Journalists and activists participate in a rally for press freedom and against the detention of journalists under anti-terrorism laws in the capital of Ankara (Photo Credit: Ümit Bektas/Reuters).
In a major report this week, Amnesty International has outlined the wide range of legal tools that Turkish authorities have used to target political dissent and limit freedom of expression. Scholars, students, journalists, human rights activists, and thousands of others have been subject to prosecution and lengthy punishment under these statutes. But you can join us in working for real reform in Turkey!
Amnesty has noted that:
The most negative development in recent years has been the increasingly arbitrary use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute legitimate activities including political speeches, critical writing, attendance of demonstrations and association with recognized political groups and organizations – in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
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Out of almost 300 cases of human rights abuses covered in Amnesty International’s new report, Transforming Pain into Hope: Human Rights Defenders in Latin America, only four have resulted in the conviction of those responsible.
One of the main reasons why violators continue enjoy impunity is that they target precisely those individuals who expose their crimes. The report therefore emphasizes the danger posed to journalists, bloggers, and trade unionists who speak up for human rights.
Just within the relatively small region of Central America, the report highlights four important cases of attacks on freedom of expression that seek to cover up other human rights abuses: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
By Dina Meza, Honduran journalist
Dina Meza, a Honduran journalist and human rights activist, has been threatened repeatedly with sexual violence.
26 years ago I decided to study journalism at the National Autonomous University of Honduras.
I began my studies in 1986, and dreamed of working for the big press outlets and speaking freely. But I never imagined that speaking, writing and telling the truth about what was happening could mean walking the line between life and death if anyone powerful in Honduras felt threatened.
Serious threats to freedom of expression are on the rise in Honduras. One of the first killings of journalists took place on November 26, 2003, when the environmental journalist German Rivas, of CMV Noticias, Channel 7, was killed. Eight months previously he had been attacked, but the Attorney General’s Office never investigated, or brought the culprits to justice.
Four years on, the crimes continued, and with the coup d’etat in 2009, intolerance grew to such an extent that censorship and self-censorship are now the inseparable companions of every journalist.
Since the coup d’etat, 20 journalists have been killed in Honduras. The files on these deaths carry on gathering dust in the drawers of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, impunity tries to silence a story which was never told.
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An opposition activist holds a one man protest in front of the Russian Central Election Commission headquarters in Moscow, on March 1, 2012. The sign reads: "stop the dictatorship!" (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)
The Russian Federation has had an unenviable place in the news of late. With the outrage over the government’s disastrous and unconscionable opposition to meaningful UN Security Council action on Syria, to Amnesty’s recent findings that Russian weapons continue to supply the machine of misery unleashed on the people of Darfur and Sudan, it would be easy to be blinded to the risks to rights protection in Sunday’s Presidential election.
Last Saturday, thousands rallied in St. Petersburg in opposition to Vladimir Putin’s decision to run for a third presidential term, chanting “Russia without Putin.” On Sunday, over 30,000 people organized together to create a human chain spanning 15.6 kilometers in length throughout Moscow in solidarity over growing discontent over the election.
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Hrant Dink was shot dead outside his Istanbul office in 2007. © Private
The murder of Hrant Dink on a cold Istanbul street in January, 2007 sent shock waves across Turkey and around the world.
Dink, an ebullient public intellectual and journalist, was a key figure in Turkey’s dwindling Armenian community and an important activist in Turkey’s long struggle for a more liberal, tolerant society. For this, he was rewarded with state harassment, a public vilification campaign, and, finally, an assassin’s bullet.
The triggerman, Ogün Samast, was quickly arrested and, earlier this week, was sentenced to more than twenty years in prison. This is an important step. But given the remarkable discrepancies in the case, it is clear that more needs to be done.
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There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.
Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.
Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.
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Today, World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity for people around the world to celebrate the fundamental human right to freedom of expression. Every day, journalists around the world face the threat of intimidation, censorship, imprisonment and violence, including torture, for their efforts to report on human rights violations.
We are shining a light on 8 specific cases in places including China, Zimbabwe, Russia and Egypt where rights to free speech and expression have been harshly denied.
It was during this same time last year when we witnessed the release of American journalist Roxana Saberi. She was arrested in Iran and initially sentenced to eight years in prison on trumped-up charges of espionage. But because we sounded the alarm and refused to let free speech be ignored, justice was served.
Commemorate World Press Freedom Day by sending an email on behalf of a journalist or free speech advocate who needs your support!
Freedom of expression is again under assault in Sri Lanka. On October 22, two editors at the Sunday Leader (a Sri Lankan newspaper), Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, received identical death threats in the mail, handwritten in red ink. Ms. Jansz is the editor-in-chief and Ms. Mushataq is the news editor. The threats relate to coverage by the paper of a video which allegedly showed Sri Lankan soldiers executing Tamil prisoners.
The paper’s founder and former editor-in-chief, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was killed last January after receiving a similar death threat three weeks earlier. No one has yet been prosecuted for his murder.
Last month, Dileesha Abeysundera, who works for the Sinhala-language edition of the Sunday Leader, was threatened. The newspaper has suffered numerous serious attacks on its staff and offices in the past.
Over the past three years, numerous journalists have been detained in Sri Lanka while others have fled the country. At least 14 media workers have been killed. Investigations haven’t resulted in prosecutions. For more on this issue, see the AI report, “Sri Lanka: Silencing dissent.”
Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal calling on the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, and to investigate the death threats received by them and the attacks on other Sri Lankan journalists and media workers. Please take action in response to our appeal and write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa (email: email@example.com). Thanks for your help.
Why is the Iranian government so afraid of Kian Tajbakhsh? To all appearances, the 47-year-old Iranian-American is a mild-mannered social scientist who taught urban policy at the New School University in New York. He was living quietly in Tehran with his Iranian wife and baby daughter and working on a book when he was arrested on July 9.
So why was he just convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison? Judging from the list of charges piled up against him and the long prison term imposed, one would think he was one dangerous fellow, single-mindedly bent on overturning the Iranian government, working with foreign enemies to undermine Iranian society, and sowing mass chaos. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
UPDATE: 22 OF 25 IRANIAN NEWSPAPER STAFFERS FREED
The Committee to Protest Journalists published a statement today that said 22 of the 25 journalists that worked on the staff of Kalameh Sabz have been released. According to their website, “Alireza Hosseini Beheshti, manager of Kalameh Sabz, told the site that three editorial staffers remain behind bars. Over the weekend, authorities also released Life.com photographer Amir Sadeghi, who was arrested about a week earlier.”
Iran’s presidential election saw a government clampdown not only on protestors’ right to express themselves, but the media’s right to, as well. Currently, dozens of journalists – some who also campaigned for either Mir Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, both candidates in the presidential election, have been detained in the past fortnight with their whereabouts mostly unknown.
For example, around 20 of 25 employees of the newspaper Kalameh Sabz arrested at their office in Haft Tir Square on June 22nd are still detained and their whereabouts remain unknown. Kalameh Sabz is a newspaper established by presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009, and which has not been published since June 14th.
Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of journalists arrested since June 12th who are at risk of torture in detention.
Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui released the following statement:
“If nothing else, the authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of these journalists, ensure that they are not tortured or otherwise ill-treated and allow their families and lawyers access to them. Unless the authorities lift all unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression – which includes the right of journalists to report on events – and release all the journalists arrested, we can only assume they are trying to hide evidence of abuse and further silence any critical voice.”
Take action to help release human rights defenders, journalists and others detained in Iran!
Samah Choudhury contributed to this post