If you care about the crucial role of human rights defenders as much as Amnesty International, you want to know the answer to this question. Longino Bacerra is the Executive Director of the Committee for Free Expression, C-Libre. On April 20, an anonymous caller warned him, “I lead a campaign to kill you, your mum, your dad, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your friends and your friends’ friends. If they are dead, I will revive them and kill them again, did you hear me?”
Unlike Amnesty, the Honduran government has not demonstrated interest in identifying and punishing those behind attacks on journalists. In its 2012 report on conditions in Honduras, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicated that the government has not solved 80% of the cases of journalists murder in the nation. 15 of these murders took place since the 2009 coup. Last month, the CPJ reported an attempt on the life of Honduran television journalist Fidelina Sandoval.
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One of the frustrations of talking about the Turkish Republic right now is that so much is going on, in so many different directions, that it can be hard to decide what issues to address. In particular, the tremendous gap between its increasingly important role in the world seems inconsistent with increased repression at home and has made it tough for journalists to address both simultaneously.
Much of the talk is about Turkey’s new “soft power.” Turkish culture is becoming more influential, with a booming economy and a dynamic film and television industry that has found a tremendous following among its neighbors in both the Balkans and the Middle East. In the past few years it has become an important regional player and is widely seen as a potential model for democratic movements in the wider Middle East.
The Turkish government was a vocal critic of repression in Libya and Egypt and has been at the forefront of efforts to curb the on-going repression in Syria. While its voice has been selective (Turkey supported Ahmadinejad during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and has been notably reticent in its criticism of Bahrain this past year), it deserves credit for the support it has given to democratic forces this past year.
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Increasingly, Turkey is not a place where it is safe to work as a journalist. In the past weeks, police have arrested a string of journalists, accusing them of being part of a plot, code-named “Ergenekon,” to overthrow the Turkish government. Those arrested—seven at the beginning of March, as well as the earlier arrest of the head of a TV station and two of his employees—all had a record of being critical of Turkey’s ruling party and its leader, Prime Minister Erdoğan. There are currently 68 journalists detained in Turkey, one reason that Reporters Without Borders has ranked Turkey 138th among 175 countries for press freedom, just above Ethiopia and Russia.
Aside from those arrested and detained in the Ergenekon investigation, most of those in prison or on trial are Kurdish journalists, usually charged with violating Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code: “committing a crime on behalf of an organization without being a member of that organization.” Sentencing under this law can be draconian: the former Editor-in-Chief of the Kurdish paper Vedat Kurşun was sentenced to 166 years in jail; the former editorial manager of another Kurdish newspaper was sentenced to 138 years behind bars. In addition, Prime Minister Erdoğan and the current government have employed lawsuits and fines against journalists and media outlets in a pattern that seems designed to stifle dissent.
Amnesty International has long campaigned against laws in the Turkish Penal Code that curtail freedom of speech, particularly the infamous Article 301, which criminalized “Insulting Turkishness” (after much protest, later changed to “Insulting the Turkish Nation”). Much more needs to change in Turkish law, however, before Turkish journalists can express political opinions that are unpopular without risking imprisonment.
That’s some bad timing U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey had last week. Speaking at a public conference in Egypt, Scobey declared that “Egyptians are very free to speak out. The press debates so many things.” She then implied human rights organizations are free to investigate human rights abuses.
Activists call for the release of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Karim Amer
It didn’t take long for the Egyptian government to undercut the ambassador’s comments. Today, Egyptian human rights activists announced their support for one of their own, blogger Hani Nazeer Aziz, when the government refused to implement for the fourth time a court order demanding his release from jail. Aziz has been detained without charge at Borg AlArab prison since October 2008, activists say because the government wanted to silence his pro-democracy writings.
Scobey didn’t mention Aziz in her conference. Nor did she mention arrested blogger Karim Amer, who is an Amnesty prisoner of conscience; nor did she cite a former POC Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a journalist and blogger detained for more than a month in 2007 for denouncing torture ; nor did she mention novelist Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein, known by his pen name Musaad Abu Fagr, who is a subject this month of Amnesty International’s Write-a-Thon. Earlier this month, one of the most famous bloggers in Egypt, Wael Abbas, was convicted in absentia to 6 months in jail on charges of sabotage.
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