Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round-up, 18 – 22 July

Georgia: Arrest of Photo-Journalists  

A group of 15 international and regional freedom of expression organisations have expressed serious concern over the arrest of a group of photo-journalists ‘spying on behalf of foreign intelligence services or organisations’ and are scheduled to stand trial in September.  The Independent Association of Georgian Journalists called on Georgian President Michael Saakashvili to intervene in this case to secure release on bail. The union says the arrests may be related to the photographers’ work, including photos taken of police using violence against anti-government protesters.  According to Beth Costa, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, ‘[t]his is a test case to prove [Georgia’s] genuine commitment to the rule of law and tolerance of criticism. The photojournalists are entitled to the presumption of innocence and should be released to defend themselves as free men in a public trial.’


UK: Expert Group for Freedom of Expression on the Internet meets for first time

UK Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne opened the first meeting of the Freedom of Expression on the Internet subgroup of the Advisory Group on Human Rights, on 20 July 2011.  The meeting was attended by experts from the legal, academic and media communities, NGOs and the business sector.  The Freedom of Expression on the Internet Expert Group is focusing specifically on internet freedom issues, to ensure the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the best possible information about recent developments and can benefit from outside advice on the conduct of our policy.


Saudi Arabia: Terror law ‘would strangle protest’

A secret new anti-terror law being drawn up by the Saudi authorities would ‘strangle peaceful protest’, Amnesty International has said.  According to the BBC, which has been shown a classified copy of the draft law, measures include lengthy detention without trial, restricted legal access and increased use of the death penalty.  Among the measures proposed is a broadening of the definition of a terrorist crime to include any action deemed to be ‘harming the reputation of the state’ or ‘endangering national unity’.  However, a Saudi Official has said that the legislation is directed at terrorists, not dissidents.  Amnesty has said that a number of provisions in the document contradict the kingdom’s international legal obligations, including the UN Convention against Torture.


Global: Human Rights Committee Continues Discussion of Draft General Comment on the Right to Freedom of Expression

The Human Rights Committee continued its review of a draft General Comment on States parties’ obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, setting out the rights to hold an opinion without interference and to freedom of expression.  The discussion addressed such issues as how to respect diverse cultures, while at the same time acknowledging the universality of the right to freedom of expression and whether freedom of expression also protected certain treatment of flags and symbols.  They also discussed at length freedom of expression in the context of new media and emerging technologies.


Kyrgyzstan: OSCE Media Freedom Representative Welcomes Decriminalization of Libel by Kyrgyzstan

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, commended Kyrgyzstan for being the first Central Asian state to decriminalize libel.  President Roza Otunbaeva signed the amendments to the Criminal Code on 11 July 2011. The amendments bring the Code in line with the guarantees of the 2010 Constitution of Kyrgyzstan, which prohibits criminal liability for disseminating information discrediting the honour and dignity of an individual.


Mexico: Senior UN Official Deplores Murder of Third Mexican Journalist in One Month

The head of the United Nations (UN) agency tasked with defending press freedom has condemned the killing of a Mexican journalist, Angel Castillo Corona.  Corona wrote about local politics for regional newspapers Puntual and Diario de México in Ocuilan. On 4 July, unidentified assailants beat him to death on the highway from Ocuilan to Tiaguistenco in an attack in which his 16-year-old son was also killed.  `Irina Bokova, the Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called on the authorities ‘to spare no effort in pursuing criminals who use violence to curb the media.’


Guatemalan Journalist Keeps Secrets of Drug Killings for Posthumous Video

‘It is the most compelling video Carlos Jimenez has taped as a journalist but he sincerely hopes it will never be broadcast. If it is, he will be dead.

The tape features Jimenez talking to camera and naming those who have turned his community in El Naranjo, northern Guatemala, into a nest of corruption, violence and fear.

The video, already passed on to trusted contacts, is to be aired only if the reporter is murdered. “It is to be posthumous. I detail who has been doing all the killings. You’ll get to see it if they kill me.”’


Syrian Forces Arrest Leading Writer Ali Abdullah

‘Syrian troops on Sunday arrested prominent writer Ali Abdullah, a fierce critic of the state’s use of violence against a four-month uprising against four decades of autocratic rule, his son said.

“Ten soldiers entered my father’s house around 9am in the Damascus suburb of Qatana and took him. He just had heart surgery three weeks ago,” Abdullah’s son Mohammad told Reuters by phone from exile in Washington.’


Jordan:  News Website Refuses to Reveal Identity of a Source

An online news outlet on Sunday refused to abide by the Amman Prosecutor General’s request to reveal the identity of a source that provided the website with classified documents, citing Article 8 of the Press and Publications Law that provides legal protection for journalists.  The Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists Director Nidal Mansour told The Jordan Times yesterday that the Press and Publications Law as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee protection for sources.  “This is a serious development and undermines press freedom and freedom of expression. If journalists cannot guarantee the safety of their sources their work will be at stake as most of the journalistic work is based on sources,” he said, adding that the centre will represent the website in court if the need arises.



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