Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Brazil: Supreme Court Strikes Down Press Law

Brazil: Supreme Court Strikes Down Press Law

On 30 April 2009, the Brazilian Supreme Court held that the 1967 Press Law, adopted by a military government, was void as it breached the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. This important victory should be followed up by the adoption of legislation on privacy and defamation which respects constitutional and international guarantees of freedom of expression.

The Press Law was originally passed in 1967, during a period of dictatorship, and it was historically used to silence and manipulate the press. The Law authorised a number of abusive measures against journalists and media outlets, such as the seizure of newspapers without a judicial order, the banning of newspapers and magazines, and censorship.

The Press Law also regulated civil defamation and the right of reply. The Criminal Code and electoral legislation continue to provide for criminal defamation, but there is no longer a specific legal framework for civil defamation and the right of reply. Research by ARTICLE 19 suggests that this legal gap is likely to create serious legal insecurity, in particular since no clear standards apply to the question of damages for defamation, which will be now at the sole discretion of individual judges.

ARTICLE 19 participated in the Supreme Court challenge by filing an amicus curiae with the Court. In its brief, ARTICLE 19 argued that the Press Law criminalised the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right. Our brief demonstrated that criminal defamation rules were applied abusively to convict journalists and human rights defenders, including when reporting on human rights violations and corruption.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the revocation of the outdated and repressive Press Law. At the same time, we call for social consultations leading to the adoption of new laws on defamation and privacy which are consistent with international and constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, as well as other rights. In particular, we call for defamation to be addressed exclusively as a civil matter. We also call on the judiciary to ensure that their decisions are consistent with international and constitutional standards, particularly in the absence of a clear legal framework in these areas.


• For more information: please contact Paula Martins, paula@article19.org, +55 11 3057 0042

Burma: Military Regime Rejects Aung San Suu Kyi Appeal

Burma: Military Regime Rejects Aung San Suu Kyi Appeal

ARTICLE 19 is dismayed and deeply saddened to learn that the appeal for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi has been rejected yet again by her captors. The governments that continue to support the Burmese authorities, particularly China, India, and the ASEAN members, through their indifference and ineffectiveness, each bears responsibility for the bricks and mortar of Aung San Suu Kyi’s prison” said Dr. Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

Nobel Peace Prize winning Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention, submitted in October 2008 an appeal to be released, via her lawyer Kyi Win.

According to Kyi Win’s assistant, Hla Myo Myint, the military regime summoned the lawyer to a meeting and told Hla that the appeal would be rejected.

The Burmese military regime imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi under legislation that will run out on 27 May 2009. But with non-free elections due to be held in early 2010, the regime is trying to block Aung San Suu Kyi, the landslide winner of the last elections, from taking part.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, has also announced that they will not take part in the 2010 elections if Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are not freed.


• For more information: please contact Oliver Spencer, oliver@article19.org +44 20 7278 9292

Yemen: Seven Newspapers Confiscated and One Daily’s Office Under Siege

Yemen: Seven Newspapers Confiscated and One Daily’s Office Under Siege; ARTICLE 19 and HOOD Declare High Alert for the Media in Yemen

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Yemeni government to immediately lift all forms of censorship on the media and return confiscated newspapers.

Between 4 and 5 May, Yemeni authorities confiscated from the market copies of seven independent newspapers, including Al Diyar, Al Share’, Al Masdar, Al Nida’, Al Mustaqilla, Al Watani and Al Ayyam. According to an official government statement, the newspapers had published material “harmful to the national unity”.

In addition to confiscating copies of independent daily Al Ayyam, the Yemeni authorities also detained Al Ayyam employees and imposed a siege on its offices. On 6 May, the government had shut down Al Ayyam website and prevented all access to it. The authorities were allegedly annoyed with Al Ayyam’s coverage of events in the south.

Such measures are unjustified and constitute a dramatic blow to media freedom in Yemen” said Dr. Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “ARTICLE 19 and HOOD call upon the Yemeni Authorities to put an immediate stop to these intimidating tactics against journalists and newspapers, and return the confiscated newspapers copies immediately.

The Ministry of Information has ordered Al Ayyam not to go to print until further notice. Al Ayyam had been under strenuous pressure lately for not following the official line. Lawsuits have been filed against its staff, and authorities have repeatedly confiscated and burned its copies as well as harassed the paper’s distribution drivers. The authorities have been said to be unhappy with the publication of photos of clashes between government forces and opposition groups in the south.

The article that broke the camel’s back was an op-ed by Munir Almaweri published in Al Masdar weekly. It called on Yemenis in the north to show solidarity with their brethren in the south who are disgruntled and marginalised by a high rate of unemployment and poverty, and to demonstrate against the regime’s policies. The piece, which appeared on the confiscated issue of Al Madar on 5 May, called on the president to step down so as to foster unity between north and south.

According to Arafat Mudabish, chief editor of the leading Al Tagheer news website, leading journalists and activists in Yemen have regarded the confiscation measure and harassment tactics against all media as an “unprecedented massacre” that has damaged journalism in Yemen. Journalists in Yemen are systematically under attack, and newspapers suffer from government harassment and extreme measures, he said.

There has been unrest in the impoverished country for a few years now, especially in the south where certain groups feel they are marginalised. Tension mounted in recent months and escalated at times into armed clashes between opposition protesters and government forces.


• For more information: please contact Sa’eda Kilani, ARTICLE 19 MENA Programme Manager, sa’eda@article19.org or Oliver Spencer, oliver@article19.org at: +44-207278 9292

Serious Concerns over Assault on Political Cartoonist

A prominent political cartoonist, Mario Robles, of the newspaper Noticias Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca in western Mexico was violently assaulted and subjected to death threats by members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on 19 April.

In an interview with ARTICLE 19, Robles reported that he was set upon by Indalesio Cruz Alcázar, and his son Isalesis Cruz, both of whom are campaigning for the PRI in Roble’s neighborhood in the upcoming July elections. The men approached him and began kicking him repeatedly, leaving him with a number of visible wounds. They told him that he needed to modify his cartoons, and threatened to kill both him and his family.

According to reports following a press conference held later that evening, it is not the first time that these particular individuals have attacked local people due to their political affiliations.

In his thirty-year careers as a cartoonist in Mexico, Robles has won the state journalistic award on six separate occasions, and is considered a prominent political commentator in the region.

Roble reported the attack to the Department of Justice of the State of Oaxaca but has received no offer of protection from them. Until now, the matter has gone no further.

There have been a number of problems in recent years for both journalists and human rights defenders in this Oaxaca. Both the men named in the attack on Robles are campaigning for the PRI, which has been in power in the state for over seventy-five years.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that this sort of attack constitutes censorship of political commentary – it negatively impacts the individual involved but also denies citizens the opportunity to receive information. Access to information and political comment is fundamental to any functioning democracy, particularly during elections.

“Cartoons serve a particular purpose in terms of political commentary,” says Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “They are particularly influential because an image can often be more effective in making an impression than words. This is therefore a unique but particularly relevant form of social commentary that needs to be protected under the right to freedom of expression.”

Mario Robles has suffered a violation to his human right to freedom of expression. The Mexican government is obliged, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice. ARTICLE19 calls upon the Mexican State and particularly the authorities of the State of Oaxaca to investigate all acts of violence, intimidation or harassment directed against the media, particularly where there is reason to believe that the act was motivated by the intention to interfere with media freedom, and to ensure that those responsible for such acts are brought to justice.

ARTICLE19 is also concerned about outbreaks of violence that reflect a lack of political tolerance in the state of Oaxaca in view of upcoming elections.

ARTICLE19 calls on the PRI to ensure, particularly in this sensitive period in the run-up to elections, that all of its members are under the direct control of the party, and that intimidation of this sort is not allowed to take place.


• For more information, please contact Ricardo Gonzalez, ARTICLE 19 Mexico, at ricardo@article19.org, + 55 11 30 57 00 42

Protect Freedom of Expression on World Press Freedom Day

As the global media and human rights communities mark the event of World Press Freedom Day, ARTICLE 19 calls attention to the ongoing need to ensure that freedom of expression is safeguarded and enhanced in all parts of the world.

The theme for UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2009 is “Fostering Dialogue”. In line with this topic, ARTICLE 19 continues to fulfil its core mandate by working closely with partners from the media and civil society to promote the right to freedom of expression in various parts of the world.

Camden Principles

ARTICLE 19 launched the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality, a ground-breaking document that will guide legislators, policy-makers and civil society in balancing the mutually enforcing rights to freedom of expression and equality. A key principle of the document is to “promote dialogue among different communities” and addresses a number of global requirements for media diversity.


In April, ARTICLE 19 East Africa co-ordinated a gathering of media professionals, human rights defenders, academic and community representatives in Kenya which developed the Machakos Declaration on Freedom of Expression. This document affirms the fundamental principles of free expression enshrined in international human rights frameworks and recognises that freedom of expression is crucial for democratic reform, good governance and poverty reduction.

This comes at an important time for Kenya, where an uneasy coalition government is in office after the post-election violence in 2007. The Machakos meeting recognised that not all elements of the media had reported the elections and subsequent violence objectively; indeed some segments had worsened the situation through biased and unprofessional reporting. It is critical for the democratic future of Kenya that the media is given the freedom to report independently on societal events, and that it also acts responsibly to provide balanced and fair reporting.

There is an ongoing constitutional review process and ARTICLE 19 is actively working with partners to ensure reform of existing freedom of information legislation and broadcasting legislation, in order to provide a more enabling framework for the media.


ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh will launch a new handbook on the Right to Information, in question-and-answer format, for the media and legal sectors in Bangladesh on World Press Freedom Day. This forms part of the organisation’s continued work in this country to promote freedom of information and strengthen the ability of the media to report on issues of importance.

At the event on Sunday 3 May, ARTICLE 19 will also present awards to a group of women journalists, drawn from grassroots and community media structures, who have recently undergone a fellowship programme through ARTICLE 19. This programme is helping to promote diversity in the media and empower locally-based journalists to better report stories within their own communities and in the national press.


ARTICLE 19 is using the launch of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership on 7 May to cast a spotlight on continued human rights abuses, including the intimidation and censorship of dissenting voices, and repression of the media. The Eastern Partnership is an initiative promoting good governance, free trade and economic development between the EU and six countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. One of the stated shared values of the Eastern Partnership is a commitment to human rights and the rule of law. ARTICLE 19 has been documenting cases of abuse, harassment and violence against media workers and also calls for legal reform of media and broadcasting legislation to protect freedom of expression in each of these countries.

Latin America

Throughout 2009 ARTICLE 19 Mexico is running a campaign to protect journalists titled “What you don’t know can hurt you”. Part of the campaign will this year include an international seminar bringing together different stakeholders to discuss how best to document and raise alerts on abuses against journalists and to publish a “Protocol to Monitor, Document and Follow up on Aggressions against Journalists” for Mexico. A website together with television and radio spots are also being launched to widen understanding of the situation and identify the best way to support a free press.

Middle East

From 5-7 May ARTICLE 19 will host a training programme in Yemen on international human rights law and international best practice standards on both the right to freedom of expression and the right to information. The training course will aim to provide a group of 25-30 key stakeholders, in particular journalists and other media professionals and NGO activists, with an understanding of the main implications of the right to freedom of expression and the right to information as protected under international law. The initiative aims to empower participants with the ability to advocate for and exercise their own right to freedom of expression in the Yemeni context.


• The Camden Principles was drafted by ARTICLE 19, with the participation of a high-level group of UN officials and representatives from other intergovernmental organisations, NGOs and academic experts, following two meetings in London on 11 December 2008 and 23-24 February 2009.
• “What you don’t know can hurt you” can be visited at www.libertad-expresion.org.mx
• For more information: please contact Nicola Spurr, Senior Press Officer at +44 772 686 7868 or nicola@article19.org.