Newsletter January 2015

Asia Report

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Written by Debbie Ransome

Bangladesh TV owner arrested

On 6 January, police entered the Dhaka offices of privately-owned Ekushey TV and arrested owner Abdus Salam. The Information Ministry said that the charges related to the country’s 2012 Pornography Control Act and a complaint filed alleging a false report about a woman in late 2014. Mr Salam’s lawyer later said that the accusations were denied. Local journalists said that the charges followed a speech broadcast the day before on the station allowing Tarique Rahman, the son of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, to call during a broadcast from London for the toppling of the current government. The CPJ condemned the arrest and reported that ETV had become unavailable in several parts of Bangladesh following Mr Rahman’s speech.

Bangladesh on countries list of jailed journalists

In the CPJ report on the jailing of journalists in 2014, the CPJ found that the number of prisoners rose over 2013 in Eritrea, Ethiopia, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Saudi Arabia. The CPJ also reported on the 2 December conviction in Bangladesh of British journalist David Bergman for contempt in connection with his reporting. The court ruled that Bergman’s writing ‘portraying derogatory criticism’ had ‘hurt the feelings of the nation’ and ordered him to pay a 5,000 taka (US$65) fine or serve seven days in prison, news reports said. The court added that Bergman’s reporting ‘tended to attack and [lower] the authority and majesty of the Tribunal’. Click here for the court ruling.

Indian Hebdo reprint editor arrested

The Editor of a daily Urdu-language newspaper in Mumbai which had reprinted a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed from Charlie Hebdo has been arrested. Police said on 29 January that Editor Shirin Dalvi had been arrested and bailed. The charges were under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which bans malicious and deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings.

Pakistan Hebdo clash

AFP photographer, Asif Hassan, was shot and wounded on 16 January while covering clashes over French Magazine Charlie Hebdo. Police clashed with supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami religious party who had been demonstrating in Karachi over the magazine. It was unclear whether the shooting had been accidental and from where the shot originated. Mr Hassan underwent surgery to his chest. A police officer and a local cameraman also suffered minor injuries.

Threats to journalists in Pakistan

Pakistan has been ranked by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) as the most dangerous country with 14 journalists killed in 2014. It was followed by Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan. Click here to read the full IFJ 2014 report.

IFJ President Jim Boumelha said ‘It is time for action in the face of unprecedented threats to journalists who are targeted not only to restrict the free flow of information, but increasingly as leverage to secure huge ransoms and political concessions through sheer violence’. Specifically on Pakistan, the IFJ said: ‘The IFJ and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) express deep concerns over the miserable condition of journalists in the country as the IFJ’s annual List of Journalists and Media Staff Killed in 2014 puts Pakistan as the most dangerous country with 14 killings….The PFUJ has termed 2014 as one of the worst years in decades for Pakistan media saying that not a single case of these incidents has been prosecuted in the court’.

Pakistan journalist’s high profile marriage

British-Pakistan journalist, Reham Khan, has married former cricketer and politician, Imran Khan (no relation) at a quiet ceremony on 8 January. Ms Khan who currently hosts a talk show on Dawn TV, has previously worked as a broadcast journalist at the BBC as well as in local radio in the UK. The marriage ended weeks of speculation over whether Pakistan’s most famous bachelor would tie the knot for a second time. This is also the second marriage for Reham.

Sri Lanka – Press freedom requests made to new President

Media freedom organisations have called for changes in repressive press measures following the change of government in Sri Lanka in 8 January general elections. In a blog entitled ‘How Sri Lanka’s new president Maithripala Sirisena can ease decade of repressive press measures’, Sumit Galhotra, the Asia Programme Research Associate for the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), wrote:

The stunning defeat of Sri Lanka’s incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa by challenger Maithripala Sirisena on Friday has given way to questions about what changes, if any, will come for press freedom in a country that had grown deeply repressive under the previous leadership.

Sirisena’s candidacy was backed by many local media advocates and freedom of expression groups, including the Free Media Movement, but commentators have advised that any jubilation over his victory should be tempered. While Sirisena has pledged to tackle corruption and ensure greater transparency, he draws his support from many of the same actors as the previous government. “Sirisena has promised to abolish the strong presidency introduced by Mr. Rajapaksa and return the country to a parliamentary system, but the coalition around him is a sprawling, diverse one, including Buddhist nationalists, Marxists and centre-right politicians, among others,” wrote journalists Ellen Barry and Dharisha Bastians in The New York Times after the win, which Barry described as “a jaw-dropper.”

And Indian journalist Samanth Subramanian, writing in The New Yorker, said, “Like Rajapaksa, Sirisena ardently courts the Buddhist right, and he has said that he won’t diminish the strength or the influence of the Army.”

Click here to read more of this CPJ blog.

Before the elections, the Free Media Movement (FMM), an affiliate of the IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) in Sri Lanka had condemned a number of year-end threats to journalists ahead of the poll. The FMM had also handed over a short term proposal for media reform to Mr Sirisena while he had been in opposition. The proposals included a focus for the new government on freedom of information, the abolition of impunity and censorship, media independence and suggestions on social responsibility. The IFJ congratulated President Sirisena after the poll and called on him to deliver the short-term proposal of re-establishing freedom of expression rights in Sri Lanka and to give the FMM media reform proposal the highest priority. The IFJ said: ‘Impunity is a major issue for press freedom in Sri Lanka as investigations into killings, disappearance, attacks and threats on journalists and media institutions have not taken place. The IFJ urges the new Sri Lankan government to immediately establish mechanism to investigate crimes against journalists and ensure the safety of media workers across the country’.

Malaysia

The South East Asia Journalists Union (SEAJU) has called on the Malaysian government to repeal the 1984 Printing Press and Publication Act. The SEAJU said in late December that the Act hindered journalists from being the check and balance of elected representatives and government. It added that the campaign against the Act needed to continue because it was ‘offensive’ to the country’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.

About the author

Debbie Ransome

Editor, Caribbean Intelligence

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