Monthly Archives: May 2013

Free speech advocate returns to Cuba after world tour

Blogger, free speech advocate and all-around interesting person Yoani Sanchez returned to Cuba after a three-month world tour.

She had invitations from numerous free expression/press freedom organizations around the world. She also was given a number of awards for her advocacy. But the Cuban government kept denying her a passport and an exit visa. (And please note, that Cuba — like other dictatorships — required its people to get a visa to leave the country. The U.S. and other democracies only require visas for people to enter their countries.)Sanchez runs a blog — Generation Y — that has looked at the problems in Cuba and the repressive measures taken by that government to restrict freedom of expression.

 After the Cuban government changed its rules about issuing exit visas, Sanchez applied for one. The Castro government got put in the  uncomfortable position of either giving her a passport and granting the exit visa or rejecting her application. In the latter situation, the Cuban government would have shown it did not mean what it was saying and, therefore, could not be trusted on other issues. So, the issued Sanchez a passport and allowed her to leave the country.

Sanchez traveled throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. At many of her appearances, pro-Castro people (some at the urging of the local Cuban embassy or consulate) demonstrated and disrupted her appearances.

Some highlights from previous Generation Y postings:

  • Whose Brain Is It? According to Legislative Decree 302 which also regulates the foreign travel of professionals, my own brain — like those of the rest of university graduates — does not belong to me. The folds and grooves of this organ are the property — according to the new law — of an educational system that boasts of being free but later charges us through ownership over our intellect. The authorities who regulate the possibility of leaving this Island believe that a qualified citizen is a simple conglomeration of brain matter “formed” by the State. But claiming the rights to use a human mind is like trying to put gates on the sea… shackles on every neuron.
  • The Ballot Box, The Stretcher This was the cubicle where I voted this morning to elect a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power. Located inside a doctor’s office that was turned into a polling place this Sunday for the residents of the area. “Prescient” I thought of nothing but being alone with my ballot next to the large sink where they wash hospital implements. “Prescient” because my country is in a “coma” of indifference and apathy, and is going to need a profound revival – almost a defibrillation – for citizens to have real decision making power. Thirty-six years since its creation the current electoral system has not convinced us, not even once, that it represents the people against the power, rather we have become accustomed to the exact opposite.
  • Travel and Immigration Reform: Happy or Satisfied After five years of demanding my right to travel outside the country, today I woke up to the news of travel and immigration reform. My first impression was to shout “Hurrah!” mid-morning, but as the day advanced I considered the shortcomings of the new law. Finally the objectionable Permit to Leave has been eradicated, as well as the annoying Letter of Invitation that we needed to leave our own country. However, now in the issuance and validation of passports they will define those who can cross the national frontiers and those who cannot. Although the costs of the paperwork will be less and I imagine the time required shortened, this is not the new travel and immigration law we were waiting for. Too limited, too narrow. But at least it has put in writing a legality as a starting point from which we can now demand, protest, denounce.

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Filed under Censorship, Cuba, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup


Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Right to blog: New Article 19 Report

For Americans the idea of using any and all means to spread ideas is second nature.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution put in writing what had become common place in first the 13 colonies and then the United States. The protection given to freedom of speech and press has expanded as technology changed.

“Press” no longer means just a printed document. It has come to mean any method of communicating thoughts and ideas.

And so blogging and Tweeting are fully protected in the United States.

In other countries, not so much.

Now Article 19 has come out with a document that talks about how press freedom issues have evolved in the age of the Internet.

The Right To Blog

Executive summary

In this policy paper, ARTICLE 19 proposes a set of recommendations to state actors and policy makers about what they should do to promote and protect the rights of bloggers domestically and internationally. It also gives practical advice to bloggers about their rights and explains how – and in what situations – they can invoke some of the privileges and defences that traditional journalists have found vital to the integrity of their work.

In common with many other aspects of modern life, the Internet has transformed the way in which we communicate with one another. Where the printed press and broadcast media were once the main sources of information, the Internet has made it possible for any person to publish ideas, information and opinions to the entire world. In particular, blogging and social media now rival newspapers and television as dominant sources of news and information. Unsurprisingly, these developments have also called into question the very definition of ‘journalism’ and ‘media’ in the digital age. It has also raised difficult questions of how the activities of bloggers and ‘citizen journalists’ can be reconciled to existing models of media regulation.

ARTICLE 19 argues that it is no longer appropriate to define journalism and journalists by reference to some recognised body of training, or affiliation with a news entity or professional body. On the contrary, ARTICLE 19 believes that the definition of journalism should be functional, i.e. journalism is an activity that can be exercised by anyone. Accordingly, it argues that international human rights law must protect bloggers just as it protects journalists. The policy paper therefore addresses the key areas that bloggers are likely to face, that is: licensing, real-name registration (vs. anonymity), accreditation, the protection of sources, protection from violence, legal liability and ethical responsibility and suggests ways for them to be addressed.

Among the key recommendations to governments about bloggers are:

  • Legal standards should reflect the fact that anyone who disseminated information or ideas to the public by any means of communication is a journalist.
  • Bloggers, like journalists, should never be required to obtain a licence to blog.

  • Bloggers, like journalists, should never be required to register with a government entity.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Freedom House report on how China controls its media

Great report from Freedom House on how the Chinese government looks at media and how it tries to censor it.

Media Control in China: A Model of Complexity and Thoroughness

China’s media environment remains one of the world’s most restrictive. As described in Freedom House’s recently released report on the state of global press freedom for the year 2012, the Chinese government’s press restrictions were complex, intricate, ruthless when necessary, and flexible when it suited the leadership’s purposes. At the same time, these controls were subject to pushback from ordinary citizens outraged at the suppression of information about critical events.

Constraints on print media were especially tight in advance of a sensitive leadership transition in November, and several journalists were dismissed or demoted for violating censorship discipline. Internet users who disseminated information that was deemed undesirable by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continued to face punishment, with dozens of cases of harassment, detention, or imprisonment documented during the year. Meanwhile, conditions in Tibetan areas and for foreign journalists deteriorated. The promotion of a hard-liner formerly responsible for the regime’s system of information controls to the top party leadership body, combined with measures to reinforce internet censorship and surveillance toward the end of the year, indicated the new CCP hierarchy’s commitment to retaining a tight grip on the information landscape.

Read Rest of Report



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Filed under Censorship, China, Press Freedom