CJA Newsletter

CJA Newsletter – June 2016

Asia

Bangladesh

CPJ condemns murder of Bangladeshi LGBT journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the murder of Bangladeshi journalist Xulhaz Mannan.  According to reports, the senior editor at gay rights magazine Roopbaan, who also worked at the US Agency for International Development, was stabbed to death at his home in Dhaka alongside a friend. A third person, described in some reports as a security guard, was injured, reports said. The attack follows the murders of four secular bloggers and a publisher by Islamic extremists in 2015, according to CPJ research. Roopbaan was founded in 2014 in an attempt to raise awareness of Bangladesh’s gay and transgender community.

CPJ’s Asia programme co-ordinator Bob Dietz said: “Authorities must immediately investigate the murder of Xulhaz Mannan, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Journalists and intellectuals are under attack in Bangladesh and the government has done little to end the murderous mayhem or to ensure the safety of at-risk groups.”

India

Indian journalists’ protest – From CJA-India Facebook Page:

New Delhi: Journalists in India’s national capital came together on 16 May to demand justice for journalists Rajdeo Ranjan and Akhilesh Pratap Singh, who were murdered in two different incidents in Bihar’s Siwan and Jharkhand’s Chatra districts in the eastern region.

Holding a protest meeting in which the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) participated, followed by a candle light vigil, they also urged the government to immediately announce compensation for the families of the victims.

Organised by the Press Club of India and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC), participants demanded that the government make a law for the protection of journalists. A special leave petition before the Supreme Court of India was also mooted to get the highest court to issue directions to the government for a law that would be application to the whole country.

“This is the fifth condolence meet after the murder of journalists. If we do not take action now, we shall have to come again here for another. We plan to bring all the press clubs together and submit a petition to the Supreme Court seeking a law for protection of journalists,” said Rahul Jalali, President of Press Club of India. The PCI has taken the initiative to form a federation of press clubs in 17 cities.

Jalali said he’s noticed a creeping change over several years and worried that the pressure on journalists could ultimately hurt their credibility. “The moderate space, even politically, is sort of disappearing, even for journalists. Today, you’re being forced to take sides. There is a lot of self-censorship going on.”

“We need to have an insurance policy for journalists who work in conflict zones. The role of proprietors is very important here. Unfortunately, they just do not seem to care and protect their own reporter employees,” said Sushma Ramachandran, the President of the IWPC.

CJA President Mahendra Ved said that journalists as a community were cynical and reluctant about highlighting their own problems. In the present situation, although the government was responsible for law and order and to protect citizens, the media could not bank on that totally.  An atmosphere of intolerance prevailed in which critical media reports were dismissed as ‘conspiracy’ and those writing them were laelled ‘presstitutes’.

Collective bargaining has eroded in Indian media with more and more organizations employing people on contract. There was demand that the law to protect journalists should cover contract employees as well.  The worst sufferers were journalists working in small towns.

Akhilesh Singh is the fourth journalist to be killed since the creation of Jharkhand in November 2000, according to the records kept by media watchdog agencies like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

None of the previous three murders has been solved or the culprits brought to justice. A few people who were arrested in these cases managed to walk away free later.

Freelance journalist Adhir Rai was killed in Deoghar district in March 2000. Pramod Kumar Munna, who worked for local newspaper Samkalin Tapmaan, was also killed in Deoghar district in December 2007.

The decomposed body of Nalin Mishra, Editor of fortnightly Jharkhand Today, was recovered in Ranchi in April 2006.

Senior journalist Umakant Lakhera who has worked in Bihar and with Rajdeo, told the gathering that no eyewitness had come forward so far, that the police had detained a local leader of the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, Upendra Singh, and some of his henchmen on the basis of suspicion.

He added: “The modus operandi of the murder indicates it was meticulously planned, probably over months. Seasoned forensic experts suspect it was carried out by “professional killers”. The circumstantial evidence suggests Rajdeo knew at least one of his killers; they had apparently engaged him in a conversation before shooting him. Clearly, they had come with the intent to kill. Although Rajdeo was felled by the first two-three bullets, the assailants shot him again, point blank, in the head, just to make sure”.

Many of Rajdeo’s colleagues insist that the murder is directly linked to his journalistic work, not least because there’s no evidence of any other enmity. Indeed, the experienced journalist he was, Rajdeo made sure not to alienate people. But when it came to searching for facts and publishing his stories without bias, there was no compromise.

Rajdeo’s murder is another reminder of the perils journalists in small towns face every day. They are constantly under threat from local leaders, corrupt officials, contractors and criminals. The murder has reignited the debate on the necessity of a central law to protect journalists. Eliminating an honest journalist is often the easiest way for unscrupulous politicians and criminals to prevent their misdeeds from coming to light.

“Reporters in small towns and their families are especially vulnerable as there is no mechanism for their protection. The independence of the media can’t be safeguarded unless journalists feel secure doing their work. Owners of media houses, the editors’ guild and the press council must address this on priority. The debate over press freedom will be an exercise in futility unless and until journalists across the country get an assurance of safety and security.”

In all some 11 journalists have been killed since 2010, according to the CPJ. Most were working outside major cities, often covering small-town corruption, when they were killed.

IPI appeals to the Indian government

The International Press Institute (IPI) has issued a May statement calling on the Indian government to end what it called the “culture of impunity”. The 17 May statement said that: “India’s government needs to work harder to fight a culture of impunity for crimes against journalists, the International Press Institute said today after two journalists were gunned down in neighbouring eastern states of the country within a 24-hour period.”

The IPI said that Rajdeo Ranjan, bureau chief for the Hindi-language daily Hindustan in Bihar state’s Siwan district, had been shot five times in the head and chest at close range on 13 May, the day after the fatal shooting of Akhilesh Pratap Singh, a journalist for local Hindi television news channel Taza TV in Chatra district in the neighbouring Jharkhand state.

IPI said: “Police in Bihar indicated that Ranjan may have been killed because of his work as a journalist. Local reports have suggested that he was on a ‘hit list’ of targets issued from jail by former Siwan MP Mohammed Shahabuddin. Ranjan had reported extensively on Shahabuddin, who has been behind bars since 2005 for his role in a number of murders and who allegedly maintains close links to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) party, which co-governs Bihar.

Police in Jharkhand said that they had arrested two people for Singh’s murder and that another two were being sought. However, they also indicated that they believed the dispute was not related to the journalist’s work, but was instead linked to a dispute over ‘contract work’ he had performed”.

“IPI called on Indian authorities to end a growing culture of impunity for crimes against journalists.”

 

Journalists claim intimidation in Chhattisgarh

The BBC wrote in late May that journalists are leaving the state of Chhattisgarh. The article stated that: “About 50 journalists from the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh recently gathered in Delhi to demand an end to intimidation at the hands of the authorities, and urged the government to provide a conducive environment for independent reportage. Since July 2015, at least four journalists have been arrested, two others left the state and many more continue to face harassment daily.”

“The large number of journalists who have quit their profession in the past six months is probably unprecedented and that shows how grave the fear is,” said Kamal Shukla, President of Patrakaar Suraksha Kanoon

Sanyukt Sangarsh Samiti, a group fighting to bring a law to protect journalists in the state.

The Chhattisgarh government on 20 May announced the formation of a high-level committee, consisting of journalists and civil servants, to investigate the arrests.

Even though this move seems like a successful culmination of their protest, journalists said they will wait to see the working of this committee before rejoicing.

Click here for more.

 

Malaysia

The fall-out from the high-profile 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial controversy has notched up its latest casualty. The former group editor at Malaysia’s New Straits Times (NST) Mustapha Kamil revealed in late May that he had left the NST in April over the way the 1MDB story had been broken in 2015 by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Mr Mustapha, who had worked at the NST for more than 25 years, said in an open letter posted on his Facebook account on 31 May that the breaking of the story abroad had meant that the NST had not achieved its mission and had established partnerships with “some shady characters”. His letter added: “I had weighed the situation for as long as I could but when an American newspaper, headquartered somewhere in Lower Manhattan in New York, wrote a story that got nominated for the coveted Pullitzer Prize, about an issue that happened right under my nose, I began to seriously search my conscience and asked myself why was I in journalism in the first place.”

The 1MDB case stems from a state fund set up in 2009 to turn Kuala Lumpur into a financial hub. Allegations had bubbled away in the Malaysian national media and then went global in 2015 when the Wall Street Journal picked up on the story. Prime Minister Najib Razak has constantly denied any wrongdoing and his attorney general has said that

there is no evidence for a charge. The ensuing fall-out abroad has included questions in Singapore’s banking sector, a Goldman Sachs probe and responses from a fund in Abu Dhabi.

The media fall-out has included the resignation of the NST’s Mustapha Kamil, the detention of some Australian journalists and reports of pressure on other Malaysian media outlets over their coverage. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said that The Malaysian Insider had closed its editorial operations after the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission had blocked local access to the site. The CPJ said “the closure of the English language portal comes amid a government clampdown on independent media, particularly outlets that have critically covered the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that has engulfed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. In recent months, CPJ has documented how authorities have censored, harassed and threatened individual journalists and media outlets in retaliation for their critical coverage.”

Checks by the CJA indicated that The Malaysian Insider website is no longer available but its Twitter feed provides a goodbye from its team. The 1MDB story rumbles on in parliament and in other media houses at home and abroad.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s cybercrime bill goes to the upper house

Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 draft law was passed in April by the country’s National Assembly and was presented in May to the upper house. The so-called Cybercrimes Bill is aimed at preventing online harassment, cyber stalking and blackmail, but has also been criticised by civil society groups for being too draconian and for putting too much power in the executive’s hands.  Al Jazeera reported that only 30 of the Assembly’s 342 members had been present when the bill was passed and that the vote had been taken at a time when the par

-liamentary debate had focused on members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family being named in the Panama Papers. Dawn newspaper said that online criticism of religion, the country, its courts, and the armed forces were among subjects which could invoke official intervention under the bill. Dawn had said in an editorial about the bill when it went to the National Assembly that the legislation was “tough on individuals’ rights [and] soft on crime”.

Sri Lanka

Government official and CPJ condemn attach on Sri Lankan editor

Both the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) and a Sri Lankan Government spokesman have condemned an attack on Freddy Gamage, editor of the Sinhala-language Meepura newspaper.

Mr Gamage was attacked on 2 June by two men wearing helmets as he walked to his vehicle after covering a local government council meeting in the town of Negombo, 35 km north of Colombo. They attacked him with a wooden pole and pursued him back to the municipal building. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment for a head injury.

Government spokesman Dharshani Gunatilaka said the Sri Lankan government “would never again allow media suppression, which prevailed during the past, to reoccur”.

The motive was not known but the CPJ said that Mr Gamage is known for his reporting on crime and corruption and had criticised alleged official corruption in an article in Meepura on 1 June. The CPJ said that the Sri Lankan authorities should ensure a thorough investigation into the attack.

CPJ Asia Programme co-ordinator Bob Dietz said: “The government’s vows not to let Sri Lanka return to the bad old days of rampant attacks on journalists must be followed by swift and effective justice … We call on the government to find those responsible for planning and executing

the attack on Freddy Gamage and to punish them with the full force of the law.”.

And Finally:

Comments to journalists from Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at a lunch at Marlborough House to mark the close of the CJA’s April conference: “You are the salt which flavours our democracy and, if salt has no flavour, no power, no piquancy, no bite, then it makes our food tasteless.”.

 

About the author

Debbie Ransome

Editor, Caribbean Intelligence

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