News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, April 2013
A legislative milestone in Mexico
In what CPJ called "a step forward in the fight against impunity," Mexico approved legislation that would implement a constitutional amendment giving federal authorities broader jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against freedom of expression.
The legislation, passed on April 25, will implement a constitutional amendment approved by the Mexican federal congress in 2012. The measure will establish accountability at senior levels of the national government, evading the more corrupt and less effective state law enforcement officials. CPJ had advocated widely for the passage of this legislation. In 2008 and 2010, a CPJ delegation met with former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who promised he would implement the bill.
CPJ urges President Enrique Peña Nieto to immediately sign these measures into law and will work to ensure that Mexican authorities effectively use this new tool to bring the killers of journalists to justice. With at least 50 journalists killed or disappeared in Mexico in the last six years, the country should also join the UN Plan of Action.
Egypt withdraws legal complaints against journalists
The Egyptian government this month filed several complaints against local journalists, including CPJ's Middle East consultant, Shaimaa Abulkhair, accusing them of trying to "spread wrong information" and "insult the president." National security prosecutors announced on April 2 that Abulkhair would be investigated for making critical comments regarding a criminal case against satirist Bassem Youssef.
For days, CPJ and other press freedom and human rights organizations condemned the government's crackdown on the press. Then, on April 10, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi announced he would withdraw the legal complaints filed against the journalists.
Morsi's unprecedented move could start to reverse the campaign against the independent and critical media in recent months that has included legal prosecutions, physical attacks, and violent intimidation. CPJ will continue to work to ensure that journalists in Egypt are free from retaliation or harassment and are allowed to work freely.
Access to Ferghana site restored in Kyrgyzstan
After several months of CPJ advocacy, Kyrgyz authorities finally allowed domestic access to the independent news website Ferghana News. The site had been blocked in Kyrgyzstan for more than a year, which, as CPJ and other press freedom organizations pointed out, was in direct violation of the country's constitution. The day after CPJ issued a news alert on the case, authorities allowed most local Internet service providers, including the state-owned Kyrgyz Telecom, to restore access to the website.
Journalist released in Cuba
CPJ welcomes the release of Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, a reporter with the independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press, whose imprisonment CPJ had documented in September for reporting on an international medical donation to Cuba.
The journalist, who was accused of contempt for shouting anti-Castro slogans in public, waged intermittent hunger strikes amid inhumane conditions in prison. Martínez Arias was never formally tried. CPJ continues to monitor his case.
UN panel: Ethiopian journalist jailing violates international law
In an opinion handed own in 2012, but publicized only this month, a United Nations panel of five independent experts ruled that the imprisonment of prominent Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega was a "result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression." The panel included in its findings several breaches of the blogger's rights, from his arrest without a warrant to the allegations of mistreatment in custody and a flawed trial, all of which CPJ has documented.
CPJ has worked incessantly to bring Eskinder's case to the international forefront as an important example of the misuse of anti-terror laws to criminalize critical journalists. Eskinder was jailed in September 2011 on vague terrorism charges and sentenced in June 2012 to 18 years in prison. His story is also featured in CPJ's advocacy video, Free the Press, which premiered at the 2012 International Press Freedom Awards.
Sri Lankan journalist avoids deportation from UAE
CPJ and other human rights and press freedom organizations called on authorities in the United Arab Emirates this month to halt deportation measures against a Sri Lankan journalist who held United Nations refugee status. The former TV journalist, Lohini (or Lokini) Rathimohan, was one of 19 Tamil refugees who faced deportation back to Sri Lanka, where they could face torture and persecution, according to human rights groups.
Two days after CPJ voiced its concern, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed that the agency had decided to look for a "solution to resettle the 19 refugees in other countries." The UNHCR spokesman said they had "full cooperation from the UAE government" and that there was "no threat of the refugees being sent back to Sri Lanka.
The ethnic Tamil press in Sri Lanka faces continued risks, according to CPJ research. CPJ recently documented an attack on the offices of Uthayan, a Tamil-language newspaper based in the island nation's Northern Province, and disruptions by the country's national broadcaster to BBC's Tamil service, which led the British broadcaster to suspend all radio service in Sri Lanka.
EU: Free expression linked to Vietnam diplomacy
A blog published in Le Soir in mid-April that highlighted CPJ's findings on press freedom in Vietnam generated interest in the organization's recommendations, which became a key driver for the European Parliament's unanimous adoption of an Urgent Resolution on Vietnam. The resolution, which was largely devoted to issues of freedom of expression that are central to CPJ's concerns, was an important step forward for the parliament in pressing Vietnam on human rights reforms.
The Le Soir blog, which was written by CPJ Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz, was based on CPJ's special report, Vietnam's press freedom shrinks despite open economy. CPJ has also called on the European Union and the United States to insist that future political and economic relationships be contingent on Vietnam displaying greater commitment to political openness and demonstrating improvements on press freedom and Internet freedom.
CPJ will work to ensure the European Union and other stakeholders continue to press Vietnam on human rights and press freedom reforms.
May 2: Launch of CPJ's 2013 Impunity Index, available online at www.cpj.org and featured at official World Press Freedom Day events in New York and San José, Costa Rica.
May 2-4: UNESCO's official World Press Freedom Day celebration with 400 global participants will include a CPJ panel on good practices for safety of journalists and impunity. We will also host a side meeting, titled "Research, Action, Results: Strategy Discussion for Combating Impunity," with press freedom groups, journalists, and academics. Click here for the full schedule.
May 3: For World Press Freedom Day, CPJ is co-sponsoring a full-day press freedom symposium at New York University. The event is free and open to the public. For details, please click here.
May 8: Panel discussion, "Stamping Out Impunity," at the Frontline Club in London.
May 8: Discussion and screening, "Censorship and power in Iran," Jon Stewart in a conversation with Maziar Bahari and Joel Simon at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
May 23: CPJ will launch a special report on Pakistan.