Sunday, October 25, 2009



Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its latest press freedom index on 20 October, showing how European countries, Israel and Iran have all slid in the rankings. The index ranks the degree of press freedom throughout the world as well as efforts made by governments to protect journalists' rights.

Although the first 13 places are held by European countries, many have
fallen in the index: "It is disturbing to see European democracies such as
France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the rankings year after year,"
RSF said. "Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties.
How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave
irreproachably at home? The Obama effect, which has enabled the United
States to recover 16 places in the index, is not enough to reassure us."

The United States now ranks at 20 because President Barack Obama is "less hawkish" than his predecessor, says RSF. However, the U.S. also has an additional ranking at 108 specifically for its extraterritorial actions. Both the U.S. and Israel have rankings for their actions outside their own countries.

Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip has affected its ranking as it dropped 47 places to 93, falling behind several other countries in the region. Journalists have been illegally arrested and imprisoned. Israel received a second ranking at 150 for its extraterritorial actions. Around 20 journalists were injured by the Israeli military forces in the Gaza Strip and three were killed while covering the conflict.

The main threat in Europe comes from new legislation that compromises the work of journalists, says RSF. In Slovakia (44) the culture minister wields great influence over publications. In the Western world, Canada also dropped a few spots to 19.

Scandinavia comes out on top. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden
share first place as the five freest countries for the media.

In Iran, automatic prior censorship, state surveillance of journalists,
mistreatment, illegal arrests and imprisonment has now brought its ranking
close to the worst cluster of states for press freedom. It ranks 172,
followed by Turkmenistan (173), North Korea (174) and Eritrea (175). Burma
remains at the bottom, right behind Iran at 171. Laos, China and Vietnam
round out the cluster of Asian countries in the bottom ten.

In Sri Lanka (162), the state sentenced a journalist to 20 years in prison
while other journalists under threat are forced to flee the country, says
RSF. Pakistan came in at 159, "crippled" by murders of journalists caught
between the military and the insurgency. It shared a record with Somalia
for the world record of journalists killed during the RSF review period.

In Yemen (167) journalists continue to "pay for the government's
scorched-earth policies towards any form of separatism." A similar downward
trend has occurred in Syria (165). In Africa, violence takes the worst toll
in countries like Somalia (164) and Democratic Republic of Congo (146).

And in the Americas, Venezuela (124) is now among the region's worst press
freedom offenders, dropping down close to Colombia (126) and Mexico (tied
with Gambia at 137). Honduras comes in at 128 after the recent coup d'état.
Cuba, where RSF says "where press freedom is non-existent," holds a spot in
the bottom ten.

The index is drawn from a questionnaire completed by hundreds of
journalists and media experts around the world. Countries are given a
ranking and score based on press freedom violations from September 2008
through August 2009. It takes into consideration physical assault,
imprisonment and murder of journalists, as well as censorship, confiscation
of newspapers, harassment and the degree of impunity enjoyed by those
responsible for press freedom violations. It includes the measure of
self-censorship and the ability of media to investigate and challenge those
in power, among many more criteria.

More on the web:
- Press Freedom Index 2009 (RSF):

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Turkey: Threats to Freedom of Expression in Turkey

16 October 2009

Turkey: ARTICLE 19 Concerned about Continuous Threats to Freedom of Expression in Turkey

Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code remains a dangerous tool to silence critical voices in Turkey, despite being amended in April 2008 and official reports that charges under this article have decreased this year.

ARTICLE 19 believes that the risk of prosecutions under Article 301 continues to pose a significant threat to freedom of expression in Turkey.

Article 301 makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness” as well as the Turkish Republic and its institutions, carrying sentences of up to four years. Since it came into force in 2005, more than 60 charges have been brought against journalists, intellectuals, academics and publishers. Some of these charges relate to published or spoken opinions questioning the official version of sensitive issues, such as the reality of the Armenian genocide during and after the First World War, or human rights abuses against Kurds in Turkey.

There have also been several high-profile prosecutions under this provision. The writer and Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, was charged in 2005 after he made a statement to a Swiss magazine about the killings of Armenians and Kurds. Although the charges were later dropped, the case generated an international outcry, as well as rallies in Turkey to burn Pamuk’s books.

The journalist Hrant Dink was also prosecuted under Article 301 in 2006 and he received a six-month suspended sentence. Dink was later assassinated and his sentence was posthumously overturned in 2007 by the Appeal Court.

In April 2008, Article 301 was amended, following widespread national and international criticism. The amendment made it obligatory for the Minister of Justice to approve the filing of cases under Article 301.

At a Conference on Freedom of Expression held last week in Ankara, the Turkish authorities reported a significant decrease in prosecutions under Article 301 and attributed the drop to the 2008 legislative reform. According to statistics, the Minister of Justice allowed only eight cases to be filed (out of 523 requests) in 2009.

ARTICLE 19 strongly believes that, despite this decrease in prosecutions, the new Article 301 remains a serious threat for freedom of expression in Turkey. First, we note that the number of requests for prosecutions has not diminished. Prosecutors in Turkey continue to take prompt action against people who are critical of the government or question official versions of historical events and personalities. Second, the number of investigations for denigration of “Turkishness” and the Turkish Republic has decreased only because the current Minister of Justice wants to avoid further scandals concerning charges under Article 301. It is therefore likely that the number of prosecutions may increase if the next minister has a different attitude.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Turkish authorities to protect of the right to freedom of expression, as required by international law, by abolishing Article 301 altogether for the following reasons:

• It is inherently illegitimate for the State to impose a blanket ban on the discussion of historical matters, or individuals and institutions.
• In violation of international law Article 301 is used to prosecute individuals who express opinions which diverge from official dogma regarding the history of the country.
• The term “Turkishness” is vague and gives opportunity for the arbitrary criminalisation of criticism.
• The provision is unnecessary in a democratic society since generic hate speech laws already prohibit incitement to hatred.
• It is unreasonable to spend taxpayers' money for the preparation of numerous requests for prosecutions under Article 301 which are later rejected by the Minister of Justice.


• For more information please contact: Boyko Boev, ARTICLE 19 Legal Officer, or +44 20 7324 2500.

Concern over New Religious Defamation

22 October 2009

United Nations: ARTICLE 19 Joins Other Human Rights Groups to Express Concern over New Religious Defamation Submission

ARTICLE 19 joins 26 other human rights groups in an open letter expressing concerns about recent submissions on religious defamation brought before the UN Ad Hoc Committee for the Elaboration of Complementary Standards.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), represented by Pakistan, and the African Group, represented by Egypt, has made submissions to the Ad Hoc Committee in advance of its Second Session currently taking place in Geneva.

The letter raises concerns that the OIC and the African Group submissions propose:
• The apparent inclusion of religions, religious ideas, objects and personalities as subjects that warrant protection under international human rights law
• The development of new binding international standards on the “defamation of religions”
• The protection of religions from offensive speech
• The defining of concepts of religion-phobias based on the presumption that all religions are internally uncontested.

The letter reaffirms the fact that international human rights standards protect individuals and groups on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, but do not protect religions per se. It is also noted that international law has consistently protected “offensive speech” because of the subjective nature of the concept. Adopting the proposals submitted by the OIC and the African Group would distort and undermine existing international human rights protection of both the right to freedom of expression and equality.

The open letter strongly recommends that the Ad Hoc Committee focus on measures to promote diversity and pluralism, as well as promoting equitable access to the means of communication, and guaranteeing the right of access to information and creating an enabling environment for both freedom of expression and equality.


• To view the full text of the open letter, please go to:
• For more information please contact: Dr Sejal Parmar at:, or +44 20 7324 2500

More Support for Media Freedom in Africa

23 October 2009

European Union: More Support Should be Provided for Media Freedom in Africa

On the occasion of the European Development Days, ARTICLE 19 joins with the Africa Forum for Media Development, the African Media Initiative, the Global Forum for Media Development, the International Federation of Journalists and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in calling for stronger dedicated European Union support to media freedom in Africa.

“Everyone agrees that media freedom and development are central to democracy and sustainable development,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “The EU needs to do more to support this central pillar of human progress.”

In their Statement to European Development Days, Stockholm, October 22-24, 2009, the organisations welcome the priority that the European Union (EU) and African Union have agreed to give to the issue of media development. However, the organisations called for a meeting to be held with key stakeholders to focus on the way forward and to consider the practical proposals that have been made, and in particular the proposal to institute an African Peer Review Mechanism for Media Freedom and Access to Information.

The six organisations also outlined ten points to promote media freedom and development in Africa, including the following:
• A clear political commitment should be made to implement the principles of the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.
• Dedicated funds should be allocated to media development, which should not be channelled through government.
• Support should be provided to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
• An African Peer Review Mechanism for Media Freedom and Access to Information should be created as a matter of priority.

ARTICLE 19 urges the EU to provide more support for media freedom and development initiatives in Africa and urges African governments to do more to respect media freedom.


• The Statement is available at:
• For more information please contact: Martin Clark +44 20 7324 2500

Friday, October 16, 2009

A landmark case involving the principle of open justice

United Kingdom: ARTICLE 19 in Landmark Open Justice Case

ARTICLE 19 is part of a landmark case involving the principle of open justice and the right to know. The case is the very first in the newly established Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

ARTICLE 19 has applied with other leading media and civil liberties organisations for identification of the appellants in the case Her Majesty's Treasury (Respondents) v A (FC) and others (FC) (Appellants) and others.

Identification and publicity would benefit the appellants, as the media would be able to report the human-interest dimensions of the case. Identification is also in the public interest, as the case will show the effects of Anti-Terrorism Orders upon individuals and their family members.

Only Mohammed Al-Ghabra’s name has so far been identified, previously known as G, on the grounds that his identity is already in the public domain. The Court ran out of time and has not decided whether the identities of ‘A’, ‘K’ and ‘M’ will be publicised.

The case is considering whether measures contained in the Terrorism (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 and the Al-Qaida and Taliban (United Nations Measures) Order 2006 were unlawful. Under the orders, said to give effect to UN resolutions, the Treasury may freeze assets of people and their families who “may be” suspected of financing terrorism. The measures are being scrutinised in court because they were made without express authorisation by Parliament.

From 1 October 2009, the Supreme Court has assumed the jurisdiction of the current Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and the devolution jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.


• For more information please contact: Sejal Parmar, Senior Legal Officer,, +44 20 7324 2500;
• For more materials on the case at the Supreme Court, check

Nepal: Government Putting Journalists at Risk

12 October 2009

Nepal: Government Putting Journalists at Risk

ARTICLE 19, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and Freedom Forum (FF) strongly condemn the Government of Nepal’s intentions to use journalists as informants, to help implement its Special Security Plan. This would significantly increase the already seriously hazardous working environment for journalists. It is also contrary to international standards, as well as the Agenda for Change, launched by ARTICLE 19, FNJ and FF in February 2009. We urge the Government of Nepal to drop this idea and, instead, to take the necessary steps to protect journalists from attacks by unidentified armed groups.

“The Government’s plan is opportunistic and irresponsible,” said Dharmendra Jha, Chairperson of FNJ. “Threats and attacks against, and even murder of journalists are rampant in Nepal and to propose to use journalist as informants is at best grossly negligent,” he added.

Key problems with involving journalists in the Special Security Plan include:
• This would seriously undermine the role of an independent media in a democracy.
• It would also undermine the independence and professionalism of individual journalists.
• It would seriously increase the risk of attacks against journalists and media outlets, whereas there is an imperative need to take action to reduce this risk.

Recommendation No. 24 of the Agenda for Change states, in part: “The government should be more proactive in fulfilling its obligation to protect journalists and media property, including by allocating greater resources and attention to this, particularly in conflict areas.” Attemping to use journalists as secuirty informants is also a breach of code of conduct issued by Nepal Press Council.

ARTICLE 19, FNJ and FF urge the Nepali authorities to withdraw immediately any proposal to use journalists as informants to execute the Special Security Plan. We also call on the authorities to take all reasonable measures to promote the safety and security of journalists and media outlets.


• For more information, please contact Tanka Raj Aryal, ARTICLE 19 Country Representative, Nepal, +97798510 75026, Taranath Dahal, President, Freedom Forum,, +977 98510 87891 or Dharmendra Jha, President, Federation of Nepali Journalists,, +977 98510 71459.
• The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) is the umbrella organisation of the journalists in Nepal. Freedom Forum is a Nepalese human rights organisation working for press freedom and the right to information

Mexico: Safety Training for Journalists

Mexico: ARTICLE 19 and the Rory Peck Trust Provide Safety Training for Journalists

ARTICLE 19, in conjunction with the Rory Peck Trust, last week delivered its third security training course in Mexico for journalists working in high-risk zones.

Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places to practise journalism and there is almost no training available to help journalists and freelancers in the region manage the daily risks associated with their profession.

ARTICLE 19 and the Rory Peck Trust believe that, to ensure their safety and security, journalists and freelancers must know their rights. They must know how to effectively protect themselves, how to analyse potential risks, and how to identify and adopt the best possible measure to counteract them.

Journalists and freelancers, including those from Reuters, Associated Press, CNN and Televisa, attended the programme. They covered journalistic practice, coverage of security forces and public demonstrations, and the relationships between reporters, editors, security forces and emergency services. Methods of self-protection based on lessons from other countries were another feature of the course. Participants also looked at the challenges and problems facing media workers in the field, as well as the identification and management of post-traumatic stress and related disorders.

Participants received a thorough briefing on the legal realities facing journalists in Mexico today, including basic media and human rights law, as well as defamation and other tools used to stifle media freedom. The Mexican Red Cross covered first aid, emergency evacuation situations, explosions, natural disasters and survival training.

“When I undertook my first security training course I was already half way through my career,” says Manuel Carrillo, Senior Cameraman for Reuters. “It is great to see that younger journalists now have an opportunity to receive this training, particularly in light of the dangers they are now facing in Mexico.”

ARTICLE 19 systematically documents, registers and follows up cases of aggression against journalists and media workers in Mexico and Central America. Through this work, ARTICLE 19 has been able to identify specific trends relating to freedom of expression which are characteristic of this region.

“Enabling journalists to look after themselves in high-risk situations, while also reporting accurately on themes in the public interest, ARTICLE 19 hopes to assist the media in holding public bodies and elected officials accountable for their actions,” comments Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “This will greatly enhance and protect the right to freedom of expression in Mexico and Central America.”

The course took place at the Mexican Red Cross training facility outside Mexico City and was made possible with the support of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Mexico.


• For further information, contact Ricardo Gonzalez, ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America Office, at, + 55 11 30 57 00 42 or Catalina Cortes, Rory Peck Trust at, +44 (0) 20 7730 141.
• The Rory Peck Trust exists to support freelance newsgatherers and their families worldwide in times of need, and to promote their welfare and safety.

Hold Russia Accountable for abuses and violations of the right to freedom of expression

15 October 2009
Human Rights Committee: ARTICLE 19 Urges the Human Rights Committee to Hold Russia Accountable

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Human Rights Committee (“the Committee”) to hold the Russian Federation accountable for ongoing and systematic abuses and violations of the right to freedom of expression.
Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“the Covenant”), States must submit to a periodic review of their implementation of the Covenant’s provisions. Russia’s sixth periodic report comes under scrutiny today by the HRC at its 97th session in Geneva. In a shadow report submitted to the Committee, ARTICLE 19 provides detailed evidence of a range of abuses of the right to freedom of expression in Russia.

During the period under review, ARTICLE 19 finds that freedom of expression has steadily deteriorated in the Russian Federation. Journalists and media workers remain under constant threat of attack and there is an absence of thorough and impartial investigations into killings and assaults against journalists. Instead, a climate of impunity for crimes against journalists prevails.

Public officials, including those at the highest level of the Government, refuse to view the media as an independent critic and often regard it as a subordinate body aimed at furthering political goals. Defamation laws are regularly employed to stifle journalists and media outlets.

Opposition groups are suppressed and prevented from engaging in peaceful protest, and there are increasing incidents of attacks against minorities, including religious, sexual and ethnic groups. Legislation governing extremism and religious hatred is being used to suppress criticism of the Russian authorities, as well as artistic free expression.

“ARTICLE 19 calls on the Human Rights Committee to carefully examine and expose the deplorable human rights record of the Russian Federation, and to hold this Government accountable to its human rights obligations under the Covenant,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

ARTICLE 19 has been working in the Russian Federation for the last decade, in close co-operation with local partners, on projects relating to freedom of expression, freedom of information and defamation. Given the severity of the violations outlined in the report, ARTICLE 19 urges the Human Rights Committee to exert pressure over the Russian Government to ensure that everyone in the Russian Federation is able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression without intimidation, violence or harassment.


* For more information please contact: Nathalie Losekoot, Senior Programme Officer, Europe, at: +44 796 985 6069 or; or Barbora Bukovska, Senior Director for Law, at: +44 207 324 2500 or
* The full version of the Written Comments of ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression Concerning the Review of the Sixth Periodic Report of the Russian Federation for Consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Committee at its 97th Session, 12-30 October2009 is available at
* ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech. For more information on ARTICLE 19 please visit