Former Sens. Trent Lott and John Breaux were part of a team paid $150,000 by a Russian bank to lobby on U.S. sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, according to a new disclosure their firm has filed with the U.S. Senate.
The former senators and their colleagues at Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C., were retained over the summer by a banking subsidiary of the Russian oil giant Gazprombank and lobbied the Senate and the Department of State on the sanctions and other banking laws, according to the filing.
Disclosure of their connection with Gazprombank by The Center for Public Integrity on Sept. 2 sparked widespread public criticism of the former senators. The new filing confirms that Breaux and Lott “acted as a lobbyist” on issues related to sanctions, but also states that they “are no longer expected to act as a lobbyist” for the bank.
Gazprombank is Russia’s third largest bank. On July 16 — a month and a half before Breaux and Lott filed a document stating they had begun their lobbying — the U.S. Treasury Department added the bank to a list of Russian firms barred from debt financing with U.S. institutions.
Lott and Breaux were listed as the main lobbyists in that initial lobbying registration. The new disclosure covers the period from the registration through the end of September.
Breaux and Lott declined to respond to inquiries by the Center. But Breaux, in an interview with The Times-Picayune newspaper published on Sept. 9, said they registered to lobby “out of an abundance of caution.” At that point, Breaux and Lott hadn’t done any lobbying for the bank, the newspaper quoted him as saying. It said the firm’s Moscow office had asked them to look into possible Congressional actions related to Gazprombank.
The current disclosure does not say what work Breaux or Lott did during the filing period, covering late August through September. It also does not — because such forms typically contain only vague declarations — disclose whether and what others at the firm have done or are still doing for the bank.
Three other members of Squire Patton Boggs have worked with Breaux and Lott on the Gazprombank account, according to the disclosure. In addition to Joseph LeBaron, a former ambassador to Mauritania and Qatar during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, the filing lists partners Joseph Brand, whose clients have included foreign governments and multinational corporations, and Stephen McHale, whose multiple former U.S. government positions have included serving as the first deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration and Treasury’s acting general counsel during the Clinton-Bush transition, according to their biographies on Squire Patton Boggs website.
Neither Breaux, Lott or Squire Patton Boggs responded to the Center’s inquiries. Sergey Perminov of Gazprombank’s media relations office in Moscow said he could not respond by publication time.
U.S. sanctions against the bank remain in place.
Douglas Birch contributed to this report.
Super PACs must, by law, publicly reveal their donors.
Except, that is, for those that materialize during the final days of the 2014 midterm election.
Thanks to a contentious quirk in federal law, at least six new super PACs may hide their funders from public scrutiny until early December, no matter how much money they raise or spend from now until Election Day on Nov. 4.
Why? Federal campaign finance reporting regulations state that various political committees must file this week "pre-election" financial diclosures that cover activity through Oct. 15. Any political committee that forms after Oct. 15 gets a free non-disclosure pass for up to seven weeks.
Charles Philipp, a New York City media professional who created the Trucks for Cowboys Super PAC on Thursday, says he's well aware that his committee need not disclose its funders until after Thanksgiving.
That's part of the point of forming what Philipp described as a "farcical" super PAC that's "a way for me to make fun of the system."
Philipp explained his super PAC will support candidates who, as its name suggests, support cowboys driving trucks over, say, electric vehicles.
"I'm creating this in the vein of a single-issue super PAC that a special interest may create," Philipp said.
He added, however, that his fundraising efforts are sincere, and that he'll potentially spend money during the 2014 election if he can raise it.
Their chairmen, respectively, are Abner Bonilla, a New Jersey-based political consultant at firm Arkady — clients include Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. — and Daniel J. McCarthy, a Cranford, New Jersey, lawyer with ties to Democratic politicians. The PACs share an official address — a mailbox at a UPS Store along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
The creator and treasurer for both PACs is Gianni Donates of Harrison, New Jersey. Reached by phone Monday, Donates declined to comment on what the super PACs intend to do, saying he "had a meeting" and would call back. Since then, he could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, a New Jersey-based super PAC called Hip Hop United, which officially formed Oct. 16, states in its federal filing that it aims to "run advertisements for or against candidates and/or support issues relevant to the Hip Hop Community" and "use Hip Hop style mediums and entertainment functions to uplift, empower and educate citizens."
Futhermore, a South Dakota-based super PAC calling itself Many True Conservatives sprung into existence on Oct. 15, meaning that it, too, may temporarily hide any donations it receives, save for those obtained on its creation day.
As of today, none of the nascent super PACs have spent any money to advocates for or against a federal political candidate — activity that federal law does require them to report, usually within 24 hours of making such an expenditure.
That certain super PACs may hide their donors during the final weeks of a major election, when the control of Congress is at stake, is "damaging" and undermines the core of our campaign laws and our elections," said Larry Noble, a former Federal Election Commission general counsel who now advises election law reform group Campaign Legal Center.
The FEC, Noble said, should change its regulations and compel super PACs to reveal their donors regardless of when they form.
But Dave Mason, a former FEC chairman and current senior vice president of compliance at campaign consulting firm Aristotle, disagrees. He argues that Congress would need to pass a law requiring late-filing super PACs to disclosue donors before Election Day.
In the meantime, he notes, super PAC creators are "simply following the law" as written and doing nothing wrong.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Nguyen Van Hai, a citizen journalist better known by the blog name of Dieu Cay, was released today, but points out that 26 other citizen journalists are still held in Vietnam, the world's third biggest prison for netizens.
The Vietnamese authorities confirmed this afternoon that Dieu Cay, who had been held since 19 April 2008, was taken to Hanoi's Noi Bai airport and was put on a flight to the United States.
Vietnamese media said his family was not notified in advance but relatives went to the airport and were able to confirm the presence of US diplomats even if they were not able to see or speak to Dieu Cay. By contacting Dieu Cay's wife, Voice of America's Vietnamese service learned that his son, Nguyen Tri Dung, received a call from him at 22:45 local time while he was in the Hong Kong transit lounge.
“We are delighted to know that Dieu Cay is free and no longer has to fear for his health, which suffered from the mistreatment he received in detention,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Desk. “We hope he will not be kept apart from his family and that ways will be found for him to be reunited with those who have waited courageously for him for more than six years.”
Lucie Morillon, the organization's programme director, added: “We would like to stress that 26 other bloggers and citizen journalists are still being held for exercising their right to freely inform their fellow citizens and the entire world about the human rights situation in Vietnam. We again urge the authorities to free all detained netizens.”
Sentenced in December 2012 to 12 years in prison for “anti-state propaganda,” Dieu Cay continued to criticize the authorities while detained, denouncing the conditions in his prison in the central province of Nghe An, which badly affected his health and where his family was repeatedly prevented from visiting him.
At one point he began a hunger strike that he terminated only when the Nghe An provincial authorities, after 35 days, acknowledged receipt of his letter condemning the conditions in the prison.
Vietnam is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Sign the petition, click here.
There’s been much talk lately about the possibilities offered by new technologies in opening up restrictive regimes and democratizing the production of journalism. So last week, at a conference marking the launch of Anya Schiffrin’s anthology Global Muckraking, I posed this question to a panel of journalists from South Africa, Latin America and China.
Are we living in a Golden Age of Global Muckraking?
The answer I got was not a resounding yes. It was more like, it depends. Investigative journalism certainly survives, and even thrives, sometimes in the most difficult of conditions. But technology, often cited as a superweapon in the arsenal of modern muckrakers, is perhaps less a factor than something much more old-fashioned: tradition. In some countries, a proud history of watchdog journalism matters more in terms of sustaining such reporting, as do political junctures and – choose your metaphor – an infrastructure or ecosystem that supports accountability reporting.
In South Africa, said Anton Harber, investigative reporting is robust, with full-fledged investigative teams based in dailies and weeklies and staffed by reporters aiming their sights at both high-level political corruption and the dismal state of public services. Even during the earlier decades of the apartheid era, the smaller, feistier South African newspapers provided space for exposure journalism, and through the years, they have invested in getting the big stories and building their brands.
Now a journalism professor, Harber was editor of the muckraking Mail & Guardian in the late 1980s, at the height of the struggle against the apartheid regime. He was prosecuted numerous times and the paper itself was banned for a month by the government. The current crop of South African investigative journalists builds on this tradition, and newspapers like the Mail & Guardian have created a following because of their ability to deliver high-impact, high-profile exposés.
Other countries don’t have that tradition. Harber cited the example of Rwanda: Despite the recent opening up of the country, journalists there are still wary about exposing wrongdoing. The legitimacy of watchdog journalism is not backed by history or practice and there are few examples of success to draw on. Unlike South Africa, where exposés are taken up by civil society and opposition parties, a watchdog culture does not yet exist.
Tradition was very much a topic at last Friday’s conference. Global Muckraking, the book around which the conference was built, looks back at a hundred years of investigative reporting around the world and explores questions like how and what kind of journalism brings about social change.
Difficult questions, for sure, although the panels throughout the day did tease out some common themes. The impact of exposés tend to be individualistic, not systemic; that is, individual officials may be booted out of office but the underlying causes of the problems are not addressed. Long-term reforms, like those banning child or slave labor take years, sometimes decades, and are the result not just of the work of journalists but also that of activists, reformers in public office and other citizens.
Corruption exposés may make immediate, dramatic impact but they seldom change the system. Most of them show proof of wrongdoing and name names, but often, corrupt practices continue or take other forms even after the crooked officials have been booted out.
These exposés are like the tango, said Silvio Waisbord, who has written about investigative reporting in Latin America. There is much drama and movement, with the dancers swirling around in a circle, only to end up where they began.
Latin America saw a wave of investigative reporting in the 1990s after the fall of authoritarian regimes and the consolidation of democracy. There is still tremendous investigative energy in the media there, although the situation differs from country to country. While newspapers have been the traditional torchbearers for muckraking journalism, new online only sites are making waves by experimenting with new ways of storytelling and engaging audiences.
El Faro in El Salvador, La Silla Vacia and Verdad Abierta in Colombia, Animal Politico in Mexico and Plaza Publica in Guatemala are producing innovative, in-depth investigations that incorporate data, narrative and interactivity. There are also what Waisbord calls “hybrid” sites run by NGOs and journalists and that employ crowdsourcing and cross-border collaboration. Infoamazonia, which tracks deforestation in the Amazon region, is a good example.
In many places, however, newspapers are still largely the sites of exposure, especially of high-level political corruption. In Argentina, La Nacion has built a reputation for getting documents and data in a country without a freedom of information law and for interactive news projects that involve readers in the reporting.
In Brazil, said Angela Pimenta, who has followed investigative reporting there since the 1980s, the biggest newspapers are at the forefront of the exposés that have rocked the country’s political elite, including bribery, the extravagant lifestyles of public officials, and kickbacks from the state oil company Petrobas that were allegedly used to finance the ruling party’s election campaign.
These exposés have captured the popular imagination and enraged citizens. Timing is important. As Waisbord observed, certain political junctures are ripe for high-impact muckraking. In Brazil’s case, there is intense rivalry among competing political factions and popular dissatisfaction with corruption and the quality of life.
A newly minted freedom of information law is providing fodder for the reporting and a strong anti-corruption law has raised the stakes for the wrongdoers. Technology, especially mobile phones, has also helped make it easier to disseminate news of the latest political scandal.
China is different from Brazil, but there, too, despite the constraints, there is far more exposure of corruption and environmental damage than ever. Recent restrictions are worrisome, but there has been groundbreaking work thanks to journalists and citizens who have striven to overcome the restraints.
While China has a tradition of crusading journalism from the early 20th Century, the seeds of contemporary investigative reporting were sown in the 1970s with market reforms and the withdrawal of state subsidies for the media. News organizations had to rely on circulation and advertisement for their survival, and exposés were part of a revenue-generating strategy. The Internet expanded the space for exposure, especially blogs and weibo, the Chinese Twitter. But, as BBC journalist Vincent Weifing Ni said, some of the most stinging exposés have come from independent publications like Caixin, a business weekly, and even China Central Television (CCTV), the state broadcaster.
In 2011, on the heels of a train crash that killed 40 people and stoked the public’s ire, Caixin revealed large-scale corruption in the building of the country’s high-speed rail system. The magazine exposed the “broken system” in the Railways Ministry and in a subsequent issue, put the railways minister on its cover and reported that he had purchased a luxury mansion near Los Angeles in 2002, when he was earning less than $300 a month. The minister was tried, accused of funneling as much as $2.8 billion to overseas accounts.
Scandal sells and makes an impact, and in many cases, the officials’ excesses prove to be their undoing – whether it’s fancy mansions, as in the case of railways minister Zhang Shugang, or red-soled Christian Laboutin shoes as in the case of South Africa communications minister Dina Pule, whose improprieties in public office provided grist for many exposés.
Without doubt, the Communist Party tolerates and even encourages the exposure of corruption. These provide a safety valve for venting public fury and also allow the Party to purge its ranks. Journalists take advantage of the openings to expose wrongdoing and keep probing.
As Ni explained, Chinese journalists view themselves as “woodpeckers,” chipping away at the tree of state power, rather than cutting it down. Woodpecking can be dangerous, however, as the number of Chinese journalists and activists in prison attest to.
In the end, whether it’s a golden age or not, whether it’s watchdogging or woodpecking, the practice thrives, despite the challenges and even in the most adverse of circumstances.
Sheila Coronel is dean of academic affairs at the Columbia Journalism School, where she founded the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. She is co-founder and former executive director of thePhilippine Center for Investigative Journalism. This is reprinted from her blog, Watchdog Watcher.
Think back on the last couple of weeks (or so), when the Ebola crisis really started to pervade all of our media sources. There has been sensationalism, misinformation and more sensationalism that has led to sheer ignorance, in some cases, plus unnecessary (if not illogical) panic. This is not to take away from the severity of the disease whatsoever, as it should be treated with delicacy; somehow, though, the virus and its victims have been so oversimplified because news organizations have not been careful in their approach.
For these reasons and more, Lara Setrakian of the news microsite network News Deeply has introduced Ebola Deeply, which Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram reports will cover both immediate impacts of the disease and longterm effects on society. Setrakian, whose Syria Deeply site has been quite effective in disseminating valuable information and reporting regarding the complicated situation in the Middle East, has a team of African freelancers contributing content and will aggregate wire stories on Ebola, too.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
When nuclear engineer Donna Busche was fired in February from her job managing safety at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, she complained that it was a reprisal for her repeated warnings that the government and its contractors were ignoring serious safety risks there.
Energy Department inspector general Gregory Friedman took the allegations seriously enough to open an investigation after the department asked him to in March. But on Monday, his office announced in an exceptionally brief report that it had been blocked from conducting its work by the refusal of primary Hanford contractor Bechtel National Inc., as well as Bechtel subcontractor and Busche’s employer, URS Energy and Construction Inc., to turn over 4,540 documents.
Those documents included emails that referenced Ms. Busche during the period just before her firing, according to Tara Porter, a spokeswoman for the inspector general.
“We did not have access to the full inventory of documents which we felt were necessary to conduct our review,” wrote Friedman in Monday’s report. “Thus, we were unable to complete our inquiry and accordingly disclaim any opinion regarding the circumstances of Ms. Busche's termination.”
According to Friedman’s report, the Energy Department’s contracts with Bechtel and between Bechtel and URS require the companies to “produce for government audit all documents acquired or generated under the contract” — even those for which an attorney-client privilege could be asserted. But Bechtel and URS refused to do so because they concluded that releasing the emails would “constitute a waiver of privilege” in future litigation with Busche, and because they felt the contract provisions they signed were unenforceable, his report states.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday afternoon, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., noted the failure of Friedman’s office to reach any conclusions and asked the department for a briefing about “DOE’s plans to address the contractors’ lack of cooperation with the Inspector General’s request.” She asked that the information be provided to the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, which she chairs, by the end of October.
Bechtel, in a statement published on its website on Monday, denied that the company had been uncooperative. Bechtel offered to give the inspector general’s office access to legally protected documents “in a way that preserves those protections,” but the inspector general declined that offer, according to the statement.
In response, Porter reiterated that Bechtel “never proposed a process which addressed the legitimate needs of the Office of Inspector General” to access the documents it needed. URS, for its part, only agreed to provide documents that were non-responsive to the inspector general’s needs, according to Friedman’s report.
URS spokeswoman Pamela Blum said in an emailed statement that the company “respects” the inspector general’s decision.” The statement also said Busche’s claim is “without merit” and that each URS employee is “encouraged and empowered to raise concerns about safety.”
In a telephone interview, Busche said she is satisfied that the inspector general tried “diligently” to get the documents. But she said that in her experience, this was “exactly how Bechtel and URS operated at Hanford.”
Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Hanford Challenge, a nonprofit in Seattle that has assisted Hanford whistleblowers, expressed skepticism about Friedman’s diligence. “They call this a law enforcement agency?” he said. “They’re letting Bechtel and URS fail to comply with an OIG request for information. That’s obstructing justice.” He called Busche the highest-ranking nuclear whistleblower he knows about.
The public affairs office at the Energy Department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
A Congressional committee has taken aim at waste in the popular Medicare Advantage health insurance program for seniors, ordering an extensive audit of billing errors and overcharges by insurers — mistakes estimated to cost taxpayers billions of dollars every year.
The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, is conducting the probe at the request of the House Ways and Means Committee. Results are due next spring.
GAO auditors will target efforts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs the senior care program, to ensure the privately run health plans are paid accurately and that any overpayments are recovered for taxpayers. Medicare Advantage is an alternative to standard Medicare and is mostly run by private insurance carriers.
“Right now everything is on the table,” said James Cosgrove, who heads the GAO’s health care division. “This is not something we have focused on before.”
The GAO audit comes in the wake of the Center for Public Integrity’s “Medicare Advantage Money Grab” series published in June, which showed that the government has struggled for years to stop the health plans from charging too much.
Medicare pays health plans using a complex formula known as a risk score, which is supposed to raise rates for sicker patients and lower them for people in good health. But the industry has long faced criticism that some plans overstate how sick some patients are to boost Medicare revenue, a practice known as “upcoding.”
“Given the prevalence of upcoding by some MA plans, we hope that the GAO audit will result in CMS paying plans more accurately and fairly while reducing wasteful overpayments,” said David A. Lipschutz, an attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade group, wouldn’t comment on the GAO audit. CMS had no comment either.
Medicare Advantage has grown explosively under the risk-scoring formula, which Congress put in place in 2004. Officials expect the program to cost taxpayers as much as $160 billion this year, as enrollment nears 16 million, or about one in three elderly and disabled people on Medicare.
In the past, however, CMS officials have stated that inflated risk scores drain billions from the treasury. CMS has largely trusted health plans to identify and return any money paid in error and has repeatedly scaled back its efforts to go after overpayments, often in the face of industry lobbying and pressure.
GAO reviewers are zeroing in on Medicare’s primary tactic for recouping overcharges, a secretive audit process called Risk Adjustment Data Validation, or RADV.
Medicare officials have quietly conducted these audits since 2008. But they have never imposed stiff financial penalties for overcharges that have been uncovered through the RADV process, despite evidence that billing errors have been deeply rooted and waste tax dollars at an alarming clip, records show.
For instance, audits of six plans found that health plans couldn’t justify payments from the government for 40 percent or more of their patients. The resulting overpayments were pegged at nearly $650 million for 2007 alone — just for those six plans.
The Center for Public Integrity investigation confirmed in June that federal officials, after years of haggling with health plans, settled the six audits for pennies on the dollar. One New York state health plan that federal auditors said may have been overpaid by as much as $41 million in 2007, coughed up just $157,777 to settle the matter in December 2013, for instance.
The Obama administration has taken years to get a new round of the RADV audits underway amid quibbling with the industry over the details.
In early November 2013, CMS officials notified as many as 30 Medicare Advantage plans that they had been selected for audit. But more than 500 Medicare Advantage contracts are now in force, so it would take the government years to make sure all the plans are billing accurately.
CMS officials have declined to name the companies chosen for the 30 audits this year, or the results. So it’s not clear if any have been completed. The Center for Public Integrity in May sued CMS under the Freedom of Information Act, in part to secure a list of the audited plans and the results.
GAO auditors also want to know why CMS has not enlisted the help of private collection agencies to crack down on billing fraud by Medicare Advantage groups.
These private firms, known as Recovery Audit Contractors in Washington bureaucratese, have been pursuing fraud by doctors and hospitals for years. The firms get to keep a percentage of any billing fraud they uncover, though medical groups have criticized them for being overly aggressive.
The Medicare Advantage industry has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress as the program has grown. In recent years, the industry has successfully lobbied to scale back planned pay cuts to the health plans.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, spent nearly $5 million lobbying on a variety of issues, including Medicare Advantage, from January through June of 2014, according to the Senate records.
While government fraud investigations have lagged, whistleblower lawsuits that allege overcharging by Medicare Advantage insurers are stacking up in federal courts.
In one case, Miami physician Olivia Graves alleged that a Humana-affiliated clinic had diagnosed an abnormally high number of patients with conditions such as diabetes with complications, which boosted Medicare payments, but were “not supported by the medical records.”
The suit alleges that Humana knew about the practices and did nothing to stop the overcharging. The suit argues that Medicare paid thousands of dollars for each patient who was wrongly diagnosed. Humana has denied the allegations.
In a separate civil case, Josh Valdez, a former Bush administration health official, alleges that two Puerto Rico Medicare Advantage health plans bilked the government out of as much as $1 billion by inflating patient risk scores. The plans, which at the time were owned by a subsidiary of New-Jersey based Aveta, Inc., denied the allegations.
Advies bij voorontwerp van decreet houdende bepalingen tot begeleiding van de tweede aanpassing van de begroting 2014
21.10.2014 - Woman journalist freed on completing sentence
Reporters Without Borders has learned that Marzieh Rasouli, a journalist who worked for the arts and culture pages of several newspapers, was released on 19 October after it was determined that she had completed her sentence.
She was originally sentenced to a total of two years in prison and 50 lashes on two charges – “meeting and conspiring against the Islamic Republic” and “anti-government publicity – but the sentence was reduced on appeal to a year in prison.
First arrested on 18 January 2012, she was freed on bail of 300 million toman (350,000 euros) two months later and was returned to prison on 8 July 2014 to serve her sentence.
She was deemed to have served her time under article 135 of the new Islamic penal code (amended in 2013), which says that “a defendant sentenced for several offences or crimes serves only the main sentence.”
Application of this law could lead to the release of thousands of detainees including many journalists and netizens.
IRAN 7.10.2014 - Journalist freed on completing sentence, another bailed
Reporters Without Borders has learned that the journalist Bahaman Ahamadi Amoee was released on 4 October on completing a five-year jail sentence for criticising former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.
He was arrested in June 2009 at the same time as his wife, fellow journalist Jila Bani Yaghoob, who was freed on bail in August 2009 and was sentenced by a Tehran court the following October to a year prison and a 30-year ban on working as a journalist. Yaghoob was re-arrested in September 2012 to serve the jail term and served it in full.
Reporters Without Borders is meanwhile relieved by the announcement that Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist who works for The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, was released provisionally on 4 October in return for a large sum in bail.
Salehi was arrested in Tehran on 22 July together withher husband, Jason Rezaian, a reporter with dual US and Iranian nationality who works for the Washington Post, and a freelance photographer with dual US and Iranian nationality whose family does not want her name revealed.
The photographer and her husband were released provisionally a month later but Rezaian is still detained in a completely illegal manner.
According to an Agence France-Presse report out of Tehran, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance foreign media department chief Mohammad Koushesh said, when confirming Salehi's release, that her press card was still valid and she could continue working in Iran.
He was responding to her brother-in-law, who told the Washington Post the previous day that she had been stripped of her press accreditation.
16.09.2014 - Writer jailed, two netizens freed
Reporters Without Borders condemns 73-year-old ailing writer Ali Asghar Gharavi's return to Tehran's Evin prison on 14 September to serve the rest of a six-month sentence at the behest of the prison office for sentence implementation.
Gharavi was arrested on 10 November 2013 over an article for the 23 October issue of the reformist daily Bahar that had led to the newspaper's suspension on 28 October by the Commission for Press Authorization and Surveillance. He was freed on bail on 7 January pending trial.
A Tehran court imposed the six-month prison sentence on Gharavi on 11 May and the supreme court confirmed it on 20 August. At the same time, the court sentenced Bahar editor Saied Pour Aziz to 91 days in prison and gave him an additional suspended two-year jail term, while Bahar was closed for good.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that netizen Saeed Haeri was freed on 8 September on completing a two-year jail term and netizen Mohamed Davari was freed on 12 September on completing a five-year jail term.
The editor of the Etemad-e Melli news website (http://sahamnews.org/), Davari was arrested during a police raid on the newspaper on 8 September 2009. A Tehran court gave him the five-year sentence the following November on charges of “meeting and conspiring against the Islamic Republic” and anti-government publicity for publishing reports about torture and rape in Iran's prisons.
A member of the “Committee of Human Rights Reporters,” Haeri was arrested on 12 December 2012 to serve the rest of a two-year jail sentence. He was originally arrested on 20 December 2009 and then released provisionally on 11 March 2010. A Tehran court originally sentenced him to 30 months in prison and 74 lashes on an anti-government propaganda charge. An appeal court reduced it to two years in prison six months later.
Two other members of the “Committee of Human Rights Reporters” were previously freed. They were Shiva Nazar Ahari, released conditionally on medical grounds in September 2013 before completing her four-year sentence, and Said Jalali Far, released on 8 February 2014 after his three-year sentence was reduced.
04.09.2014-Reformist journalist freed on completing five-year sentence
Reporters Without Borders has learned that Mehdi Mahmoudian, a journalist linked to pro-reform media, was released yesterday on completing a five-year jail sentence on charges of anti-government propaganda and spreading false news.
Arrested on 16 September 2009 and convicted a month later, Mahmoudian was the journalist responsible for revealing that detained demonstrators had been tortured and killed in Kahrizak prison after the disputed presidential election of June 2009.
03.09.2014- Another journalist arrested in Tehran
Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest of Amar Kalantari, the editor of the Free University News Agency (ANA). Plainclothes men arrested him at the ANA office in Tehran on 1 September and took him to Evin prison.
No reason was given for his arrest but former colleague Foad Sadeghi said on his Facebook page that Kalantari was detained to begin serving a four-year jail sentence.
He was tried on a charge of “insult” in December 2009 as a result of a complaint by Mohammad Ali Ramin, the deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance and a loyal adviser to then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
25.08.2014 - Blogger freed on completing four-year jail sentence
Mohammad Reza Pourshajari, the editor of a blog called “Relation to the Land of Iran,” was released on 23 August on completing a four-year jail sentence. Held since 12 September 2010, he was sentenced by a court in Karaj (20 km north of Tehran) in April 2011 to three years in prison on charges of anti-government propaganda and “insulting the Islamic Republic's leaders.”
The same court sentenced him in December 2011 to an additional year in prison on a charge of “insulting Islam's holy texts.” Both trials went ahead without his lawyer being present. He served the last three years of his sentence in the wing of Karaj prison where non-political prisoners, including convicted criminals, are detained.
21.08.2014 - Two women journalists released provisionally
Two women journalists were released provisionally yesterday. One is a freelance photographer with US and Iranian dual nationality who works for several media including the Washington Post, which has confirmed her release. Her family does not want her named.
She was arrested on 22 July at the same time as two other journalists – Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran correspondent, who also has US and Iranian dual nationality, and Rezaian's Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, who works for The National, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates.
The other journalist released yesterday was Saba Azarpeyk, who worked for the monthly Tejarat-e-Farda and the daily Etemad. Her mother said she was released yesterday evening on bail of 200 million toman (190,000 euros) pending trial. Arrested on 28 May, she spent more than 80 days in isolation. It is still not known where or why she was held or who had her arrested.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that six netizens – Zahra Ka'abi, Hamid Hekmati, Ismael Izadi, Farid Saremi, Farjad Salehi and Ali Chinisaz – were arrested at the Kahh (Earth) cultural centre in the northeastern city of Mashhad on 27 July were taken to an unknown place of detention.
Plainclothes intelligence ministry officials searched several of their homes, confiscating computers, hard disks and CD-ROMs. More than three weeks have gone by since their arrest but their families and lawyers have still not been told where or why they are being held.
12.08.2014 - Authorities close several privately-owned religious TV stations
Reporters Without Borders has learned that the offices of privately-owned religious TV stations that support Ayatollah Sadegh Shirazi – a dissident cleric who has criticized the regime ever since the 1979 revolution– have been closed in several provincial cities.
In a communiqué on 3 August, the intelligence ministry accused these TV stations of “working illegally for satellite TV stations based in the United States and Great Britain,” “provoking sectarian tension within Islam,” “showing a degrading image of Shi'ism” and “insulting the holy figures of Islam.”
Plainclothes intelligence officials raided the premises of five TV stations – Imam Hossein, Abolfazal Abass, Alghaem, Alzahra and Almehdi – confiscating all of their communication and computer equipment and then closing them.
Several of the directors and employees of these TV stations were arbitrarily arrested during the raids. Hamed Taghipour, a religious programme producer in the city of Mashad, is still being held. So too is Masoud Behnam, one of Imam Hossein's directors, who was taken from a hospital in Isfahan to an unknown location.
Despite censoring these TV stations, the government is allowing other privately-owned stations to continue broadcasting messages of hate against Sunni Moslems.
11.08.2014 - Journalist gets six-year jail term
Reporters Without Borders condemns the six-year jail sentence that journalist Saraj Mirdamadi received on 26 July on charges of “meeting and plotting against the Islamic Republic” and “anti-government publicity.” Saraj has worked for several media including Hayat-é-No, a daily closed by the authorities in January 2003, and Radio Zamaneh, a station based in the Netherlands. A Tehran revolutionary court heard his case on 21 July.
16.07.2014- journalist freed on completing four-year jail term
Reporters Without Borders has learned that Siamak Qaderi, a journalist who used to work for the government news agency IRNA, was released on 13 July on completing a four-year jail sentence.
Arrested on 5 August 2010, Qaderi was convicted on 21 January 2011 of using his blog to disseminate anti-government propaganda and false information “liable to disrupt public order.” As well as four years in prison, he was sentenced to 60 lashes and was fired from IRNA.
His arrest was prompted by his blog posts about government repression and, in particular, his interview with gays, which were all the more sensitive since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim during a visit to the United States in September 2007 that “there are no homosexuals in Iran.”
Qaderi was one of the 100 “information heroes” that Reporters Without Borders profiled for this year's World Press Freedom Day (on 3 May).
08.07.2014-Another woman journalist imprisoned, third in past month
Reporters Without Borders condemns journalist Marzieh Rasouli's reimprisonment today after being summoned by the sentence application court in Tehran's Evin prison and told to begin serving a two-year jail term on charges of “meeting and conspiring against the Islamic Republic” and anti-government propaganda.
The court also ordered implementation of the other part of Rasouli's sentence – 50 lashes.
Rasouli, who writes for the arts and culture sections of several newspapers, said the sentence application court ignored the fact that her appeal against the sentence has yet to be heard.
Originally detained on 18 January 2012 and placed in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Evin prison, a wing managed by the Revolutionary Guards, she had been freed on bail of 300 million toman (350,000 euros).
She is the third woman journalist to be imprisoned in the past month. The first was Mahnaz Mohammadi, a documentary filmmaker who began serving a five-year jail term on 7 June. The second was Rihaneh Tabatabai, who used to work for the daily Shargh and who began serving a one-year sentence on 21 June.
With a total of 64 journalists and netizens detained, Iran continues to be one of the world's five biggest prisons for media personnel.
10.06.2014-Woman filmmaker begins serving five-year sentence
Reporters Without Borders condemns a court decision ordering documentary filmmaker and women's rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi to return to prison to serve the five-year sentence she received last year on charges of “meeting and conspiring against the Islamic Republic” and “anti-government propaganda.”
Mohammadi was summoned to the sentencing court in Tehran's Evin prison on 7 June to begin serving the sentence.
She was previously arrested on 29 July 2009 and 26 June 2011, each time spending a month in Evin prison before being released in return for an exorbitant amount in bail. She was notified of her five-year sentence on 23 October.
Mohammadi is best known for her 2003 film “Women Without Shadows.” In a letter read by filmmaker Costa-Gavras at the 2011 Cannes film festival, she wrote: “I am a woman and a filmmaker, two reasons sufficient to be treated like a criminal in this country.”
12.05.2014 - Arrest of journalist who used to live in France
Reporters Without Borders condemns journalist Saraj Mirdamadi's arrest on 10 May. A resident in France since 2001, Mirdamadi had returned to Iran in August 2013, in the wake of the moderate conservative Hassan Rouhani's election as president.
Mirdamadi has worked for various media including Hayat-é-No, a daily suspended in January 2003, and Radio Zamaneh, which is based in the Netherlands. He is sympathetic to Iran's reformists and actively supported the protests that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reelection in 2009.
His passport was confiscated at Tehran airport on his return and, a few days later, the prosecutor's office located at Tehran's Evin prison placed him under investigation on suspicion of “activities against national security.” A Tehran court sent the case file back to the prosecutor's office on 8 January on the grounds that it was “incomplete.”
His arrest on 10 May followed a summons to report to the prosecutor's office in Evin prison. His brother, Sadra Mirdamadi, told Radio Farda (Radio Free Europe) that he is accused of “anti-regime propaganda” in connection with his journalistic activities and the interviews he has given to news media, and “conspiring during meetings against national security” in connection with this political activities.
According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the Revolutionary Guards were responsible for his arrest.
07.05.2014- Another reformist daily suspended
Reporters Without Borders condemns today's suspension of the reformist daily Ghanon (Law) by the Tehran media court in response to a complaint presented by the Tehran state prosecutor.
Alireza Nikoui, a member of the newspaper's staff, said the court found Ghanon guilty of “publishing false information contrary to Islamic values and likely to disturb public opinion.” Ghanon editor Masoud Kazemi said “the prosecutor's office told us by phone this morning that the complaint refers to a report in yesterday's issue about Mohamed Royanian's release.”
Royanian is a former Revolutionary Guard commander and former head of a Tehran soccer club who was arrested on 5 May in connection with several corruption allegations. Reports of his release on bail of 1 billion toman were also posted on several news websites.
Pro-reform media and journalists count among the leading victims of the judicial system established by conservatives allied with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that the suspension imposed on the reformist daily Ebtekar on 26 April was rescinded later the same day. The suspension of the conservative daily 9 day, imposed on 17 March, was also lifted on 26 April.
28.04.2014 - Newspaper suspended, threats against families of prisoners
Reporters Without Borders condemns the pro-reform newspaper Ebtekar's suspension by the Tehran prosecutor's office for media and culture on 26 April, two days after it reported that the head of the Iranian prison system, Golamhossien Esmaili, had been fired.
Ebtekar editor Mohamad Ali Vakili said that “according to the letter from the prosecutor's office, the newspaper has been suspended under article 6 of the press law for publishing false information.”
Judicial authority chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani relieved Esmaili of his position and appointed him head of the Tehran provincial department of justice on 23 April, a week after at least 50 detainees, including prisoners of conscience, were injured during a violent operation by security forces in Tehran's Evin prison.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that the families of some prisoners have been threatened. Families received a text message on 24 April warning that they could be arrested “in the event of any illegal demonstration.” A demonstration had been planned for 26 April.
Kaveh Darolshafa, the brother of jailed netizen Yashar Darolshafa, was arrested at his Tehran home following a search by plainclothes intelligence ministry officers on 25 April. His family still does not know why he was arrested or where he is being held.
More information about the 17 April raid by security forces on Section 350 of Evin prison:
- Many detainees beaten during police search of Evin prison (posted on 18 April)
- RWB calls for independent inquiry into police search of Evin prison (posted on 24 April)
19.03.2014-Censors close hardline conservative weekly
Reporters Without Borders condemns the hardline conservative weekly 9-Day closure by the Commission for Press Licensing and Surveillance, the ensorship arm of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. 9-Day is the mouthpiece of a radical faction that supports Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei. The commission closed the weekly on 17 March under articles 6 and 12 of the press code for alleged “insults and defamation” and “publication of false information.”
Ever since moderate conservative President Hassan Rouhani's administration began negotiating with western countries about Iran's nuclear programme, it has been the target of fierce criticism from regime hardliners.
The media and journalists are among the leading victims of the in-fighting between the rival factions within the Iranian ruling elite. Independent media have been particularly affected.
18.02.2014-Website blocked, netizen gets eight years for Facebook content
Reporters Without Borders condemns the government's crackdown on netizens and independent news websites. Another site has been rendered inaccessible in the past few days, while a netizen has been sentenced to eight years in prison for what he posted on Facebook.
At the behest of the Working Group for Identifying Criminal Content, the IbnaNews site was blocked on 9 February for posting reports about protests in three western and southwestern provinces (Lorestan, Khuzestan and Bakhtiari). The site's director, Mohessin Heidari also received a court summons.
The demonstrations were staged by members of the Bakhtiari and Lur peoples in protest against a state TV series with comments that were seen as having insulted Sardar Assad Bakhtiari, one of the leaders and national heroes of the Constitutional Revolution of the 1906-1909.
Reporters Without Borders learned on 16 February that a Tehran revolutionary court sentenced Arash Moghadam Aslani to eight years in prison on charges of anti-government propaganda and “insulting Islam's sacred values” in connection with the content he posted on Facebook.
Arrested at his Tehran home by plainclothesmen last August, Aslani has been detained ever since in Section 350 of Tehran's Evin prison.
Said Jalali Far, a netizen who had been serving a three-year jail sentence, was released on 8 February as a result of a pardon by the Supreme Leader for several dozen prisoners of conscience on the Islamic Revolution's 34th anniversary.
Like some of the other beneficiaries, Jalali Far had only a few more months of his sentence left to serve. Convicted on 30 July 2011, he had been back in prison since 8 September 2012.
06.02.2014- Website blocked for publishing letter criticizing nuclear policy
The website Entekhab (The Choice) has been inaccessible since 1 February as a result of a complaint by the Tehran public prosecutor and a closure order issued by the Tehran media court.
Entekhab editor Mstafa Faghihi told the government news agency Irna that the site was blocked for publishing a letter in which a university academic, Sadeq Zibakalam, criticized Iran's nuclear policy as well as other sensitive issues such as public health and education.
Zibakalam wrote: “Even if the United States and 199 other countries reach agreement on our nuclear policy (…) this policy is economically not beneficial for Iran. It is a complete mistake. We have lost millions of dollars for nothing.”
During a court appearance yesterday, Zibakalam was charged with anti-government propaganda, circulating false information designed to disturb public opinion, insulting the justice system and defamation. He was released on bail of 50 million toman (about 50,000 euros) pending trial.
23.01.2014- Newspaper owners held arbitrarily since 2011
Mehdi Karoubi, a 77-year-old newspaper owner who has been under house arrest since February 2011, was taken to an unknown place of detention of 17 January after undergoing two back operations – a laminectomy and discectomy – at Tehran's Arad Hospital.
A dissident theologian, former parliamentary speaker and owner of the closed newspaper Etemad Melli, Karoubi has been hospitalized a total of five times since mid-2013 for various ailments including a heart condition, according to his wife, Fatemeh Karoubi. He underwent an angioplasty on 31 July.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the owner of the closed newspaper Kalameh Sabaz, and Mousavi's wife, the writer Zahra Rahnavard, who were placed under house arrest at the same time as Karoubi, continue to be held at their home on the intelligence ministry's order.
Mousavi and Rahnavard have also been hospitalized several times in Tehran – in August 2012, September 2013 and most recently October 2013 – for heart problems. Karoubi, Mousavi and Rahnavard are being held arbitrarily. There is no legal basis for their detention under either Iranian or international law. Depriving them of their freedom and denying them the right to a fair trial is a flagrant violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
08.01.2014 -Government closes ultra-conservative weekly
Reporters Without Borders condemns the suspension of Yalasarat Hossien, a weekly published by the radical Islamist group Hezbollah in Iran, following articles in recent weeks that were very critical of moderate conservative President Hassan Rouhani's government, especially its nuclear accords.
It was suspended on 6 January by the Press Licensing and Surveillance Commission – an offshoot of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance – under article 12 of the press code for “insults and defamation” and “publishing false information.”
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile also learned that Ali Asghar Gharavi, a journalist arrested on 10 November in connection with an article in the 23 October issue of the reformist daily Bahar, was released on bail yesterday pending trial.
The Press Licensing and Surveillance Commission suspended Bahar on 28 October for publishing the article .
The court has not even begun to consider the criminal defamation case against him
Reporters Without Borders is appalled that newspaper publisher Mike Mukebayi has been held without any justification for the past two months because of a libel suit. The length of his pre-trial detention is out of all proportion, especially as judicial examination of the case has not yet begun.
The publisher of Congo News, Mukebayi was arrested exactly two months ago, on 21 August, on a charge of “detrimental allegations” in connection with an 18 July article about Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo that was headlined: “Monsengwo: shame and dishonour of a cardinal who sold out to the government.”
An arrest warrant was also issued for the newspaper's managing editor, John Tshingombe Lukusa, whose present location is unknown.
“Regardless of the substance of the case and the grounds for a libel suit, detaining a newspaper publisher for two months over a single article is completely unacceptable,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“Such a measure is manifestly unwarranted. Defamatory comments in an article do not turn a journalist into a danger for society. We call on the authorities to release Mukebayi and to try his case in a manner that respects both his rights and freedom of information.”
Held in Kinshasa's Makala prison, Mukebayi has appeared twice in court since his arrest but the substance of the case has yet to be considered, with the court just extending his pre-trial detention and ignoring his lawyer's requests for conditional release. The legal detention limit has repeatedly been extended.
The most recent hearing, scheduled for 16 October, was cancelled because the judge did not turn up.
The case is all the more absurd because no complaint was filed by any the persons who might have felt they had been libelled by the article. The only item in the prosecution case file is a complaint by a certain “Vianney” who no one has met or heard of.
“Detrimental allegations” is a criminal offence in Democratic Republic of Congo. Under article 28 of Law 96-002 of June 1996, the publisher, editor and author of a defamatory article are all held responsible.
If Mukebayi is found guilty of “detrimental allegations” as defined in article 81 of the criminal code, he will face a possible one-year jail sentence and a fine.
Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
(photo: Mike Mukebayi)