Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:14:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=217 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Free_Speech_Bites_Logo.jpg http://www.indexoncensorship.org Cyprus: Police confiscates photos of Greek trans activist http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/cyprus-police-confiscates-photos-greek-trans-activist/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/cyprus-police-confiscates-photos-greek-trans-activist/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 13:14:54 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=62019 The chairman of the NGO that organised the exhibition was charged with exhibiting obscene material in a public space

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The empty walls following the confiscation of Paola Revenioti’s work (Photo: Accept)

Gay rights NGO Accept-Cyprus LGBT has slammed police censorship, after photographs of the Greek trans activist Paola Revenioti were confiscated and its chairman charged with exhibiting obscene material in a public space. Revenioti’s photo exhibition “Diorthosi” (Correction) was staged at Nicosia Municipal Market to mark Transgender Day on 20 November.

“This incident, unfortunately, was not something that surprised me. Censorship of art still exists in our so-called ‘democratic’ society,” Revenioti told Index on Censorship.

“Although this confiscation brought the issue of censorship to the forefront, which is a good thing, it overshadowed the essence of the exhibition, kept people away from the project. This is scandalous. Art is the way every one communicates his own truth. And with this action, they have vulgarised my own truth,” she stressed.

The exhibition, part of a series of events organised the NGO, was seized following a complaint by a citizen who disagreed with the content of the photographs which depicts life through the lens of Revenioti. Police acted without informing the municipality of Nicosia, which had licensed the space of the market for this exhibition, or the organisers, Accept said.

Costa Gavrielides, president of Accept, was questioned and officially charged with “publication of lewd content” in public space. Some of the photos eventually were returned, and others that depict male nudity were withheld as evidence for the subsequent trial.

The NGO filed an official complaint regarding the incident to the national anti-discrimination body, the Office of the Ombudsperson, and will further make a formal complaint to the local authorities as well as the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre condemned the action as an “overt form of censorship” that affects the artistic community of Cyprus.

“The police acted in a legal way,” was the response from police spokesperson Andreas Angelides.

This article was published on 26 November 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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27 Nov: Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case – film screening + Q&A http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/27-nov-ai-weiwei-fake-case-film-screening-qa/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/27-nov-ai-weiwei-fake-case-film-screening-qa/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:01:31 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=62007 Join Index for a screening and discussion of Andreas Johnsen's acclaimed documentary about the famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

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Danish filmmaker Andreas Johnsen documents, over the course of four years, the high-profile court battle between world renowned artist and political activist Ai Weiwei and the Chinese authorities.

Detained for alleged tax evasion, Ai Weiwei spent 81 days in a cell with two guards watching his every move. On probation at the time of filming, and deeply affected by his ordeal, the artist continues to proclaim his innocence, despite the authorities’ unrelenting attempts to silence him. Johnsen’s candid portrait digs deep into the life and mind of a man single-handedly battling for the truth behind what has come to be known as a multi-million dollar “fake case”.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with film-maker Andreas Johnsen, chaired by Index on Censorship’s David Heinemann

WHERE: Hackney Picturehouse, London, E8 1HE
WHEN: Thursday 27 November 2014, 20:30 followed by Q&A
TICKETS: Available Here

This event is presented as part of the Nordic Film Festival

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27 Nov: ArtFreedomWales free speech hearing http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/27-nov-art-freedom-walesfree-speech-hearing/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/27-nov-art-freedom-walesfree-speech-hearing/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:00:47 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61331 Index on Censorship is coming to Cardiff to ask the question: is Wales enjoying its right to artistic freedom of expression?

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Art Freedom Wales

Following recent free speech hearings around the world – workshops exploring the conditions necessary for free expression to flourish – Index on Censorship is coming to Cardiff to ask the question: is Wales enjoying its right to artistic freedom of expression?

Some say yes — Wales has a proud cultural heritage, a vibrant bi-lingual arts scene and a closely-knit community. Others cite concerns — too few voices, too little access, complex linguistic battles, poor infrastructure, dwindling resource.

Join voices from across Wales to make your case, to reflect on the opportunities and obstacles and to consider whether Wales could be a world centre for artistic freedom of expression?

WHERE: Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
WHEN: Thursday 27 November 2014, 2.00-5.30pm
TICKETS: £5 (contribution towards costs) available here

#ArtFreedomWales

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DRAFT PROGRAMME

2.00pm. Opening 
– Freedom of Expression in Wales? Hear from the eyes of artists living in exile.

2.15pm. Evidence: Is Wales enjoying its right to artistic freedom of expression?
– Stories of opportunities, stories of obstacles – submissions invited and from the floor.

3.20pm. Taking Action: Working Groups
– Consider action around promoting Wales’ strengths and tackling Wales’ weaknesses?

4.30pm. Institutional Action: Plenary
– Reflect and deliberate on the afternoon’s discussion with a panel including

  • Dai Smith (Arts Council Wales)
  • John McGrath (National Theatre Wales)
  • David Anderson (Museums Wales)
  • Lleucu Siencyn (Literature Wales)
  • Elen ap Robert (Pontio)

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ONLINE CONVERSATIONS – #ArtFreedomWales – 

Hangout 1. Artists Working In Wales (Click Here for Recap Report)

Hangout 2. Artists Working In Welsh (Click Here for Recap Report and English Translation)

Hangout 3. Young Artists In Wales

Sponsored by Arts Council of Wales and Western Power

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Nils Muižnieks: Azerbaijan’s reprisals against brave activists and journalists must stop now http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/nils-muiznieks-azerbaijans-reprisals-brave-activists-journalists-must-stop-now/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/nils-muiznieks-azerbaijans-reprisals-brave-activists-journalists-must-stop-now/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 17:11:40 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61991 The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights reflects on his recent mission to Azerbaijan – one of the most difficult of his tenure

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Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks (Photo: Council of Europe)

I recently returned from one of the most difficult missions of my two-and-a-half year tenure as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In late October I was in Azerbaijan, the oil-rich country in the South Caucasus, which just finished holding the rotating chairmanship of the 47-member Council of Europe. Most countries chairing the organisation, which prides itself as the continent’s guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, use their time at the helm to tout their democratic credentials. Azerbaijan will go down in history as the country that carried out an unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders during its chairmanship.

All of my partners in Azerbaijan are in jail. It was heart-wrenching to visit Leyla Yunus in pre-trial detention outside of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Head of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, Leyla is Azerbaijan’s most prominent human rights activist and one of three finalists for this year’s prestigious Sakharov award, granted by the European Parliament. I do not know whether it was due to her cataracts or her emotional distress, but she cried throughout our half-hour meeting. The 58-year-old also has diabetes, Hepatitis C and kidney problems. She was in particular anguish for not having had the chance to see Arif, her husband of 26 years, for more than three months. He is also in pre-trial detention, despite having had a stroke just prior to his arrest.

The Yunus couple are among the brave activists in the region that have sought to promote dialogue with their counterparts in Armenia, a country with which Azerbaijan has been at war for the last 25 years over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was violently wrested from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed. Arif and Leyla Yunus have both been charged with the crime of treason. Leyla regularly compiled lists of the country’s political prisoners for submission to international organisations. On October 24, the day I left Azerbaijan, a Baku court prolonged Leyla’s pre-trial detention for another four months.

Another difficult meeting was with Intigam Aliyev, one of Azerbaijan’s most renowned human rights lawyers, who is also in pre-trial detention for allegedly violating the restrictive provisions that make human rights work virtually impossible in the country. Until his arrest three months ago, Intigam was the co-ordinator of the Council of Europe’s legal training programme in the country. He was also legal counsel for dozens of cases against Azerbaijan before the European Court of Human Rights. When the authorities seized all of his documents, including the case files, he said he felt like the rug had been pulled from under his feet. He did not know how he could continue pushing the cases at the European Court or how he could defend himself. Again, the day I left Azerbaijan, his pre-trial detention was prolonged for another three months. When the judge announced his decision, Intigam nearly fainted.

I had a more upbeat meeting with Anar Mammadli, winner of this year’s Vaclav Havel prize, granted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Anar has already been convicted to a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence for violating the country’s cumbersome NGO laws (the formal charges were tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of authority). Anar was appealing his conviction and was in good spirits, despite the scant chances of success of his appeal. As one of the country’s most professional organisers of election monitoring, Anar had been harshly critical of several previous ballots in the country. Anar spends most of his time exercising and reading books on political science, philosophy and history. He wanted to know how from prison he could provide input to the Council of Europe’s efforts to assist Azerbaijan improve the legal framework for NGOs.

I also left heartened by a meeting with Rasul Jafarov, the head of an NGO called the Human Rights Club. Though he had had his pre-trial detention extended for another three months the day before I met him, Rasul was in good spirits. Rasul made a name for himself by organising a campaign called “Sing for Democracy” in the run-up to the holding of the Eurovision Song contest, which Azerbaijan hosted in 2012. He had planned to organise a new campaign called “Sports for Democracy” in the run-up to the holding of the European Games in Azerbaijan in 2015. Though he is charged with violations of the NGO law, as we bid farewell to each other, he related his plans to organise a human rights NGO among detainees.

While most of my partners are in detention, others discontinued their human rights work, left the country over the summer, or went into hiding as the crackdown spread. I visited one of the activists in hiding, Emin Huseynov, head of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, an NGO defending journalists in Azerbaijan’s restrictive media context. Though Emin is only 35 years old, he has very high blood pressure and an old spinal injury caused by an encounter with Azerbaijani police batons at an “unauthorised” demonstration a few years ago. Doctors who have examined him say he will not survive an Azerbaijani prison.

These are just some of the activists and journalists languishing in prison or under pressure in Azerbaijan. They are core partners for the Council of Europe – they have all attended roundtables for human rights defenders organised by my office or participated in events organised by the Parliamentary Assembly. The Council of Europe’s primary friends and partners in the country have almost all been targeted. While this pains me deeply, it also makes practical cooperation between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe extremely difficult. The reprisals must stop. Now.

This article was originally posted on the Facebook page of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. It is republished here with permission from the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Egypt: Regime pushes self-censorship on journalists http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/egypt-editors-pledge-propaganda-sisi/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/egypt-editors-pledge-propaganda-sisi/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 08:46:01 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61769 The "loyalty pledge" taken by the editors of Egypt's largest newspapers has been seen as unusual even in a country where the media is in lockstep with the regime. Shahira Amin reports

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has tightened the screws of the country's journalists. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has tightened the screws of the country’s journalists. (Photo: Wikipedia)

In a rare show of defiance, hundreds of Egyptian journalists have objected to a “statement of allegiance” to the government signed by editors-in-chief of the main state-owned and independent newspapers.

More than 600 Egyptian journalists signed an online petition defending press freedom and rejecting censorship in all its forms. The move came in response to a loyalty pledge by 17 editors-in-chief of newspapers to refrain from criticizing the police, the military and the judiciary at this sensitive time when Egypt was “at war with terrorism.”

The journalists dismissed the editors’ statement as “a futile attempt to create a one-voice media,” arguing that “fighting terrorism had nothing to do with voluntary abandonment of freedom of speech.”

“The editors’ statement is not worth the ink used in writing it,” Dina Samak, deputy editor-in-chief of the English language semi-official Ahram Online and one of the journalists who signed the petition, told Index on Censorship.

“The terrorists will win when they can control the media, and the state will fall when it agrees on the same goal,” said Khaled El Balshi, a journalist and board member of the Journalists Syndicate, who helped draw up the petition for press freedom.

In a show of solidarity with Egypt’s military-backed regime, the editors had gathered at El Wafd newspaper headquarters on 26 October to forge “a united front against terrorism”, expressing their “rejection of attempts to cast doubt on state institutions.” They also vowed to take measures to halt what they called the “infiltration by elements supporting terrorism” in their publications — a reference to supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, designated as a terrorist group by Egypt last year.

While the move did not come as a surprise to many — as it was already clear that the majority of media outlets had aligned themselves closely with the government since the military takeover of the country in July 2013 — the “loyalty pledge” by the editors was nevertheless unusual even in a country where the media was in lockstep with the regime.

The signatories to the declaration — the editors-in-chief of the three main state-owned dailies Al Ahram, Al Akhbar, Al Gomhouria and those of the independent Al Masry Al Youm, Al Watan, Al Shorouq, El Tahrir, El Ahali, Al Fajr , El Messa, El Esboo, El Youm el Sabe and El Gamaheer newspapers — argued however that “crisis situations” required “exceptional measures”.

Defending the editors’ statement, Emad El Din, editor-in-chief of the independent Al Shorouk denied that the editors’ loyalty declaration gave journalists the green light to practice self censorship.

“We wanted to deliver a message to citizens that the media is with the state in fighting terrorism,” he told NPR Radio shortly after signing the statement.

“At this time of heightened nationalism, the climate does not allow for any criticism of the government,” he added.

The move came in response to a call by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi for Egyptians to rally behind him in his fight against terrorism following two deadly militant attacks on an army checkpoint in North Sinai on 24 October that killed 33 army soldiers and injured at least a dozen others. The militant assaults were the latest in a string of attacks targeting mainly security forces — but at times, also civilians — since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The attacks have prompted a surge in nationalism and a heralding of a so-called “war on terrorism” waged by the military against suspect-militants in the Sinai Peninsula. The violence has also resulted in a massive government crackdown on dissent that has targeted all opposition including journalists critical of regime policies.

Six journalists have been killed and dozens detained since the military took power in July 2013, according to the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists. While most have been released, at least 11 journalists remain behind bars for no crime other than being at — or near — Muslim Brotherhood protest sites. Among the detained are three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English news network who have been sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail on charges of “threatening national security, fabricating news and aiding a terror group”.

The crackdown on the media has led many journalists to practice self-censorship for fear of being imprisoned, killed or labeled “unpatriotic” by an unsympathising Egyptian public. Meanwhile, the statement released by the editors has fueled fears among press freedom advocates of a further shrinking in the already-dwindling space for freedom of expression in Egypt.

Adel Hamouda, an Egyptian journalist and former editor-in-chief of Al Fajr, meanwhile, criticised the editors’ statement as “uncalled for“.

“It is an attempt by the editors to win favour with the regime for the sake of personal gains,” he told Index. He explained that all Egyptians — except those supporting the Muslim Brotherhood — support the state in its war on terror so it is “meaningless” to publicly assert their support. He further noted that all media organisations were required to seek approval from the Armed Forces Morale Affairs Department before publishing or broadcasting any news about the military.

The majority of the independent media outlets that signed the statement belong to wealthy businessmen with close links to the ruling military-backed regime. They are fully aware that publishing any criticism of government policies would ruffle feathers and likely jeopardize their business interests. All top editors were appointed by the Higher Press Council shortly after Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013. Their selection was clearly based on their willingness to cooperate with the regime rather than their merits. Shortly after Morsi’s ouster, a leaked video on YouTube showed then-Defence Minister Abdel Fattah El Sisi asking senior generals to “establish partnerships with media outlets to curb any criticism of the military”. An independent journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity told Index that days before Morsi’s ouster, she had been approached by security officials who promised her “fruitful rewards” if she joined the “winning side” — a clear reference to the country’s powerful security apparatus that drove the uprising against the democratically-elected president.

In the coup’s aftermath, most editors and TV talk show hosts have persistently lionised Sisi and cheered on the military while demonising the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which former President Mohamed Morsi hailed.

The media in Egypt has traditionally been a propaganda tool for whoever is in power. Various successive regimes have used the state media as a mouthpiece to further their political gains. Under Mubarak, all editors-in-chief of the state-owned newspapers were handpicked by his powerful Minister of Information Safwat El Sherif who presented the list of chosen candidates to the Shoura or Consultative Council, the upper house of parliament dominated by members of the then-ruling party, the National Democratic Party, for ratification.

In the months following the fall of Mubarak, there was a brief period of free expression and a loosening up of restrictions on the media. Press freedom — one of the major gains of the 2011 mass uprising — was short-lived however as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which replaced Mubarak, quickly moved to exercise control over the media. During its one year in office, the SCAF confiscated newspapers, ransacked the offices of foreign news networks and investigated journalists critical of the military. Shortly after Morsi won the elections — becoming the country’s first democratically elected president — he too reneged on his election promises to promote freedom of speech, appointing a Muslim Brotherhood member as minister of information. The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Shoura appointed regime loyalists as senior editors of state-owned dailies, repeating the Mubarak-era practice that allows tight government control over the media. The move provoked an outcry from non-Islamist journalists who held protest rallies and threatened to resign their posts.

Almost immediately after Morsi’s overthrow, all Islamist-leaning newspapers and TV channels were shut down by the new authorities — a move that sent a message to journalists that there was little tolerance for dissent in Egypt, post-3 July. The last sixteen months have seen a return of the media censorship reminiscent of that which prevailed under Mubarak. Newspapers that published articles deemed “controversial” by the authorities, have been pulled off newsstands and confiscated. In October 2014, a print edition of the independent Al Masry Al Youm was confiscated by government censors for publishing an interview with former national security intelligence chief Mohamed Gebril in which he was quoted as saying that “no Israeli spy has ever been executed in Egypt”. The paper later appeared on newsstands, albeit without the interview. Months earlier, columnist and screenwriter Belal Fadl resigned from the independent Al Shorouk after the paper’s management allegedly refused to publish his column ridiculing the promotion of Sisi (who was defence minister at the time) to the rank of field marshal. Fadl was accused by pro-military commentators of being a “traitor” and “a fifth columnist plotting to destroy the country”.

Several editors who signed the statement of support to the government are also known to be part of a fake opposition created by Mubarak to give a semblance of free speech and democracy. Like other pro-regime editors, they too have persistently glorified the military and vilified the Muslim Brotherhood. And they have gone a step further, slandering the January 25 Revolution as a “foreign conspiracy” and labelling the secular opposition activists who mobilised public support for the 2011 mass protests “traitors” and “foreign agents.”

Mostafa Bakri, editor-in-chief of Al Osbou — and one of the editors who signed the loyalty pledge — has recently been summoned by the public prosecutor after several legal complaints were filed against him by private citizens for “fabricating news” and “slandering the January 25 Revolution”.

Meanwhile, the journalists behind the online petition for press freedom are planning to form an independent association to advocate freedom of expression. While this is a step in the right direction, press freedom advocates fear the negative effects of the editors’ pledge of allegiance are already being felt.

“Their statement was perceived as a warning message by the younger, less skilled journalists, many of whom are now practicing self-censorship for fear of losing their jobs or in a bid to win favour with the management and get promoted,” lamented Dina Samak.

Despite the setback, the battle for press freedom is on.

“It is a battle pitting the younger, pro-reform journalists against the old regime loyalists, resisting change,” Amany Kamal, a former radio presenter told Index. Kamal was forced to quit her job as a broadcaster with a state-run radio channel after being accused by the management of sympathising with the Muslim Brotherhood. “But we shall win,” she said.

This article was published on 24 November 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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No justice: how impunity silences journalists http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/impunity-attacks-free-expression/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/impunity-attacks-free-expression/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:38:58 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61804 Ahead of the International Day to End Impunity, journalists from around the world tell Index why impunity is a serious threat to free expression

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Impunity is a festering sore on freedom of the press. Harassment, violence and murder of journalists are problems around the world — even in Europe, as Index’s project mapping media violations has shown. The numbers speak for themselves: of the 370 media workers murdered in connection with their job over the past ten years, 90% have been murdered without their killers being punished. Many of these crimes aren’t even investigated.

Ahead of the International Day to End Impunity, journalists from across the world told Index why impunity is such a danger to free expression and a free press.

Kostas Vaxevanis, Greek investigative journalist, HOT DOC, and 2013 Index award winner

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Impunity generates corruption and its enemy is the one thing that exposes and threatens it: the freedom of the press.

The HOT DOC is currently facing 40 lawsuits mainly from ministers and politicians in an attempt to shut us down as journalists. We reveal scandals like one with the minister of justice, a former judge who committed an “error” that granted amnesty to officials who had abused public funds, and instead of answering in public as required as politicians, we are being sued. We pester the courts and despite winning lawsuits, we need more than 80,000 euro per year for court expenses.

Heather Brooke, British-American journalist and 2010 Index award winner

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It is a problem that journalists around the world get threatened, intimidated and killed just for doing their job.

These crimes, like any other crime, need to be investigated. If not, it sends a message that this is okay; that the law is only for certain people. It is an implicit acceptance of this behaviour.

If we want to have a strong press, threats, intimidation and murder of journalists can’t be seen to be implicitly condoned by the state. It’s a dangerous message. It makes people frightened to ask tough questions, and if that happens, you are on the way to shutting down a robust press.

Kareem Amer, Egyptian blogger and 2007 Index award winner

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I come from a country where we have a lack of justice. The executive power controls the parliament and the justice system. People feel that if they get mistreated or oppressed by those in power nothing will protect them or bring them justice.

Not only people who express their opinions suffer from a lack of justice. People from different backgrounds who have a different way of thinking and different interests also don’t trust the justice system. Those who have more power can easily avoid punishment and take revenge against victims who tried to get their rights through judiciary system.

Officially, police officers don’t have any kind of formal immunity. According to the law they can be questioned if they violate the rights of people by torturing or murdering. But, in fact, all those accused of killing protesters and torturing prisoners managed to avoid being punished, with a few exceptions.

I feel that it’s not safe to express your opinions freely in a country where people can easily avoid punishment.

I have been sentenced to four years in jail for writing two articles and publishing them on the internet, and during that time I have been through physical violence and mistreatment committed by security forces. I reported it but no one has been questioned or punished. That made me feel that there is no justice in my country and that it is easy to be humiliated and tortured and you will not get protected, since the judiciary system is practically part of the executive power and the judges do what the authorities want them to do.

Rahim Haciyev, Azerbajiani journalist and acting editor of 2014 Index award winner Azadliq

Rahim Haciyev, deputy editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Rahim Haciyev, deputy editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Freedom of expression is the basis of all other rights and freedoms. Free speech is something all authoritarian regimes are worried about as it threatens their existence. That is why freedom of expression is specifically targeted by authoritarian regimes. If there are no free people, there is no freedom of expression. Free speech is a precondition for journalists to be able to work in full strength and thus fulfill their functions in society. Authoritarian regimes organise permanent attacks on journalists with impunity. A free journalist armed with freedom of expression is a threat to an authoritarian regime, this is why perpetrators receive awards, not punishment for oppressing journalists’ rights. This process leads to self-censorship, and journalists stop being carriers of truthful information, which in the end affects society.

Nazeeha Saeed, award-winning Bahraini journalist, who was tortured in police custody

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Impunity is a threat to free expression because journalists and people who report the facts on the ground will feel danger, and if no one gets punished for crimes against journalists or others it establishes a systematic impunity culture. Feeling insecure is something bad, it stops people from having a normal life, functioning and expressing themselves.

Endalk Chala, Ethiopian blogger and co-founder of the Zone9 blogging collective (of which six members are currently imprisoned for their writing)

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Impunity is a threat for free expression on many levels. In my experience I have seen impunity when it cultivates self-censorship. Let’s take the case of Zone9 bloggers. Since their arrest there are a lot of people who tried to visit them in prison, take a picture of them, attend their trial and tweet about their hearings but all of these have invited very bad reactions from the Ethiopian police.

Some were arrested briefly, others were beaten and it has become impossible to attend the “trial” of the bloggers and journalists. No action was taken by the Ethiopian courts against the bad actions of the police even though the bloggers have contentiously reported the kinds of harassment. As a result, people have stopped tweeting, taking pictures and writing about the bloggers. Apparently, the volume of the tweets and Facebook status updates which comes from Ethiopia has dwindled significantly. People don’t want to risk harassment because of a single tweet or a picture. This self-censorship could be attributed to impunity, which is pervasive in Ethiopia.

Impunity also causes a lack of trust in the Ethiopian judicial system. I don’t trust the independence of the Ethiopian justice system. I have never seen a police man/woman or a government authority being prosecuted for their bad actions against journalists. The Ethiopian government has been prosecuting hundreds of journalists for criminal defamation, terrorism and inciting violence but not a single government person for violating journalists’ rights. This tells you a lot about the compromised justice system of the country.

Andrei Soldatov, Russian investigative journalist and co-founder and editor of Agentura.Ru

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Russia is known for its traditions of self-censorship. Despite what the laws say, the rules are explained in a quiet voice in some unmarked cabinets. Sometimes the rules are even not explained, and journalists, editors and owners of media have to constantly guess what is allowed at that moment. Not everyone is allowed to ask directly, so we are all in the game about signals sent by the authorities.

Journalists are beaten and killed in Russia, and this provides plenty of room to send such signals to the journalistic community. You don’t need to explain that investigative reporting in the North Caucasus is not allowed anymore: you just need to turn the investigation of Anna Politkovskaya’s assassination in 2006 into a show trial, where the assassins are duly found guilty, but the question of masterminds is never answered. You could be sure, the signal would be taken correctly.

Fergal Keane, Irish journalist, BBC foreign correspondent and 2003 Index award winner

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Impunity allows the enemies of free speech to threaten, torture and kill journalists secure in the knowledge they will never be called to account. I can’t think of a greater threat.

Veran Matic, B92 board of directors chairman and B92 news editor-in-chief

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In my 25 years of experience in Serbia, I have been editor-in-chief of a media outlet that was banned on several occasions and I have been arrested.

Impunity directly encourages and expands violence towards journalists. The culture of producing fear is the most efficient form of censorship. One unsolved murder creates space for implementing the next one without any threat for the executioners. In the meantime, the media gets killed/eliminated in the process.

The lack of discontinuity with Slobodan Milosevic’s authoritarian regime had left room for impunity to remain intact.

Less than two years ago, I decided to make a kind of a breakthrough when it comes to impunity. I proposed the establishment of a mixed commission composed of journalists, members of the police and members of the security information agency. We managed to bring the 1999 murder of Slavko Curuvija to a phase where official indictment was brought, along with arrest of all suspects in this murder case. The 2001 murder of our colleague Milan Pantic is also in the final stage of investigation. A 1994 assassination — of Dada Vujasinovic — is being reviewed by the National Forensic Institute from The Hague because local institutions have compromised themselves in this case.

In the same way as impunity restricts freedom of speech, solving of these cases, at least 20 years later, will surely contribute to journalists being encouraged to do their job in the best possible way. Of course, I am not counting here on the new problems with which journalists and media face, and that call for finding new models of financing high quality journalism for the sake of public interest, worldwide.

The team behind Pao-Pao, a Chinese website focusing on internet freedom issues

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This year, we have seen a rising number of Chinese journalists, academics and human rights lawyers detained, threatened and arrested simply for speaking out online. While Chinese regulations on freedom of speech need to be closely examined, tech companies also play an important role in the deterioration of freedom of speech in China.

While Chinese tech companies are under the tight control of the Chinese authorities, there exists a culture of impunity in the western tech companies, especially when they are doing business in China. When we worked with our partner GreatFire to launch a FreeWeibo iOS application last year (an app to deliver uncensored content from Weibo, the largest social media platform in China), Apple decided to remove the app from their Chinese iTunes store. The only reason given was that Apple received a request from the Chinese authorities. This June, LinkedIn censored user posts deemed sensitive by the Chinese government on the global level, far beyond Beijing’s censorship requirement, even though LinkedIn does not have servers in China.

It would be the start of the end if these global tech companies start removing content simply because they do not want to upset their business relationships with China. It is crucial to hold these companies accountable for their behaviour. Otherwise it will further erode freedom of expression, not only for China, but also for the whole world.


The International Day to End Impunity was set up in 2011 by free speech network IFEX, of which Index on Censorship is a member, with the aim of demanding accountability and justice on behalf of those “targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression”.

This article was originally posted on 21 November 2014 at indexoncensorship.org. It was updated at 14:09, 24 November to include the response from Pao-Pao.

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Ecuador: Why are critics being shutdown on Twitter? http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/ecuador-twitter-critics-shutdown/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/ecuador-twitter-critics-shutdown/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 13:43:58 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61915 A Spanish company -- Ares Right -- has been targeting the social media accounts of critics of the Ecuadorean government

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Diana Amores’ Twitter account is currently suspended (@Diana_Amores). Is she a troll? Is she sending offensive pictures? No, she’s a translator based in Quito, Ecuador, with a tendency to post sarcastic comments about politics.

Diana is being targeted by Ares Rights, an internet reputation management company based in Barcelona. The trouble started earlier this year when she was being critical about the Ecuadorean government. Ares Rights filed complaints, claiming copyright violations and shut her down.

Why is a Spanish company concerned about what is being said about the Ecuadorean government? If you look at the individual complaints (and we have), Ares Rights has filed them on behalf of, variously, Ecuador’s governing party, Movimiento Alianza País; EcuadorTV (the state-run television station;) and even the president, Rafael Correa. The company has had various Twitter accounts suspended and documentaries pulled from YouTube. They have also targeted Buzzfeed and Chilling Effects, who wrote about Ares Rights specifically.

Is this an attempt by the state to silence critics? You can read the full, in-depth story here, from the last issue of Index on Censorship Magazine.

Diana’s latest Twitter suspension is on account of reports of “violent threats”. This is one of her alleged violent threats (translated from Spanish): “Today I received a notification of censorship from @Twitter and @Aresrights.” She included a screengrab of an email she received from Twitter saying AresRights had raised a copyright complaint. Again, it claimed to be filing this on behalf of Movimiento Alianza País (Correa’s party). This doesn’t prove they are contracted, but neither party have responded to Index’s call for clarification for our recent feature.

On Wednesday, there was an opposition march in Quito. Diana wanted to tweet from it. She couldn’t.

At the march, protesters held up a message to the government: “We are not afraid anymore”. President Correa has been accused of trying to intimidate critics. He has successfully pursued several libel lawsuits against the media since introducing his controversial communications law in 2013.

One of the early targets was a political cartoonist, Bonil. His newspaper, El Universo, was fined $92,000 over one of his cartoons. Now, 11 months on, Bonil is currently responding to a new complaint and fearing an even bigger fine.

You can read Bonil’s story – with a new cartoon by him highlighting the censorship of cartoonists – in the next issue of Index on Censorship magazine.

This article was published on 21 November 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Padraig Reidy: Gerry Adams’ half-remembered Republican mythology http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/padraig-reidy-ireland-gerry-adams-press-ira-sinn-fein/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/padraig-reidy-ireland-gerry-adams-press-ira-sinn-fein/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:38:22 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61849 As with much half-remembered Republican mythology, Gerry Adams' quip at a US fundraiser wasn’t the whole story.

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gerry-adams

Gerry Adams is the leader of Sinn Féin, the party currently polling higher than any other in Ireland. Last week, Adams, who for many years had the very sound of his voice banned from the airwaves in both Ireland and Britain, due to his connections with the illegal Provisional IRA, told a funny little story at a fundraiser in New York.

Discussing one Irish newspaper’s hostility to his party, Adams told the assembled of how Michael Collins, the Irish War of Independence leader, had dealt with the Irish Independent:

“He went in, sent volunteers in, to the offices, held the editor at gunpoint, and destroyed the entire printing press. That’s what he did. Now I can just see the headline in the Independent tomorrow, I’m obviously not advocating that”, said Adams.

As with much half-remembered Republican mythology, this wasn’t the whole story. As Ian Keneally, author of The Paper Wall: Newspapers and Propaganda in Ireland, 1919-21, related in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent had been broadly sympathetic to the cause of Irish freedom throughout the War of Independence, while deploring individual acts of violence. In the case Adams alluded to, a group of IRA men had indeed entered the Irish Independent offices and threatened the editor, Timothy Harrington, after the paper described a failed IRA ambush as  “a deplorable outrage”. The leader of the IRA grouping, Peadar Clancy, said that the newspaper had  “endeavoured to misrepresent the sympathies and opinions of the Irish people”. While some damage was done to the Irish Independent’s printing presses, the paper did not shut down.

Ironically for Adams, given his invocation of the fabled Michael Collins, the Irish Independent found itself in deep trouble with British forces for publishing a letter by the IRA leader in December 1920. On that occasion, British “Auxiliaries” entered the newspaper’s offices and literally held a gun to a staff member’s head, warning the paper never to print anything by Collins again. The threat worked.

Historical rigour aside, Adams’s comments obviously didn’t find much favour among journalists. The World Association of Newspapers wrote to Adams calling on him “to retract these comments and to publicly affirm your abhorrence of all forms of violence against journalists”. Adams has refused to do so, citing the hypocrisy of attitudes to the Collins & Co war-of-independence era IRA and the modern (now, we are told, departed) Provisional IRA. In this, he may have a small point, though this is an issue for Irish society at large and not just the newspapers (this cartoon captures that problem neatly).

One could excuse Adams’s allusions as the work of the mind behind his famously quirky, often tongue-in-cheek Twitter account, but there are several background issues that make the whole thing a little uncomfortable.

Firstly, the newspaper group involved has lost two journalists to gunmen in the past 20 years: Veronica Guerin of the Sunday Independent, murdered by gangsters in 1996, and Martin O’Hagan of the Sunday World, shot by loyalist paramilitaries in 2001. Jokes about threats to the Independent News & Media journalists carry that baggage, even if unintended.

Secondly, Adams and his party are currently under scrutiny over an alleged IRA sexual abuse cover up. A woman named Maria Cahill – a relative of Provisional IRA founder Joe Cahill – claims that she was raped by an IRA member, and that the organisation subsequently attempted to cover up the crime. Cahill claims she raised the issue directly with Adams (who, it should be stated for the record, says he has never been a member of the IRA, but nonetheless is viewed as the leader of that particular strand of Irish republicanism), but that justice was not done. Adams’s has already faced criticism for the alleged cover up of his brother Liam’s paedophilic assaults on family members.

Thirdly, Ireland is a country on edge at the moment. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition government’s disastrous handling of proposed water metering and charges has led to previously rarely seen nationwide protests. Having almost cast the previously dominant Fianna Fáil  party into oblivion in 2011, Irish voters had hoped they could put faith in a new government. But now, once again, they feel lied to by politicians who do not seem to have the wishes of the population at heart. The perception is that the new water metering system is just another assault on people who have suffered enough after years of boom, bust and bank bailouts.

Into this already toxic mix comes media mogul Denis O’Brien, owner of, among other outlets, the Irish Independent. It is widely believed that O’Brien is supportive of the new watering metering system as Irish Water will eventually be privatised, and he will buy it. O’Brien has a stake in Siteserv, the company contracted to install water meters.

It is not a huge leap to imagine that O’Brien’s papers may be enthusiastic about water charges, and perhaps unsympathetic to protesters. And it’s not difficult to imagine anger being turned against Independent group journalists. After pictures of a brick being thrown at a Garda [police] car during a water protest in Dublin last week were published by the Sunday Independent, many online claimed the image had been photoshopped by the mendacious “Sindo” . This was clearly untrue, but the rumours demonstrated the distrust of institutions, including the press, that now permeates Irish society, and from which upstart Sinn Fein stands most to gain. Former Sinn Féin publicity officer Danny Morrison subsequently tweeted the address of Independent Newspapers, along with a picture of a wall missing a brick. Was he adding to the conspiracy theory? Or was he suggesting violent action against the Independent, in classic I-know-where-you-live style? See how easily the close-up nature of Irish media, politics and public life can set the mind racing?

The government has now proposed new water measures, which it hopes will quell the unrest. But the anti-press, anti-politics rhetoric may have gone too far for that, and in the run up to the centenary of Ireland’s “revolutionary period” of 1916-1923, when romantic rebellion ruled all, little will be gained by any party attempting to present itself as the voice of a reasonable settlement.

This article was posted on 20 November 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Bahrain releases Zainab Al-Khawaja http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/nabeel-rajab-faces-prison-bahrain/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/nabeel-rajab-faces-prison-bahrain/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:19:23 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61587 Bahrain human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison on Wednesday after spending five weeks imprisoned. Al-Khawaja, who is more than eight months pregnant, must return to court on 4 and 9 December for her sentencing.

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Update: Bahrain will hold parliamentary elections on Saturday. Opposition groups including Al-Wefaq will boycott the vote, as leading member  Abdul-Jalil Khalil told the Associated Press “”These elections are destined to fail because the government is incapable of addressing the political crisis. The next parliament is going to be powerless and unrepresentative.”

In October, a Bahraini court suspended all Al-Wefaq activities for three months, including hosting rallies or press conferences. Just weeks before US State Department official Tom Malinowski was ordered to leave Bahrain after meeting with Al-Wefaq leaders.

In the last elections, held in 2010, before Arab Spring protests, the Bahraini governement claimed 67 percent voter turnout. Many doubt whether turnout will be as great to help narrow down the 419 candidates.

Bahrain human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja was released from prison on Wednesday after spending five weeks imprisoned. Al-Khawaja, who is more than eight months pregnant, must return to court on 4 and 9 December for her sentencing.

Al-Khawaja was arrested on 14 October after she ripped a picture of the king in court, where she faced charges for insulting the king.

“I am the daughter of a proud and free man,” Al-Khawaja said in court. “My mother brought me into this world free, and I will give birth to a free baby boy even if it is inside our prisons. It is my right, and my responsibility as a free person, to protest against oppression and oppressors.”

Maryam Al-Khawaja, Zainab’s sister, spoke with Index last month, urging the UK to speak out against human rights violations in Bahrain.

“It isn’t that the people who are being arrested will stop doing what they do, because I don’t think that they will and I think the past four years have been evidence to that,” Maryam said. “My worry is that those people become voiceless. Those people become people who are not heard or seen or cared about. Because that’s when the Bahraini government will find the platform to do whatever they want to do to those people. “

Maryam also spent time in prison recently and will return to court on 1 December. Their father remains imprisoned.

Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), was recently released on bail after his 1 October arrest. Rajab was imprisoned for “denigrating government institutions” on Twitter.

The GCHR released a statement calling for Rajab’s charges to be dropped.

“Bahrain has made international commitments to protect freedom of expression, yet it continues to jail human rights defenders who are simply exercising their right to free speech, whether via twitter or while speaking internationally about Bahrain’s problems,” said Khalid Ibraham, co-director of GCHR.

Rajab must return to court on 20 January 2015 and may not leave Bahrain until then.

Rajab was released in May after spending two years in prison for “making offensive tweets and taking part in illegal protests.”

This article was originally posted on 20 Nov 2014 indexoncensorship.org and was updated on 21 Nov 2014.

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Central African Republic: Chaos and self-censorship stalk nation’s journalists http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/central-african-republic-chaos-and-self-censorship-stalk-nations-journalists/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/11/central-african-republic-chaos-and-self-censorship-stalk-nations-journalists/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 12:04:22 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=61721 Africa’s “forgotten crisis” is exacerbated by a breakdown in the media, which forces the population to live in an information blackout.

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Bambari’s last functioning radio station was looted on 7th July. (Photo: Jonathan Pedneault / Internews)

Bambari’s last functioning radio station was looted on 7 July. (Photo: Jonathan Pedneault / Internews)

The arrival of MINUSCA, a United Nations’ peacekeeping force, on 15 September briefly pushed the continuing crisis in Central African Republic to break back into international headlines. This conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives since the Séléka coup in March 2013, is repeatedly referred to as a “forgotten crisis”, “neglected tragedy” and “the worst crisis you’ve never heard of”.

In fact, with almost half the population of 4.6 million in need of emergency aid, the country is caught up in the worst humanitarian and political crisis of its history.  In the short months since the Blue Helmets arrived in Bangui, violent clashes have killed at least 12, wounded many more and further complicated already strained relief operations. Since almost all aid passes through the capital, violence there cuts off assistance for the rest of the country. Crime is rampant, with freedom of movement severely restricted by both security concerns and checkpoint bribes.

As the fighting flared up once again, Mahruhk Hasan, head of monitoring and evaluation for Internews, pointed out on Twitter in October that a quick Google search provided only seven stories in the international, English-speaking media.

While frustration over the lack of international media attention is legitimate and necessary, it is crucial to consider what is happening to the media at a local level. Disturbingly, the scant information readers in the West receive may often be more than the residents get in the country itself. Condemning the lack of global media coverage overlooks the crisis enveloping the Central African Republic’s media. The bloodshed has led to an information blackout, with local radio stations and newspapers often being casualties of the conflict.

In a country twice the size of the UK, with only a few hundred kilometres of tarmac, poor mobile connectivity and a largely rural population heavily reliant on radio, the national broadcaster has stopped airing with no sign of return. Many other radio stations have been looted, with most going mute at least 18 months ago. As of late July 2014, there were 15 operational radio stations across the country – but 14 further stations have fallen silent, including the single station in northern Vakaga province, which is the area with the highest number of internally displaced people. A recent report by International Media Support found “Central Africans are living in complete darkness as they have no access to information.”

This “darkness” serves to exacerbate a dangerous culture of rumours, with serious implications for further loss of life. MINUSCA’s deployment is phased, and will not reach peak until January 2015. In an already dicey security context, where the protection of NGO staff and aid workers is severely compromised, it is proving logistically impossible to provide journalists with protection.

The journalistic profession has never been particularly stable in CAR, affected by poor and inconsistently paid salaries, as well as corruption and lack of resources. Since the conflict began, pressure and violence have had serious effects on  self-censorship.

Reporters Without Borders recently provided a summary of the persecution of journalists during the three months ending 31 May 2014, including the case of Elisabeth Blanche Olofio, a radio journalist killed in connection with her work after being accused of having “a sharp tongue”.

Two other journalists, Désiré Luc Sayenga and René Padou, died of the injuries they received in a brutal attack in unclear circumstances. There have also been numerous incidents of harassment and telephone threats, as well as journalists being summoned by judicial authorities before fleeing the country. CAR had the biggest fall of any country in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, dropping 43 places to 109 out of 180 countries.

In conflict situations, discussion of censorship often centres on whether such measures are justified in keeping citizens safe, and whether or not “national security” is simply a convenient excuse for governments to silence their critics. But in the case of Central African Republic, the state is still far too weak to exert any kind of strong censorship.

Instead, reporting remains limited and compromised due to fear. This level of suffering, in a crisis so determined by deep-set prejudices, has a clear effect on the professionalism and impartiality of journalists.  As Jonathan Pedneault, Conflict-Sensitive Journalism Trainer with Internews in CAR, highlights: “Discourses are so polarised in CAR, and the problem is that everyone thinks they have the true story.”

This isn’t to suggest that journalists in Bangui aren’t subject to top-down censorship. Pedneault references a case in late October where journalists were threatened with a 25,000,000 CFA franc (£30491.25) fine when they remained silent after being summoned by the High Council for Transitional Communications. In their own words, the council were questioning the journalists’ credibility and editorial line in a crisis situation when they ought “to censor some things”.

Internews have been working in Central African Republic since 2010, supporting local media and providing in-situ training and mentoring to journalists, with a special focus on conflict-sensitive reporting.  They are only too aware of the extreme psychological impact of the recent conflict on journalists, understanding that they are subject to the fear and trauma affecting the entirety of the population. Many journalists express “concerns over personal safety after they report”, particularly outside Bangui, Pedneault said

Internews is working closely with the local Association of Journalists for Human Rights (RJDH), giving reporters the space to discuss and better understand the root causes of the conflict, as well as recognising their own personal biases. Pedneault underlines that the conflict has meant “the judicial system has been destroyed”, which fosters a sense of insecurity, particularly in a country with an armed population able to “take bold action”.

Pedneault explained that the weak state means self-censorship is an issue tied mostly to the personality of the journalists and their own fears: “I’d not consider it political censorship, but attuned to each journalist.” These fears, tragically, are not unfounded.

On 8 October, the pregnant aunt of one of the RJDH journalists was abducted; the following day the journalist received an anonymous call informing her that her aunt’s disembowelled body could be found in the PK5 district. It is hard to say whether this tragedy is directly linked to her work as a journalist, or whether it is simply a terrible facet of the violence engulfing everyone in Central African Republic.

In Bambari, a flashpoint for the conflict where 71 per cent of the population is displaced, the two remaining radio stations were looted in early July and journalists have not returned to work, fearing for their lives. This took place amid accusations that the broadcasts were biased and encouraging violence.

To better understand the media landscape in CAR, as well as the prevalence of hate speech, Internews has been conducting media monitoring, and in Bambari have begun creating an interfaith radio station in an attempt to foster community cohesion alongside improved communication. As well as working closely with RJDH in Bangui, supporting them to produce a daily radio show in French and Sango and between 5-10 articles per day, Internews is supporting the return of local media in more remote areas.

Pedneault works as a roving trainer, travelling to rural areas and working embedded in the newsroom, supporting the journalists in their own environment. Internews is fostering a network of voluntary community and professional correspondents and developing a cadre of writers and broadcasters who can be an engine for change.

Hasan underlines that Internews and RJDH have been open to the use of pseudonyms when broadcasting, offering a greater sense of security and encouraging individuals to speak out. The coverage maps produced by Internews are also allowing humanitarian actors to link with local media and facilitate the dissemination of lifesaving information.

Jacobo Quintanilla, Director of Humanitarian Communications Programmes, said that with shortwave radio, you compromise on sound quality but maximise outreach: “You can reach refugees living in camps in Chad.”  Hasan highlighted Internews’ plans to distribute wind-up radios for use by internally displaced populations, further extending the spread of information.

“Some of these radio stations are literally lifelines,” Quintanilla said.

In Central African Republic, information is aid – and this is true not only in terms of facilitating immediate humanitarian relief, but also for longer term peace-building. When confronting the huge task of restoring mutual respect in a country torn apart by inter-community violence, journalists who are unafraid, uncensored and impartial can provide a platform for reconciliation.

This article was posted on 19 November 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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