Contents – Climate of fear: The silencing of the planet’s indigenous peoples

Cover illustration, Autumn 2021 (50-3) Wilson Borja

The Autumn issue of Index magazine focuses on the struggle for environmental justice by indigenous campaigners. Anticipating the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), in Glasgow, in November, we’ve chosen to give voice to people who are constantly ignored in these discussions.

Writer Emily Brown talks to Yvonne Weldon, the first aboriginal mayoral candidate for Sydney, who is determined to fight for a green economy. Kaya Genç investigates the conspiracy theories and threats concerning green campaigners in Turkey, while Issa Sikiti da Silva reveals the openly hostile conditions that environmental activists have been through in Uganda.

Going to South America, Beth Pitts interviews two indigenous activists in Ecuador on declining populations and which methods they’ve been adopting to save their culture against the global giants extracting their resources.

Cover of Index on Censorship Autumn 2021 (50-3) Cover of Index on Censorship Autumn 2021 (50-3)[/caption]

A climate of fear, by Martin Bright: Climate change is an era-defining issue. We must be able to speak out about it.

The Index: Free expression around the world today: the inspiring voices, the people who have been imprisoned and the trends, legislation and technology which are causing concern.

Pile-ons and censorship, by Maya Forstater: Maya Forstater was at the heart of an employment tribunal with significant ramifications. Read her response the Index’s last issue which discussed her case.


The West is frightened of confronting the bully, by John Sweeney: Meet Bill Browder. The political activist and financier most hated by Putin and the Kremlin.

An impossible choice, by Ruchi Kumar: The rapid advance of Taliban forces in Afghanistan has left little to no hope for journalists.

Words under fire, by Rachael Jolley: When oppressive regimes target free speech, libraries are usually top of their lists.

Letters from Lukashenka’s prisoners, by Maria Kalesnikava, Volha Takarchuk, Aliaksandr Vasilevich and Maxim Znak: Standing up to Europe’s last dictator lands you in jail. Read the heartbreaking testimony of the detained activists.

Bad blood, by Kelly Duda: How did an Arkansas blood scandal have reverberations around the world?

Welcome to hell, by Benjamin Lynch: Yangon’s Insein prison is where Myanmar’s dissidents are locked up. One photojournalist tells us of his time there.

Cartoon, by Ben Jennings: Are balanced debates really balanced? Ask Satan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Special Report” font_container=”tag:h2|font_size:22|text_align:left”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Credit: Xinhua/Alamy Live News

It’s not easy being green, by Kaya Genç: The Turkish government is fighting environmental protests with conspiracy theories.

It’s in our nature to fight, by Beth Pitts: The indigenous people of Ecuador are fighting for their future.

Respect for tradition, by Emily Brown: Australia has a history of “selective listening” when it comes to First Nations voices. But Aboriginal campaigners stand ready to share traditional knowledge.

The write way to fight, by Liz Jensen: Extinction Rebellion’s literary wing show that words remain our primary tool for protests.

Change in the pipeline? By Bridget Byrne: Indigenous American’s water is at risk. People are responding.

The rape of Uganda, by Issa Sikiti da Silva: Uganda’s natural resources continue to be plundered.Cigar smoke and mirrors, by James Bloodworth: Cuba’s propaganda must not blight our perception of it.

Denialism is not protected speech, by Oz Katerji: Should challenging facts be protected speech?

Permissible weapons, by Peter Hitchens: Peter Hitchens responds to Nerma Jelacic on her claims for disinformation in Syria.

No winners in Israel’s Ice Cream War, by Jo-Ann Mort: Is the boycott against Israel achieving anything?

Better out than in? By Mark Glanville: Can the ancient Euripides play The Bacchae explain hooliganism on the terraces?

Russia’s Greatest Export: Hostility to the free press, by Mikhail Khordokovsky: A billionaire exile tells us how Russia leads the way in the tactics employed to silence journalists.

Remembering Peter R de Vries, by Frederike Geeerdink: Read about the Dutch journalist gunned down for doing his job.

A right royal minefield, by John Lloyd: Whenever one of the Royal Family are interviewed, it seems to cause more problems.

A bulletin of frustration, by Ruth Smeeth: Climate change affects us all and we must fight for the voices being silenced by it. Credit: Gregory Maassen/Alamy[/caption]

The man who blew up America, by David Grundy: Poet, playwright, activist and critic Amiri Baraka remains a controversial figure seven years after his death.

Suffering in silence, by Benjamin Lynch and Dr Parwana Fayyaz The award-winning poetry that reminds us of the values of free thought and how crucial it is for Afghan women.

Heart and Sole, by Mark Frary and Katja Oskamp: A fascinating extract gives us an insight into the bland lives of some of those who did not welcome the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Secret Agenda, by Martin Bright: Reforms to the UK’s Official Secret Act could create a chilling effect for journalists reporting on information in the public interest.

Journalists held in Insein prison, Myanmar’s “darkest hell-hole”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116336″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]The new military junta in Myanmar is continuing to assault and jail journalists as it progresses with its bloody coup.

At least 26 journalists have been arrested since Min Aung Hlaing seized power on 1 February and at least ten have been charged under section 505(a) of Myanmar’s penal code.

Two of the journalists, MCN TV News reporter Tin Mar Swe and The Voice’s Khin May San, have been granted bail but the remaining eight are still detained in the notorious military-run Insein prison in Yangon, known as “the darkest hell-hole” in the country and a byword for torture, abuse and inhumane conditions for inmates.

Section 505(a) makes it a crime to publish any “statement, rumour or report”, “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty”, essentially making criticism of the military government impossible.

Reporters are particularly vulnerable during protests. Myo Min Htike, former secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Association, recently told Index that journalists are being targeted across the country, particularly if they have covered protests against the coup and many have fled in fear for their lives and liberty.

Credible reports from the country show the dangers facing reporters covering the protests. Shin Moe Myint, a 23-year-old freelance photo journalist was severely beaten and arrested by policemen while she covered a protest in Yangon on 28 February.

Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) journalist Ko Aung Kyaw live-streamed a violent arrest in which, according to reports by The Irrawaddy, he had stones thrown through his window and police officers firing threateningly into the air when asked if they had obtained a warrant to enter his premises.

Aung Kyaw could “be heard shouting that a stone injured his head and appealing to neighbours for help before the security forces broke into his house and arrested him”.

Thein Zaw, covering the protests for Associated Press, has been charged with violating public law while Ma Kay Zon Nway of Myanmar Now and Aung Ye Ko of 7 Days News have also been arrested.

Others still detained include the journalists Hein Pyae Zaw, Ye Myo Khant, Ye Yint Tun, Chun Journal chief editor Kyaw Nay Min and Salai David of Chinland Post.

Sit Htet Aung of the Myanmar Times, who took the picture above, was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape a beating and detention.

Use of section 505(a) shows an automatic crackdown on criticism of the military regime and since the coup, the junta has implemented a number of problematic legislation changes which could easily be used against journalists in the country.

According to Amnesty International: “Courts routinely convict individuals under this section without evidence establishing the requisite intent or a likelihood that military personnel would abandon their duty as a result of the expression.”

“In practice, the section has often been used to prosecute criticism of the military – expression protected by international human rights law.”

The law has since been amended, meaning anyone charged under it can be arrested without a warrant and it is no longer a bailable offence, thus any future arrests – which are likely – will find journalists in Myanmar detained with little hope of an immediate reprieve.

The same amendments apply to 124(a) of the penal code, which previously made anti-government comments illegal.

Journalists also rely heavily on the internet to publish their stories, but amendments to the Electronic Transactions Law allow law enforcement to harvest the personal data of anyone deemed to be in breach of a cyber-crime, or – more broadly – those critical of the regime online.[/vc_column_text][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”38″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The military coup in Myanmar: the media under attack

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116235″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Journalists are facing increasingly difficult circumstances in reporting what is happening as Myanmar’s new regime attempts to tighten its grip on the power it took from a democratically elected government at the start of the month.

Myo Min Htike, former secretary of the Myanmar Journalist Association, has told Index that journalists are being targeted across the country, particularly if they have covered protests against the coup.

In Mandalay, two journalists were pursued by special branch after they had covered a pro-democracy demonstration, he said.

The editor of an online publication is on the run from military intelligence and has gone into hiding, although the association’s regional safety coordinator thinks his mobile is being tapped and fears for his safety.

Journalists from Myanmar Now, DVB and RFA are all being threatened with arrest if they are not in hiding, he added.

Some local media in Rakhine and Kachin state are closing down while others have asked some reporters to stay away from newsrooms.

One of the biggest concerns is that the internet will be shut down. In the Saging region, mobile internet has been cut off today and there are rumours of a wider shutdown in the next few days.

On 11 February, Frontier Myanmar told the story of a freelance reporter who had gone to take photos of soldiers stationed between the towns of Muse and Namhkam in northern Shan State.

“They chased after him, and hit him in the chest with the barrel of a gun,” said Sai Mun, an editor at the Shan Herald Agency for News.

“When he fell to the ground, they smashed the mobile phone he was taking photos with. They told him he couldn’t take photos, and said he could be killed if he did,” said Sai Mun.

On 9 February, Mizzima journalist Than Htike Aung was hit by rubber bullets fired by police. Mizzima TV is one of two TV news channels that has been ordered off the air.

Another journalist was set upon by a nationalist mob in support of the coup.

In response to the conditions journalists in Myanmar are being forced to work under, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released a statement saying the violence had “dire implications for freedom of expression”.

“The reports of violence and suppression of protests have dire implications for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly,” they said. “The IFJ stands in full solidarity with our journalist and media colleagues as well as all citizens of Myanmar protesting the military imposition of power and calling for an immediate return to democracy.”

Freedom to protest and the freedom to report on those protests by journalists are often the first things to be restricted in the event of a military coup and this familiar pattern has been repeated since the Myanmar coup took place on 1 February.

It came after military leader Min Aung Hlaing alleged that the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in November was fraudulent, without providing evidence. On 9 February, NLD’s offices were raided by soldiers.

Written into Myanmar’s constitution is the right to assemble peacefully and – with protests against the coup continuing – the new administration has taken steps to prevent this from happening.

Under the state of emergency, the military regime has banned meetings of more than five people in one place, but Myanmar’s citizens have already begun to defy the ruling.

In response the military regime has used water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas on protestors and there are reports of the use of live bullets in the capital of Naypyidaw.

It is against this backdrop that Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has targeted the media but the new leader and his allies hardly have a glowing record when it comes to dealing with media and journalists.

In 2019, journalist Swe Win was shot in what appeared to be a targeted attack. Not long before, he had published an article revealing the business interests of Min Hlaing which had apparently “infuriated the top”.

Last year, Khaing Mrat Kyaw, editor of Narinjara News, and Nay Myo Lin, the editor-in-chief of the Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, were charged with terrorism offences for carrying interviews with the insurgent Arakan Army. Kyaw Linn, a reporter with Myanmar Now, was attacked with rocks in May by unidentified assailants; he has frequently reported on the conflict between Myanmar’s military forces and the Arakan Army.

Looking forward, journalists are already fearful of existing legislation that may be used against them by the new regime, such as the Counter-Terrorism Law and also charges of defamation under the Telecommunications Law.

A proposed new Cyber Security Law demands all internet service providers to give up data stored on citizens at the government’s request.

Significantly, those deemed to be spreading “misinformation” online could face up to three years in jail, a clear violation of free speech.

The regime’s early days and the steps towards new and highly consequential legislation has journalists in the country uneasy.

Speaking to the Columbia Journalism Review, the shot journalist Swe Win said, “Even though I foresaw the coup, I did not foresee the brutal way it would be launched.”

“Within five hours of the coup, I ordered all my colleagues to leave their houses and stay somewhere with their families or their friends. Half of the team did not want to accept my idea because they were outraged, as equally as members of the public. “‘Why should we leave? We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.’”

Additional reporting by associate editor Mark Frary.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also like to read” category_id=”5641″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Leading Nepal editor speaks out about independent media facing censorship in South Asia

himal-southasianOne of South Asia’s most influential news magazines, Himal Southasian, is to close next month after 29 years of publishing as part of a clampdown on freedom of expression across the region. The magazine has a specific goal: to unify the divided countries in South Asia by informing and educating readers on issues that stretch throughout the region, not just one community. 

Index got a chance to speak with Himal Southasian’s editor, Aunohita Mojumdar, on the vital role of independent media in South Asia, the Nepali government’s complicated way of silencing activists and what the future holds for journalism in the region.

“The means used to silence us are not straightforward but nor are they unique,” Mojumdar said. “Throughout the region one sees increasing use of regulatory means to clamp down on freedom of expression, whether it relates to civil society activists, media houses, journalists or human rights campaigners.”

Himal Southasian, which claims to be the only analytical and regional news magazine for South Asia, faced months of bureaucratic roadblocks before the funding for the magazine’s publisher, the Southasia Trust, was cut off due to non-cooperation by regulatory state agencies in Nepal, said the editor. This is a common tactic among the neighbouring countries as governments are wary of using “direct attacks or outright censorship” for fear of public backlash.

But for Nepal it wasn’t always this way. “Nepal earlier stood as the country where independent media and civil society not accepted by their own countries could function fearlessly,” Mojumdar said.

In a statement announcing its suspension of publication as of November 2016, Himal Southasian explained that without warning, grants were cut off, work permits for editorial staff became difficult to obtain and it started to experience “unreasonable delays” when processing payments for international contributors. “We persevered through the repercussions of the political attack on Himal in Parliament in April 2014, as well as the escalating targeting of Kanak Mani Dixit, Himal’s founding editor and Trust chairman over the past year,” it added.

Index on Censorship: Why is an independent media outlet like Himal Southasian essential in South Asia?

Aunohita Mojumdar: While the region has robust media, much of it is confined in its coverage to the boundaries of the nation-states or takes a nationalistic approach while reporting on cross-border issues. Himal’s coverage is based on the understanding that the enmeshed lives of almost a quarter of the world’s population makes it imperative to deal with both challenges and opportunities in a collaborative manner. 

The drum-beating jingoism currently on exhibit in the mainstream media of India and Pakistan underline how urgent it is for a different form of journalism that is fact-based and underpinned by rigorous research. Himal’s reportage and analysis generate awareness about issues and areas that are underreported. It’s long-form narrative journalism also attempts to ensure that the power of good writing generates interest in these issues. Based on a recognition of the need for social justice for the people rather than temporary pyrrhic victories for the political leaderships, Himal Southasian brings journalism back to its creed of being a public service good.

Index: Did the arrest of Kanak Mani Dixit, the founding editor for Himal Southasian, contribute to the suspension of Himal Southasian or the treatment the magazine received from regulatory agencies?

Mojumdar: In the case of Himal or its publisher the non-profit Southasia Trust, neither entity is even under investigation. We can only surmise that the tenuous link is that the chairman of the trust, Kanak Mani Dixit, is under investigation since we have received no formal information. Informally we have indeed been told that there is political pressure related to the “investigation” which prevents the regulatory bodies from providing their approval.

The lengthy process of this denial – we had applied in January 2016 for the permission to use a secured grant and in December 2015 for the work permit, effectively diminished our ability to function as an organisation until the point of paralysis. While the case against Dixit is itself contentious and currently sub judice, Himal has not been intimated by any authority that it is under any kind of scrutiny. On the contrary, regulatory officials inform us informally that we have fulfilled every requirement of law and procedure, but cite political pressure for their inability to process our requests. Our finances are audited independently and the audit report, financial statements, bank statements and financial reporting are submitted to the Nepal government’s regulatory bodies as well as to the donors.

Index: Why is Nepal utilising bureaucracy to indirectly shut down independent media? Why are they choosing indirect methods rather than direct censorship?

Mojumdar: The means used to silence us are not straightforward but nor are they unique. Throughout the region one sees increasing use of regulatory means to clamp down on freedom of expression, whether it relates to civil society activists, media houses, journalists or human rights campaigners. Direct attacks or outright censorship are becoming rarer as governments have begun to fear the backlash of public protests.

Index: With the use of bureaucratic force to shut down civil society activists and media growing in Nepal, how does the future look for independent media in South Asia?

Mojumdar: This is actually a regional trend. However, while Nepal earlier stood as the country where independent media and civil society not accepted by their own countries could function fearlessly, the closing down of this space in Nepal is a great loss. As a journalist I myself was supported by the existence of the Himal Southasian platform. When the media of my home country, India, were not interested in publishing independent reporting from Afghanistan, Himal reached out to me and published my article for the eight years that I was based in Kabul as a freelancer. We are constantly approached by journalists wishing to write the articles that they cannot publish in their own national media.

The fact that regulatory means to silence media and civil society is meeting with such success here and that an independent platform is getting scarce support within Nepal’s civil society will also be a signal for others in power wishing to use the same means against voices of dissent.

It is a struggle for the media to be independent and survive. In an era where corporate interests increasingly drive the media’s agenda, it is important for all of us to reflect on what we can all do to ensure the survival of small independent organisations, many of which, like us, face severe challenges.