent quarter of Afghanistan’s capital. Horner who worked for Swedish Radio had died on admission to hospital.
Ali Mustapha was killed by a barrel bomb (a crude explosive device usually dropped by helicopters or low-flying aircraft on heavily populated areas) while he was photographing the destruction caused by another bomb in which seven people died. The incident occurred in Aleppo’s Al-Hadariyeh District, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders(RWB/RSF).
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ) said Al-Mayadeen for which Qadar worked is a pro-Syrian government outfit and the cameraman was hit in the neck by a sniper. CPJ said his body was shown by pro-government news outlets being carried by government personnel.
“The deaths of Omar Abdul Qader and Ali Mostafa are a tragic reminder that Syria remains the most dangerous country in the world,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “Even as players in the conflict change their positions, and the balance of power shifts, one thing remains constant: Journalists face a myriad of dangers in Syria.”
In Crimea, Maksymenko disappeared with two other activists Kateryna Butko and Aleksandra Ryazantseva. RSFsaid all three supported of the new government in Kiev. They had set off from Kherson in southern Ukraine by car to Crimea and last seen at the checkpoint in Perekop on Sunday at 4.00 p.m. RSF said they were identified by Oleksiy Byk a journalist withGlavkom kneeling with their hands tied before being taken away. Byk said Maksymenko was wearing a press badge.
This was only prelude Byk’s own ordeal as he with photographer Oles Kromplyas and their driver Yevhen Rakhno were also arrested. Their car was searched by men wearing uniforms without insignia and cameras thrown to the ground. Byk was released because his brother arrived at scene and vouched that he was a Crimean resident, but nothing has been heard of Rakhno and Kromplyas since.
“The forces controlling the Crimea are responsible for the fate of these journalists,” RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We demand that they provide immediate information about their location and state of health, and that they release them without delay.”

YouTube: Marauder’s Map For War Criminals?

In a perceptive piece Christoph Koetti, emergency response manager for Amnesty International, USA, draws attention to the benefits and potential pitfalls of using videos uploads on YouTube documenting human rights violations, as evidence to prosecute crimes.
“Opening my laptop today in 2014, I have thousands of sensors at my fingertips, documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria—an elaborate way of describing how I spend the majority of my time on YouTube in order to track the ever-escalating human rights situation. If Vietnam was called the first ‘Television War,’ Syria can indisputably be called the first ‘YouTube War,'” he writes.

Koetti says in an opinion piece to PBS’s Mediashift blog that the enormous number of videos taken in the Syrian conflict and their varying veracity calls on new skills to sift through them to establish what is authentic or fake. He believes that with enormous volumes of potential evidence ready to tapped, a single set of professionals investigating the evidence will not be enough. It should be, he says, a collaborative effort involving human rights researchers, journalists and technologists joining hands and by utilising cutting edge technology.
“Only specialized networks of trained volunteers will be able to filter out the level of detail needed from the overwhelming amount of video. We thus recently launched a sort of ‘Verification Corps,’ working with students to filter through masses of YouTube videos coming out of Syria for relevant content,” he says.
Please click hereto read article.

Cyberspace Joins CPJ’s Media Risk List In 2013

Supranational Cyberspace joined the Risk List in 2013, which the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has developed to flag countries where media freedom is in significant decline. Countries that have displayed the most alarming regress in 2013 are: Egypt, Russia, Syria, Vietnam, Turkey, Bangladesh, Liberia, Ecuador, and Zambia.

CPJ said that the decentralised nature of the internet had once provided protection to journalists investigating and reporting controversial issues more than the traditional media. However today, as the documents of NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed, global surveillance by the United States and its allies was a threat to the work journalists do by compromising privacy of their communication.
CPJ quoted Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament and leader on Internet freedom issues: “‘Countries who seek to gain control over their people through the Internet have their own agendas. They are in search of larger governmental control or even censorship online. We must ensure the NSA-triggered debate does not become a race to the bottom.'”
CPJ said other trends witnessed in 2013 include:
  • Deterioration in several indicators, including fatalities and censorship, in Egypt
  • New legislation to stifle free speech in Ecuador, Liberia, Russia, Vietnam, and Zambia
  • Firings and forced resignations of journalists in Turkey at the government’s behest
  • Targeted violence against journalists in Bangladesh and Russia, and a soaring rate of abductions in Syria
  • Crackdowns on online journalism in Russia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh
Please click hereto read the summary; and herefor the Risk List 2013.


Eight Journalists Killed In 2013 Broke All Records In India – RSF

(Pic courtesy The Guardian)

India ranks first among democracies and third in the world, in the number of journalists killed in the line of duty this year. 

According to figures just published by Reporters without Borders (RSF), 71 journalists killed in 2013 overall, which is a slight decrease from the 88 killed in 2012. However, abduction of journalists in 2013 has risen alarmingly: from 38 last year to 87 in 2013.
As these statistics were published, RSF’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire called for an amendment of the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to define the “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” as war crimes. He was speaking on Friday at a special UN Security Council meeting in New York on protecting journalists where RSF presented a series of recommendations on improving legislation to protect journalists better.
Three countries – Syria (10 journalists and 35 citizen journalists), Somalia (7 journalists) and Pakistan (8 journalists) retained places among the top five ‘deadliest countries for journalists’ from last year. India, with eight journalists killed, assumed third position – behind Syria and Somalia and one place ahead of its South Asian neighbour. The Philippines occupies position five, also with eight deaths. Regionally Asia accounts for the highest number of journalists killed.
“The toll of eight journalists killed in connection with their work in 2013 broke all records in India. Criminal gangs, demonstrators and political party supporters were to blame in some cases. But local police and security forces were also guilty of rarely-punished violence and threats against reporters, forcing them to censor themselves,” said RSF.
India and the Philippines replaced Brazil and Mexico, which were among the top five deadliest countries for journalists in 2012. RSF reports however that five journalists were killed in Brazil in 2013 (same as in 2012), while in Mexico two journalists were killed while three were abducted this year.
Among the 87 journalists abducted in 2013, 49 were kidnapped in Syria and 14 in Libya. As of December 18, 22 Syrian news providers and 18 foreign journalists are missing. “Foreign journalists were increasingly targeted by the government and by Islamists groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Jabhat Al-Nosra, but their Syrian colleagues were the most exposed,” RSF said.
This year ranks more poorly compared 2012 in the number of physical attacks and threats to journalists. “Journalists were systematically targeted by the security forces in Turkey, in connection with the Gezi Park protests, and to a lesser extent in Ukraine in connection with the Independence Square (Maidan) protests,” said RSF. There were also more than 100 cases of violence and harassment of journalists from Mexico, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Violence and threat has also forced journalists to flee into exile. Syria leads the numbers with 31 professional and citizen journalists many of whom RSF says “are now in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt, destitute and vulnerable.” Syria is followed by Iran (12), Eretria (five) and Somalia.
“Victims of xenophobia and accused of being Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt, interrogated and threatened by the security services in Jordan, and threatened by pro-Assad militias in Lebanon, their situation often continues to be extremely precarious,” says RSF describing the life of exiled journalists.
In view of their situation Deloire speaking at the UN proposed, “[t]here is still no appropriate mechanism for protecting news providers and human rights defenders who are forced to flee their country. [RSF], which supports hundreds of exile journalists every year, is therefore urging the UN and member states to promote procedures for protecting and resettling news providers and human rights defenders who are in danger in transit countries.”
(Tomorrow: journalists in detention)

Exasperated Media and Rights Organisations Appeal to Syrian Abductors

Bourgeoning violence in Syria saw two appeals with multiple signatories being addressed to the warring groups in that country. One letter asks the leadership of the armed opposition in Syria to desist from kidnapping journalists, while the other addressed to the abductors of four well-known human rights activists working near Damascus, demands their release.

Sixteen human rights organisations have asked that four human rights defenders – award-winning Razan Zaitouneh, her husband, Wa’el Hamada and colleagues Nazem Hamadi and Samira Khalil – be released “immediately and unconditionally,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).
They were kidnapped on December 9, from the joint offices of Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) and Local Development and Small Projects Support (LDSPS).
RSF says they were abducted in “Douma, part of Eastern Ghouta, an area under the control of a number of armed opposition groups that is being besieged by government forces.”
Zaitouneh received the International Woman of Courage Award in 2013 among other prizes for her outstanding work as a human rights defender and writer.
“All parties to the conflict should adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, which prohibits the abduction of civilians, hostage-taking and torture,” says the RSF release.
Similar concerns – security of their staffs covering the war in Syria – have prompted 13 news media organisations to also write to the abductors of journalists: the leadership of the armed opposition in Syria. The letter addresses kidnapping of journalists and asks the abductors that they give an assurance that journalists could work in the future without fear of kidnapping and that the armed leadership assists in identifying those groups holding journalists hostage and in securing their release.
“We understand that as in any war zone, reporters face great risk of injury and death and accept those risks, but the risk of kidnapping is unacceptable, and the leadership is in a position to reduce and eliminate that risk,” concludes the letter.
“This unprecedented step comes in response to an unprecedented danger, with approximately 30 journalists currently missing in Syria. Even the Iraq War, the deadliest conflict for journalists since CPJ’s founding, did not reach such chilling numbers. And yet the numbers continue to grow, with at least seven abductions in the past two months,” writes Jason Stern, researcher for the Middle East and North Africa for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).