"Kill All The Lawyers": Stifling Dissent in Turkey

Turkey’s jailing of writers has received increasing attention in both the Turkish and the international press, enough to force Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to defend the fact that Turkey has more journalists in prison,  describing them as “so-called journalists” who “ are actually “police murderers, sexual molesters and supporters of a coup”.

In 2011 Turkey imprisoned 104 journalists, causing Reporters Without Borders to drop Turkey’s press freedom ranking to 148th in the world.  Either the country has one of the most vicious and corrupt press corps in modern history or these arrests are politically motivated.  However, the Prime Minister will have none of this.  When American Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone stated that he was unable to understand the massive arrests, he was dismissed by Erdogan as a “rookie ambassador” who just didn’t understand Turkey.

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Who Really Murdered Hrant Dink?

Hrant Dink

Hrant Dink was shot dead outside his Istanbul office in 2007. © Private

Five years ago, Hrant was gunned down in front of his Istanbul office by a 17-year-old Turk named Ogun Samast.   Dink, an outspoken member of Turkey’s dwindling Armenian community and the editor of the newspaper, Agos, had long been subject to public vilification and state harassment.  His death was a shock, but it was no surprise.

Samast was convicted last year of the killing, and sentenced to over 22 years.  It was obvious, however, that the teenager was not acting alone: not only had Samast himself confessed he was driven by a group of people whom he called “older brothers;” In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish authorities had “failed to act on information they received that could have prevented Dink’s murder and had failed to investigate the role of state officials in his death.”

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Six months later, no sign of missing cartoonist

On Mar. 11, I wrote on this site about Prageeth Eknaligoda, the Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist.  He’s been missing since leaving work on Jan. 24.  Amnesty Interrnational and other organizations (like the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders) have all expressed concern and have called on the Sri Lankan government to investigate his disappearance.

Well, it’s been six months since he disappeared and we haven’t seen any evidence of an effective investigation so far.  His wife, Sandhya Eknaligoda, has repeatedly said she holds the government responsible.  This past Saturday, she reportedly went to a famous Hindu temple and prayed for help in finding her husband, having lost faith in the Sri Lankan legal process.

The Sri Lankan government needs to live up to its responsibility here.  Please write to the government and ask that it conduct a proper, effective investigation into his disappearance and hold accountable those found responsible.  Thanks.

20-year sentence for Sri Lankan journalist

I was shocked this morning when I heard the news that J.S. Tissainayagam, the detained Sri Lankan journalist, was sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment by the Sri Lankan High Court.  Tissainayagam has been detained for the last 18 months and was tried under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act for writing two magazine articles in 2006 critical of the government’s conduct of the war against the opposition Tamil Tigers.  Amnesty International considers Tissainayagam to be a prisoner of conscience, detained and prosecuted solely for his legitimate work as a journalist, and has been calling for his immediate, unconditional release.

Tissainayagam was one of the journalists singled out for praise by President Obama this past May in his statement in honor of World Press Freedom Day.

Organizations working in defense of press freedom reacted strongly to today’s sentence.  The International Federation of Journalists condemned the sentence, calling it “brutal and inhumane.”  The Committee to Protect Journalists announced today that it will honor Tissainayagam with a 2009 International Press Freedom Award.  The group Reporters Without Borders said it was “appalled” by the “shameful” sentence; the group also announced today that Tissainayagam had been selected as the first winner of the newly created Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism.

Please write to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and ask that J.S. Tissainayagam be released immediately and unconditionally. Thanks for any help you can give.

In Zambia, One Person's Human Rights Violation is Another's Porn

The editor of Zambia’s largest independent newspaper, The Post, is currently on trial for distributing pornography. Chansa Kabwela was charged in July for ”circulating obscene matters with the intention to corrupt the morals of society,” punishable by a five year prison sentence. What exactly did Kabwela circulate that was so dangerous to the moral character of Zambians? Pictures of a woman giving birth on the ground outside a hospital. 

A recent nurses’ strike led to dangerous medical conditions in the country, a fact Kabwela wanted to highlight. When she received pictures of the incident, she decided not to publish them in the paper, but instead sent copies to the vice president, the health minister and several organizations. The pictures were taken by a relative of the woman, who visited clinics and the hospital in search of medical assistance due to the breach birth position of the baby. Eventually she laid down on the ground near the hospital before doctors from the hospital finally assisted her. The baby did not survive.

Reporters Without Borders calls the arrest shocking and the charges without grounds. They also accuse authorities of harassing and intimidating the newspaper’s staff. The Post is a fierce critic of President Banda, who has made no secret of his dislike for the paper, called for Kabwela’s arrest. Banda became president upon the death of Levy Mwanawasa, one year ago today. Too bad Nixon didn’t think of the same tactic: Nick Ut would have gone to trial instead of winning a Pulitzer.

Internet Co's: How about one day without censorship?

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) yesterday called on U.S. Internet companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to give the world a day of censorship-free Internet search and blogging, in recognition of World Day Against Cyber Censorship, March 12.

In other words, we’re seeing if Internet companies are willing to give the world a free trial of freedom of expression. 

Like free trials of software downloads, the hope is that if these Internet mammoths can find it within themselves to stand up to censorship requests for just one day, they, we, the world, might like it enough to buy into the full version.

RWB and AI participated for months in an initiative, now known as the Global Network Initiative (GNI), with the companies to try to develop voluntary standards for the Internet and telecommunications industry on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. 

Both groups, to date, have refused to endorse the GNI, pointing to loopholes that could allow for continued abuses of privacy and free expression rights, such as what occurred with Chinese journalist Shi Tao. (Yahoo! handed over account information to Chinese authorities who used it to sentence Shi to a 10 year prison term for sending an email to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website.) 

If any of the companies take up the RWB-AIUSA challenge, much could be discovered about the true nature of the online censorship beast. The power of the symbolism, let alone bringing transparency to the problem could be just enough to change the lives of millions. It would be a sad state if none of the three can find a way to respect freedom of expression for one day.