|SAARC Summit and the deterioration of press freedoms
In the words of Vincent Brossel, RSF spokesman, "Reporters sans Frontieres considers that the fight against terrorism and armed movements cannot serve as an excuse to restrict fundamental freedoms. RSF deplores the fact that adopting anti-terrorist laws, as in India, should be an occasion for approving proposals that run counter to freedom."
Reporters Sans Frontires, which defends jailed journalists and press freedom throughout the world, has in recent weeks decided to reinforce its fight for journalists to have the right to inform and be informed, in accordance with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Sans Frontires is comprised of nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) with representation in Abidjan, Bangkok, Montreal, Tokyo and Washington and about one hundred correspondents worldwide.
In RSFs line of fire this week is the 21st summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), being held at Katmandu, which is being attended by the heads of state of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. RSF has decided to use the occasion to condemn what it calls the "deterioration of press freedom in the region." Moreover RSF says its using the occasion of the Katmandu summit to call for "the release of the fourteen journalists imprisoned in the countries participating in the summit." RSF also says it will "draw the governments attention to the problem of impunity," in their respective countries, where says RSF "nearly 90 per cent of the murderers and attackers of reporters have never been indicted."
As for the host country of Nepal, says RSF, "ever since the declaration of a state of emergency in November, 2001, press freedoms in Nepal are no longer assured." According to RSF, the press is subjected to censorship, and some forty journalists have been arrested by the police. And areas where there is fighting between the army and the Maoist guerrilla movement are closed to the press. Bangladesh was Asias and the worlds leader in attacks on journalists in 2001. Since Khaleda Zias election in October, activists of the two main parties in power (the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami) have attacked more than fifty journalists. The government is doing nothing to curb this violence, and, as under Sheikh Hasinas regime, the attackers enjoy woeful impunity. In Sri Lanka too journalists are still being victimised by attacks and intimidation. Reporters of Tamil origin have been directly accused of being "spies" for the Tamil Tigers by government publications. Such accusations, says RSF, "put their lives at serious risk." In Pakistan, RSF adds, dozens of foreign and Pakistani journalists were detained by the authorities in the months of October and November for having tried to cover the events in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
Also, says RSF, Nepal happens to be "the regional leader with the most journalists behind bars." At least nine news-gathering professionals are being detained, says RSF, eight of whom are journalists and collaborators of the pro-Maoist publications, Janadesh, Disabodh and Janadisha, who have been secretly held for more than a month. In Bangladesh journalist Shahriar Kabir has been held for more than forty-three days for having interviewed Hindu refugees in India, victims of violence by Muslims. RSF says it "has recently met with the Bangladeshi ambassador to France to protest Shahriar Kabirs detention for sedition." As for Pakistan, says RSF, two journalists are being held under the blasphemy law. One of them, Ayub Khoso, has been sentenced to 17 years in prison. In 2001 the law on blasphemy became a very real threat to the Pakistani press. More than ten journalists were arrested, and two dailies were shut down.
RSF says it is asking the governments of the SAARC countries to do whatever they can to fight against the impunity enjoyed by the murderers of journalists. In Sri Lanka, more than a year after the crime, the murderers of the BBC reporter, Nimalarajan, have still not been found. In Bangladesh Joynal Jazari, the man behind the attempted murder of journalist Tipu Sultan, has still not been arrested by the police.
Furthermore, says RSF, the India-Pakistan crisis has become what it characterizes as a "threat to press freedom," especially as "the risk of war between the regions two nuclear powers is also a threat to free speech." The first regrettable occurrence, says RSF, took place on December 28th when the Pakistani Telecommunications Authority forbade Pakistani cable operators to broadcast Indian programmes. The Islamabad government had already rejected visas for nearly all Indian reporters or reporters of Indian origin desiring to cover the Afghani conflict. In India risks for reporters are growing as the confrontations between the Kashmir separatists and the Indian army intensify. In 2000 a terrorist attack in Srinagar, Kashmirs capital, resulted in the death of a journalist. In 2001 more than twenty journalists were attacked by elements of the Indian security forces. The press in Kashmir is subjected to pressure from armed movements who threatened it with reprisals if it doesnt publish their press releases.
Given the important number of cases of the repression of press freedom, RSF says that it is asking the member countries of the SAARC to "honour their commitments to press freedom by releasing the jailed journalists in their countries." Only Pakistan, the Maldives and Bhutan, it says, have not ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (United Nations ICCPR).
RSF asks it is asking the member countries of SAARC to "suppress legislation that includes prison sentences for press infractions. Such laws, it says, "exist in all the regions countries. By imposing sanctions that are disproportionate to the harm done, these laws in certain countries promote self-censure on certain subjects by journalists." RSF notes that in a document adopted in January, 2000, Abid Hussain, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to free opinion and speech, clearly established that "imprisonment as a condemnation for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."
|NEWS | POLITICS | DEFENCE | OPINION | BUSINESS | LEISURE | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|