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The campaign for tomorrow's parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan was marked by the lack of an alternative to the ruling party – a lack of pluralism that also characterizes the Kazakh media landscape.
The witchhunt against critical media is not letting up in Kazakhstan, which is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index. Made paranoid by the economic crisis and the advanced age of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president since independence in 1991, the authorities have been steadily reinforcing their media and information monopoly.
“Independent media are indispensible for a democratic debate and, without them, no election is credible,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“We urge the international community to draw the necessary conclusions from this predictable farce. It would be disgraceful if the European Union, in particular, were to ratify its Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Kazakhstan when this country is openly violating its own undertakings.”Imprisoned journalists
Guzal Baidalinova, the editor of the independent news website Nakanune.kz, has been held for nearly three months in the southern city of Almaty on a trumped-up charge of spreading false news about the Kazkommertsbank. Her lawyer, who says he has not yet been allowed access to her case file, fears that that her provisional detention will be extended when the current period expires on 23 March.
A Nakanune.kz reporter, Yulia Kozlova, was meanwhile finally acquitted and released on 29 February after being arrested on a trumped-up drug possession charge last December.
Encouraged by the way national media outlets are persecuted, provincial strongmen do not hesitate to silence troublesome journalists either. In the northeastern city of Pavlodar, local newspaper editor Yaroslav Golyshkin's sentence to eight years in prison and confiscation of his property was upheld on appeal on 23 February.
Convicted on charges of blackmail and extortion, Golyshkin is one of the scapegoats of a spectacular scandal involving the regional governor's son. The Pavlodar court took two days to reject his appeal, which was heard in his absence. His lawyer is now preparing to appeal to a national court in the hope that it could prove more neutral and less sympathetic to the governor than the local court.Stifled media outlets, controlled Internet
The only remaining independent, Kazakh-language national newspaper, the daily Jas Alash, was ordered to pay 40 million tenge (more than 100,000 euros) in libel damages to the director of a clinic on appeal on 4 March. This ruinous damages award, which threatens the newspaper's survival, is a method that has been used systematically against independent media outlets in recent years.
In late October, the authorities got the better of the opposition newspaper ADAM, previous versions of which had been published year after year only to be always banned. Tired of this cat-and-mouse game, owner Guljan Yergaliyeva has decided for the time being not to publish any more versions.
The Kazakh Internet has long ceased to function as space for free expression. Since 26 January, Internet users and access providers have to get a “national security certificate” from state-owned Kazakhtelecom that gives the authorities direct access to their connection data and allow them to decrypt encrypted traffic. The list of activists who have been given jail terms for their Facebook posts includes Yermek Narymbayev, Serikhan Mambetalin and Bolatbek Bialov.
The already fraught climate for the media in Kazakhstan became suffocating after the bloody crackdown on rioting in Zhanaozen in December 2011 and the closure of all the leading national opposition newspapers a year later.
(Photo: AFP photo / Stanislav Filippov)
Next week, President Barack Obama will visit Cuba, the first sitting President of the United States to do so since 1928. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written an open letter to President Obama asking him to consider freedom of the press and access to information top priorities during his trip.
Paris, March 18, 2016
Dear Mr. President,
While you are about to embark on a landmark visit to Cuba next week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges you to make freedom of the press and access to information top priorities. As the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in 88 years, you have the power and the duty to positively influence its policies on these issues, by raising them both publicly and privately with Cuban President Raúl Castro, the Cuban people, and during your meetings with the press and Cuban civil society. We must stress how important it is that you meet with journalists and members of civil society to hear first hand how their rights are being restricted.
Cuba represents the Western Hemisphere's lowest position on Reporters Without Borders' 2015 World Press Freedom Index, ranking 169th out of 180 countries. The Cuban government maintains a complete monopoly on information and will not tolerate any independent voices, ensuring that there is no free media. It is almost impossible to broadcast and publish information without authorization from the government. Media sources that have not received official recognition are deemed illegal and are censored. Foreign journalists are also subject to Cuba's censorship practices and restrictions, receiving accreditation only selectively. Furthermore, when foreign journalists cover stories that portray the current regime “too negatively,” they are deported.
In addition to its tradition of censorship, Cuba has a long history of violence and harassment toward journalists. Many journalists working for independent media have received violent threats from the government. Roberto de Jesus Guerra, editor of independent news agency and free speech NGO Hablemos Press, was physically attacked by the Internal Security Department in June 2014. Another correspondent from the same publication was run down by a car that same month. In July 2015, many activists and journalists were arrested at a protest organized by the “Ladies in White” opposition movement, but were never charged. Arrests, confiscation of equipment, and short detentions continue to occur on a regular basis for journalists covering this opposition movement and other events.
While the number of journalists imprisoned in Cuba has dwindled since 2010, the independent blogger from the agency Yayabo Press Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García who was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March 2014 on charges of illegally slaughtering cattle, remains behind bars. He claimed that the charges against him were fabricated due to his reporting. Yoeni has repeatedly been the victim of violence and possible torture by prison staff. RSF advocated for his release as part of the amnesty preceding Pope Francis' visit to Cuba last September, yet Yoeni still languishes in prison.
Even after the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations last summer, the climate for free media still needs to improve. So far in 2016, the Cuban government has arrested three journalists, detained one, and banned distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Authorities also found journalist and bookseller Ángel Herrera Oviedo murdered last month.
Additionally, Cuba is among the worst nations in the world for Internet Access. Civilian use of the Internet has only been legal since June 2013, and even then it is regulated by the state. According to the United Nations Broadband Commission, less than five percent of households in Cuba have Internet access, which ranks 115th out of 133 countries. American aid worker Alan Gross, who you worked to free in 2014, spent five years in a Cuban prison for working on a project to help provide Cuban citizens better internet access.
In post-embargo Cuba, barriers to press freedom must be broken. Arrests of independent journalists, confiscation of material, and short detentions happen daily or weekly. The United States has the opportunity and the responsibility to facilitate a change through diplomacy. Now is the time to urge the government to allow independent media to operate without fear of violence or arrest. Now is the time to make sure all of Cuba's many voices are heard.
I thank you in advance, Mr. President, for the attention you give to this letter.
Christophe Deloire Secretary-General, Reporters Without Borders
We, the undersigned members of the Sport for Rights coalition, express our relief over the release of 15 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Human rights defender Rasul Jafarov, the founder of the Sport for Rights campaign, stepped out from Baku's Prison Number 10 into freedom on 17 March after spending 593 days unjustly jailed. The same day, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in Jafarov's case, acknowledging that his arrest and detention were politically motivated.
Jafarov was one of 14 political prisoners included in a presidential pardon decree signed on 17 March. The other political prisoners pardoned through that decree included journalists Parviz Hashimli, Hilal Mammadov, and Tofig Yagublu; human rights defenders Taleh Khasmammadov and Anar Mammadli; NIDA civic movement activists Rashadat Akhundov, Mahammad Azizov and Rashad Hasanov; bloggers Siraj Karimli and Omar Mammadov; former government official Akif Muradverdiyev; chairman of the National Statehood party Nemat Penahli; and Musavat party activist Yadigar Sadigov.
A further political prisoner, journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, was released on 17 March by the Baku Court of Appeals, which commuted his six-year prison sentence into a suspended five-year sentence. Mirkadirov had been unjustly jailed since April 2014 on politically motivated treason charges.
“We are incredibly relieved for those released yesterday, including Rasul Jafarov, who was arrested in August 2014 after launching our campaign to draw attention to human rights abuses taking place in Azerbaijan. But none of these 15 people ever should have been arrested in the first place, and dozens more remain unjustly jailed now, neglected by this pardon decree. They must be released, and this vicious cycle of politically motivated arrests must end”, said Rebecca Vincent, coordinator of the Sport for Rights campaign.
While the release of these political prisoners was the right step, we note that they never should have spent a single day in jail. Further, dozens of other political prisoners remain in Azerbaijani jails, including journalists Khadija Ismayilova and Seymur Hezi, human rights lawyer Intigam Aliyev, youth activist Ilkin Rustemzade, and opposition REAL movement leader Ilgar Mammadov, whose release has been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights.
We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and for an end to the cycle of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan. We urge the international community to continue to press for the release of the remaining political prisoners as a matter of urgent priority, and for further concrete reforms to improve the country's dire human rights situation.
Civil Rights Defenders
Committee to Protect Journalists
Front Line Defenders
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Index on Censorship
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Media Support
International Partnership for Human Rights
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
People in Need
Polish Green Network
Reporters Without Borders
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns US award-winning photojournalist Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi's manhandling by members of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) while she filmed a peaceful street demonstration in Goma, the capital of the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, on 15 March.
Four ANR officers used force against Alhindawi as they tried to arrest her but she managed to escape by clinging to a vehicle belonging to the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO.
Alhindawi, who works for the magazine Causette and freelances for other media such as CNN, Al Jazeera, National Geographic and The New York Times, was the only journalist covering the march, staged by a group called LUCHA (Struggle for Change).
“The fact that Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi, a foreign reporter, was one of the only journalist who dared to cover the LUCHA march is symptomatic of the unease and self-censorship that prevails today in Nord-Kivu province,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF's Africa desk. “We urge the province's authorities to allow journalists to do their work and to freely report what is going on within Congolese civil society.”
A civil society movement that defines itself as non-violent, non-partisan and peaceful, LUCHA is calling for democratic renewal in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 47 participants in the demonstration marched with their hands tied and their mouths gagged in protest against the systematic gagging of the movement. Nineteen of them were arrested for “disturbing public order” and are still detained.
The march was held to mark the anniversary of the arrest of two LUCHA members, Fred Bauma and Yves Makuambala, during a meeting that LUCHA organized in Goma in March 2015 with representatives of similar movements in Burkina Faso (“Balais citoyen”) and Senegal (“Y'en a marre”).
The authorities portrayed the meeting as “terrorist” in nature, a description that was rejected by a parliamentary committee. Bauma and Makuambala nonetheless continue to be held in Kinshasa on a charge of conspiring against President Joseph Kabila.
During a visit last month, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon voiced concern about the restriction of political space in the DRC. The clampdown and other developments are seen as signs that Kabila, who was been president for the past 15 years, may be tempted to indefinitely postpone the presidential election due to be held at the end of this year.
The DRC is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
Photo: Charly Kasereka, VOA
17.03.2016 - Sent into exile after four years in prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the ruthless manner in which the judicial authorities are enforcing the sentence imposed in 2013 on journalist and researcher Said Madani. Released on 15 March, after four years in prison, Madani has been ordered to travel at once to the southern city of Bandar Abbas to begin a period of two years in exile there.
A sociologist and writer (who has written many articles for independent media outlets), Madani was freed under article 134 of the new Islamic criminal code (as amended in 2013), under which someone convicted of more than one crime serves only the main sentence.
After being arrested by plainclothesmen at his Tehran home on 7 January 2012, Madani spent a year in isolation in Section 209 of Tehran's Evin prison. The decision to sentence him to a jail term followed by exile was taken by a Tehran revolutionary court on 18 June 2013.
18.02.2016 – Four Narenji website employees returned to prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns yesterday's rearrest of four senior members of the Narenji (Orange) tech news website to begin serving long jail sentences that were confirmed on appeal. The four – Ali Asghar Honarmand, Hossien Nozari, Ehsan Paknejad and Abass Vahedi – are sentenced to eleven, seven, five and two and a half years in prison respectively.
Originally arrested along with seven colleagues in the southeastern city of Kerman on 3 December 2013, they were convicted by a Kerman court on 24 May 2014 on charges of “anti-government publicity,” “actions threatening national security” and “collaborating with TV stations based abroad.” Their seven colleagues received suspended sentences. All were freed in return for payment of large bail amounts. A court upheld the sentences on 30 November 2015 but the authorities did not notify them prior to the time of their rearrest.
12.02.2016 - Former BBC journalist detained in Tehran
Reporters Without Borders condemns the detention of Bahman Darolshafai, a 34-year-old former BBC journalist with British and Iranian dual nationality. Arrested at his Tehran home by plainclothesmen on 3 February, he managed to make a short phone call to his mother five days later, telling her he was “in a cell in Evin prison and under interrogation.”
After several years in London, Darolshafa left the BBC's Persian Service n 2014 and returned to Iran. Thereafter he was repeatedly interrogated by intelligence ministry officials and was forbidden to do any kind of journalistic activity. He had been translating literary and philosophical works.
2.02.2016 - Four journalists held provisionally for past two months
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the continuing provisional detention of four journalists who were the victims of a wave of arrests exactly two months ago, on 2 November 2015 .
Mahmoud Alizadeh-Tabatabaie, a lawyer representing two of the four, said: “There are differences between the investigation judge and the prosecutor as regards the charges against my clients.” He is defending Ehssan Mazndarani, the editor of the daily Farhikhteghan, and Issa Saharkhiz, a well-known independent journalist.
As well as being accused of “propaganda activities against the government,” they are also charged with “acting against national security by means of meetings” and “conspiring against and insulting government officials.”
The case has been sent to the Tehran revolutionary court, whose president, Aboughasem Salevati, has been persecuting journalists and online information providers for years. He staged the “Stalin-style” mass trials in August 2009 and alone is responsible for convicting more than 100 journalists.
The other two journalists arrested on 2 November are Afarine Chitsaz of the daily Iran and Saman Safarzai of the monthly Andisher Poya. All four continue to be denied all their rights.
14.01.2016 – Woman journalist detained for fourth time since 2009
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns journalist Rihaneh Tabtabai's detention for the fourth time since 2009. Tabtabai, who has worked for Shargh, Etemad, Bahar and other reformist newspapers, was jailed on 12 January to serve a one-year sentence on charges of endangering national security and anti-government publicity. Originally imposed by a revolutionary court in November 2014, the sentence was upheld by a Tehran appeal court two months ago. She is also sentenced to a two-year ban on political and journalistic activity in the media and online after she completes the jail term.
After being arrested on 12 December 2010, she was released on bail of 10 million toman (7,500 euros) on 16 January 2011. On 2 April 2012, she received a two-year jail sentence from a Tehran revolutionary court that was reduced to six months on appeal. She served the sentence from 21 June to 11 November 2014. She was also detained from 31 January to 26 February 2013, when she was freed on bail.
12.01.2016 – Journalist sent back to prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Meisam Mohammadi's reimprisonment on 8 January. A onetime political editor of Kalameh Sabaz (a daily closed by the authorities in June 2009) and contributor to the Beheshti Foundation website, Mohammadi was arrested at his home by intelligence ministry officials on 10 February 2010 and was freed on bail two months later, pending trial. He was sentenced in May 2012 to four years in prison and a five-year ban on journalistic and political activities on charges of anti-government publicity and “meeting to conspire against national security.”
Kalameh Sabaz's owner, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the writer Zahra Rahnavard (who is Mousavi wife) and Mehdi Karoubi, a former parliamentary speaker and owner of the closed newspaper Etemad Melli, are still illegally held under house arrest and have been detained since 24 February 2011. Mousavi and Karoubi, who were both presidential candidates in 2009, have also been stripped of all of their rights. Their state of health is very worrying.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the four-year jail sentence that a court in the southeastern state of Bolívar has imposed on David Natera Febres, the editor of the independent Correo del Caroní newspaper, in connection with its coverage of alleged corruption involving a state-owned company.
In RSF's view, this iniquitous sentence, passed on 11 March, is designed to gag investigative journalism and reinforce the climate of censorship in Venezuela.
As well as giving Natera a four-year jail term on a defamation charge, the court fined him more than 200,000 bolívares (20,000 dollars) and banned the newspaper from publishing any information about the case.
Natera and his newspaper were convicted in connection with their coverage in 2013 of a case of alleged corruption and extortion involving army officers and the Ferrominera Orinoco company, which mines iron ore. The newspaper's reporting led to the arrest of several of the company's managers, but they were later released.
“We question the real motives of the court's decision and suspect another attempt by the authorities to censor and intimidate the independent press,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF's Latin America desk. “Venezuela's independent media are the victims of institutional persecution. The authorities must respect the fundamental principle of a right to information.”
One of the few independent newspapers in Venezuela, the Correo del Caroní has been subjected to many different forms of harassment by the authorities in Bolívar state in recent years.
It has been denied state advertising, pressure has been put on private-sector companies not to place advertising with the newspaper, newsstand owners have been bribed not to sell it, and it has been threatened with seizure of its headquarters.
This defamation case is not the first of its kind in Venezuela. In May 2015, RSF issued a press release condemning a judge's decision to ban 22 editors and executives of three independent media outlets from leaving the country when a suit was brought against them accusing them of “aggravated and continuing defamation.”
Journalists who cover corruption involving government officials or cases of violence by state agents are often the targets of harassment or physical violence, especially during elections.
Venezuela is ranked 137th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
Syria's authorities should reveal the whereabouts of Bassel Khartabil, a software developer and free speech activist, and release him immediately, 32 organizations said on the fourth anniversary of his detention
On 15 March 2012, Military Intelligence arrested Khartabil and held him in incommunicado detention for eight months before moving him to ‘Adra prison in Damascus in December 2012. During this time he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment. He remained in ‘Adra until 03 October 2015, when he managed to inform his family that he was being transferred to an undisclosed location. Since then his whereabouts remain unknown and there are serious concerns for his life.
Based on unconfirmed information that the family received from some local sources, there are fears that he may have been tried and sentenced to death by a Military Field Court in the Military Police headquarters in Al-Qaboun, Damascus. These courts are notorious for conducting closed-door proceedings that do not meet minimum international standards for a fair trial.
Since his detention, many human rights groups have campaigned for his release. On 21 April 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared his detention a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and called for his release, yet the Syrian authorities refuse to free him.
A Syrian of Palestinian parents, Khartabil is a 34-year-old computer engineer who worked to build a career in software and web development. Before his arrest, Khartabil used his technical expertise to help advance freedom of speech and access to information via the internet. He has won many awards, including the 2013 Index on Censorship Digital Freedom Award for using technology to promote an open and free internet, and was named one of Foreign Policy magazine's Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012 “for insisting, against all odds, on a peaceful Syrian revolution.”
The signatory organizations express concern at his on-going arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance and believe that it is a direct result of his peaceful and legitimate work for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression.
The groups call on the authorities in Syria to:
- Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Bassel Khartabil and grant him access to a lawyer of his choice and to his family;
- Ensure that he is protected from torture and other ill-treatment;
- Immediately and unconditionally release him;
- Release all detainees in Syria held for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Euromed Rights (EMRHN)
Front Line Defenders (FLD)
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (HIVOS)
Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)
International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists' Rights (IJRDA)
International Media Support (IMS)
Index on Censorship
Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA)
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
Metro Centre to Defend Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan
No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ)
PAX for Peace
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Samir Kassir Foundation
Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
The Day After
Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Violations Documentations Center (VDC)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes this week's decision by a court in Bukavu, in the eastern province of Sud-Kivu, to pass a jail sentence on a regional government employee for threatening Donat Musema, the director of Bukavu-based community radio station Iriba FM, in June 2015.
Coming in the wake of a decree ratified by Sud-Kivu's governor a month ago on the protection of journalists, the ruling is a victory for freedom of information.
On 14 March, the court sentenced Vianey Shamamba, an official in the provincial administration, to eight days in prison and a fine equivalent to 2,500 dollars. The case was heard in response to the complaint that Musema filed in June 2015 about Shamamba's death threats against him.
Shamamba threatened Musema after the radio station broadcast a speech delivered in Bukavu by Vital Kamerhe, a former supporter of President Joseph Kabila turned political opponent. RSF issued a press release at the time condemning the threats against Musema and the harassment to which he and colleagues were subjected.
“We hail the Bukavu court's decision,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF's Africa desk. “We also welcome the positive effect of the decree protecting journalists, which seems to have had an impact on the court, and we encourage the Congolese courts to continue on this path so that journalists can do their job without having to fear abuse of authority.”
The decree protecting Sud-Kivu's human rights defenders and journalists was ratified by provincial governor Marcellin Cishambo on 10 February, two years after having been voted. It guarantees the confidentiality of journalists' sources and the right to inform and be informed. It also says the authorities have a duty to protect journalists.
Musema's right to file a complaint was guaranteed by article 7 of the decree, which says: “In the event that their rights are violated in connection with their activities, human rights defenders and journalists can refer the matter to the competent judicial authorities.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
Photo: Donat Musema (in blue) on his way to file his complaint (Kivu reporters, juin 2016)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its concern about the conditions in which journalists are being detained in Iran, especially Afarine Chitsaz of the daily newspaper Iran, a young woman arrested at the same time as three other journalists on 2 November.
She was able to make a short phone call after her arrest but the authorities have provided no official information about her detention.
According to the information obtained by RSF, she is now being held in isolation in Section 2A of Tehran's Evin prison. The Revolutionary Guards control this section and subject detainees to a great deal of pressure, often with the aim of extracting confessions to be used at their trials.
Iran is the world's biggest prison for women journalists, with four others currently held. The other four – Rihaneh Tabatabai, Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, Narges Mohammadi and Atena Ferghdani – are serving jail terms ranging from one to twelve years and some some are in poor health.
There is also concern about the state of health of Issa Saharkhiz, a well-known independent journalist who is being tried along with Ehssan Mazndarani and Saman Safarzai by a Tehran revolutionary court on charges of “activities threatening national security” and anti-government propaganda. After going on hunger strike and suffering a heart attack, Saharkhiz has been in a Tehran hospital since 10 March.
“On the eve of the Iranian New Year on 20 March, many journalists and citizen- journalists are separated from their families,” said Reza Moini, the head of RSF's Iran/Afghanistan desk. “The Iranian authorities – including President Hassan Rouhani, whose silence facilitates this persecution – could display clemency towards these detainees, who have been arrested arbitrarily and convicted unjustly. We call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
RSF has meanwhile learned that Saraj Mirdamadi, a journalist who worked for various media outlets including Hayat-é-No (a daily closed in January 2003) and Zamaneh (a radio station based in the Netherlands), was released conditionally on 13 March. He was freed under article 58 of the Islamic criminal code (as amended in 2013), under which detainees who have served a third of their sentence can be released for good behaviour. Arrested on 10 May 2014, he was convicted on 21 July 2015 on charges of “meeting and plotting against the Islamic Republic” and “anti-government publicity.”
With a total of 36 journalists and citizen-journalists currently detained, Iran is still one of the world's five biggest prisons for media personnel and is ranked 173rd out of 180 countriesin the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Burmese authorities to do everything possible to arrest and prosecute all those who had anything to do with last week's bomb explosion at the home of Min Min, the chief editor of the Root Investigative Agency (RIA), in the troubled western state of Arakan.
It was the first time that a media professional has been the target of an act of violence of this kind in Burma.
“We are very concerned so see media freedom's enemies crossing this threshold,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.
“We take note of the initial measures adopted by the security forces and we urge them to redouble efforts to identify and catch this attack's perpetrators and instigators. A strong message must be sent to those who target news providers, in order to prevent a climate of impunity and an ensuing climate of violence and self-censorship.”
Based in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan, RIA has often been the target of threats, especially on social networks, ever since its creation in August 2015. RIA's journalists have been warned on Facebook that “your time is near.”
A message posted after the explosion said: “This was only a warning and more attacks are coming.” In Viber and Facebook discussion groups, a price of “20 lakhs” (27,000 euros) has been put on the heads of RIA's two leading journalists.
The bomb went off in the garden of Min Min's home at around 11:20 p.m. on 10 March. No one was hurt, but only by chance. The police protected the house until the next morning.
The local authorities said the Arakan Army, an armed separatist group, may have been behind the bombing even if it has not claimed responsibility. RIA said it thought its investigative reported prompted the attack.
Ever since the clashes between the local Buddhists and Muslims groups in Arakan state in June 2012, many Burmese and foreign journalists have been subjected to intimidation and even prevented from working freely.
After discussing the problems resulting from the lack of information about the violence, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in June 2013 calling for journalists to be given unrestricted access to sensitive regions of Burma such as Arakan state, where people of Rohingya origin are in the majority.
Read the report entitled “Crisis in Arakan state and new threats to freedom of information” that RSF published in June 2012.
Burma is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
- Trushar Barot, Assistant editor of the UGC and Social Media Hub, BBC News, ‘The changing face of newsgathering in the social and digital age’
- RISJ seminar, Wednesday 11 June