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“I am the victim of a political conspiracy” – Le Quoc Quan

Le Quoc Quan speaks to court during his appeal (Pic. courtesy CPJ)

Hanoi‘s Peoples’ Court of Appeals rejected Monday the appeal of blogger and dissident Le Quoc Quan, 41, against a 30-month jail sentence imposed in October. The sentence for tax evasion also includes a hefty fine of 1.2 billion dong (US$57,000).

Quan who has been on hunger strike protesting prison conditions for the past 17 days briefly fainted during the proceedings, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF). However Quan’s Ha Hui Son lawyer told Voice of America that he had become very tired but did not faint.
The appeals court said after a half-day session that no new evidence had been presented to overturn the lower court’s decision. “The defendant did not show regret and took a disrespectful attitude towards the court,” said court president Nguyen Van Son, confirming the jail term and a fine of around US$ 57000,” said Agence France Presse (AFP).
AFP quoted Quan saying “I am the victim of a political conspiracy. I object to this trial.”
Although he was tried for tax evasion there is widespread conviction that Quan has been imprisoned as punishment for his outspoken blog focusing on official corruption and human rights abuses including religious freedom.
“Today’s appeal court ruling against blogger Le Quoc Quan underscores the severe constraints on judicial independence in Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “It is clear that Quan was imprisoned for his expression of dissenting opinions, not a faulty tax disclosure. We call on Vietnamese authorities to release all imprisoned journalists immediately and unconditionally.”
While Hanoi’s Court of Appeals upholding the 30-month sentence is cause for outrage, of equal concern are prison conditions under which Quan is held as well as his health. On February 2, Quan, who is a devout Catholic, began a hunger strike protesting that he was not given access to legal documents, a copy of the Bible and a Catholic priest. 
“We also sound the alarm about Quan’s state of health. He has been on hunger strike for the past 17 days in protest against the treatment he is receiving, and he briefly lost consciousness during today’s hearing. So we call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” said Benjamin Ismail head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
RSF has also drawn attention to the lack of process in the way the appeal was conducted. The organisation said in a statement, “We condemn the way the hearing was conducted. Hundreds of people who had come to support Quan were kept away from the courthouse and only his mother and wife were allowed to attend.”
RSF went on to say that journalists watching proceedings on CCTV in another room could not see Quan’s reaction to the judge’s ruling as the feed was cut off immediately after the order.
Quan was arrested on December 27, 2012 after the BBC published his article criticising a constitutional provision that accorded the Communist Party of Vietnam a preeminent position in the country. Prior to that Quan was arrested in March 2007 when he returned to China after completing a stint as Reagan Fascell Fellow at Washington DC’s National Endowment for Democracy. He was released without charges after being detained for 100 days. He was arrested again in 2011 and released without charges. In August 2012 he was severely injured in an assault.  
Following the failure of the appeal RSF promised, “In the coming days, we will do everything possible to ensure that this blogger’s voice can be heard more easily. We are going to start translating and circulating his articles so that more people can read his criticism of Vietnam’s human rights violations – criticism that the authorities did not want to hear.”

Angolan Journalists Interviewing ‘Magnificent Seven,’ Arrested And Assaulted

Seven activists re-arrested by police (Photo courtesy Maka Angola)

Three Angolan journalists were detained in Luanda on September 19 by the police, and assaulted for interviewing members of the Angolan Revolutionary Movement who had been just released from custody. Although the journalists were later freed, the activists who were rearrested while being interviewed remain in detention. The account of the incident by one of the journalists, Rafael Marquez de Morais, is an eloquent testimony to the perils of journalists and other human rights defenders in a country that systematically violates the rule of law.

De Morais, who is a freelancer, was detained and manhandled with Alexandre Solombe Neto of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and vice-president of the Union of Angola Journalists (SJA) and Coque Mukuta, Voice of America correspondent, after they spoke to seven activists of the Angolan Revolutionary Movement (ARM), fighting for social justice and democracy in Angola. ARM has asked Angola’s president, Eduardo Dos Santos, to stand down due to his authoritarian style of government.
“The arrest of three journalists who were just doing their professional duty is unacceptable,” the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said. “The harassment to which De Morais in particular is being subjected must stop at once. It reflects the government’s fear of what he has been reporting.”
The Brussels-based media watchdog International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said, “The IFJ has stressed the importance of free and safe reporting and has stated that the authorities in Angola have a duty to guarantee a safe working environment for journalists and to promote press freedom. Journalists and media in the country have the duty to report independently and give the floor to all those who want to express themselves.”
RSF’s expression special concern for De Morais due to repeated acts of harassment in the hands of state authorities, including 11 defamation suits – defamation is a criminal offence in Angola – and for his 2011 book, “Diamantes de Sangue: Corrupção e Tortura em Angola” (Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola).
Meanwhile, De Morais’ bald description in his blog Maka Angola of events when he and his colleagues went to interview the seven activists (who he calls the Magnificent Seven for their courage and steadfastness in the face of government brutality) paints a disturbing picture of what human rights defenders fighting against political oppression endure.
“He ordered me to bend my head, and I felt a violent blow on the back of my skull. I don’t know what instrument he used, but I can still feel the pain.

“I wondered what the time was, and how long we had been there.

“I thought of the courage of the young people who have been subjected to worse brutality than this over the last two years since the anti-government demonstrations began. Some of them will carry the scars resulting from the police beatings for the rest of their lives.”

Sudan Journalist Faisal Salih and Peter Mackler Award on VOA

Faisal Salih

Faisal Salih a leading journalist and editor in Sudan and director of the Teeba Press who has won this year’s Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism will be featured in a programme on Voice of America today, Tuesday, at 12.30 p.m., ET. You can view the programme here
Camille Mackler, project director of the Award, will be interviewed by Africa 54 programme of VOA.   
Announcing the Award on August 22 Camille Mackler said, “As we get ready to celebrate our fifth anniversary, we could not be prouder to recognize such a journalist as Mr. Faisal Salih. Our goal for the last five years, as we have built this award program, has always been to shine a light on the courage and commitment to human rights and dignity that Mr. Salih exhibits every day through his work.  When a young woman was raped by Government forces, he could have simply chosen to look the other way and not risk his own life.  Instead, he reported about it until the same forces tried to silence him as well.  This courage and attachment to journalistic ethics is what the Peter Mackler Award seeks to encourage and reward every year.”
The Award will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington DC on October 22.

Zimbabwe: Only Professional, Ethical Journalism Will Make Incoming Regime Accountable

With presidential elections in Zimbabwe scheduled for July 31, reports are emerging of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party too indulging in strong arm tactics to shape public opinion. Analysing this polarised situation, Zimbabwean media pundits feel that transparency and accountability after the elections could only emerge if journalists play their role professionally and ethically.
The election, in the main, will see a contest between the 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF seeking a new term, and the opposition candidate, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC. The president and prime minister of the country are contesting each other because although they are from opposing parties, an uneasy truce through a power-sharing arrangement was negotiated between them after the disputed presidential election in 2008.
According to Voice of America (July 24), despite new newspapers and television stations being established, media freedom is under strict State control – meaning control by ZANU-PF. “In the past 18 months, the government has licensed two new radio stations, says CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. But, she said, those voices are largely drowned out by state media, which she said clearly favors President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.”

Quoting Valentine VOA said, “‘If the state broadcaster, if it were behaving according to journalistic ethics, if it were behaving more like a public broadcaster and offering equal time or proportionate time to different parties, I think then it would not be a problem …  But it is because you have such a slanted state media that I think the problem exists.'”

ZANU-PF exercises control over the media – especially radio and television through the official Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) – by restricting the issue of licences. Referring to the two new radio stations were licensed in Zimbabwe in the past 18months, VOA remarks that “more does not necessarily mean better.”
“ZBC dominates radio and television and has been criticised for acting as a mouthpiece for President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party,” writes Andrew England for the Financial Times (July 24).
Mounting a real challenge to ZBC can only come from overseas, which is why 1st TV broadcasts into Zimbabwe from neighbouring South Africa.
“Now, 1st TV, which broadcast for the first time on Friday, is aiming to put a dent in ZBC’s influence as it lays claims to being the first independent Zimbabwean television station,” reports England.
“‘If the media environment was to become more in line with the rest of the continent, we would move immediately back to Zimbabwe,’ says Andrew Chadwick. Chadwick is 1st TV’s executive producer and a former communications director for Morgan Tsvangirai. “[o]ur information is not linked to what the state broadcaster has been doing for the last 30 years, particularly around elections, when it becomes more and more partisan, filled with hate speech and intolerance for anybody outside Zanu-PF,'” Chadwick continues.
However, while Chadwick’s protestations about the partisanship of ZBC hold water, Tsvangirai and party too have been accused of intimidating and assaulting journalists.
Reporters without Borders, the Paris-based media freedom monitor, commented (June 11), “The ruling Zanu-PF party is not alone in showing hostility to the media and in opposing press freedom… Members of the opposition are also responsible for a climate of intimidation.”… “In May, the prime minister himself threatened the media. ‘You cannot have a newspaper with six articles saying Tsvangirai this and Tsvangirai that … That kind of media has no future in a democratic Zimbabwe… I want to tell you this, muchadya izvozvo (you will face the music).'” RSF said.
RSF said Herbert Moyo of the Zimbabwe Independent was assaulted MDC thugs on June 7, while Mashudu Netsianda of the Chronicle Newspaper was roughed up the day before.
But on June 21, RSF voiced protest at the abduction and assault by masked men of Paul Pindani of NewsDay for a story without a by-line about the arrest of a ruling ZANU-PF party member for the murder of a local businessman. Pindani denies writing the story. “Given the climate of violence and harassment of the media in which the last elections took place, this incident must be taken seriously,” observed RSF.
Assault and intimidation by both parties have resulted in journalists preferring to keep out of trouble by censoring themselves. According to VOA, “Human Rights Watch’s Africa Advocacy Director Tiseke Kasambala said that years of intimidation and harassment have led many independent journalists to self-censor.” Al-Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reported on July 24, “One headline in (Zimbabwean newspaper) NewsDay grabbed my attention: ‘Journos urged to exercise caution.’ A press freedom watchdog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe (MISA), has urged journalists ‘to avoid risky assignments and exposing themselves to volatile political gatherings ahead of harmonised elections this year.'”
Speaking at an event organised by the Washington DC-based National Endowment for Democracy ‘Beyond Elections in Zimbabwe’ on July 23, Foster Dongozi, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and president, South Africa Journalists Association said that the ZUJ did not support either political party contesting the election and was at the receiving end of the violence of both Zanu-PF and MDC. He emphasised that “journalists should demand accountability and transparency whoever will come to power following elections.” And that it was important the journalists worked “professionally and ethically” if the regime was to remain accountable.