Death threats for two Sri Lankan journalists

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 protected]).   Thanks for your help.

Why is the Iranian government so afraid of Kian Tajbakhsh?

Iranian-American Scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh © Getty/AFP

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

Iranian Journalists Detained in Unknown Location since June


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 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

Life Inside a North Korean Prison Camp

The news has been buzzing with reports of the two U.S. journalists who were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with hard labor in North Korea.  Laura Ling and Euna Lee were convicted of an unspecified “grave crime” after they were arrested in March while investigating human rights abuses of North Korean women.

Amnesty's T. Kumar on CNN's American Morning

Amnesty's T. Kumar on CNN's American Morning

The conviction is outrageous and Amnesty International is calling for the pair’s immediate release.  The U.S. government is also scrambling to negotiate their release.

But in the mean time, what do Lee and Ling face in a North Korean labor camp?  Amnesty’s own T. Kumar was asked just that by John Roberts on CNN this morning.    His responses show the horrifying fate in store for anyone sent to one of these camps.  Here is an excerpt from Kumar’s interview:

John Roberts: If they were sent to one of these prison camps or hard labor camps, what kind of conditions would they encounter based on the studies you’ve done?
T. Kumar: We have to divide the situation into two categories. First is about the living conditions. The living conditions are extremely harsh. It’s overcrowded, very little food and very little, if any, medical attention. Then every day they have to work for more than ten hours. Very hard labor starting from breaking stones to working in the mines. And very little food again during the day.
Roberts: Very high rates of death in detention among these prisoners?
Kumar: Yes. It’s a combination of facts why the deaths are occurring. Number one, it’s hard and forced labor. Second, it’s lack of food. And unhygienic environment…There is no medical attention at all in many cases. So combined of all of these issues, [there is a] very large number of people who die in these prison camps.

Visit to read the full interview.

Exposing the Truth is Dangerous

Since writing Los Demonios del Edén — a book that exposed child prostitution and trafficking in Cancun, Mexico — Lydia Cacho has been under constant harrasment and intimidation. In 2005, she was taken from the women’s shelter she runs and transported more than 900 miles across Mexico at gunpoint to a jail in Puebla, Mexico. After her release, audio tapes surfaced showing that then Puebla Gov. Mario Marín was involved in her mistreatment. Given Lydia’s accomplishments as human rights activist and determination under pressure, Amnesty International awarded her the Ginetta Sagan Human Rights Award in 2007.

This video explains more about Lydia Cacho’s intimidation in 2005:

In the past few weeks, witnesses have seen an armed man watching and photograhping Lydia in her car, home and office. As her harassment continues, Amnesty International also continues its work to fight for Lydia and has issued an Urgent Action on her behalf.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. Between 2000 and 2009 50 registrered journalists have been killed and 2 more have been killed in May 2009 alone. Lydia explains the dangers of being a journalist in Mexico here:

What will need to happen for more protection for journalists in Mexico? I think that if more people took notice of Lydia Cacho and the violence and initmidation journalists face in Mexico and Central America, than the governments would be forced to enact more protective measures and enforce them.

Journalists Risking their Lives

This Sunday, May 3rd, is World Press Freedom Day and you can help push back against governments worldwide who violate fundamental rights to free speech and expression.  Some of the journalists currently languishing in detention include:

  • Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced last week to eight years in prison on charges of espionage after a flawed trial.
  • Gambian journalist Ebrima Manneh who continues to be detained despite a court’s ruling in June 2008 that his rights had been violated by the Gambian government and should be released.
  • Sri Lankan writer J.S. Tissainayagam who was imprisoned in 2008 for writing two articles that criticized the government’s military offensive against the opposition group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Here in the U.S. we often take for granted our ability to speak out against the policies of our government.  The type of content on this blog alone would surely be censored in some countries and could even land writers in prison.  We hope you’ll join us this weekend in taking action to protect journalists worldwide!

Azerbaijani journalist: "They could not handcuff my tongue"

Released Azerbaijani journalist Mirza Sakit Zahidov
Image source (edited)

After three years of prison, famous Azerbaijani satirist and poet Sakit Zahidov (aka Mirza Sakit) is free.

In the words of an Amnesty International USA press release:

…Sakit Zahidov was pardoned under an amnesty act passed in March by the country’s parliament, the Milli Mejlis.

Serious doubt had been cast on Sakit Zahidov’s conviction and imprisonment after the authorities’ failed to clarify ambiguities in the evidence and irregularities in trial procedures. Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience.


Reporters Without Borders has hailed the release:

“This is great news. It is a significant development for press freedom in Azerbaijan, a country ruled by President Aliev with an iron hand. We share the joy of Zahidov’s family, lawyers and support committee, who had been awaiting his release since last month, and we urge the authorities to free the three other journalists still in prison. They include Zahidov’s elder brother Ganimat, who was given a four-year sentence in March 2008.”

In an interview, Mr. Zahidov said:

I was really nervous, when they handcuffed me. But they could not handcuff my tongue. It is clear that it was instruction from the “top.” But the administration had a headache after that during a long period of time.

Talking about his future plans, he added:

I am going to publish my poems. There are also some plans, which can be carried into life through electronic media. I would like to say that it is not a tragedy to get into prison, but release from prison is not happiness, either. However, I feel happy, because I am free today and because I was in jail yesterday

In the words of Reporters Without Borders:

The three other journalists still in prison are Ganimat Zahidov of Azadlig, Eynulla Fatullaiev of Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan and Mushfig Husseynov of Bizim Yol. Azerbaijan was ranked 150th out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. President Aliev is on the organisation’s list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”