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Journalists as Human Rights Defenders

In November 2009 the 21st Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting will be held in Trinidad and Tobago. As part of their advocacy program CHRI are investigating the ongoing problems faced by Human Rights Defenders throughout the commonwealth. Human Rights Defenders are individuals who make it their job to investigate, expose and publicise ongoing human rights abuses and it is a term that has been used to describe the work of journalists, lawyers, activists, politicians and others engaged in the process of defending human rights worldwide.

CHRI London is investigating the role of journalists as human rights defenders. On average forty journalists a year are killed through their work and journalists are often the target of police oppression, unlawful imprisonment and other systematic human rights abuses. Some governments are using draconian laws to suppress freedom of speech and are giving the police and the justice system far ranging arbitrary powers to suppress freedom of speech and stop journalist revealing the truth about human rights abuses.

This project aims to highlight the ongoing human rights abuses that journalists are facing in commonwealth countries and to contribute to the reforms and recommendations in CHRI's advocacy platform at this years Commonwealth Heads of Government.

News From Around the Commonwealth

Africa

Gambia

6 August 2009 six Gambian journalists arrested

Six Gambian journalists have reported to have been arrested on charges of seditious publication in June after they lent support to a press union statement criticizing the government have been found guilty of sedition by a court in the capital Banjul.

Nambia

22 July two foreign Journalists arrested

Namibia police arrested two foreign journalists for trespassing and working without accreditation. The journalist were arrested under the Marine Resources Act. The South African filmmaker and British cameraman were filming the annual Namibia seal hunt at Cape Cross. The two journalists were working for the British environmental group, Ecostorm. IFEX reports that the British High Commission in Namibia is investigating the matter.

Zambia

29 July 2009 presidential supporters attack journalists

Journalists were attacked by supporters of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) at Lusaka International Airport, Zambia. President Rupiah Banda has condemned the assault.

Zimbabwe

30 July 2009 Zimbabwean government lifts ban on BBC and CNN

The Zimbabwean government has lifted the ban preventing the BBC and CNN from reporting from Zimbabwe. The BBC last conducted operations in Zimbabwe 2001.

Botswana

12 June 2009 Botswana President drops law suit for defamation against 'Sunday Standard' newspaper

The President of Botwana, Ian Khama, has announced that he will not pursue a law suit against the 'Sunday Standard' newspaper for defamation. The planned legal action against the 'Sunday Standard' followed an article alleging that the President had knowledge of the death of John Kalafatis who was shot be security agents. A statement released by his office read stated that the President had decided to abandon his intention to sue the newspaper and again denied allegations that he had knowledge of the shooting.

Gambia

16 June 2009 Gambia newspaper editor convicted for 'publishing false information'

On 26 June IFEX reported that Abdul Hamid Adiamoh the editor and publisher of the Banjul-based 'Today' newspaper was convicted and fined 50,000 Gambian Dalasis (approx. US $1,900) for 'publishing false information'. Adiamoh was arrested on the 8 June and granted bail on the 15 June meaning he was detained for longer than the 72 hours stipulated under the 1997 Gambian Constitution. Following his arrest and detention of Adiamoh the newspaper the newspaper retracted the story and apologised to the ministers named in the article, and stopped further circulation of that particular edition.

Zambia

17 June 2009 Police raid Zambia TV station

On 17 June 2009 plain clothed police raided the privately-owned television station, Mobi TV. The officers had come to seize a copy of a live broadcast 'Meet your MP' which involved an opposition MP for Patriotic Front (PF). During the interview the opposition MP had commented on the controversial reappointment of former transport minister, Dora Siliya, to a post in the Education Ministry. Siliya had resigned from her previous office after being found guilty of a breach of the constitution by an independent tribunal.

Zimbabwe

18 June 2009 Zimbabwe police assault journalist of state-controlled newspaper

On 18 June 2009, Regis Nyandima, a photographer with national, state-owned, daily newspaper 'The Herald' was assaulted by police in Harare. Nyandima was photographing a demonstration by the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) pressure group.

The Gambia - seven journalists arrested for criticising the government

On 18 June Reporters Without Borders revealed that over the past week seven journalists and press union leaders have been arrested for criticising the Gambian President for his comments regarding the unsolved 2004 murder of a prominent editor. They were arrested because of a press report published on 12 June by the Gambian Press Union (GPU). The statement criticised President Yahya Jammeh for his assertion that the state was not involved in the unsolved murder of Deyda Hydara and the President's statement that press freedom was respected in the country.

Zimbabwe journalist takes legal action following threats

On 18 June 2009 journalist Tatenda Chitagu of the Masvingo province Zimbabwe newspaper 'The Mirror', has taken legal action against the provincial chairperson made threats against her after the publication of an article in which the official was alleged to have been involved in a criminal activity.

Zimbabwe government defy court order and ban journalists from covering summit

On 11 June 2009 Security officials defied a High Court order that let journalists cover Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Heads of State and Government summit in Victoria Falls summit, by refusing entry to four journalists.

8 June 2009: In Kenya witnesses in case of murdered journalist receive death threats

Key witnesses in the case of Francis Nyaruri, a journalist who was found dead in January 2009, have been forced into hiding after receiving death threats.

4 June 2009: Nigeria journalist forced into hiding after threats

Reporters Without Borders has written to the Nigerian government to ask for the guaranteed safety of a journalist went into hiding a week ago after being threatened.

3 June 2009: Cameroon journalists sentences to five years in prison by closed-door tribunal

Jacques Blaise Mvié and Charles René Nwe, the director and editor in chief of 'La Nouvelle' newspaper were sentenced behind closed doors to five years in prison and fined 500,000 Cameron francs (circa 1,000 US dollars) by a military tribunal in the capital city Yaoundé. The charges related to a series of articles criticising the government and accusing officials of corruption.
(Source in French)

2 June 2009: Two Ghana journalists arrested and released following six-hour detention

Two journalists, Awudu Mahama and Emmanuel Kubi, from private, Accra-based newspaper 'Daily Guide' were detained on for allegedly loitering around the security zone.

Zimbabwe Independent' editors to stand trial

A Harare Court has ruled that Vincent Kahiya and Constantine Chimakure, editors of the 'Zimbabwe Independent', should appear for trial on 16 June. The editors have been charged under Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which criminalises the communication of statements that are likely to undermine public confidence in law enforcement agents.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister announces that foreign journalists are free to report from Zimbabwe

Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, announced at a conference on 21 May that foreign journalists are free to report from Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai also announced plans to form a new commission to "facilitate the opening up of media space."
Foreign and local Journalists reporting in Zimbabwe have previously been victims of harassment or arrest. The BBC was banned from reporting inside Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's Prime minister states that there is no legal obligation for media to register until media commission is formed

On 21 May 2009, Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai stated that there was no legal obligation for local or foreign journalists to apply for accreditation until the establishment of the Zimbabwe Media.

Kenyan government to amend controversial Communications Act

The Kenyan government publishes amendments to the controversial Communications Act, which allowed the government to raid broadcasting stations. This announcement follows a concerted campaign by Kenyan journalists on this issue.

Sierra Leone court sets 'extortionate' bail for newspaper editor

Reporters Without Borders condemned the amount of bail a Freetown court has set for the release of the editor of the independent newspaper Awareness Times, Sylvia Blyden, as 'tantamount to judicial extortion'. Blyden, has been charged with publishing false information in a 12 May article about an alleged extramarital affair involving President Ernest Bai Koroma. Prior to handing herself in, Blyden had been a target of death threats and harassment by the authorities.

Closure and arrest of staff of private opposition radio station in Malawi

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern after the closure of the privately owned opposition Joy Radio and the arrest of four staff, including two journalists, accused of breaking election rules.

Ghana's ruling party's supporters vandalise radio station and attack employees

A group of armed supporters of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) ruling party targeted the premises of the privately-owned Classic FM and attacked three radio station employees in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana.

Botswana security services watch newspaper reporter

Reuben Pitse, a reporter for Botswana newspaper the 'Sunday Standard', states that he was under security surveillance following his story on the killing of John Kalafatis by security agents on May 13, 2009.

In Swaziland the Government reaffirms commitments to trial new media bill

The Swazi Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini, reaffirmed his commitment to pilot a Media Commission Bill. This Bill is aimed at regulating the media by statute. Dlamini stated that the Bill will help strengthen the capacity of the Media Complaints Commission.

Kenyan Government attempting Restrictions on the Press

The Kenyan government is attempting to pass a far reaching media bill that will significant restrict the freedom of press, the International Federation of Journalists reports.

Increasing attacks on the Ugandan journalists last year

There increasing instances of the Ugandan government using far reaching anti-terrorism laws against journalists.

ECOWAS asked to intervene in missing journalist case

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been asked to intervene on behalf of Ebrima Manneh, a Gambian journalist who has been missing since his arrest in July 2006.


Asia

Pakistan

30 July 2009 journalists beaten by lawyers in courthouse

A group of about twenty members of the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) attacked reporters from the private television channel City-42 for showing footage of lawyers beating a policeman a day earlier outside the premises of the Sessions Court, in Lahore.

August 2009 TV station employees detained

Three members of staff at the Sindh TV television channel were detained by armed men in Karachi. Amongst those detained were the reporter and leading unionist, Mushtaque Ahmed Sarki.

Sri Lanka

22 July 2009 Associated Press journalist barred from reporting in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government has denied Associated Press journalist Ravi Nessman a visa. Groups such as Reporters Without Borders have expressed concern regarding the motivations of the government in its course of action. Reporters Without Borders also estimates that more than eight foreign reporters or contributors to international media outlets have been forced to leave the country because of threats from the authorities or their supporters since 1 January 2009 and that at least 30 Sri Lankan journalists have fled their country since the start of 2008.

Sri Lanka

26 June 2009 Sri Lanka revives restrictive press laws

On 26 June the International Federation of Journalists condemned the move by the Sri LankaGovernment to re-establish the controversial Press Council. The Press Council is empowered by the Sri Lankan Press Council Act of 1973 to enact stringent limitations of press freedoms including the power to sentence journalists toextended periods in prison and to ban the publication of certain kinds information.

25 June 2009 Sri Lankan journalists probed by police to reveal sources

On 25 June IFEX reported that two Sri Lankan journalists had been interrogated by police in an attempt to make them reveal their sources. IFEX and Reporters Without Borders regard this a 'flagrant press freedom violations'.

Pakistan journalists claimed to be shot at by security forces

On 9 June 2009 Pakistan's security forces allegedly opened fire on members of a media team of AVT Khyber, a Pashto TV channel, and a photographer of the English-language newspaper 'Dawn'. A cameraperson and a driver were injured. The media team was on their way to cover events in Upper Dir, a North West district of province of Pakistan, which is currently the focus for military operations against the Taliban.

8 June 2009: Pakistan journalists assaulted at rally

Journalists assaulted by workers of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), the student wing of Jamat-e-Islami (JI), a religious political party while covering protest by students Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

2 June 2009: Sri Lanka journalist severely beaten

Yesterday in Columbo, the secretary-general of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), the country's leading journalist's organisation, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted by a gang, brutally beaten and then dumped at a roadside. He is being treated in hospital for serious leg injuries.

Freedom of expression activists urge Pakistan's president to protect journalists

On 27 May 2009 The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote to the President of Pakistan, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, to intervene in the case of three journalists in Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) who have been received death threats from individuals operating under the banner of the Taliban.

Sri Lankan Army urged to release three Tamil doctors arrested for providing the media with information

Reporters Without Borders urges the Sri Lankan Army to release three Tamil doctors who were arrested for providing the media with information about the humanitarian situation in Vanni.

Sri Lankan journalist attacked

The general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted and beaten in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Although serious, Jayantha's injuries are not reported to be life-threatening.

Sri Lankan Journalist Predicts his own death

Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge wrote an editorial predicting that his campaigning work would make him an assassination target. This editorial was published posthumously a reprinted by the Guardian.

Mass crack down on journalists in Fiji

Following the suspension of the constitution in April, foreign journalists have been threatened or forcibly expelled. All press is now tightly controlled by the government and there are numerous reports of journalists being imprisoned.

Pakistani Journalists Murdered

Journalists in Pakistan are facing increasing threats from extremist groups when they are covering the ongoing conflicts in the Taliban controlled Swat valley in Pakistan?s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Western Hemisphere

Jamaican Journalists arrested through police corruption

The Jamaican police arrested two journalists who refused to bribe them after the policemen were caught shooting an unarmed man.

Forthcoming Events

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