‘Friends’ of the West, Enemies of Press Freedom

December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Thursday, 29 December 2011

http://www.freemedia.at/home/singleview/article/friends-of-the-west-enemies-of-press-freedom.html

A Year-End Look at 10 Press Freedom Offender States on whose Strategic Support the West Depends

VIENNA, 28 Dec. 2011 – At the close of the year, the International Press Institute (IPI) takes a look at 10 states that have poor records on press freedom, but on whose strategic support the west depends. These ‘Friends’ of the West, Enemies of Press Freedom are listed in no particular order below.

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Turkey

Friend:

Relations between the west and Turkey – a NATO member since 1952 and still theoretically a candidate to join the European Union – have cooled in recent years, but U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta earlier this month said on a visit to Turkey that the country remains a “key ally”. Western powers have often turned to Turkey, which serves as a bridge between the west and the Muslim world, for help in supporting the transitions to democracy in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, and in confronting the regimes in Syria and Iran.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Turkey presented one of the worst press freedom pictures in Europe, with a judge from the European Court of Human Rights saying in November that the country had taken the lead among Council of Europe members in violations of freedom of expression, including press freedom. The Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group representing 94 national and local groups in Turkey, said early this month that the government was holding 64 journalists in jail, a number that increased last week with the arrest of 29 Kurdish journalists following raids across the country that have heightened an ongoing climate of fear. Most jailed journalists are accused of terrorism-related offences, often on the grounds of spreading propaganda. While the majority are accused of ties to banned Kurdish or Marxist groups, the government has implicated a significant number in the ongoing probe of the alleged “Ergenekon” plot by secularists and ultra-nationalists to use terrorism to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government.

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Azerbaijan

Friend:

Since achieving independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has actively participated in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program connecting the group with other states in Europe and the former Soviet Union. It participated in United States-led missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and has provided overflight, refuelling and landing rights for coalition aircraft headed to the latter two countries. A strategic partner in the so-called ‘war on Terror’, Azerbaijan has also shared information with the west to combat terrorism financing and has apprehended and prosecuted suspected terrorists.

Press Freedom Enemy:

The government of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev this year cracked down on protests inspired by demonstrations across the Arab world. A number of journalists were beaten, both in connection with, and independently of, the protests, and journalist and writer Rafiq Tağı died in November, four days after he was stabbed outside his Baku home in what he speculated was an attack targeting him for an article he wrote criticising Iran’s government. Journalists have described a climate of intimidation, including a litany of instances of harassment, one of the most glaring of which was the brutal June attack on an American freelance contributor to The Washington Post and The New York Times and a British staffer at the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety shortly before they were to meet with Fatullayev following his release.

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Ethiopia

Friend:

Ethiopia has served as an important partner to the United States in its war on terrorism, despite strains in the relationship caused by Ethiopia’s human rights record under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The United States has relied on Ethiopia’s intelligence service to counter the influence of al- Qaeda in neighbouring Somalia and has been accused of using the country for black sites to secretly interrogate undeclared prisoners in the war on terrorism. Recently, the United States reportedly began flying armed drone aircraft from a base in southern Ethiopia as part of a rapidly expanding proxy war against al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group in East Africa allied with al-Qaeda.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Censorship in various forms is a pervasive problem in Ethiopia, and media houses that broadcast or print unwelcome news have been banned or suspended; or seen signals jammed, websites blocked and copies of publications confiscated or destroyed. Foreign publications and broadcasts have been banned or blocked, and access to social media websites has been temporarily disabled in some cases. Zenawi’s government has repeatedly relied on anti-terrorism law to silence critical voices. Journalist Eskinder Nega, who has called for an end to Zenawi’s rule, was arrested in September on charges of “plotting terrorist acts and inciting the public to overthrow the government”, and could face the death penalty. Foreign journalists also face harassment, and a court this week sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison for allegedly supporting terrorism after they were arrested in July during a gunfight between Ethiopian soldiers and rebels.

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Saudi Arabia

Friend:

Saudi Arabia holds more than 25% of the world’s known oil reserves, according to the BBC, and is a staunch military and political ally of the United States in a region increasingly overshadowed by a tense standoff with Iran over allegations that it is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Saudi Arabia’s media environment is one of the most repressive in the Arab world, with authorities holding broad powers to prevent any act that could lead to disunity or sedition. Journalists can be fined or imprisoned for publishing material that authorities deem objectionable, and the government has previously engaged in direct censorship of local and international media. The rise in the use of online resources in recent years has also led to government blocks on some blogs and harassment of bloggers. Saudi journalists are also subject to intimidation for publishing material deemed to be sexually offensive or insulting to Islam.

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Uzbekistan

Friend:

A border with Afghanistan has made this Central Asian country a strategic position for the United States. The U.S. has air bases in Uzbekistan, and has sent suspected Al Qaeda members to the country for interrogation.

Press Freedom Enemy:

President Islam Karimov has repeatedly cracked down on protesters and demonstrators under the pretext of fighting Islamic terrorism. According to Human Rights Watch, as of the end of last year, at least ten journalists were serving prison terms in Uzbekistan, and on October 13, 2010, a Tashkent court convicted the editor of Russian-language news website Vesti.uz on charges of defamation and libel. The law allows for the imprisonment of any journalist whom the government considers hostile, and sharing information critical of the country’s human rights record can be grounds for imprisonment, under a 2004 amendment to the Criminal Code.

In May this year, the government prevented Abdumalik Boboyev, a stringer for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, from leaving the country. Boboyev had been tried and found guilty on charges of libel and “insulting the Uzbek people” the previous year. Although he did not serve time in prison, he was forced to pay a fine. In July, a French court ruled on a libel case brought by President Karimov’s daughter, Lola Karimova against French media outlet Rue89, over an article which called her a “dictator’s daughter” who was using charity events to try to “whitewash her country’s image.” The court rejected the libel suit.

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Turkmenistan

Friend:

Turkmenistan is not a formal ally of the United States in the “war on terror”. However, it has supported the U.S. by providing non-military assistance, such as land corridor and overflight rights for humanitarian assistance operations in Afghanistan.  Because of this cooperation, and because of its own domestic struggles to eradicate terrorist networks, the U.S. State Department has declared Turkmenistan a “front-line state” in the so-called ‘war on terror’.

Press Freedom Enemy:

In July this year, an explosion in the capital of Ashgabat led to 15 casualties by government estimates; other sources claimed the toll was as high as 200. State television allegedly reported the incident as a ‘small industrial explosion’, but bloggers and independent journalists used the Internet and social media to uncover the truth. In just a few days, police and security forces began interrogating and detaining bloggers and journalists who had posted images of the disaster on the internet. According to RFE/RL journalist Dovletmurad Yazguliyev “the police are strictly controlling everything.” He added: “I was told that if the police officers found a camera during the control at the checkpoints, they would confiscate it.”

Yazguliyev was summoned by security officials on 14 July and made to appear at the police department in his small home town of Annau. In September, the journalist was detained, on the charge of apparently convincing a relative to commit suicide. In October, he was sentenced, following a two-day hearing, to the maximum sentence allowable under the law, five years in prison.

On 11 November, vandals threw rocks into the home of former journalist Annamamed Myatiev, breaking a window and a mirror in his bedroom. Myatiev believes the attack was directed at him, since none of the other houses in his apartment block were affected. Myatiev had earlier been detained and denied permission to leave the country. Turkmenistan has virtually no independent media, and access to the Internet is strictly controlled. Journalists are routinely detained, harassed, attacked and intimidated.

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Kazakhstan

Friend:

Kazakhstan’s relationship with the United States has mainly developed following 9/11. Kazakhstan offered the U.S. government the use of a major airport, as well as allowing over 800 flights passage through its airspace. Kazakhstan security forces have been credited by the Center for Defense Information for “step[ing] up efforts to protect U.S. government facilities and oil facilities with U.S. private investment” and pledging to “freeze the assets of terrorists identified on the U.S. designated terrorist asset-freeze list”.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Although there is officially no censorship in Kazakhstan, in March Eurasia.net reported on a Kazakh newspaper called Respublika, which has been unable to find a printer for the past 18 months, and has taken to hand-printing its editions at various locations, so that even if blocked by authorities, at least part of the print run can reach the readers. Respublika has been vilified as conducting “information terrorism against the first president [Nazarbayev] and against the whole of (the) country”.

Respublika is not the only independent/opposition media outlet to be harassed and intimidated. In October, two reporters belonging to Internet-based opposition broadcaster Stan TV were viciously beaten by unknown assailants. The assailants stole their equipment and many hours of video footage. The journalists’ employer believes they were attacked for reporting on a strike by labour unions for higher pay.

In November, a journalist working for newly established media outlet Guljan, Valery Surganov was arrested and sentenced to ‘restriction of freedom’ for 18 months, as well as a fine. ‘Guljan’ was founded earlier this year by Guljan Yergaliyeva, who resigned her position as editor-in-chief of Svoboda Slova.  On 17 December President Nazarbayev signed an order establishing a state of emergency in a town, which, among other constraints, imposed restrictions on physical access to and from Zhanaozen, the use of certain radio and television equipment, as well as on making audio-visual recordings, and included a prohibition on any public gatherings. Three Russian journalists were detained for several hours without explanation and on the same day, reportedly as a preventive measure, activists of a number of social movements, who were planning to gather in Almaty in support of the Zhanaozen protest, were detained.

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Afghanistan

Friend:

The United States initiated an aerial bombing campaign against Afghanistan after the 11 September attacks in the United States, after alleging that the Taliban administration in the country was sheltering Osama bin Laden. The ouster of the Taliban paved the way for the rise to power of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who despite allegations of corruption and serious election fraud directed against him, widespread deadly violence throughout much of the country and resurgent drug production is considered by the West to be an ally in a country that occupies a strategic geographical position.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Although the media environment in Afghanistan is diverse and vigorous, journalists face the threat of attack, kidnapping and censorship, in an environment marked by political bias and the absence of journalist protection safeguards. Although the constitution enshrines freedom of the press there are restrictions on content “contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.” According to IPI’s Death Watch, two journalists have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan.

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Pakistan

Friend:

Despite a rise in tension between Pakistan and the West over allegations that elements of the security services may have helped Osama bin Laden elude detection in the country for years, and incidents in which NATO air strikes and U.S. drone attacks have caused civilian and military casualties, Pakistan remains an ally of the West in the so-called ‘war on terror’.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Pakistan is the most dangerous country for journalists in Asia. According to IPI’s Death Watch, six journalists have been killed there because of their job so far in 2011. Official investigations are lackluster. Impunity is the norm. In some instances the notorious ISI security service has been accused of attacking, torturing and killing journalists. Most journalists are killed in targeted assassinations. Others are caught up in bomb attacks. Journalists also face detention and maltreatment when they report on sensitive issues. In late 2011, the BBC was banned from broadcasting in Pakistan after it aired a documentary critical of the country.

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Hungary

Friend:

Hungary embraced democracy following the collapse of the iron curtain and in 2004 joined the European Union. In January of this year, the country took over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. A NATO member, Hungary participated in the U.S.-led missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The country is also currently a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and part of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area.

Press Freedom Enemy:

Hungary drew significant negative attention early this year with the implementation of new laws that critics alleged were intended to muzzle a media that was not sufficiently deferential. Criticism has only increased since then as parliamentarians from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, which holds two thirds of seats in Parliament, approved a new Constitution that observers said removes checks on the government’s power and places virtually all power in Fidesz’s hands. Hungary’s Constitutional Court ruled this month that parts of the new media laws were unconstitutional. However, days later decided not to reallocate a radio frequency to Klubradio, the country’s only national opposition radio station.

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