Posts Tagged ‘journalists’

Sri Lanka: attacks on free media put displaced civilians at risk

August 15, 2009

Vigil marking the first anniversary of the detention of Sri Lankan journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam, London, March 2008

Vigil marking the first anniversary of the detention of Sri Lankan journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam Tissainayagam, London, March 2008

Amnesty International, Aug 14, 2009

Attacks on journalists, relentless intimidation, and government-imposed restrictions on reporting threaten freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and jeopardize the safety and dignity of civilians displaced by war.

The Sri Lankan government actively obstructed reporting on the last stages of the recently concluded armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE – Tamil Tigers). Civilians were subjected to artillery attacks and both sides were accused of committing war crimes.

The government continues to deny journalists and media workers unrestricted access to hundreds and thousands of displaced people living in camps, hindering reporting on their war experiences and on conditions in the camps themselves.

Continues >>

Falk: Understanding the Gaza Catastrophe

January 5, 2009

By Richard Falk | ZNet, January 4, 2009
Huffington Post

For eighteen months the entire 1.5 million people of Gaza experienced a punishing blockade imposed by Israel, and a variety of traumatizing challenges to the normalcy of daily life. A flicker of hope emerged some six months ago when an Egyptian arranged truce produced an effective ceasefire that cut Israeli casualties to zero despite the cross-border periodic firing of homemade rockets that fell harmlessly on nearby Israeli territory, and undoubtedly caused anxiety in the border town of Sderot. During the ceasefire the Hamas leadership in Gaza repeatedly offered to extend the truce, even proposing a ten-year period and claimed a receptivity to a political solution based on acceptance of Israel’s 1967 borders. Israel ignored these diplomatic initiatives, and failed to carry out its side of the ceasefire agreement that involved some easing of the blockade that had been restricting the entry to Gaza of food, medicine, and fuel to a trickle.

Israel also refused exit permits to students with foreign fellowship awards and to Gazan journalists and respected NGO representatives. At the same time, it made it increasingly difficult for journalists to enter, and I was myself expelled from Israel a couple of weeks ago when I tried to enter to carry out my UN job of monitoring respect for human rights in occupied Palestine, that is, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Gaza. Clearly, prior to the current crisis, Israel used its authority to prevent credible observers from giving accurate and truthful accounts of the dire humanitarian situation that had been already documented as producing severe declines in the physical condition and mental health of the Gazan population, especially noting malnutrition among children and the absence of treatment facilities for those suffering from a variety of diseases. The Israeli attacks were directed against a society already in grave condition after a blockade maintained during the prior 18 months.

As always in relation to the underlying conflict, some facts bearing on this latest crisis are murky and contested, although the American public in particular gets 99% of its information filtered through an exceedingly pro-Israeli media lens. Hamas is blamed for the breakdown of the truce by its supposed unwillingness to renew it, and by the alleged increased incidence of rocket attacks. But the reality is more clouded. There was no substantial rocket fire from Gaza during the ceasefire until Israel launched an attack last November 4th directed at what it claimed were Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing several Palestinians. It was at this point that rocket fire from Gaza intensified. Also, it was Hamas that on numerous public occasions called for extending the truce, with its calls never acknowledged, much less acted upon, by Israeli officialdom. Beyond this, attributing all the rockets to Hamas is not convincing either. A variety of independent militia groups operate in Gaza, some such as the Fatah-backed al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade are anti-Hamas, and may even be sending rockets to provoke or justify Israeli retaliation. It is well confirmed that when US-supported Fatah controlled Gaza’s governing structure it was unable to stop rocket attacks despite a concerted effort to do so.

What this background suggests strongly is that Israel launched its devastating attacks, starting on December 27, not simply to stop the rockets or in retaliation, but also for a series of unacknowledged reasons. It was evident for several weeks prior to the Israeli attacks that the Israeli military and political leaders were preparing the public for large-scale military operations against the Hamas. The timing of the attacks seemed prompted by a series of considerations: most of all, the interest of political contenders, the Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in demonstrating their toughness prior to national elections scheduled for February, but now possibly postponed until military operations cease. Such Israeli shows of force have been a feature of past Israeli election campaigns, and on this occasion especially, the current government was being successfully challenged by Israel’s notoriously militarist politician, Benjamin Netanyahu, for its supposed failures to uphold security. Reinforcing these electoral motivations was the little concealed pressure from the Israeli military commanders to seize the opportunity in Gaza to erase the memories of their failure to destroy Hezbollah in the devastating Lebanon War of 2006 that both tarnished Israel’s reputation as a military power and led to widespread international condemnation of Israel for the heavy bombardment of undefended Lebanese villages, disproportionate force, and extensive use of cluster bombs against heavily populated areas.

Respected and conservative Israeli commentators go further. For instance, the prominent historian, Benny Morris writing in the New York Times a few days ago, relates the campaign in Gaza to a deeper set of forebodings in Israel that he compares to the dark mood of the public that preceded the 1967 War when Israelis felt deeply threatened by Arab mobilizations on their borders. Morris insists that despite Israeli prosperity of recent years, and relative security, several factors have led Israel to act boldly in Gaza: the perceived continuing refusal of the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel as an established reality; the inflammatory threats voiced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad together with Iran’s supposed push to acquire nuclear weapons, the fading memory of the Holocaust combined with growing sympathy in the West with the Palestinian plight, and the radicalization of political movements on Israel’s borders in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas. In effect, Morris argues that Israel is trying via the crushing of Hamas in Gaza to send a wider message to the region that it will stop at nothing to uphold its claims of sovereignty and security.

There are two conclusions that emerge: the people of Gaza are being severely victimized for reasons remote from the rockets and border security concerns, but seemingly to improve election prospects of current leaders now facing defeat, and to warn others in the region that Israel will use overwhelming force whenever its interests are at stake.

That such a human catastrophe can happen with minimal outside interference also shows the weakness of international law and the United Nations, as well as the geopolitical priorities of the important players. The passive support of the United States government for whatever Israel does is again the critical factor, as it was in 2006 when it launched its aggressive war against Lebanon. What is less evident is that the main Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, with their extreme hostility toward Hamas that is viewed as backed by Iran, their main regional rival, were also willing to stand aside while Gaza was being so brutally attacked, with some Arab diplomats even blaming the attacks on Palestinian disunity or on the refusal of Hamas to accept the leadership of Mamoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority.

The people of Gaza are victims of geopolitics at its inhumane worst: producing what Israel itself calls a ‘total war’ against an essentially defenseless society that lacks any defensive military capability whatsoever and is completely vulnerable to Israeli attacks mounted by F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters. What this also means is that the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, is quietly set aside while the carnage continues and the bodies pile up. It additionally means that the UN is once more revealed to be impotent when its main members deprive it of the political will to protect a people subject to unlawful uses of force on a large scale. Finally, this means that the public can shriek and march all over the world, but that the killing will go on as if nothing is happening. The picture being painted day by day in Gaza is one that begs for renewed commitment to international law and the authority of the UN Charter, starting here in the United States, especially with a new leadership that promised its citizens change, including a less militarist approach to diplomatic leadership.

Precedent for the shoe-throwing protest

December 17, 2008

Al-Zaidi may have been beaten for his outburst at George Bush, but Iraqi journalists are entitled to righteous indignation

Muntadhar al-Zaidi will go down in Arab folklore as the man who dared to throw his shoes at George Bush but his immediate problem is how to recover from the reprisals he suffered after his bold gesture. His older brother, Dargham, has told reporters Muntadhar suffered a broken hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding, as well as an eye injury, and is in hospital.

If true, the reports confirm what the TV clips shown on the Guardian’s website in the aftermath of the incident seemed to suggest. A number of Western news reports referred to Zaidi as “screaming” while he was taken out of the press conference room. They gave the impression he was ranting at Bush. The soundtrack hinted otherwise. It contained a series of agonised yelps and grunts, as of a man being repeatedly kicked and thumped. By then, Zaidi was on the floor, and cameras could not catch him in the melee. But listen to the message of the microphones. It seems to tell a vicious tale.

Who was doing the punching, if that is what it was? Was it Iraqi security men or Bush’s bodyguards from the US Secret Service? Either way, whatever brutality it is now alleged was meted out to Zaidi far outweighs the violence involved in his gesture. This will only serve to add to Zaidi’s status, making him a martyr as well as a hero in large sections of the Arab world, where commentators have been vying with superlatives to describe his action.

The judicial fate that befalls him will also play a role. Will he receive a prison sentence, or released after a few hours, as tends to happen to protesters who throw eggs or tomatoes at politicians in western countries? The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has condemned Zaidi’s action as an insult to a foreign guest, but Maliki – who, of course, has no influence over Iraqi’s independent prosecution service – must know that a harsh sentence will only damage his own new-found reputation as the nationalist who managed to get Bush to agree to a withdrawal timetable.

Zaidi’s coup de théâtre was imaginative, but his readiness to disrupt a high-level US press conference in Baghdad was not unique for an Iraqi journalist. I will never forget the one Colin Powell gave on March 19 2004. As the then US secretary of state took his place at the podium in the Green Zone’s convention centre, Najim al-Rubaie from the newspaper Al-Dustour rose to his feet and read a statement: “We declare our boycott of this press conference because of the martyrs. We declare our condemnation of the incident which led to two journalists being killed by American forces.”

Around 30 other Iraqi and Arab journalists then stood up and followed Rubaie out of the hall. In silence, we watched them leave, as stunned as Powell. It was the bravest collective action I have ever seen a group of journalists take. I have attended press conferences in several dozen countries where reporters – at least, not the lapdog ones – compete with each other in the usual macho way to ask officials tough questions. A collective protest, and taking a stand on an issue? It never happens.

The protest that day in 2004 was over the shooting of a reporter and his cameraman from the Al-Arabiya TV station. They had been driving up to investigate a suicide bomb several minutes after it exploded, but were gunned down by nervous US soldiers at a Baghdad checkpoint. They were not the first reporters to be killed by the Americans in the year after the invasion, so their colleagues’ indignation was not a sudden flare-up; it was more like a slow burn.

Presumably, that was the case with Zaidi. Several dozen more journalists have died in the line of duty in Iraq since 2004. You can see why any journalist would be angry. There’s no other profession that allows a person close and regular access to the world’s top decision-makers in a context that permits plain speaking. Add to that the perpetual daily tension of life in Iraq, the bereavement which so many Iraqis have suffered in their own families, and the humiliation which being occupied by foreign troops causes on a constant basis, the surprise is that it has taken so long for an Iraqi journalist to throw a shoe.

RIGHTS: U.N. Report Castigates Israel for Harassing Journalists

October 4, 2008

By Thalif Deen | Inter-Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 3 (IPS) – A new United Nations report on the human rights situation in Palestinian territories blasts the Israeli government for its heavy-handed treatment of journalists reporting on the military occupation.

The 20-page report, which will go before the 63rd sessions of the General Assembly currently underway, singles out the mistreatment of award-winning Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer who was stripped, interrogated, kicked and beaten up when he returned from Europe to his home town in the occupied territory of Gaza last June.

A stringer for Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, Omer, 24, was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for “displaying courage and ability in covering war zones”.

The U.N. report, by Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, says that Omer was convinced the brutal assault on his person was carried out by personnel from Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency.

The security agents “were fully aware that he had received the Gellhorn Prize while abroad, and were attempting to confiscate the award money, but were frustrated because it has been deposited in a bank account and was unavailable.”

When he left Gaza for Europe to pick up his prize, he was assured of the benefit of a Dutch diplomatic escort on his return.

But the escort arrived late at the Allenby Bridge border, where he was interrogated and beaten up and lost consciousness.

According to Omer’s testimony, he was forced to strip by an Israeli officer wearing a police uniform. He was pinned down on the floor with a boot on the neck. He says he collapsed during interrogation, and when he came round his eyelids were being forcibly opened. He was then dragged along the floor by his feet by officials of Shin Bet.

Omer was taken by ambulance from the Allenby crossing to the Jericho hospital in Palestinian territory in the West Bank. From there he was transferred to Gaza after a few hours.

A note from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) denies Omer’s account of physical abuse in Israeli custody. “In contradiction to his claims, at no time was the complainant subjected to either physical or mental violence.”

But an ambulance report of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society says: “We note finger signs on the neck and chest.” A report from the European Gaza Hospital of the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Health includes the following notation following examination of Omer: “Ecchymosis (discolouration caused by bleeding underneath, typically caused by bruising) at upper part of chest wall was found.”

Following the assault, international press freedom groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders called for an immediate and public investigation of Omer’s treatment.

By private communication, Falk was assured by the Dutch Ambassador in Geneva that the incident is being taken “extremely seriously” and that an explanation is being sought from the government of Israel.

But at the time of the U.N. report, no response had been received to either request for an account and an explanation.

Falk says the unfortunate incident “cannot be discounted as an accident or an anomaly involving undisciplined Israeli security personnel.”

“The treatment of Mr. Omer seems to have been motivated by Israeli anger over international recognition of his journalism describing the occupation of Gaza, his willingness to repeat his descriptions abroad and his dedication and intention to continue in the professional role of bearing witness to the excesses of the occupation.”

Falk also points out that all Palestinians are subject to arbitrary harassment and abuse at borders and military checkpoints, “although the hostility towards journalists seems particularly severe.”

During his time in Europe, Omer had also spoken before European parliamentary audiences, describing the suffering in Gaza caused by the Israeli siege, closures and fuel and food shortages.

“It should be noted,” says Falk, “that Mr. Omer was not charged with any offence, nor was he carrying any prohibited materials.”

His treatment, as described, appears to constitute a flagrant violation of article 3(1)(a)(c) of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits “outrages on personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” of persons under military occupation.

Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS: “Richard Falk is absolutely right.”

She said other journalists have been killed or injured by Israeli security forces, even though they and their vehicles were clearly marked as “press”.

But there are several particularly chilling aspects to Israel’s assault against Mohammed Omer, she added.

“He had just been on a successful European speaking tour and received a prestigious award, and he was being met by European diplomats on his return home,” she noted.

Through its actions, said Hijab, Israel was sending a message that no Palestinian, journalist or otherwise, is safe and that even European diplomats are no match for Israel.

“That is a very chilling message to a defenceless people,” she added.

In his report, Falk also says that although the incident affected only one individual, it inevitably has “a chilling effect, and appears to be part of a broader pattern of Israeli punitive interference with independent journalistic reporting on the occupation.”

Falk says the United Nations has a “clear responsibility and definite obligation to protect independent journalism, especially in war zones and areas under occupation, as part of its commitment to human rights and international law.”

Asked if the United Nations is doing enough to protect reporters covering the occupied territories, Hijab told IPS: “The United Nations is not equipped to protect reporters covering the occupied territories, just as it is not equipped to protect civilians.”

“The only possible protection would be for the U.S. and/or Europe to make it very clear to Israel that they do not condone its violations of international law,” she added.

%d bloggers like this: