Journalists and Netizens in Govt Crosshairs

  • by Johanna Treblin and Emilio Godoy* (united nations/mexico city)
  • Thursday, May 03, 2012
  • Inter Press Service

His crime? The student, blogger and computer technician had provided software to overcome the authorities' internet filters and trained people how to use it.

Delanvar was eventually able to flee the country and is currently seeking asylum in Germany. He was the first person identified by the rights group Amnesty International who was tried and sentenced to prison under the 2009 Law on Cyber Crimes in Iran.

'Bloggers see it as their duty to inform other people, but in Iran (they) are seen as a threat to the government because they provide analysis of daily life and politics, and reflect news that is blocked,' Delanvar told Amnesty.

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, human rights defenders say that journalists and cyber activists are being increasingly persecuted in countries where press freedom is either not a constitutional right or the law is simply ignored.

2011 deadliest year yet

According to Amnesty International, criticising authorities online has now become so dangerous that 2011 was considered the deadliest year for online activists in many countries.

With social media now firmly established as a tool to organise protests such as during the Arab Spring, netizens — citizens who use social media networks such as twitter or facebook — are facing the same dangers as journalists.

'Since the beginning of 2012, one journalist is killed every five days,' Delphine Halgand, Washington director of Reporters Without Borders, said during a reception to celebrate World Press Freedom day on Thursday.

Another 161 journalists have been jailed, together with 121 netizens, for conducting their rights and duties around the world, she said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists puts the number even higher: 179 journalists detained in 2011, a 20 percent increase over 2010 and the highest level since 1990.

Governments pulling the plug

State authorities from China to Syria and Cuba to Azerbaijan are blocking search engines, charging exorbitant fees for internet access, torturing activists to obtain their facebook and twitter passwords, and passing laws that control what people can talk about online.

This was clearly evident during the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, where the government shut down mobile phone services and the internet.

'The opening of the digital space has allowed activists to support each other as they fight for human rights, freedom and justice around the world,' said Widney Brown, senior director for international law at Amnesty International, in a press realease.

'States are attacking online journalists and activists because they are realizing how these courageous individuals can effectively use the internet to challenge them,' he added.

Yet journalists, bloggers and activists are coming up with new ways to bypass internet controls and ensure their voices are heard by millions across the world.

In some countries, activists have switched to using the twitter and facebook accounts of their imprisoned or murdered fellows in order to protect their own identities.

A global trend

This year already has seen autocratic regimes across the former Soviet Union strengthen their grip on power, choking dissent, muzzling criticism and clamping down on protest.

In Belarus, which held widely criticised presidential elections at the end of 2011, several prominent opposition activists and leaders of non-governmental organisations have been put behind bars.

Hungary's parliament passed strict media-muzzling legislation in 2011 which was condemned by fellow member states of the European Union.

In Latin America, Honduras and Mexico are the most dangerous places for journalists.

Dina Meza, a Honduran journalist and human rights activist, received a series of threats of sexual violence against her in early 2012. On Apr. 6, she was walking in her neighbourhood with her children when she noticed two men taking photos of them.

On Apr. 28, the body of journalist Regina Martinez was found at her home in Veracruz, Mexico. Regina was a reporter with political magazine Proceso and, for over three decades, had reported on issues of insecurity, drug trafficking and corruption. Local authorities vowed to investigate the killing.

'Whilst new media is being more and more used in Mexico, last year also saw that this new era was facing attacks which hadn't been imagined only a few years ago,' Karin Deutsch Karlekar, project director of freedom of the press of the non-governmental Freedom House, based in New York, told IPS.

Since 2000, at least 65 journalists have been killed in Mexico and at least 10 remain missing, according to human rights organisations.

On Thursday, the eve of Press Freedom Day the bodies of two news photographers were found dismembered in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz.

'We have seen some decline of freedom of the press in México. We are very worried about that. One of the main issues is the impunity, because the killings are not investigated,' said Deutsch Karlekar.

The Mexican Senate has approved a new law to protect journalists and human rights activists who receive threats, but the situation remains dire.

'Impunity for those who attack or threaten journalists remains disturbingly prevalent,' United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a World Press Freedom day reception at U.N. headquarters Thursday.

'The U.N. will now intensify our efforts to help member states strengthen legal frameworks and investigate attack against journalists,' Ban said.

*With additional reporting by Rousbeh Legatis at the United Nations.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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