Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sri Lanka: Journalists Still Under Threat

28 October 2009

Sri Lanka: Journalists Still Under Threat, Even As Conflict Ends

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that Sri Lankan journalists remain under threat, despite the official ending of the country’s decades-long civil conflict in May this year. Two editors from the Sri Lankan newspaper The Sunday Leader, Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, are the latest to receive death threats, handwritten in red ink and delivered on 22 October.

The death threats arrived after the paper published a report on video footage allegedly showing Sri Lankan government soldiers executing Tamil prisoners. The footage, which was broadcast in the UK on Channel Four news, was deemed inauthentic by the government. However, The Sunday Leader ran a technical report from the USA stating that it had not been faked.

The Sunday Leader’s previous editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated in January this year, three weeks after receiving a similar letter. After his death, The Sunday Leader published a posthumous editorial by Wickrematunge in which he blamed the Sri Lankan Government for attacks on journalists. He wrote: “Electronic and print media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.”

The Sunday Leader’s managing editor Lal Wickrematunge told ARTICLE 19 today that they have lodged an official complaint and written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa this morning.

Journalist and former Convener of the Sri Lankan Free Media Movement Uvindu Kurukulasuriya comments: “The Sri Lankan government has failed to investigate the murder of Lasantha and bring his killers to justice and now there are the same death threats against his successors.”

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Sri Lankan government to immediately investigate the death threats against The Sunday Leader editor-in-chief Frederica Jansz and news editor Munza Mushataq, and to ensure the safety of both women.

“It is completely unacceptable to subject journalists and editors to the kind of violence and harassment that has become so commonplace in Sri Lanka,” comments Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “The Sri Lankan government must take responsibility for the safety of working journalists and must ensure that the country’s commitment to the rule of international and domestic law is upheld.”


• For more information please contact: Oliver Spencer,, +44 20 7324 2500

Russia: UN Human Rights Committee on Free Expression

2 November 2009

Russia: Government Must Respect Recommendations of UN Human Rights Committee on Free Expression

ARTICLE 19 welcomes recommendations by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the Committee) in its concluding observations on the Russian Federation’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR). At the same time, ARTICLE 19 urges the Russian Government to take immediate steps to implement these recommendations, in particular those related to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 submitted a shadow report for the 97th session of the Committee from 12- 30 October 2009 in Geneva that provided detailed evidence of a range of abuses of the right to freedom of expression in Russia.

In the Concluding Observations issued on 29 October 2009, the Committee expressed its concern “at the alarming incidence of threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders, which has created a climate of fear and a chilling effect on the media, including for those working in the North Caucasus, and regrets the lack of effective measures taken to protect the right to life and security of these persons.” These concerns are similar to those of ARTICLE 19 in the shadow report.

Likewise, the Committee also recommended an amendment to the Criminal Code, in order to reflect the principle that public figures should tolerate a greater degree of criticism than ordinary citizens, and to decriminalise defamation, making it a civil matter with a cap on potential damages.

“These recommendations are particularly relevant today as Yuri Orlov, head of the Moscow-based human rights organisation Memorial, currently faces charges of criminal defamation,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “ARTICLE 19 wants defamation to be decriminalised worldwide because it has such a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” continues Callamard.

In addition, the Committee also reiterated previous recommendation to revise the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity, making the definition of "extremist activity" more precise and excluding any possibility of arbitrary application. ARTICLE 19 had expressed concerns that anti-extremist legislation had been used to suppress independent and critical viewpoints, especially with regard to definitions of “extremist literature” and “social groups” accused of inciting hatred in Russia.

When determining whether written materials constitute “extremist literature”, the Committee recommended that the government ensure that the experts giving evidence in court cases must be independent and that defendants in such cases must be able to offer counter-expertise. The Committee also found that the loose definition of “social groups” was open to interpretation by courts in a manner that afforded protection to state organs and agents.

ARTICLE 19 noted several cases from around Russia where law enforcement agencies, state prosecution officials and the military were recognised as “social groups” by experts and the courts, and subsequently effectively protected from public criticism or scrutiny under anti-extremism and hate speech laws. This practice clearly illustrates a tendency to use legislation to silence criticism of powerful state actors.

The Human Rights Committee has issued a clear call to the Russian Federation to make urgent changes to its domestic laws and practice, in order to bring the country fully in line with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ARTICLE 19 endorses these recommendations, especially those that apply to the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and intends to continue monitoring the government’s implementation of these recommendations, along with all of the country’s freedom of expression obligations.

• For more information please contact: Nathalie Losekoot, Senior Programme Officer: Europe at or +44 20 7324 2500.
• For a copy of ARTICLE 19 shadow report, submitted to the Human Rights Committee as part of its preparation for the review of the sixth periodic report by the Russian Federation, see
• For a copy of the Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on the sixth periodic report of the Russian Federation, see (advanced version).

Five Years After Van Gogh's Murder, Free Speech Is Under Attack

Five Years After Van Gogh's Murder, Free Speech Is Under Attack

by David J. Rusin • Nov 2, 2009 at 9:26

On November 2, 2004, Dutch columnist, filmmaker, and all-around provocateur Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death as he biked to work on an Amsterdam street. The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, insisted that Islam "compels me to chop off the head of anyone who insults Allah and the prophet." He targeted the anti-Islam van Gogh because of his movie Submission, which graphically highlights Koranic verses often used to justify the mistreatment of women.

A half decade later, Islamists still answer free speech with violence. Two Chicago-area Muslims were charged last week with plotting attacks against those involved in publishing the Danish Muhammad cartoons. Shortly before that, Dutch MP Geert Wilders was welcomed to the UK by Islamist thugs who warned him — and everyone else — to "take lessons from people like Theo van Gogh," because "whoever insults the prophet, kill him."

Yet the greatest threat to free speech does not come from homegrown jihadists who wish to make examples of rabble-rousing Westerners. It arises from governments and related entities blinded by the fanciful notion that radicals will leave us alone if we only stop saying things that offend them. Some recent happenings:

  • Last month the UN Human Rights Council passed yet another resolution — this time, with support from the U.S. and Europe — urging governments "to take all necessary measures" to combat "religious stereotyping" and "hatred." While noting a few improvements over previous years' text, law professor Eugene Volokh called it "a step backward" for the constitutional rights of Americans. The resolution will be considered in November by the General Assembly, where the Islamic bloc hopes to use it as a springboard for banning criticism of Islam and enacting global blasphemy statutes.
  • Paul Belien reports that "if all goes as planned, the 27 member states of the European Union will soon have a common hate crime legislation, which will turn disapproval for Islamic practices … into crimes." The text names an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment" as one (extremely subjective) facet of discrimination. No doubt Bouyeri would be pleased. It passed the European Parliament and will be debated by the Council of Ministers this month.
  • Geert Wilders continues to serve as a lightning rod for those who wish to stifle Islam's critics. First, a court order was needed to convince the British government to let him set foot on UK soil last month. Second, Pennsylvania's Temple University, which accepts state funds, pressured students to cancel an October appearance by the legislator; they refused. Third, in what may be the trial of the century, at least in the Netherlands, Wilders is preparing to defend himself against speech crime charges; the start date is January 20.

Daniel Pipes referred to the van Gogh slaying as "education by murder," part of the "slow and painful way people wake up to the problem of radical Islam." Unfortunately, for many of our drowsy leaders, the only lessons learned are the wrong ones.

Florence Hartmann’s case

5 November 2009

ICTY: ARTICLE 19 Submits an Amicus Brief in Florence Hartmann’s case
ARTICLE 19 has today submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case of a French journalist, Florence Hartmann, who has been convicted of contempt of court by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for disclosing confidential information.
On 14 September 2009, a Specially Appointed Chamber of the ICTY found Hartmann guilty of disclosing the contents of two Appeals Chamber Decisions from the case against Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević in a book and an article.

These decisions granted confidential status to documents of the Serbian State’s Supreme Defence Council related to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The exact content of these documents has never been disclosed but they are reported to contain details of contact between the Serbian government and the Bosnian Serb army, which would establish a link between the government in Belgrade and war crimes such as those committed at Srebrenica. Hartmann had served for a number of years as spokesperson for the Chief Prosecutor for the ICTY.

The ICTY Specially Appointed Chamber found that Hartmann’s conduct could deter sovereign states from cooperating with the Tribunal where the provision of evidentiary material is concerned, and sentenced her to a fine of 7,000 Euros.

While recognising that the tensions between the principles of freedom of expression, and the need for some degree of confidentiality to protect the administration of justice, ARTICLE 19’s amicus brief maintains that the judgment of the Specially Appointed Chamber departs in significant ways from well-established principles of freedom of expression.

By referring to the international standards justifying restrictions on media freedom to safeguard the administration of justice, the amicus brief maintains that any conviction of contempt of court must be justified on the ground of necessity and proportionality. Accordingly, it states that freedom of expression can to be invoked to excuse an accused person’s conduct, even if valid orders have been breached.

The amicus brief claims that, in the circumstances, the restriction of Hartmann’s freedom of expression was unnecessary. ARTICLE 19 points out that the disclosures were a serious and well-informed contribution to a debate about international justice. They were made a long time after the Milosevic trial ended and concerned information which was already in the public domain. The amicus brief claims that the Specially Appointed Chamber failed to apply the proportionality test and to consider the potential chilling effect on freedom of expression of imposing criminal liability on journalists reporting on matters of public interest.

• For more information please contact: David Banisar, Senior Legal Consultant, or +44 20 7324 2500.
• The full text of the amicus brief and the leave for amicus brief can be found at
• ARTICLE 19 appreciates the assistance of Guy Vassall-Adams, Barrister with Doughty Street Chambers, who is acting as counsel for ARTICLE 19 in this case.

Mexico: Calls for Immediate Investigation into Attacks as Ninth Journalist Murdered

ARTICLE 19 Calls for Immediate Investigation into Attacks as Ninth Journalist Murdered

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican authorities to fully and immediately investigate the killing of journalist José Bladimir Antuna García, in the state capital of Durango in northern Mexico.

Garcia’s body was found on 2 November, some twelve hours after he had been abducted from the centre of Durango. He had two bullet wounds. According to a number of sources there was a sign left on the body which read, “This happened to me for giving information to the military and writing what I shouldn´t have. Check the texts of your articles well before publishing them. Yours faithfully, Bladimir."

Garcia was a reporter for a local newspaper called El Tiempo de Durango, where he worked as editor of the police section. He had apparently been subjected to threats for some time: his house had been attacked earlier this year and he had spoken openly of receiving a number of threats both to his cellular phone and at the newspaper offices. He had reported these threats to the State’s General Attorney’s Office but no measures seem to have been taken.

Garcia is the second journalist from this particular newspaper to have been killed this year and the third in Durango. In May, Eliseo Barron of the newspaper Milenio was abducted from his home in Durango and later found murdered. Earlier the same month, Carlos Ortega, of El Tiempo de Durango was shot dead in his car.

So far, nine journalists have been killed in Mexico this year, while eight remain missing and hundreds more have suffered threats or aggressions.

“The violence and deaths that have occurred in the north of the country in recent months, and particularly in the state of Durango, have resulted in a chilling effect on the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and more particularly press freedom,” comments Dario Ramirez, Director of ARTICLE 19 in Mexico. “Journalists living in fear for their safety are much more likely to censor themselves, being cautious about what they write and fearful of being critical.”

In an interview with ARTICLE 19, local journalist Antonio Meraz stated that: “The majority don’t want to get involved in topics related to the drug trafficking industry. For security reasons they have stopped writing about the situation.”

Mexico has an obligation under international law to protect freedom of expression. This means that the State has a duty to protect this fundamental human right, making sure that violations of free expression are swiftly and appropriately addressed through the courts.

According to a ruling by the Inter American Court of Human Rights, the Mexican State has an obligation to “prevent, investigate, and castigate” all violations of human rights that take place under its jurisdiction. Yet, out of the nine murders of journalists that ARTICLE 19 has recorded in 2009, a perpetrator has only been identified in one case so far.

ARTICLE19 calls on the Mexican authorities, and particularly the authorities of the State of Durango, to tackle the climate of impunity that is currently being allowed to prevail in cases of attacks against journalists. Only through the full realisation of the right to freedom of expression will the consolidation of democracy and a solution to the current violence and insecurity be possible.

• For more information please contact: Omar Rábago, ARTICLE 19 México and Central America Office,, +52 55 10 54 65 00 ext 102