Tag Archives: Press rights

Gulf States Curbing Opposition

A worker walks past a balloon with a United States flag on it as part of welcome celebrations ahead of the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

By Sami Aboudi 
May 19, 2017

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, departing from his predecessor’s practice, is expected to sidestep human rights questions when he meets Gulf Arab leaders at the weekend and focus, to the dismay of beleaguered government critics, on business and security.

Civil liberties monitors point to freedom of expression as a right increasingly constrained in Gulf Arab states including summit host Saudi Arabia, which is planning to buy tens of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. arms.

Gulf Arab states began stepping up the muffling of political discussion in the dying months of former president Barack Obama’s term and have continued this under Trump, they say.

“Given Trump’s tenuous relationship with freedom of the press and free expression in general, we have no expectation that Trump would raise these issues during his visit,” said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In Washington, a senior Trump administration official said human rights would not take centre stage in Riyadh, where Arab leaders are expected to discuss combating Islamist militancy and what they see as the growing influence of adversary Iran.

The official said Trump preferred to keep such conversations private, much as he did with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently when he obtained the release of an Egyptian-American humanitarian worker.

Trump’s visit is likely to contrast with one Obama paid to Egypt in 2009 when he made an appeal to the Muslim world promoting self-determination, democracy and individual rights.

The Saudis “don’t want any more talk about human rights, democracy, political reform or gender equality. They had enough of that from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

“They’re pretty confident they’re not going to hear it from Donald Trump.”

While experts are not surprised, since the Gulf states’ monarchies abhor discord and dislike free-wheeling political debate as practised in the West, they are nevertheless dismayed.

The output of several columnists, economists and clerics in regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and some of its smaller neighbours has either dried up or grown circumspect since the second half of 2016 in what critics see as an unacknowledged state drive to stifle public criticism, rights monitors say.

Among those who have fallen silent are critics, both liberal and conservative, of the kingdom’s ambitious plan to diversify the economy and open up the country culturally under a plan known as Vision 2030.

Until late last year Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi commented about issues including Trump’s rise to power on social media and a column in the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily. He also spoke in public appearances at think tanks.

In December, news circulated on social media that Kashoggi, former editor of the Arabic-language al-Watan daily, one of the kingdom’s top newspapers, had been ordered to stop writing or Tweeting. His account has been silent since November last year.

Khashoggi declined to comment on the reported ban.

DISSENTING VOICES

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Gulf states have stepped up efforts to curb dissent with tough new cybercrime laws, sentencing offenders to prison terms for Web posts deemed insulting to rulers or threatening to public order.

But in the past two years, unnerved by low oil prices and the slow progress of a war in Yemen targeting the influence of arch foe Iran, Gulf authorities became even less patient with dissenting voices in the media, analysts and rights groups say.

Madawi Al-Rasheed, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics, said Riyadh was engaged in an effort to muzzle intellectuals with “dissenting voices”.

“There are so many of them, both men and women, who have left the kingdom,” she said.

Activists say muzzled writers include economists, academics, columnists and Muslim clerics. There are no precise figures on how many have been affected, but estimates by activists put the number at more than 20 from Saudi Arabia alone.

While some were merely advised not to air their views on social media, more vocal critics have found themselves behind bars, facing possible indictments on charges such as disobeying the ruler or incitement against the state, rights activists say.

“The pursuit by security is increasing rapidly and … it is killing the voice of moderation,” said Walid Sulais, a Saudi rights activist who fled abroad in late 2016 after authorities summoned him for questioning over his rights work.

PRESSURES

Gulf Arab officials did not respond to requests for comment on the issue of free expression. But asked about the expected absence of human rights from Trump’s agenda, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the issue was one of definition.

“We look at human rights as the right to safety, the right to a decent life, the right to a job, the right to food. We see it as the right to live your life without people imposing on you,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

“Every Saudi has the right to petition his monarch or the governors. The doors of our leaders are open. We have built institutions. We have a thriving press corps. We have a consultative council that started with 60 members, today it has 150 members, and 30 of them are ladies, distinguished ladies.”

Gulf states have increasingly chafed at what they see as a campaign of vilification by Western media and rights groups. They insist they respect rights which do not violate Islamic Sharia laws and their societies’ conservative traditions.

Political parties are banned in Saudi Arabia as are protests, unions are illegal, the press is controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison. Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, while top officials have said monitoring activists is needed to keep social stability.

In a statement on Jan. 15, Bahrain’s information minister scolded Gulf media, warning outlets to “shoulder their responsibilities” and counter foreign attempts to “spread sedition” in Gulf states – an apparent reference to Iran which

Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among Bahraini Shi’ites.

Iran denies interfering in the affairs of Gulf states.

Other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman, have also been accused by rights groups of curbing free expression. In Qatar, activists noted that Faisal al-Marzoqi, a prominent commentator with more than 100,000 Twitter followers, had not tweeted since November 2016.

The UAE said on March 21 it had arrested political activist Ahmed Mansoor, an electrical engineer and poet, on charges of spreading sectarianism and hatred on social media, a move criticised by Amnesty International.

Defending the move, Mohammed al-Hammadi, editor of the pro-government al-Ittihad newspaper, wrote that Mansoor “either will be convicted or will be cleared through the rule of law and the justice of the judiciary, so what is the problem with this?”

In February Saudi social media reported the arrest of prominent clerics Sheikh Essam al-Owayed and Saad al-Breik.

In a Twitter post on Feb. 23, Owayed wrote in apparent reference to liberalising reforms: “Any decision-maker who thinks he can change the faith and identity of this country by opening the doors to decadence would be calling for a war in which he would be the main loser, no matter who he is.”

Owayed’s Twitter account has had no new postings since then, while the last Twitter message on Breik’s account dates to March 20. Neither Owayed nor Breik could be reached for a comment.

On May 4 on a visit to Saudi Arabia, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson urged Riyadh to stop using a 2014 counter-terrorism law and security prohibitions against human rights defenders and writers.

“When he is meeting with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries there, he should be equally as clear that any counter-terrorism efforts must include safeguards to protect the rights of individuals to express their opinions and assemble peacefully,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Reuters.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Journalism at risk from surveillance, data collection: UNESCO report

By Julie Posetti
May 3, 2017

The ability of journalists to report without fear is under threat from mass surveillance and data retention. The Conversation

Released this week, my UNESCO report Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age shows that laws protecting journalists and sources globally are not keeping up with the challenges posed by indiscriminate data collection and the spill-over effects of anti-terrorism and national security legislation.

Examining legal changes to how sources are protected across 121 countries between 2007-2015, I found that calls, text messages, and emails made in the process of reporting are increasingly exposed. In particular, they can be caught up in the nets of law enforcement and national security agencies as they trawl for evidence of criminal activity and terrorism, and conduct leak investigations.

Source protection laws should be updated to protect the online communications of journalists and whistleblowers.

If we do not strengthen legal protections and limit the impact of surveillance and data retention, investigative journalism that relies on confidential sources will be difficult to sustain.

New technologies, new problems

Now that simply using mobile technology, email, and social networks may result in a person being caught up in state and corporate surveillance and data mining, the laws protecting sources and journalists are being seriously undermined.

The study found that source protection laws globally are at risk of being:

  • trumped by national security and anti-terrorism legislation that increasingly broadens definitions of “classified information” and limits exceptions for journalistic acts
  • undercut by surveillance – both mass and targeted
  • jeopardised by mandatory data retention policies and pressure applied to third party intermediaries to release data which risks exposing sources
  • outdated when it comes to regulating the collection and use of digital data, such as whether information recorded without consent is admissible in a court case against either a journalist or a source; and whether digitally stored material gathered by journalistic actors is covered by existing source protection laws, and
  • challenged by questions about entitlement to claim protection – as underscored by the questions: “Who is a journalist?” and “What is journalism”?

These threats suggest lawmakers need to think differently when it comes to protecting press freedoms.

In the past, the main concerns of courts and lawmakers was whether a journalist could be legally forced to reveal the confidential source of published information or be the subject of targeted surveillance and search and seizure operations.

Now that data is routinely intercepted and collected, we must find new ways to protect the right of journalists to withhold the identity of their sources.

The Australian metadata threat

Australia’s experience with mandatory metadata collection shows how complicated the question of journalist-source protection can become in a digital era.

The Australian Federal Police recently admitted to illegally accessing an unidentified journalist’s metadata without a warrant.

This breach was possible because of the country’s mandatory data retention law, which requires phone and internet companies to preserve user metadata for two years, even when there is no suspicion of a crime. This includes information such as when a text message was sent and who received it, but not its content.

Advocates of long-term metadata retention, like Australian Attorney General George Brandis, have insisted the law poses no significant threat to privacy or freedom of expression. When the legislation was enacted in March 2015, it included an amendment that requires government agencies to seek a warrant to access journalists’ communications with sources in certain cases.

Transparency, however, is not required. Revelation of the existence (or non-existence) of such a warrant is punishable by a two-year jail term. At no point are journalists nor media organisations advised of such an intervention, and there is no opportunity for them to challenge the issuing of a warrant.

These shortcomings mean the law fails seven out of 11 indicators in UNESCO’s guide for measuring the effectiveness of a country’s legal source protection framework.

In the face of these threats, journalists can take steps to protect their online security and ensure sources have ways to contact them securely. Yet even when they encrypt the content of their source communications, they may neglect the metadata, meaning they still leave behind a digital trail of whom they contacted. This data can easily identify a source, and safeguards against its illegitimate use are frequently limited or non-existent.

Australia’s Press Council chair, professor David Weisbrot has said mandatory data retention legislation risks “crushing” investigative journalism:

I think that whistleblowers who are inside governments or corporations will definitely not come forward because their confidentiality and anonymity will not be guaranteed. If they came forward, a journalist would have to say ‘I have to give you some elaborate instructions to avoid detection: don’t drive to our meeting, don’t carry your cell phone, don’t put this on your computer, handwrite whatever you’re going to give me’.

Australia’s metadata experience shows how legal protections that shield journalists from disclosing confidential sources may be undercut by backdoor access to data.

This also applies to information collected by internet service providers, search engines, and social media platforms. Such companies can, in some circumstances, be compelled by law enforcement to produce electronic records that identify journalists’ sources.

In an interview for the UNESCO study, Privacy International legal officer Tomaso Falchetta said

There is a growing trend of delegation by law enforcement of quasi-judicial responsibilities to Internet and telecommunication companies, including by requiring them to incorporate vulnerabilities in their networks to ensure that they are ‘wire-tap ready’

On World Press Freedom Day, we’d like a little less secrecy, and lot more accountability.

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Julie Posetti is a  Journalism lecturer, University of WollongongThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trying (and Trying) to Get Records From the “Most Transparent Administration”

Reporter's notebook

The ability to get information from the government is essential to holding the people in power accountable.

 

 

 

by Justin Elliott, ProPublica
March 11

Two years ago last month, I filed a public-records request to the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of my reporting into the flawed response to Hurricane Sandy. Then, I waited.

The Freedom of Information Act requires a response within 20 business days, but agencies routinely blow that deadline. Eight months later, ProPublica and NPR published our investigation into the Sandy response, but it did not include any documents from FEMA. The agency had simply never gotten back to me.

Finally, this Feb. 10 — 492 business days past the law’s 20-day deadline — I got a curious phone call from FEMA. The agency was starting a “clean search” for the documents I asked for, because the original search “was not done properly.”

Why?

“I wish I had the answer,” the staffer told me. “There are quite a few cases that this happened to.”

Documents are the lifeblood of investigative journalism, but these problems aren’t of interest only to reporters. The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to deliver on the idea of a government “for and by the people,” whose documents are our documents. The ability to get information from the government is essential to holding the people in power accountable. This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. law, which has been essential in disclosing the torture of detainees after 9/11, decades of misdeeds by the CIA, FBI informants who were allowed to break the law and hundreds of other stories.

President Obama himself waxed poetic about FOIA on his first full day in office in 2009, issuing a statement calling it “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” He promised that his would be “the most transparent administration in history.”

But Obama hasn’t delivered. In fact, FOIA has been a disaster under his watch.

Newly uncovered documents (made public only through a FOIA lawsuit) show the Obama administration aggressively lobbying against reforms proposed in Congress. The Associated Press found last year that the administration had set a record for censoring or denying access to information requested under FOIA, and that the backlog of unanswered requests across the government had risen by 55 percent, to more than 200,000.

The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee looked into the state of the public-records law and in January issued a report with a simple, devastating title: “FOIA Is Broken.”

Incredibly, it took my ProPublica colleague Michael Grabell more than seven years to get records about air marshal misconduct from the Transportation Security Administration. As he pointed out, his latest contact in the FOIA office was still in high school when Grabell filed his initial request.

After a reporter at NBC4 in Washington sought files related to the 2013 Navy Yard shooting, Navy officials actively strategized about how to thwart the request. The Navy only apologized after it mistakenly forwarded its internal email traffic to the reporter.

When a Mexican journalist asked the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014 for files related to its role in the capture of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the agency sent a letter back demanding $1.4 million in fees to search its records.

“There’s a leadership void that has gotten worse,” veteran FOIA lawyer Scott Hodes told me. “It’s not treated as an important thing within the administration.”

Why is the law failing so badly after all the promises about transparency? My experience and the experience of other journalists suggests the reason is twofold: incompetence and neglect.

When I probed a bit more into what had gone wrong at FEMA, the agency’s entire FOIA apparatus started to look like a Potemkin village of open government. The FOIA staff was never trained properly, a FEMA spokesman told me. Of 16 positions in the office, eight have long been vacant for reasons that are not entirely clear. The backlog of requests at FEMA has ballooned to 1,500. That’s more than double what it was less than two years ago.

Spokesman Rafael Lemaitre promised that the backlog was “frankly unacceptable to senior leadership here at FEMA, who have been aware of the problems and are taking actions to correct it.”

“Obviously the Freedom of Information Act is a very vital resource for taxpayers,” Lemaitre said. “Frankly, we haven’t done a very good job of fulfilling that promise.”

Over the past two years, whenever I periodically called or emailed for updates, agency staffers either ignored me, said their systems weren’t working or told me they didn’t have any new information.

My request outlasted the tenure of my original contact in the FOIA office. When I called 14 months into the process, I was told she had left the agency 2014 fair enough, as people change jobs all the time. But my request had apparently not been handed off to anyone else. No one seemed to know what was going on.

Last year, the federal FOIA ombudsman found that FEMA took an average of 214 days to process complex FOIA requests, the third-worst in the Department of Homeland Security. (That compares to an average processing time for complex requests of 119 days across the rest of the government.) “A lack of responsiveness prompted lawsuits that cost the agency a bunch of money,” said James Holzer, the head of the ombudsman’s office, who praised FEMA officials for at least recognizing the problem.

A hiring freeze at the agency after sequestration didn’t help matters. But officials told Holzer’s investigators last year that the eight long-vacant positions in the public records office would be filled as early as last fall. Today, those jobs remain empty. The FEMA spokesman didn’t have an explanation for what’s taking so long.

When I tried to find out whether anyone had been held responsible for the fiasco, I didn’t find much more transparency. “I cannot discuss any personnel issues, unfortunately,” the spokesman told me.

Has the agency at least set a specific goal for when it will get through its backlog? “Our target is to get these cleared as quickly as possible 2014 I don’t have a date for you.”

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Je Suis Charlie

charlie

The web site of Charlie Hebdo was draped in a virtual black flag Wednesday, with a link to a pdf file displaying the words “I am Charlie” in numerous languages.

Scorecard, Wednesday, Jan. 7: Pen – 0. Sword – 12, and counting.

Masked gunmen with AK47s and a rocket launcher killed at least 10 journalists and two police officers early Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that had been under police protection since extremists firebombed it in 2011.

 French leader François Hollande  declared a national day of mourning for Thursday. The hashtag #jesuischarlie flooded social media. World leaders spoke out in solidarity.

Crowds flocked to Place de la République in Paris in the evening, many people holding up pens. The web site of Charlie Hebdo was draped in a virtual black flag Wednesday, with a link to a pdf file displaying the words “I am Charlie” in numerous languages.

World leaders expressed outrage, support for France, and in some cases, also support for press rights. It was a rare outpouring of support for journalists and freedom of expression which, literally and metaphorically, have been under fire on all fronts and in most countries lately.
 
“This is an attack against freedom of expression and freedom of the press – the two pillars of democracy,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who, ironically, was in the midst of a New Year visit to the UN Correspondents Association.
 

From the United States, Barack Obama called  the shooting “horrific” while Secretary of State John Kerry said, in French, “Tous les Américains au côté de la France.” British prime minister David Cameron tweeted, “”We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press.”

 
Reporters Without Borders appealed to all media outlets globally to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons thought to offend the extremists. “Freedom of information cannot shrink in the face of barbarity and yield to blackmail by those who assail (our) democracy and what  (France) stands for. In the name of all those who have fallen in the defence of fundamental values, let us continue Charlie Hebdo’s fight for free information,” said RSF in a statement.
B6vwy0sCMAABMA5.jpg-large

One of the last cartoons drawn by Charb, killed in Wednesday’s slaughter by extremists. “Still no terrorist attacks in France,” it says. “Wait! We have until the end of January to present our wishes,” says the man with an AK47. Photo via Twitter, fair use.

It’s no coincidence that on the same day a dystopian novel by Michel Houellebecq, Submission, was released in France, amid a media fire storm. 

“The book’s publication could not come at a more sensitive time as France is currently undergoing a fierce debate on Islam and national identity,” noted  an analysis on the French site France 24.

Charlie Hebdo was one of many outlets to feature the book.

Submission, said numerous French media outlets, portrayed a France years in the future ruled by Sharia law and a Muslim government. In the world of Submission Muslims would eliminate France’s secular focus on human rights, captured in the official national motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, coined during the French revolution. 

France takes human rights seriously, and has a long tradition of accepting and even celebrating satire. It was in France the famous quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” was coined, attributed to a biographer of French enlightenment writer Voltaire, the pen name of François-Marie Arouet.

One of the journalists killed by the extremists Wednesday was Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier. “A drawing has never killed anyone,” he  told Der Spiegel in 2012.  “Extremists don’t need any excuses. We are only criticizing one particular form of extremist Islam, albeit in a peculiar and satirically exaggerated form. We are not responsible for the excesses that happen elsewhere, just because we practice our right to freedom of expression within the legal limits.”

“I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees,” Charbonnier told Le Monde in 2012, in a story about the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo by extremists in 2011, after it published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed. 

As the world learned through the bloody, brutal, irrational, self-defeating and continuing aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the clear and present danger now is the fanatical attack on Charlie Hebdo will boost fanatics of all stripes.
 
Extremism by fanatics, the latest of whom claim allegiance to the self-branded “Islamic State,” has been met by extremist xenophobia and bigotry aimed at Muslims in general. Carnage in the names of religion and “war on terror,” both, continues in world war zones, far from the light of publicity now shining on Charlie Hebdo. And if recent history is a guide, the reaction can easily backfire on all of the rights cited today in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings. Since 9/11, press freedoms of all kinds have been amongst the collateral damage in the “War on Terror.”
 
Warned UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “If this attack is allowed to feed discrimination and prejudice, it will be playing straight into the hands of extremists whose clear aim is to divide religions and societies. With xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments already on the rise in Europe, I am very concerned that this awful, calculated act will be exploited by extremists of all sorts.”
 
Who will keep a cool head after Wednesday’s slaughter by gunmen reportedly screaming, triumphantly, “Allahu Akbar?”
 

 

Further reading:

Freedom of Expression, Freedom House: https://freedomhouse.org/issues/freedom-expression#.VK2lEt6kb8s

An image gallery of the attacks, Le Monde: http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/portfolio/2015/01/07/en-images-l-attentat-de-charlie-hebdo_4550797_3224.html

Wikipedia page for Charlie Hebdo, including backgrounder: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo

Ban outraged by ‘horrendous and cold-blooded’ attack on French magazine: United Nations news release: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49741&Cr=UNESCO&Cr1=#.VK2JBN6kb8s

World leaders condemn attack on France’s Charlie Hebdo, France 24: http://www.france24.com/en/20150107-charlie-hebdo-paris-attack-journalist-terror-/

‘Charlie Hebdo’ Editor in Chief: ‘A Drawing Has Never Killed Anyone,’ by Stefan Simons, Der Spiegel, September, 2012

A “Charlie Hebdo”, on n’a “pas l’impression d’égorger quelqu’un avec un feutre,” Le Monde archive:  http://www.lemonde.fr/actualite-medias/article/2012/09/20/je-n-ai-pas-l-impression-d-egorger-quelqu-un-avec-un-feutre_1762748_3236.html#jsi567twGzKCWauk.99

RWB APPEALS TO MEDIA OUTLETS TO PUBLISH CHARLIE HEBDO CARTOONS, Reporters san Frontiers/Reporters Without Borders:  http://en.rsf.org/france-rwb-appeals-to-media-outlets-to-07-01-2015,47454.html

1101 Journalists Killed since 1992: Committee to Protect Journalists report: http://www.cpj.org/killed/ 

 

 

 

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Verbatim: Canada court blocks Zahra Kazemi suit against Iran

October 10, 2014

A lawsuit against Iran by the son of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who died after an alleged beating, rape and torture in an Iranian prison, hit a wall Friday in Canada’s top court. 

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Kazemi’s son Stephan Hachemi could not sue Iran’s government and key officials for $17 million Canadian for his mother’s suffering and death, because they are protected under Canada’s State Immunity Act.

Kazemi was a freelance photojournalist born in Iran in 1948, educated at the University of Paris, and who emigrated to Canada. She retained her Iranian passport and was using it to travel in Iran at the time of her death.

Zahra Kazemi in 2003. File photo

Zahra Kazemi in 2003. File photo

Kazemi, who sold her work to magazines and a European photo agency, was detained outside Evin Prison in June, 2003 while taking photos of protesters. She died shortly afterward, on July 11, 2003, in Iran’s Baghiyyatollah al-Azam Military Hospital. Iran refused to ship her body to her son in Canada for burial.

The case sparked a diplomatic quarrel between Canada and Iran, intervention by Amnesty International and other human rights and press groups, and at one point the arrest by Iran of several Intelligence Ministry officials. The autumn after she died, an Iranian parliamentary commission reported that Kazemi had been under the jurisdiction of the Iranian judiciary when she was beaten. Iran’s official response to her death wrapped up in July, 2004, when an Iranian court acquitted intelligence agent Mohamed Reza Aqdam Ahmadi, on the grounds there was insufficient evidence, said the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Hachemi launched his suit in the province of Quebec in 2006, against  the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the prison where Kazemi died.

The case, Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran, took eight years to wind its way through Canada’s slow and complex court system.

Friday’s final Canadian ruling upholds a verdict by Quebec’s top court, which essentially ruled that because Kazemi was not injured in Canada, Canada’s State Immunity Act renders the defendants immune.

Six Supreme court justices agreed with the Quebec court; only one, Rosalie Abella, dissented. “The State Immunity Act is constitutional and prohibits civil law suit against a foreign country,” said the Supreme Court. The defendants “are immune from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts.”

Abella disagreed, writing in her lone dissent “They are not immune from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts and the claims against them should be allowed to proceed.”

The court referred the issue to Canada’s political system. “A foreign state and its functionaries cannot be sued in Canadian courts for acts of torture committed abroad. This conclusion does not, however, freeze state immunity in time. Parliament has the power and the capacity to change the current state of the law on exceptions to state immunity, just as it has done in the past,” said the majority.

– Deborah Jones

Excerpts of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling:

K, a Canadian citizen, visited Iran in 2003 as a freelance photographer and journalist. She was arrested, detained and interrogated by Iranian authorities. During her detention, she was beaten, sexually assaulted and tortured. She later died as the result of a brain injury sustained while in the custody of Iranian officials. Despite requests made by K’s son, H, that her remains be sent to Canada for burial, she was buried in Iran. Although a report commissioned by the Iranian government linked members of the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor to K’s torture, only one individual was tried. That person was acquitted following a trial marked by a lack of transparency. In short, it was impossible for K and her family to obtain justice in Iran.

In 2006, H instituted civil proceedings in Quebec seeking damages on behalf of himself and his mother’s estate against the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the prison where K was detained and tortured. H sought damages on behalf of K’s estate for her physical, psychological, and emotional pain and suffering as well as damages for the psychological and emotional prejudice that he sustained as the result of the loss of his mother. Both H and the estate also sought punitive damages. The Iranian defendants brought a motion in Quebec Superior Court to dismiss the action on the basis of state immunity….

…. At issue in this appeal is whether the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state and the individuals who allegedly detained, tortured and killed K in Iran are entitled to immunity by operation of the SIA . The resolution of that issue rests on the scope of the SIA , the impact that the evolution of international law since the SIA ’s adoption might have on its interpretation, and whether the Act is constitutional. An overarching question, which permeates almost all aspects of this appeal, is whether international law has created a mandatory universal civil jurisdiction in respect of claims of torture, which would require Canada to open its courts to the claims of victims of acts of torture that were committed abroad. Moreover, this Court is asked to determine whether torture may constitute an official act of a state and whether public officials having committed acts of torture can benefit from immunity.

…. State immunity is not solely a rule of international law, it also reflects domestic choices made for policy reasons, particularly in matters of international relations. Canada’s commitment to the universal prohibition of torture is strong. However, Parliament has made a choice to give priority to a foreign state’s immunity over civil redress for citizens who have been tortured abroad. That policy choice is not a comment about the evils of torture, but rather an indication of what principles Parliament has chosen to promote.

H seeks to avail himself of the “personal or bodily injury” exception to state immunity set out at s. 6 (a) of the SIA . If H’s psychological suffering is captured by the personal injury exception to state immunity set out at s. 6 (a), his claim would be allowed to proceed. However, when the words of s. 6 (a) are examined in conjunction with the purpose of the Act, it becomes apparent that the exception applies only where the tort causing the personal injury or death has occurred in Canada. It does not apply where the impugned events, or the tort causing the personal injury or death, did not take place in Canada. Accordingly, H’s claim is barred by the SIA because the alleged tort did not “occur in Canada”. His claim is also barred by the SIA on the further ground that the “personal or bodily injury” exception does not apply where the injury allegedly suffered by the plaintiff does not stem from a physical breach of personal integrity. Only when psychological distress manifests itself after a physical injury will the exception to state immunity be triggered. In the present case, H did not plead any kind of physical harm nor did he claim to have suffered an injury to his physical integrity…

…Parliament has given no indication whatsoever that Canadian courts are to deem torture an “unofficial act” and that a universal civil jurisdiction has been created allowing foreign officials to be sued in our courts. Creating this kind of jurisdiction would have potentially considerable impact on Canada’s international relations. This decision is to be made by Parliament, not the courts.

Further reading:

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling.  
Wikipedia page for Zahra Kazemi   
Committee to Protect Journalists page for Zahra Kazemi 
Reporters without Borders compiled releases about Zahra Kazemi 
Amnesty International page for Zahra Kazemi  

 

 

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UN Security Council and journalists at risk

A legal expert wonders if it’s time for the United Nations Security Council to become pro-active in protecting journalism.

Daniel_pearl_highres

Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal correspondent, abducted in Pakistan in 2002 and beheaded in a manner copied by the murderers of freelance journalist James Foley this month. READ: International law fails to protect journalists from savagery.

“Statistics suggest that many states are unwilling or unable to deter crimes against journalists by ensuring that the perpetrators are held to account,” writes Carmen Draghici. “The culture of impunity not only infringes the victims’ right to life, personal security and free speech, but also has a chilling effect on the media in general, as well as affecting the public’s right to information.”

An excerpt of Draghici’s essay in Dispatches/Publica:

The vicious execution of US journalist James Foley by militants of the Islamic State deepens the concern that international law and diplomacy may be ill-equipped to address crimes against media workers reporting from conflict zones.

The video depicting the decapitation and cautioning Barack Obama to end military operations in Iraq displays a modus operandi typical of terrorist negotiation strategy. It evokes the murder of freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni in 2004 by the Islamic Army in Iraq, after the fundamentalist group attempted to use the hostage as a leverage tool for an ultimatum requesting the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

It further echoes the murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, abducted in Pakistan in 2002, whose captors posted the video of the beheading as a warning after unsuccessfully demanding the release of Guantanamo Bay Muslim prisoners.

Unlawful killings have also been used as a tactic to inhibit the dissemination of information and critical views, as in the kidnapping and shooting of US freelance journalist Steven Vincent by Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2005.

High-profile cases are only the tip of the iceberg … read International law fails to protect journalists from savagery. (Free story*)

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and will continue with, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

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International law fails to protect journalists from savagery

By Carmen Draghici, City University London
August, 2014

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James Foley, abducted in Syria in 2012 and slaughtered in August by extremists. Photo © Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org

The vicious execution of US journalist James Foley by militants of the Islamic State deepens the concern that international law and diplomacy may be ill-equipped to address crimes against media workers reporting from conflict zones.

The video depicting the decapitation and cautioning Barack Obama to end military operations in Iraq displays a modus operandi typical of terrorist negotiation strategy. It evokes the murder of freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni in 2004 by the Islamic Army in Iraq, after the fundamentalist group attempted to use the hostage as a leverage tool for an ultimatum requesting the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

It further echoes the murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, abducted in Pakistan in 2002, whose captors posted the video of the beheading as a warning after unsuccessfully demanding the release of Guantanamo Bay Muslim prisoners.

Unlawful killings have also been used as a tactic to inhibit the dissemination of information and critical views, as in the kidnapping and shooting of US freelance journalist Steven Vincent by Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2005.

High-profile cases are only the tip of the iceberg. UNESCO reports reveal an alarming 593 journalist killings between 2006-2013, with the highest figures in 2012 (123) and 2013 (91). According to the International Federation of Journalists, 67 journalists and media workers have been killed so far in 2014, with Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria holding the worst records.

These statistics suggest that many states are unwilling or unable to deter crimes against journalists by ensuring that the perpetrators are held to account. The culture of impunity not only infringes the victims’ right to life, personal security and free speech, but also has a chilling effect on the media in general, as well as affecting the public’s right to information.

As UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue stated in his 2009 report to the Human Rights Council: “Limiting impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against media professionals will function as an important deterrent against the repetition of these crimes.”

Countering impunity remains, however, a real problem in countries where political instability and military turmoil render state institutions ineffective. This has led to the rise of a new type of threat facing foreign correspondents: deliberate targeting by private actors.

Unlike states, extremist groups tend to be beyond the reach of both diplomacy and the law. Peer pressure within the international community relies on concerns such as reputational damage, continued support of economic or strategic allies and domestic public opinion. Groups that are driven by a nihilist ideology who resort to terrorist methods do not respond to such considerations.

Daniel_pearl_highres

Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal correspondent, abducted in Pakistan in 2002 and beheaded. (Promotional photo)

This is not to say that international law places no obligations on non-state parties. Under international humanitarian law, which protects individuals who take no active part in the hostilities, obligations applying to warring countries in international conflicts also bind non-state parties to internal hostilities.

In particular, Article 13 of Additional Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions dictates that civilians cannot be the object of attack or acts or threats of violence. Non-international conflicts are also covered by common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions, establishing that civilians cannot be subjected to cruel treatment or outrages upon personal dignity or taken hostages.

Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict are expressly classified as “civilians” in Article 79 of the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. This means they are entitled to the protection of Article 48, which requires warring parties to distinguish between civilian and military objectives.

More recently, UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) reiterated the obligation for all parties involved in conflicts to treat journalists as civilians and respect their rights and professional independence. So media workers in conflict zones cannot be legitimate targets under any circumstance.

But the reality does not match the expectations under the law. To address this crisis, in 2012 UNESCO developed a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is at present being implemented in five pilot countries, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Tunisia.

The plan involves helping states to develop legislation guaranteeing freedom of expression – including effective investigation and prosecution of crimes against journalists; raising awareness amongst media owners and policy-makers on existing international instruments for the protection of journalists; disseminating best practices on the safety of journalists.

Further international avenues for increasing the safety of journalists may include the adoption of a convention for the protection of journalists in conflict zones in recognition of their being a category at risk – or making the killing of journalists a war crime.

Nevertheless, enhancing the international legal framework may prove valuable in dealing with rational state players. Similarly, international co-operation focusing on capacity-building presupposes the effective control of the legitimate authorities of States receiving assistance over their own territory.

The efforts of the international community to tackle threats to journalists may be insufficient if confined to legal measures and assistance in the administration of justice. In the presence of anarchic private groups such as Islamic State, rethinking international law-enforcement options through the Security Council might be timely.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Carmen Draghici does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. She is Senior Lecturer, City Law School at City University London.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Further reading on F&O:

 Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State, International Affairs column by Jonathan Manthorpe 
James Foley, Journalist, Frontlines blog post

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Triads suspected in brutal attack on Hong Kong journalist

Today’s brutal attack on Kevin Lau Chun-to, a prominent journalist in Hong Kong, raises the specter of Chinese criminal gangs — triads — being called in to suppress campaigners for democratic reforms. An excerpt of international affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe’s  new column:

Manthorpe B&WThere is renewed suspicion in Hong Kong that Beijing is using hit men from triad criminal gangs to attack outspoken advocates of freedom in its truculent territory, and to intimidate other campaigners for democratic reforms.

The latest example of the Communist Party’s apparent use of triad thugs against troublesome opponents came this morning when Kevin Lau Chun-to, the recently sacked editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper, was brutally attacked after he left a restaurant in the city’s Sai Wan Ho district.

In a classic triad-style assault, Lau, 49, was slashed six times with a butcher’s meat cleaver on his back and legs. He is in critical condition in hospital, and even if he survives it is uncertain he will ever be able to walk properly again.

Lau was reassigned last month after Ming Pao took part in an investigation by an international journalists’ organization, which documented the off-shore assets of leading members of China’s Communist Party regime and their families, including President Xi Jinping, his predecessor Hu Jintao, and former premiers Wen Jiabao and Li Peng.

Log in to read the column, “Patriotic” triad thugs attack Beijing’s critics in Hong Kong*

*Jonathan Manthorpe’s columns are available to monthly subscribers or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions.

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