Thursday, May 31, 2012

International Women’s Day 2012: Writing wrongs against women

International Women’s Day 2012: Writing wrongs against women

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ARTICLE 19

08 Mar 2012



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International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world not only to honour women’s social, political and economic, achievements but to reflect upon the obstacles that impede their progress and continue to deny them equality and justice.  On the occasion of International Women's Day 2012, ARTICLE 19 highlights the sensitive and too rarely discussed issue of discrimination against women within the media.For the past year ARTICLE 19 has been implementing a pilot project in Bangladesh on the issue of women’s participation in the media.  It has found evidence of significant levels of gender-based discrimination and censorship of women journalists.  It has also found that that this reality is a “taboo” subject – rarely spoken of. The project identified that the sector itself is a major challenge: within the media there is little willingness to acknowledge issues of discrimination and censorship that originate in the sector’s own culture and ways of working.

“Discrimination against women is ever present in Bangladesh’s media work places. This is not an easy topic to uncover, identify or address but it is essential that we face up to it.  This erodes freedom of expression of women throughout the country, and detracts from freedom of expression of all”, commented Tahmina Rahman, ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia Director.

ARTICLE 19’s pioneering project has provided female journalists a secure opportunity to speak about their experiences of gender-based censorship and develop strategies to raise it with their editors.  The project successfully generated a critical mass of both women and men journalists who strongly believe in enhancing the rights of women journalists in Bangladesh. “Someone has to speak out the truth”, said Zia Shaheen, Reporter of the Daily Manab Zamin, Barisal district.

Dialogue with media houses and their leadership has also been generated. “Media houses cannot shy away from these issues, it is in their own interest to acknowledge the prevalence of gender discrimination and censorship, and only then will they be able to develop good practices to make the media free from it” asserted Abdul Qayum, Joint Editor of Prothom Alo, the largest circulating Bangla newspaper in the country in one roundtable with media houses.

“Ending gender-based censorship within and by the media is integral to the realisation of women’s rights.  It is also critical to the overall fight against censorship, to freedom of expression more broadly and to media freedom. The silencing of women journalists and of women within the media demeans the sector itself, undermines human rights and weakens democracy” says Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

Notes
  • For media interview and further information, please contact: in Bangladesh, Tahmina Rahman on +880-171-303-9669 and in London, Oliver Spencer or Oliver Jinks on: + 44 207 324 2500
  • Tahmina Rahman, Director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, was nominated for "Women of Expression 2012", an online publication on women in South America and beyond who have excelled in their work as activists.  The publication will be launched on March 8, 2012 in Brazil.
  • The full findings of the Bangladesh pilot project will be released on International Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2012
Source : Article19
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2012 seeks nominations


2 November 2011

UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2012 seeks nominations

Do you know an individual, organisation or institution that is defending press freedom? If so, send in your nomination for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2012 by 15 February 2012.

Named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in 1986 after calling for drug traffickers to be brought to justice, the award especially recognises those who defend press freedom at great personal risk.

The winner will receive US $25,000 at a ceremony on World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2012. 

Source IFEX

23 unsolved murders in 23 days: Join the International Day to End Impunity campaign


2 November 2011

23 unsolved murders in 23 days: Join the International Day to End Impunity campaign


Mohammad Ismail, the first of 23 cases being highlighted in the lead up to the International Day to End ImpunityMohammad Ismail, the first of 23 cases being highlighted in the lead up to the International Day to End Impunity
Mohammad Ismail was in his last days before retirement as the head of a leading Pakistani press organisation when he left his home to go for an evening walk on 31 October 2006. He was found the next morning near his home, with his skull smashed in. Five years on, his killers have not been found.

Starting on 1 November and for 23 days, IFEX is bringing you "23 in 23": a story each day of a journalist, writer, artist or free expression advocate - like Ismail - who was killed on that day for reporting the truth, and whose murderers have gone free.

Go to daytoendimpunity.org to take action on each case and join our global call for justice.

It's just one way you can take part in the inaugural International Day to End Impunity on 23 November. The day marks the anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines in 2009, which was the single deadliest incident for journalists in recent history.

"We were able to find a case of impunity for every day between 1 and 23 November. Sadly, this is a tale that can be told practically every day of the year," said Annie Game, IFEX executive director. Some days marked the anniversary of more than one person murdered.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in the past 10 years, more than 500 journalists alone have been killed. Nine times out of 10, the murderers have gone free.

Check out day 2: José Bladimir Antuna García, 39, of Mexico. A crime reporter ambushed by five men. Attached to his body was a note reading, "This happened to me for giving too much information to the military and for writing too much." Demand justice in his case by sending an email to Mexican President Felipe Calderón here. You can write to him in English, French, Spanish, Russian or Arabic.





Source : IFEX

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

MEXICO: PROSECUTION AND VIOLENCE AGAINST TWITTER USERS MUST STOP



MEXICO:  PROSECUTION AND VIOLENCE AGAINST TWITTER USERS MUST STOP

Mexico, 21.09.2011:  On 25 August 2011, Ms Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola and Mr Gilberto Martinez Vera were arrested and charged with terrorism for disseminating false information on their Twitter accounts. ARTICLE 19 finds these charges to be in clear breach of international law standards on the protection of freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 is also alarmed at the report that on 15 September 2011, two mutilated bodies, were found in Nuevo Laredo with a note threatening reprisals for users of specific social media websites - indicating that social media users are being targeted by organized crime.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the law enforcement authorities in Veracruz to immediately drop all charges against Ms Bravo Pagola and Mr Martinez Vera. ARTICLE 19 also calls on the Mexican Government to promptly investigate the killings in Nuevo Laredo and to adopt the complex measures needed to protect journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and cyber-activists so that they can work in a free and safe environment.

Social media in Mexico
ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly expressed concern about the impact of the ongoing drug cartel-related violence on freedom of expression in Mexico in recent years, such as the silencing of the press and in particular of local media. Some people even talk about the emergence of “narco-censorship”, with criminal organizations threatening local newspapers with reprisals for reporting on drug-related crimes and other violent events. Journalists and publishers who cover drug wars are frequently killed and harassed and even the largest media houses frequently report incidents of serious threats and violent attacks against them because of their reporting.

As ARTICLE 19 has documented, freedom of the press in Mexico has been dangerously deteriorating over the past year with regular reports of journalists being killed, and often without proper investigations being conducted into their deaths.[1]

This climate of fear and distrust of the authorities has led many Mexican citizens to become increasingly reliant on social media as a source of news.[2]  Hashtags have become an important sorting mechanism, and are even considered to be ad hoc news services.[3]

The reliance on social media is prevalent in the state of Veracruz, which has a problematic record on protecting freedom of expression, including impunity for those who commit violence against journalists. For example, two newspaper journalists disappeared in the Veracruz state in the course of a year - Evaristo Ortega Zárate, editor of Espacio on 20 April 2010  Noel López Olguín, a journalist, on8 March 2011. Moreover, on 20 June 2011, Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, a newspaper columnist known for writing about corruption and drug violence, was shot, together with his wife and son, in the city of Veracruz.

The events of 25 August 2011
Against this background, on 25 August, @gilius_22 tweeted a messageusing the #verfollow hashtag on his Twitter account. He claimed that five children had been kidnapped at a local school in Veracruz. The tweet, allegedly, read as follows:

“#verfollow I confirm that in the school ‘Jorge Arroyo’ in the Carranza neighborhood 5 kids were kidnapped, armed group, panic in the zone.”

The message was re-tweeted by a number of people, one of whom was @VerFollow, a popular Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers that was created to report on the violence in the city. The news rapidly spread on other social media, with different versions being reported, including that one of the drug cartels was threatening to kill a child for each cartel member killed. Several other twitter users also reported other school incidents and that helicopters were flying at low altitude.

The governor of Veracruz promptly responded by tweeting a message dismissing the rumour. However, it came too late to avert the rapid spread of panic and chaos across the city, with scores of parents rushing to remove their children from school and several schools temporarily closing. The governor subsequently tweeted that there would be legal consequences for those who had spread the rumours and a statement was later issued on his website listing sixteen Twitter accounts involved in the incident.[4]

Shortly thereafter, María Jesús Bravo Pagola and Gilberto Martínez Vera were accused of disturbing the peace and spreading fear among fellow citizens of Veracruz by disseminating false information on social networks. Martinez Vera, a schoolteacher, tweeted from @gilius_22 Twitter account; Bravo Pagola, a local journalists re-tweeted Martinez’s original posts from her Twitter account (@maruchibravo).

Martinez and Bravo were charged with terrorism and sabotage offences under Article 331 of the Veracruz state Criminal Code. The crime of “terrorism” under Article 311 prohibits “using explosives, toxic substances, firearms, fire, flood, or any other means against the people, public property or services to produce alarm, fear, or terror in the population or group thereof; to disturb the public peace; or to undermine the authority of the state or to pressure it to act, is punishable by three to thirty years in prison, a fine of up to seven hundred and fifty times the minimum wage, and suspension of political rights up to five years."[5] [emphasis added]


Terrorist charges against Twitter users violate freedom of expression
ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned that the Twitter users in this case may be convicted of terrorism offences and be sentenced for up to 30 years imprisonment for disseminating what turned out to be false information on Twitter. ARTICLE 19 argues that the charges against Martinez and Bravo should be dropped immediately for the following reasons.


1.    Overbroad definition of the crime of terrorism in the Veracruz Criminal Code

ARTICLE 19 finds the definition of the crime of terrorism in Article 311 of the Veracruz Criminal Code to be vague and overbroad and that it fails to meet the requirements of international standards.

We remind the Veracruz authorities that even though States have a duty to protect their people from terrorist and public disorder threats, their actions must be appropriate and without excess. Under international law, it is well recognized that human rights, including freedom of expression, must be respected in the fight against terrorism and cannot be arbitrarily limited. For example, the UN Security Council Resolution 1456 (2003) states that:

States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, and should adopt such measures in accordance with international law, in particular international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law.[6]

Despite the fact that there is no agreed universal definition of terrorism, a number of international treaties deal with various aspects of the phenomenon. For example, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing Terrorism[7]and Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004)[8]described terrorism as:

“…criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act…”

International standards also stipulate that although freedom of expression may be restricted in order to protect public order and national security, any restriction must be clearly and narrowly defined by law, must serve a legitimate aim and be “necessary” in a democratic society. This implies that the criminal offences on terrorism should be narrowly defined and applied with due restraint.

The UN Human Rights Commission issued resolutions reminding nations to “refrain from using counter-terrorism as a pretext to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression in ways which are contrary to their obligations under international law”.[9]  On several occasions, the Human Rights Committee also urged states to

[E]nsure that its counter-terrorism legislation and practices are in full conformity with the Covenant. In particular, it should address the vagueness of the definition of terrorist act …, in order to ensure that its application is limited to offences that are indisputably terrorist offences.[10]

Other international bodies have made similar recommendations. The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, along with counterparts at the UN, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, has called for countries to adopt definitions of terrorism which ensure that they do not criminalize speech that does not directly incite violent activities:

The definition of terrorism, at least as it applies in the context of restrictions on freedom of expression, should be restricted to violent crimes that are designed to advance an ideological, religious, political or organised criminal cause and to influence public authorities by inflicting terror on the public.[11]13

Similarly, under theJohannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information[12], a set of principles developed by ARTICLE 19 and international experts, freedom of expression may be limited on national security grounds only if the government can demonstrate that: (i) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; (ii) it is likely to incite to such violence; and (iii) there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence (Principle 6).

ARTICLE 19 argues that the definition of the crime of terrorism under Article 311 of the Veracruz Criminal Code fails to meet these requirements by being both vague and excessively broad in its reach. It criminalises not only acts that are widely understood to be “terrorist” in nature, but also many forms of behaviour that, while unlawful, cannot be regarded as “terrorism”. The definition also allows for prosecution of activities that are lawful and creates the opportunity for abusing it to suppress legitimate activities.

ARTICLE 19’s main concerns over Article 311 relate to the following issues:

·         Ambiguity about the violent nature of the crime:As noted above, under international standards, antiterrorism legislation (either in the criminal codes or in specific legislation) should be limited to violent crimes that are designed to advance an ideological, religious, political or organised criminal cause and to influence public authorities by inflicting terror on the public. The UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights also stated that the concept of terrorism should be limited to acts committed with the intention of causing death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages, and should not include property crimes. Contrary to these requirements, the definition in Article 311 includes acts that do not involve violence or injury to people. It is entirely unclear whether any actual violence (or possibility of actual violence) is needed in order to qualify the act as “terrorism”. At the same time, Article 311 allows for prosecution for property-related crimes and for disruption of “public peace”.

·         Lack of intent requirement:Article 311 does not require the acts prosecuted as “terrorism” to be intentional. This is especially important in the light of the fact that a crime under Article 311 can be committed by a wide variety of actions (apart from using explosives, toxic substances, firearms etc), including publications, speeches and demonstrations. ARTICLE 19 notes that international jurisprudence considers intent to be a crucial factor in reviewing the legitimacy of restrictions on the grounds of national security. The intent requirement further serves to shield speakers from responsibility for unintended responses on the part of their listeners. Article 311 completely omits this factor.

·         Overbroad reach of the provisions of Article 311:We are concerned that Article 311 allows for the possibility of targeting behaviour that does not reach the level at which the extraordinary intrusive measures provided under antiterrorism legislation can justifiably be used. The definition extends to forms of behaviour that would warrant a public order response but cannot be widely understood to be “terrorist” in nature. For example, some anti-globalisation or animal rights protests have in the past been violent and would fall within the definition of terrorism under Article 311; however, ARTICLE 19 has previously questioned whether the use of these provisions against the protests in question would be proportionate, bearing in mind the powers already available to the authorities to deal with such situations.

·         Potential for prosecuting legitimate activities: The section of Article 311 that sanctions “any other act” [apart from those using violent means] that “disturbs the public peace; or undermines the authority of the state or pressures it to act”applies to many legitimate, non-violent protests, gatherings, demonstrations or other forms of dissent. An action that “undermines the authority of the state” can cover anything from publishing a report about human rights violations to open discussion about many different issues. Similarly, broad prohibition of activities that “pressure the state to act” can be used to penalize activities that are a part of the normal functioning of a democratic society, e.g. citizens demanding the state to address problems related to public transport, or the public demanding transparency of government operations, improvement of educational system and the like.

ARTICLE 19 therefore urges the Government of the state of Veracruz to revise the wording of Article 311 of the Criminal Code. The definition of the crime of “terrorism” should be narrowed to include only acts of serious crime that pose a serious threat to life, safety or property and that are intended to advance an ideological, religious or political cause and influence the government by inflicting terror on the public.


2.    Excessive application of criminal law in the Twitter users case

Apart from the narrow definition of criminal offences of “terrorism”, international standards also require that severe restrictions on freedom of expression should be employed only if they are truly “necessary.” As noted above, international courts examine national security claims under the ‘necessity’ requirement under two key principles: i) whether statements were made with intent to cause harm to national security, and ii) whether there is a clear nexus between the statement and the likelihood of this harm occurring.[13]

In ARTICLE 19’s view the Veracruz law enforcement authorities have applied neither of these requirements when initiating criminal charges against Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera. ARTICLE 19 is concerned that:

·         The requirement of intent seeks to draw a line between legitimate political debate on matters of national security and incitement to illegal action. The right to freedom of expression covers all kinds of ideas, including some unpopular sentiments. On the other hand, when the speaker intends to spur others on to concrete acts against national security, it might be considered ‘necessary in a democratic society’ to limit his or her freedom of expression. While it is yet not known what the intentions of Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera were, they have vehemently denied that they intended to cause any harm to national security or any kind of public disorder. It also remains unclear whether they knew that the information they were disseminating was false as there had been a great deal of confusion over what had actually happened at the given day on the location in question. Hence, the fact that Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera could have simply unknowingly distributed false information is an essential factor to be considered by the Veracruz law enforcement authorities.

·         The requirement that there must be a clear nexus between the statement and the likelihood of the harm occurring has also not been met in the criminal prosecution of Twitter users. Although it appears that residents of Veracruz rely heavily on social media due to the relative weakness of local newspapers and broadcast media, it is also very well-known that Twitter is not meant as a substitute for accurate reporting. As the recent London riots made clear, while social media can be extremely effective in sharing information among its users, the information shared is not always reliable. Most importantly, individuals have to judge for themselves whether the information is sufficiently reliable to act upon it.

·         We also note that under international standards, the right to freedom of expression requires that the least intrusive remedy must be employed when restricting speech to protect overriding public or private interests. The restrictions must be proportionate, meaning that the harm to freedom of expression must not outweigh its benefits. In this case, although the exact content of the messages which were tweeted or re-tweeted by Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera remains unclear, there is no relationship of proportionality between what Ms Bravo and Mr Martinez did – disseminating false information, whether knowingly or not – and threat to national security. In the complicated situation in Veracruz, the use of criminal sanctions for terrorism, with the possibility of up to 30 years prison sentence for sending false information on a twitter account, is clearly a disproportionate restriction.

Therefore, in ARTICLE 19’s view, although the tweets were certainly problematic and may even have been malicious, it is difficult to see how the Twitter users could have foreseen the reaction of recipients of the tweets.

 

  1. False news

ARTICLE 19 also reminds the Veracruz authorities that using criminal law - especially terrorist offences - to punish those who disseminate false information, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is contrary to international standards for the protection of freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 also notes that the UN Human Rights Committee previously stated that criminal prosecution for “false news” is inconsistent with the guarantee of freedom of expression. The Human Rights Committee specifically concluded that “the prosecution and punishment of journalists for the crime of publication of false news merely on the grounds, without more, that the news was false [is a] clear violation of Article 19 of the Covenant.”[14]

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression  has adopted a similar position in relation to false news which causes a threat of public unrest: “In the case of offences such as …publishing or broadcasting “false” or “alarmist” information, prison terms are both reprehensible and out of proportion to the harm suffered by the victim”[15].

There are a number of reasons why the dissemination of false news in this case ought not to be criminalized. Apart from the problematic situation of freedom of media in Veracruz and the reliance on social media, ARTICLE 19 requests the Veracruz authorities to consider the following.

·                False news laws can have a serious chilling effect on the free flow of information, including “true” information. In particular, they impose a burden on users to check the accuracy of the information they publish. However, given the speed at which news travels on Twitter, it is unrealistic to expect users to check the accuracy of thousands of different sources of information, which may be contradicting each other. If such requirements were to be imposed, this would deter Twitter and other social media users from sharing “true” information. Ultimately, this would deprive citizens from potentially vital information.

·                Facts and opinions are not always easily distinguished. In many cases, opinions are expressed through superficial statements, such as sarcastic, hyperbolic or comical remarks. Given that statements on Twitter are limited to 140 characters, they may be open to mixed interpretations. A ban on false news could therefore rapidly become a ban on opinions not favoured by the authorities.

·                False news laws are open to abuse by the authorities. Such laws are often excessively broadly drafted so that individuals may end up being prosecuted for engaging in perfectly legitimate behaviour.  On the same day as criminal charges against Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera were levied, it was reported that the Mexican state of Tabasco adopted a law that punishes those who provoke “social chaos and insecurity” through phone calls or online posting with a jail term of up to two years[16]. We reiterate that under international human rights law, legal measures that restrict rights must be narrowly drafted and be proportionate to the aim pursued. Laws that fail these criteria (including the use of vague and unclear criteria such as “social chaos” or “insecurity) cannot meet the ‘provided by law’ and ‘necessity’ tests. Moreover, the example of the prosecution of Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera indicates that the law enforcement authorities are prone to overreact. It is therefore of the utmost importance that both the legislation and the regulations under which they act provide clear and narrow guidance on the circumstances under which these provisions may be used.


Recent case of violence against users of social media
Social media users reporting or commenting on drug cartels are not immune from violent reprisals. ARTICLE 19 notes with great concern that on 15 September 2011, the mutilated bodies of a man and a woman, bound and displaying signs of torture, were found hanging from a pedestrian bridge in Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, bordering Veracruz. The corpses had a note attached, allegedly stating:

“This will happen to all the Internet snitches (Frontera al Rojo Vivo, Blog Del Narco, or Denuncia Ciudadano). Be warned, we’ve got our eye on you. Signed, Z.”

The sites and blog mentioned in this note are sites that denounce drug cartel activities and that report on violence. The ‘z’ signature is a reference to the Zetas drug cartel,[17] a group known for its use of extreme violence against law enforcement officials, innocent citizens, informants, and rival drug gangs. The identity of the bodies has not yet been confirmed.

Although bloggers have been targeted in Mexico in the past, this is the first reported case of the violence related to users of social media. ARTICLE 19 believes that the case of the Nuevo Laredo killing must be taken extremely seriously in the light of the general climate of violence against journalists working for traditional media, and because of the level of impunity for those committing violations.

Moreover, the fact that this case comes in the aftermath of the charges against Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera sends an incredibly chilling message to those who dare to comment, report or share news about trafficking and drug cartel violence in Mexico. It is deplorable that instead of putting in place effective mechanisms for preventing violence, the authorities are investing resources in prosecuting and silencing online speech. In the situation where on the one hand, the Veracruz state authorities are prosecuting Twitter users for posts distributed online and, on the other hand, drug cartels violently target social media users and bloggers with impunity, few citizens will be willing to engage in online discussion and exchange. Online self-censorship will ultimately prevail also on social media.


Conclusions
In ARTICLE 19’s view, the terrorism charges againstthe Twitter users, Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera,are clearly an overreaction on the part of the authorities, who were apparently unable to deal with the situation in the city. The charges are also highly likely to seriously hamper the free flow of information on social networks in Mexico, which is needed in the absence of other reliable sources of information for Veracruz citizens.

ARTICLE 19 urges the prosecuting authorities in Veracruz to drop all charges against Bravo Pagola and Martinez Vera.

ARTICLE 19 also urges the Mexican authorities to promptly and effectively investigate the murders and threats in Nuevo Loredo in order to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to put in place specific measures to prevent such crimes occurring again.

The Mexican Government must also urgently adopt and effectively implement all necessary political and legal measures to protect both traditional journalists and users of social media, and defend the right to freedom of expression in their societies, in accordance with their international responsibilities.


[6]Resolution 1456 (2003), §6.. See also General Assembly resolution 60/288 of 20 September 2006 on “Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”.
[7]International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution 54/109 of 9 December 1999; available at: http://www.un.org/law/cod/finterr.htm.
[8]Resolution 1566 (2004), adopted by the Security Council at its 5053rd meeting, on 8 October 2004 ; available at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N04/542/82/PDF/N0454282.pdf?OpenElement.
[9]See e.g. Commission on Human Rights resolution 2003/42; Commission on Human Rights Resolution: 2004/42; The right to freedom of opinion and expression, Human Rights Resolution 2005/38.
[10]Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee, Australia, CCPR/C/AUS/CO/5/CRP/1, 2 April 2009.
[11]The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Joint Declaration on Defamation of Religions, and Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Extremism Legislation, 9 December 2008. Available at www.osce.org/documents/rfm/2008/12/35705_en.pdf.
[12]These Principles were developed by media experts and reflect both international and regional law standards and best practice around the world in this area. Available at http://www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/standards/joburgprinciples.pdf.
[13]See for example the decision of the Human Rights Committee in Keun-Tae Kim v. Korea, Communication No 574/1994, UN Doc. CCPR/C/64/D/574/1994(4 January 1999) or Sener v. Turkey, 18 July 2000, Application No. 26680/95 (European Court of Human Rights).
[14]Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Cameroon, CCPR/C/79/ Add. 116, 4 November 1999, para 24.
[15]Annual Report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Promotion, and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 18 January 2000, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2000/63, para. 205.

 

Burma : Token Internet freedom gesture amid continued draconian jailings



21 September 2011

Token Internet freedom gesture amid continued draconian jailings


Part of a 2010 interactive installation in  Grand Central Terminal in New York created for a Human Rights Watch event on behalf of Burma's political prisoners
Part of a 2010 interactive installation in Grand Central Terminal in New York created for a Human Rights Watch event on behalf of Burma's political prisoners
JWT via Human Rights Watch
 
Numerous IFEX members are stepping up pressure on the new government of Burma, which still detains approximately 2,000 political prisoners despite its interest in convincing the international community to end economic sanctions and support its chairing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014.

This week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a comprehensive report on the press freedom record of President Thein Sein's government. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Human Rights Watch have also issued statements calling for the immediate release of the unjustly jailed bloggers, artists and activists, many of whom serve multi-decade sentences. According to SEAPA, almost a dozen journalists are among those imprisoned, most of whom worked undercover for exiled news organisations Irawaddy, Democratic Voice of Burma and Mizzima News.

"The release of journalists and some 2,000 political prisoners should be central to ASEAN's consideration to accord ASEAN chairmanship to Burma," said Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA executive director.

The IFEX organisations urged the international community not to be appeased by recent, small gestures in the right direction. This week, for example, Internet users could access previously banned sites like YouTube, Reuters, Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice of Burma, according to Irrawaddy and RSF. But Internet café users are still subject to video camera surveillance and monitoring, according to CPJ's report.

Most of the prisoners were jailed by the former military junta, which Thein Sein's government replaced after a democratic election in November 2010. Since then, however, Burma has continued to dole out draconian punishments for those who speak out.

Last week, 23-year-old Sithu Zeya was handed an additional 10 years in connection with photos he took following a 2010 bomb explosion, report Mizzima News, CPJ and RSF. In August, an army officer was sentenced to 10 years for criticising the government's reconciliation efforts, report Mizzima News and Human Rights Watch.

In August, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, interviewed jailed journalists and activists who reported sleep and food deprivation and beatings. In a hopeful sign, Burma's Lower House of Parliament proposed amnesty for all political prisoners following Quintana's visit, Human Rights Watch reports.

Source: IFEX

Li Xiang Chinese TV journalist stabbed to death



21 September 2011

Journalist reporting on "gutter oil" stabbed to death

Two unemployed Chinese residents have been arrested today, 21 September, in the fatal stabbing of 30-year-old TV journalist Li Xiang. While police in the central city of Luoyang, Henan province, are calling the murder a robbery, IFEX members are urging Chinese authorities to investigate possible links between the killing and the journalist's investigative reporting.


Xiang's last blog report exposed a company that was allegedly bottling toxic waste oil from restaurants, called "gutter oil," and selling it as cooking oil, report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). He was stabbed 13 times, say police, as he returned to his residence at dawn. His laptop, camera and wallet were stolen, according to "The New York Times".

Additionally, IFJ reports that two other journalists were assaulted last week by security personnel at Jinko Solar Holding Company as they reported on the detrimental health effects caused by the manufacturing company in eastern China.

Despite several cases of journalists getting assaulted on the job, the Chinese government often refuses to publish information about these cases or allow public access to the trials of the assailants in such cases, says IFJ.

RSF adds that journalists are often jailed for muckraking work related to health and safety issues issues. Zhao Lianhai, who has since been freed, was imprisoned in 2008 after creating a website exposing tainted baby formula of a leading Chinese company.

In August, CPJ also reported that authorities censored environmental protests in Liaoning province, when thousands of demonstrators called for the closure of a chemical plant that could have been damaged by a storm. In July, authorities also censored news of the high-speed rail crash in Zhejiang province, which killed at least 35 people.

Source : IFEX

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New law fails to protect journalists' rights : Al-Mahdi's death

14 September 2011

Al-Mahdi's death big loss for media and activist community; new law fails to protect journalists' rights


Hadi al-Mahdi
Hadi al-Mahdi 
Iraqi journalist, filmmaker and playwright Hadi al-Mahdi was well known for his missives to the government, his demands for peace, and more recently, as a leading organiser of Iraq's recent pro-democracy protests. But for his actions he has paid with his life. On 8 September, he was shot dead in his home in Baghdad in an apparently targeted attack to silence him, report Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

"The killing of Hadi al-Mahdi sadly highlights that journalism in Iraq remains a deadly profession," said Human Rights Watch. "After more than six years of democratic rule, Iraqis who publicly express their views still do so at great peril."

Al-Mahdi's popular talk radio programme, "To Whomever Listens," ran three times a week in Baghdad and covered social and political issues in Iraq - a close friend of his told CPJ that he had been calling on the government to provide better water, electricity and public services for Iraqis.

Through his Facebook page, al-Mahdi organised pro-democracy protests in Baghdad every Friday, including the Friday of the week of his death. He was undeterred, even though back in February, he was arrested, beaten and blindfolded, and forced to pledge he would never participate in a demonstration again.

According to Human Rights Watch, just hours before his death, he posted the following message describing recent death threats against him:

"Enough... I have lived the last three days in a state of terror. There are some who call me and warn me of raids and arrests of protesters. There is someone saying that the government will do this and that. There is someone with a fake name coming on to Facebook to threaten me. I will take part in the demonstrations, for I am one of its supporters. I firmly believe that the political process embodies a national, economic, and political failure. It deserves to change, and we deserve a better government. In short, I do not represent any political party or any other side, but rather the miserable reality in which we live... I am sick of seeing our mothers beg in the streets and I am sick of news of politicians' gluttony and of their looting of Iraq's riches."

Ammar al-Shahbander, head of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Iraq and a friend of al-Mahdi's, told Human Rights Watch, "This attack was different because usually journalists here have been killed in the line of duty, and you expect fatalities in war zones. But sitting in your own home and getting shot like this is too much to bear."

Al-Shahbander expressed hope that al-Mahdi's killing would not deter Iraq's journalists from reporting on events in the country. "So many journalists have been kidnapped and killed in Iraq but it doesn't matter how many are tortured, intimidated, or killed - journalists will continue doing their jobs," he said. "This attack just shows how desperate the enemies of democracy have become."

The killing of al-Mahdi follows years of targeted violence against journalists in Iraq. Since 1992, 150 journalists have been killed in the country, including five journalists killed in 2011 alone, according to CPJ. On 29 August, an assailant used a pistol to beat a prominent journalist, Asos Hardi, in Sulaimaniya, requiring Hardi to be hospitalised and get 32 stitches, reports Human Rights Watch.

Iraq has attempted to safeguard journalists in a new law, adopted on 9 August. But RSF and ARTICLE 19 say it falls short. For instance, says ARTICLE 19, it doesn't meet international human rights obligations.

According to RSF, the new law lacks concrete measures: there are no punishments outlined for those who violate the law's principles, no compensation fund, and no training for the police and judiciary in protecting journalists and prosecuting attacks on the press - to name a few shortcomings.

"The Iraqi authorities should adopt concrete measures and make effective resources available instead of limiting themselves to statements of intent," said RSF.

Monday, February 21, 2011

India: Ministers Move to Decriminalise Defamation

ARTICLE 19

PRESS RELEASE

21February 2011

India: Ministers Move to Decriminalise Defamation

London, 21.02.2011: ARTICLE 19 welcomes the Indian government’s initiative to reform its penal code and decriminalise defamation, used to harass and censor journalists and political figures.

“We welcome the Indian government’s initiative to decriminalise defamation, following the example of other countries such as the UK and Sri Lanka. Criminal defamation is one of worst forms of state suppression of free speech,” says Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “ARTICLE 19 is ready to support the government in creating a new defamation code in line with international standards.”

Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ambika Soni, and Minister of Law and Justice, Moodbidri Veerappa Moily, have publicly stated over the past month that the government are actively looking to decriminalise defamation. Both members of the Indian Union Cabinet have agreed that the criminalisation of defamation in India has produced “malicious prosecution” of journalists.

India would join a growing number of countries acknowledging that criminalisation of defamation results in a disproportionate restriction on freedom of expression.

Countries worldwide including Armenia, Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the UK have all decriminalised over the last few years. In South Asia, fellow SAARC member Sri Lanka decriminalised in 2002, and the Maldives in 2009.


NOTES :

• For more on the worldwide status of defamation, see the ARTICLE 19 Defamation Map at: www.article19.org/advocacy/defamationmap/map
• For more information please contact: Oliver Spencer, oliver@article19.org +44 20 7324 2500

Thursday, December 23, 2010

25 censored stories of 2009-2010

22 December 2010

Project Censored reveals top 25 censored stories of 2009-2010



http://dailycensored.com/2010/10/10/top-25-censored-stories-released/

Top 25 Censored Stories Released


Did you know that Cuba provided the greatest medical aid to Haiti after the earthquake? Or that the U.S. Department of Defense is the worst polluter on the planet? That's what Project Censored says in "Censored 2011: The Top Censored Stories of 2009-2010", now available online.

"Censored 2011" covers the stories the U.S. corporate media ignore, including reports on state crimes against democracy and "an analysis of the corporate media spin that led to the war in Iraq."

Project Censored now has students and faculty from more than 30 colleges and universities who spend the year patrolling obscure publications, national and international websites, and mainstream news outlets to compile the 25 most significant "news that didn't make the news."

This year's top story? "Global plans to replace the dollar."







Project Censored’s “Censored 2011:
The Top Censored Stories of 2009-2010″ is now available for pre-order here! This year’s volume is truly Media Democracy in Action. Not only does it cover the most under-reported stories the corporate media ignore, but this year’s Censored Deja Vu, Junk Food News and News Abuse, Signs of Health, and FAIR’s 10th anniversary of Fear and Favor in the News Room.

A full Truth Emergency section debuts this year for “Censored 2011″ to address State Crimes Against Democracy as well as analysis of the corporate media spin that led to the Iraq War and continues to hide US allied atrocities in the Middle East. Project Censored now has over 30 college and university affiliates contributing on our expanding websites and we introduce this year the Project Censored International section of the book, reviewing global trends in media control and censorship.

Former director Peter Phillips and new director Mickey Huff describe the new directions of the Project and research methodology plus an update from Dave Mathison on Being the Media, London’s Index on Censorship and much, much more!

From now to September 15th, anyone donating $30 or more to the Project will receive a signed copy of “Censored 2011″ by the editors. Regular orders can be sent through the store on the Project Censored website for $19.95 plus $3 shipping and handling. Mail orders can be sent to Media Freedom Foundation, P.O. Box 571, Cotati, CA 94931. Thank you for your support of Project Censored and for helping fight media censorship!


A few are here , to read more click the links below:

1. Global Plans to Replace the Dollar

2. US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet

3. Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk


Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk

Following in the steps of its predecessor, the Obama administration is expanding mass government surveillance of personal electronic communications. This surveillance, which includes the monitoring of the Internet as well as private (nongovernmental) computers, is proceeding with the proposal or passage of new laws granting government agencies increasingly wider latitude in their monitoring activities. At the same time, private companies and even some schools are engaging in surveillance activities that further diminish personal privacy.

Student Researchers:

  • Lynn DemosBen Solomon, Steve Wojanis, Trisha Himmelein, Emily Schuler, Claire Apatoff, Erin Kielty, and Tom Rich (DePauw University)
  • Alyssa Auerbach, Tyler Head, Mira Patel, Andrew Nassab, and Cristina Risso (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluators:

  • Jeff McCall, Dave Berque, Brian Howard, and Kevin Howley (DePauw University)
  • Jimmy Dizmang (University of San Diego)
  • Noel Byrne and Kelly Bucy (Sonoma State University)
  • Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)

In spring 2009, Senate Bill 773, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, was proposed, which gives the president power to “declare a cyber security emergency” with respect to private computer networks, and to do with these networks what it deems necessary to diffuse the attack. In a national emergency, the president would also have the power to completely shut down the Internet in the US. The proposal requires that certain private computer systems and networks be “managed” by “cyberprofessionals” licensed by the federal government. The bill permits the president to direct the national response to the cyber threat if necessary for national defense and security; to conduct “periodic mapping” of private networks deemed to be critical to national security; and to require these companies to “share” information requested by the federal government.

Such steps toward increased control over private computer networks have been taken amid an ongoing program of mass surveillance begun by the George W. Bush administration supposedly in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. In January 2002, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) established the Information Awareness Office (IAO) to “imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate and transition information technologies, components and prototype, closed-loop, information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness.” Under the Bush administration, such surveillance technology was developed and subsequently deployed through major US telecommunication and Internet service providers (ISPs) to conduct mass, warrantless dragnets of all domestic and international electronic traffic passing through switches in the US. This technology includes so-called “deep packet inspection” (DPI) technology, which employs sophisticated algorithms to parse all Internet contents (data, voice, and video), searching for key words such as “rebel” or “grenade.”

Presently no legislation exists that disallows use of such technology to conduct mass, warrantless surveillance. In fact, in January 2009, as David Karvets reported in Wired, the Obama administration sided with the Bush administration by asking a federal judge to set aside a ruling that kept alive a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration’s authority to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. Moreover, amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed in 2008—and voted for by then Senator Obama—had already made it possible for the federal government to conduct such information dragnets without warrants. The 2008 FISA amendments also require electronic communication service providers such as AT&T and Verizon to “immediately provide the Government with all information, facilities, or assistance necessary to accomplish the [intelligence] acquisition,” while granting these companies retroactive and prospective immunity against civil suits, state investigations, and criminal prosecution.

In addition, in April 2009, the Obama Justice Department invoked the “state secrets privilege” to bar American citizens from suing the US government for illegally spying on them. It also went even further than the Bush administration by arguing that the US government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying and can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy laws.

The federal government is also presently increasing its capacity to analyze the massive sea of data on the Internet. As part of an effort to gather more “open source intelligence,” the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is investing in Visible Technologies, a data-mining company that analyzes the content of social media Web sites. Visible Technologies, which has offices in New York, Seattle, and Boston, was created in 2005, and in 2006 it developed a partnership with WPP, a worldwide communications firm. This company has the capacity to examine over half a million sites per day.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also resorted to using federal court subpoenas to try to gain access to private, online information. On January 30, 2009, IndyMedia, an alternative online news source, received a subpoena from the Southern District of Indiana Federal Court for the “IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information” of all the site’s visitors on June 25, 2008. IndyMedia was then prohibited from notifying visitors of this release of otherwise private and protected information because disclosure “would impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with the enforcement of the law.” IndyMedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) challenged the order and the subpoena was eventually dropped.

The Obama administration is also currently working with a group of UN nations on the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), “a new intellectual property enforcement treaty” to prevent illegal downloading and copying of songs, movies, pictures, and other legally protected Web content. The new law is being developed in secrecy and might allow government access to personal content on hard drives thought to be in breach of copyright. On November 3, 2009, nations participating in negotiations on the proposed law met in Seoul, South Korea, for a closed discussion of “enforcement in the digital realm.” According to a leaked memo from the conference, the US is pushing for a three-strikes/graduated-response policy and proactive policing of ISPs to ensure that any digital copyright infringements are caught, stopped, and punished.

In addition to the current trend of government surveillance, private employers are also reading employees’ e-mails, eavesdropping on their telephone calls, monitoring their Internet access, and watching them through the use of hidden cameras. Millions of workers carry company-issued cell phones, which are equipped with a global positioning system (GPS). The technology required to track cell phones is inexpensive (costing only five dollars per month for round-the-clock surveillance of an employee) and is readily available.

Company-issued laptops are also being monitored. Companies usually permit their employees to use such computers for personal purposes as well as for business. However, unbeknownst to the employees, all their private files (such as e-mails, photographs, and financial records) are being inspected by company techs when the computers are brought in for upgrades or repairs. Consequently, anything the techs deem questionable can be disclosed to management. Further, if the company-issued laptop has a webcam, the employer can use it to eavesdrop on the employee, even if he or she is in the bathroom.

Such clandestine use of computer webcams has not been limited to private companies spying on their employees. In one recent case, a suburban Philadelphia school district issued laptops to its students and secretly installed software that allowed school administrators to spy on the students.

As electronic surveillance technologies continue to improve, in the absence of laws to regulate their use and government watchdogs to ensure that these laws are followed, privacy in the digital age will predictably continue to decline.

Update by Liz Rose at Free Press

Deep packet inspection is a technology that gives corporations unprecedented control over Internet communications. It’s the same technology that allows Iran and other countries to try to stifle Internet freedom. The use of DPI is now pervasive and has spread to next-generation wireless networks. In this country, the adoption of DPI means that the telephone and cable companies that provide Internet service can monitor, inspect, and block Internet traffic, posing a serious threat to the open Internet.

There are two major developments in this story:

  1. Major telecommunications companies (including Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, RCN, and COX) have now purchased DPI technology. Because of this investment, and because the technology has now been applied to wireless communications, the industry’s control over the Internet is increasing. The latest generation of DPI enables companies to monitor and ultimately to charge people for every use of an Internet connection.Free Press filed ten pages of comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about DPI. See pages 141 to 151 of our comments in the Net Neutrality proceeding on January 14, 2010 (http://www.freepress.net/node/76101). Free Press also released a paper titled “Deep Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It” by Josh Silver, in March 2009, before the Democracy Now! story, “Deep Packet Inspection: Telecoms Aided Iran Government to Censor Internet Technology Widely Used in US,” ran, and it provides evidence of the threat posed by corporations having the power to inspect, block, and choke traffic on the Internet: (see http://www.freepress.net/files/Deep_Packet_Inspection _The_End_of _the_Internet_As_We_Know_It.pdf).
  2. On April 6, 2010, a federal court ruled that the FCC does not have the authority under the jurisdiction that it claimed to stop Comcast—or any company—from blocking or choking Internet traffic. So right now, there is no recourse when a company does abuse its power over online communications. The FCC has indicated that it may move ahead and try to reassert its authority to set rules of the road for the Internet, but most observers think it will be a long battle ahead over the jurisdictional issues as well as over any possible rules.


4. ICE Operates Secret Detention and Courts

5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret US War in Pakistan


At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives inside and outside Pakistan. The Blackwater operatives also gather intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

Student Researchers:

  • Andrew Hobbs, Kelsea Arnold, and Brittney Gates (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluators:

  • Elaine Wellin and Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

Captain John Kirby, the spokesperson for Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” Meanwhile a defense official specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and are not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince contradicted this statement in an interview, telling Vanity Fair that Blackwater works with US Special Forces in identifying targets and planning missions, citing an operation in Syria. The magazine also published a photo of a Blackwater base near the Afghanistan–Pakistan border.

Jeremy Scahill’s military intelligence source said that the previously unreported program is distinct from the CIA assassination program, which the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the US has not declared war—knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the US and Pakistan. In 2006, the two countries struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the US is not supposed to have any active military operations in that country.

Blackwater, which also goes by the names Xe Services and US Training Center, has denied that the company operates in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the US government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to the Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in “counterterrorism” operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces that now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan.

The covert program in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007. The current head of JSOC is Vice Admiral William McRaven, who took over the post from General Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said Scahill’s military source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he adds, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.”

Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan–Pakistan border.

According to Scahill’s source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said.

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone-bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, 2009, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The number of strike orders by the Obama administration has now surpassed the number during the Bush era in Pakistan, inciting fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths.

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone-bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps, and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan.

Blackwater’s ability to survive against odds by reinventing and rebranding itself is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA, and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals.



6. Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in US

7. External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa

8. Massacre in Peruvian Amazon over US Free Trade Agreement

9. Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine

10. US Funds and Supports the Taliban


In a continuous flow of money, American tax dollars end up paying members of the Taliban and funding a volatile environment in Afghanistan. Private contractors pay insurgents with the hope of attaining the very safety they are contracted to provide. Concurrently, US soldiers pay at checkpoints run by suspected insurgents in order to get safe passage. In some cases, Afghan companies run by former Taliban members, like President Hamid Karzai’s cousin, are protecting the passage of American soldiers. The funding of the insurgents, along with rumors of American helicopters ferrying Taliban members in Afghanistan, has led to widespread distrust of American forces. In the meantime, the US taxpayer’s dollar continues to fund insurgents to protect American troops so they can fight insurgents.

Student Researchers:

  • Anne Cozad (Sonoma State University)
  • Nolan Higdon (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Evaluators:

  • Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)
  • Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

Ahmad Rate Popal is a grand example of how those who controlled Afghanistan under Taliban rule are still controlling Afghanistan today and being paid by US tax dollars. Popal, who served as interpreter at one of the ruling Taliban’s last press conferences, is greatly increasing his wealth through the US war in Afghanistan. In 1988, he was charged with conspiring to import heroin into the United States. He was released from prison in 1997. Popal’s cousin is Afghanistan’s President Karzai. Popal and his brother Rashid (who pleaded guilty in 1996 to a separate heroin charge) control the Watan Group in Afghanistan, which is a consortium engaged in many different fields of business. One of Watan’s enterprises is to protect convoys of Afghan trucks heading from Kabul to Kandahar, carrying American supplies. Popal is one example of the virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA officials and ex-military officers in Afghanistan joining hands with former Taliban members and mujahideen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort.

US security contractors as well as countless other private American corporations cannot provide the safety that they are paid to offer. So US military contractors in Afghanistan pay suspected insurgents to protect the US supply routes they were contracted to protect. A war-torn country such as Afghanistan has plenty of impoverished citizens, and, as a result, it is not hard for private contractors to find individuals willing to take money to protect supply routes.

Thus, an estimated 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars are paid to insurgents as the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting.

An example of these contracts are those granted to the NCL Holdings in Afghanistan run by Hamed Wardak, the young American son of Afghanistan’s current defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak. NCL is a small firm that was awarded a US military logistics contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite the fact that the firm only operates in Afghanistan, Wardak incorporated NCL in the United States early in 2007, due to his connections there.

On NCL’s advisory board is Milton Bearden, a well-known former CIA officer who in 2009 was introduced by Senator John Kerry as “a legendary former CIA case officer and a clearheaded thinker and writer.” Bearden is an incredible asset to a small defense contracting firm. Wardak was able to get a contract for Host Nation Trucking despite having no apparent trucking experience. The contract is aimed at handling the bulk of US trucking in Afghanistan, bringing supplies to bases and remote outposts throughout Afghanistan. At first the contract was small, but very quickly it expanded by 600 percent, making it a gargantuan contract worth $360 million. NCL had struck pure contracting gold. These profits, which only go to a very select and well-connected portion of the Afghan people, build a large amount of distrust from Afghan citizens toward American troops and those connected to them.

It is persistently rumored in Afghanistan that US forces are using their helicopters to ferry Taliban fighters. The rumor is strongly denied by the military. However, the helicopter rumors heard in many areas are feeding mistrust of the forces that are supposed to be bringing order to the country. The international troops deny that they are supporting the insurgents. “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” said Brigadier General Jüergen Setzer, recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” But the persistent rumors that foreign helicopters have been sighted assisting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan were given an unexpected boost in mid-October 2009 by President Karzai, who told the media that his administration was investigating similar reports that “unknown” helicopters were ferrying the insurgents from the Helmand province in the south to the Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces in the north.

Update

On June 6, the New York Times reported that the House National Security Subcommittee, whose chair is John Tierney (D-MA), is holding hearings on this issue. In a March 2010 Washington Post article, Congressman Tierney cited the article in the Nation as the reason he began the investigation.

Since our initial search of corporate media coverage on this issue in February 2010, finding zero coverage at that time, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have covered part of the story on their front pages. Both mentioned President Hamid Karzai’s cousin, and both acknowledged that in all likelihood money is making its way to the Taliban. Neither paper mentioned the US connection, Milton Bearden. The Washington Post covered the story on March 29, 2010, and mentioned the Nation magazine article. The New York Times story came out on June 6, 2010, acknowledging the corruption, but included the news that President Obama was addressing the issue with President Karzai. That the two stories came out two months apart, and that the US links are left out, led to the decision at Project Censored to keep this important story in the top censored stories list for the year.


11. The H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic: Manipulating Data to Enrich Drug Companies

12. Cuba Provided the Greatest Medical Aid to Haiti after the Earthquake

13. Obama Cuts Domestic Spending and Increases Military Corporate Welfare

14. Increased Tensions with Unresolved 9/11 Issues

15. Bhopal Water Still Toxic Twenty-five Years After Deadly Gas Leak


Around midnight on December 2, 1984, the citizens of Bhopal, India, a city of over 500,000 people in central India, were poisoned by approximately forty tons of toxic gases pouring into the night air from a largely abandoned chemical insecticide plant owned by the US-owned Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). The long-predicted gas leak at UCC was, and remains today, the worst industrial disaster in history.

Student Researchers:

  • Abbey Wilson and Jillian Harbin (DePauw University)

Faculty Evaluators:

  • Tim Cope and Kevin Howley (DePauw University)

Released by faulty and neglected equipment, methyl isocyanate, phosgene and other highly toxic gases killed an estimated 8,000 people immediately. The death toll attributed to “that night” in the following weeks and months eventually rose to 20,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of others were harmed, in many cases permanently, with lung, liver, kidney, and immune system damages, and blindness. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) concluded that over 520,000 exposed persons had poisons circulating in their bloodstream causing different degrees of damage to almost all systems in the body.

The 1984 disaster may have faded in the world’s memory, but in Bhopal, the damaged births continue today. The very same factory that spewed out poison gas has been leaking deadly chemicals into the drinking water of about 30,000 people. In affected communities, there are epidemics of kidney disease and cancer, with hundreds of damaged children.

Indra Sinha, a Booker Prize nominee for his book on the Bhopal disaster, Animal’s People, explained why the gas leak that killed 20,000 people twenty-five years ago—and continues to create health problems for countless more—is still a national scandal: “After the night of horror, the factory was locked up. Thousands of tons of pesticides and waste remained inside. UCC never bothered to clean it. The chemicals were abandoned in warehouses open to wind and rain. Twenty-four monsoons have rusted and rotted the death factory. The rains wash the poisons deep into the soil. They enter the groundwater and seep into wells and bore pipes. They gush from taps and enter people’s bodies. They burn stomachs, corrode skin, damage organs and flow into wombs where they go to work on the unborn. If babies make it into the world alive, the poisons are waiting in their mothers’ milk.”

A Greenpeace survey found substantial and, in some locations, severe contamination of land and water supplies with heavy metals and chlorinated chemicals. From their samples, groundwater from wells around the site showed high levels of chlorinated chemicals including chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, indicative of long-term contamination. Additionally, lead, nickel, copper, chromium, hexachlorocyclohexane, and chlorobenzenes were found in soil samples. Overall contamination of the site and immediate surroundings is due both to routine spills and accidents during the operation of the factory, and to the continued releases of chemicals from the toxic wastes that remain on site.

According to New Delhi’s Centre for Science and the Environment, water found two miles from the factory contains pesticides at levels forty times higher than the Indian safety standard. In a second study, the UK-based Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) found a chemical cocktail in the local drinking water—with one carcinogen, carbon tetrafluoride, present at 2,400 times the World Health Organization’s guidelines.

Union Carbide Corporation—now the Dow Chemical Company (Dow), following a February 2001 merger—continues to claim over sixty years of research (including research on human “volunteers”) on methyl isocyanate (the gas that leaked from the Bhopal pesticide plant) as “trade secrets.” There is more than enough research to suggest that by withholding information, propagating misinformation and the withdrawal of funds meant for medical care, Dow–UCC has impeded the efforts of the victims to help themselves. The ICMR has in turn stopped all research into the health effects of the gas in 1994 and has yet to publish the findings of the twenty-four research studies it had carried out up to that point involving over 80,000 survivors. The alarming rise in cancers, tuberculosis, reproductive difficulties, and growth retardation among children born after the disaster remains undocumented. The official agency for monitoring deaths has been closed since 1992.

The local, BMA-funded Sambhavna clinic claims that one in twenty-five—a rate ten times higher than the national average—are born with severe birth defects including lameness and twisted or missing limbs, deaf-mute, brain-damage, hare-lips and cleft palates, webbed fingers, cerebral palsy, and tumors where eyes should be. Multiple generations are now affected; one victim, Mohini Devi, claims her children and grandchildren have experienced birth defects. “My real worry is my grandchildren. Already some have been born without eyes. Why is nobody doing anything for us?” she said.

In the absence of medical information, no treatment protocols specific to exposure-induced multi-systemic problems exist. Instead, in many places, ineffective and sometimes kidney-damaging drugs are prescribed to the thousands seeking relief and medical treatment. One exception is the Sambhavna Clinic, which in 1996 began offering survivors a combination of free modern medicine, ayurvedic herbal treatments, yoga, and massage.

While today tons of poisonous pesticides and other hazardous wastes remain scattered and abandoned on the Dow–UCC factory premises, insidiously poisoning the ground water and contaminating the land, the company and its former CEO Warren Anderson have distanced themselves from the “Indian-managed company,” eventually blaming employee sabotage. As a result, the disaster has done little to affect Dow–UCC. In February 1989, after forcing a paltry compensation settlement—$470 million as opposed to $3 billion demanded by the government of India—UCC’s share price jumped 44 cents and they went back to business as usual. Survivors in Bhopal received meager compensation. Most of them got a 25,000-rupee check (about US$500) for a lifetime of suffering caused by damage to their lungs, liver, kidneys, and the immune system.

Given the hundreds of thousands of victims dead and injured, the settlement worked out to less than 9 cents a day—only enough for one cup of tea each day—for nearly twenty years of unimaginable suffering. None of the thousands since born with gas-related congenital defects or illnesses from current water contamination have received help. When Dow acquired UCC, it denied further responsibility for the disaster. A Dow public relations official maintained that the settlement was “plenty good for an Indian.”

Union Carbide Corporation and Warren Anderson, then CEO of UCC, were charged with culpable homicide or manslaughter and proclaimed absconders by the Bhopal Court in 1992, after failing repeatedly to honor the summons of the court. Warren Anderson was arrested briefly in 1984 and then fled the country. Anderson’s whereabouts were considered unknown despite the fact that his residences, one in the Hamptons, an upscale New York suburb, are publicly listed. Neither the Indian government nor the US government is willing to support the warrants for Anderson’s arrest or Dow–UCC’s responsibilities. In fact, Indian campaigners working to hold UCC responsible for its actions claim that their government has called the now-closed factory “safe” and “open for the public to tour.” The Bhopal government also allegedly neglected to work toward any sort of allegations against UCC, and simply left the plant to continue leaking chemicals.

Now, Satinath Sarangi, of the Sambhavna clinic in Bhopal, says the government is working to strike a contract with Dow, which would yield a $1 billion investment, and would allegedly allow Union Carbide to overlook its obligations to clean up their spill. “This is all about the money. Politicians in India would rather do this than fight for people who suffered,” Sarangi said.



16. US Presidents Charged with Crimes Against Humanity as Universal Jurisdiction Dies in Spain

17. Nanotech Particles Pose Serious DNA Risks to Humans and the Environment

18. The True Cost of Chevron

19. Obama Administration Assures World Bank and International Monetary Fund a Free Reign of Abuse


On April 24, 2009, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner hosted meetings with finance ministers from the world’s top economies to discuss increased oversight of the global financial system in the wake of the meltdown. The meetings preceded semi-annual gatherings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in Washington, DC.

The April G20 meeting in London secured a lot of positive media attention after world leaders announced a global package of $1.1 trillion for economic recovery and reform, mostly for the IMF. The plan, however, did not include specific information about the much needed operational reforms to the IMF and the World Bank.

Student Researchers:

  • Meg Carlucci and Marissa Warfield (Sonoma State University)
  • Abbey Wilson and Jillian Harbin (DePauw University)

Faculty Evaluators:

  • Laurie Dawson and Elaine Wellin (Sonoma State University)
  • Tim Cope and Kevin Howley (DePauw University)

Speaking five months later on the eve of the September 2009 G20 summit, Geithner called for higher regulatory standards:

As you know, the United States Congress has a very aggressive schedule to legislate sweeping changes to our financial system that are going to make—provide greater protection for consumers and investors to create a more stable financial system and to try to make sure that taxpayers are no longer on the hook in the future to bear the burdens of financial crises. But we can’t do this alone. If we continue to allow risk and leverage to migrate where standards are weakest, the entire US global financial system will be less stable in the future. We need to see competition for stronger standards, not weaker standards.

How far will the G20 go on the regulation of financial markets? A September 2009 report from Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch emphasized that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has long advanced extreme financial deregulation under the guise of trade agreements that will undermine the current professed push for increasing regulation.

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen warned of the incredible contradiction: “While the summit communiqué is going to, on one hand, talk about regulating finance, at the same time, they’re going to talk about adopting the Doha WTO expansion, and a huge part of that agreement is deregulating finance.” Wallach continued, “The problem is that the G20 commitments aren’t binding. It’s a commitment of faith on the countries about what they’re going to do domestically. But the WTO rules are very binding and enforceable by sanctions. And so, it’s hard to know if it’s ignorance or it’s cynicism, but if the Doha round goes into place, all of the world’s countries will have a commitment not only to keep in place the existing WTO deregulation dictates on finance, but to deregulate further, right in the midst of what seems to be a global commitment to re-regulate.”

The WTO has an agreement called the Financial Services Agreement that explicitly applies to over a hundred countries and mandates major deregulation. For instance, it has a rule that you cannot have a domestic law that limits the size of a financial service firm—insurance, banking, securities—even if it applies equally to foreign and domestic companies. So while everyone talks about putting into place rules regarding being “too big to fail,” there is a WTO dictate that forbids such regulation.

In short, these binding WTO rules require countries to maintain the same policies that led to the financial crisis. This agreement was never brought to a vote in any Congress.

Jesse Griffiths, coordinator of the London-based Bretton Woods Project, under the International Finance for Sustainability program of the Mott Foundation’s environmental division, said, “The ideology of the IMF and World Bank has failed and the accompanying structures have failed.” He added, “In addition to the current enormous economic instability, the system has failed to create equity and eradicate poverty; it has failed to ensure that human rights are protected, and it has failed to address environmental issues.”

The failures of these global entities have not prevented President Obama from allowing their relatively free reign in relation to the US government. In June 2009, President Obama used his sixth signing statement to negate provisions of US legislation that would have compelled the World Bank to strengthen labor and environmental standards. When signing the $106 billion war-spending bill into law, Obama included a five-paragraph signing statement with the bill in which he also refused to require the Treasury Department to report to Congress on the activities of the World Bank and the IMF.

The sections rejected by Obama would have required his administration to direct its World Bank representatives to pressure that institution into using metrics that “fairly represent the value of internationally recognized workers” rights. Organized labor groups had pushed for a revision of those standards.

Another section rejected by Obama would have pushed the World Bank to account for the cost of greenhouse gas in pricing projects and to more fully disclose operating budgets.

Yet another section rejected by Obama in this signing statement would have required Geithner to develop a report with the heads of the World Bank and IMF, “detailing the steps taken to coordinate the activities of the World Bank and the Fund,” to eliminate overlap between the two.

Obama said in a statement that “provisions of this bill . . . would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiating or discussions with international organizations and foreign governments.” He added, “I will not treat these provisions as limiting my ability to engage in foreign diplomacy or negotiations.”


20. Obama’s Charter School Policies Spread Segregation and Undermine Unions

21. Western Lifestyle Continues Environmental Footprint

22. 1.2 Billion People in India to be Given Biometric ID Cards


India’s 1.2 billion citizens are to be issued biometric identification cards. The cards will hold the person’s name, age, and birth date, as well as fingerprints or iris scans, though no caste or religious identification. Within the next five years a giant computer will hold the personal details of at least 600 million citizens, making this new information technology system the largest in the world. The project will cost an estimated $3.5 billion. The 600 million Indians will receive a sixteen-digit identity number by 2014 in the first phase of the project.

Student Researcher:

  • Danielle Caruso (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator:

  • Rashmi Singh (Sonoma State University)

India’s red tape is legendary: citizens have dozens of types of identity verification, ranging from electoral rolls to ration cards, yet almost none can be used universally. The new system will be a national proof of identity, effective for everything, from welfare benefits to updating land records. Forty-two percent of India’s population is below the poverty line and citizens frequently move in search of jobs. The government believes the ID system will help citizens because they will no longer have a problem identifying themselves. The biometric identity number will be entered every time someone accesses services from government departments, driver’s license offices, and hospitals, as well as insurance, credit card, telecom, and banking companies. By bringing more people into the banking system, Indian officials also hope to raise the number of people paying income taxes; currently, less than 5 percent of the population pays income taxes.

The head of Oxfam India, Nisha Agarwal, says a lack of identity verification is a major problem, especially for urban migrants. As a result, they are excluded from dozens of government programs, which offer cheaper food, jobs, and other benefits for poor people. “They remain treated as temporary migrants and, without that piece of paper, some form of identification, they are not able to access many of these government schemes that exist now, that have large funds behind them and could actually make a huge difference in poor people’s lives.”

The scheme is the brainchild of Nandan Nilekani, one of India’s best-known software tycoons and now head of the government’s Unique Identification Authority. “We are going to have to build something on the scale of Google, but it will change the country . . . every person for first time [will] be able to prove who he or she is. . . . We are not profiling a billion people. This will provide an ID database which government can access online. There will be checks and balances to protect identities,” said Nilekani, who has also been in talks to create a personalized carbon account so that all Indians might buy “green technologies” using a government subsidy.

The government also plans to use the database to monitor bank transactions, cell phone purchases, and the movements of individuals and groups suspected of fomenting terrorism. In January 2010, the Ministry of Home Affairs began collecting biometric details of people in coastal villages to boost security; the gunmen in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 165 people, sneaked into the country from the sea.

Critics say the project will turn India into an Orwellian police state that will spy on citizens’ private lives. “We do not want an intrusive, surveillance state in India,” said Usha Ramanathan, a lawyer who has written and lobbied against the project. “Information about people will be shared with intelligence agencies, banks and companies, and we will have no idea how our information is interpreted and used.” Civil liberty campaigners fear the ID card will become a tool of repression. Nandita Haskar, a human rights lawyer, said, “There is already no accountability in regards to violations of human and civil rights. In this atmosphere, what are the oversight mechanisms for this kind of surveillance?”

India’s plunge into biometric identification comes as countries around the globe are making similar moves. In 2006, Britain approved a mandatory national ID system with fingerprints for its citizens before public opposition prompted the government to scale back plans for a voluntary pilot program beginning in Manchester. United States senators have proposed requiring all citizens and immigrants who want to work in the country to carry a new high-tech social security card linked to fingerprints as part of an immigration overhaul.



23. Afghan War: Largest Military Coalition in History

24. War Crimes of General Stanley McChrystal

25. Prisoners Still Brutalized at Gitmo