Archive for the ‘Press Freedom’ Category

Amnesty International’ Full Report on India 2007

May 27, 2007

Amnesty International Press Release, May 25, 2007,

Perpetrators of past human rights violations continued to enjoy impunity. Concerns grew over protection of economic, social and cultural rights of already marginalized communities. Human rights violations were reported in several states where security legislation was used to facilitate arbitrary detention and torture. A new anti-terror law, in place of the repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), was being considered in the aftermath of multiple bombings in Mumbai and elsewhere. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), long criticized for widespread abuses in the north-east, was not repealed. Justice and rehabilitation continued to evade most victims of the 2002 Gujarat communal violence.
Human rights legislation was amended undermining the powers of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). New laws to prevent violence against women and guarantee rural employment and right to information had not been fully implemented by the end of the year. Socially and economically marginalized groups such as adivasis, dalits, marginal/landless farmers and the urban poor continued to face systemic discrimination and loss of resource base and livelihood because of development projects.

Background

An agreement reached with the USA in March gave India access to strategic nuclear material and equipment for civilian purposes, and signalled closer Indo-US ties.

Hundreds of people were killed in bomb attacks during the year, including 21 in the north Indian city of Varanasi in March, more than 200 in multiple bombings in Mumbai in July, and 37 in Malegaon, Maharashtra state, in September. Concern about such attacks continued to dominate peace talks between India and Pakistan, which made little progress. The two countries agreed to set up an “anti-terror mechanism”, the details of which were not spelled out. Little progress was made in continuing dialogue over Kashmir, Nagaland and Assam.

Rising Maoist activity in some states added to security and human rights concerns. Several states, including Orissa and West Bengal, witnessed protests by people whose livelihoods were threatened by ongoing and proposed fast-tracked development projects. High suicide rates by debt-ridden farmers were recorded in some states, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

Following renewed fighting in Sri Lanka, around 10,000 Tamil refugees fled the island by sea and arrived in Tamil Nadu, already home to over 100,000 refugees; about 50,000 of the refugees were reportedly in camps with inadequate facilities.

Security legislation

India continued to play no direct role in the US-led “war on terror”. However, demands for new anti-terror legislation in place of the repealed POTA grew after the bombings in Mumbai and Malegaon.

Following the bomb attacks, hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, were arbitrarily detained for short periods in Maharashtra. Sixteen people were charged under the state Control of Organised Crime Act. Local courts acquitted three of the 16 for lack of evidence.

Implementation of security legislation led to human rights violations in several states. An official panel report acknowledged widespread abuses of the AFSPA in the north-east but drew criticism for ignoring impunity issues and recommending use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Protests demanded repeal of the AFSPA.

At least 400 people remained in jail under the repealed POTA and several continued to face special trials whose proceedings fail to meet fair trial standards. The few convictions related to serious and high-profile cases. Official committees reviewed a majority of pending cases. However, the review process was questioned, with Gujarat and other states rejecting the committees’ key recommendation to drop POTA charges.

Jammu and Kashmir

Politically motivated violence slightly decreased, but torture, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions continued to be reported. Some six deaths in custody, 38 enforced disappearances including several juveniles, and 22 extrajudicial killings were reported in 2006. Identity-based attacks by Islamist fighters continued.

• In May, 35 Hindus were killed in Doda and Udhampur districts. Government officials accused Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based armed Islamist group, of carrying out the killings to derail the peace process.

• In October, 17-year-old Muhammad Maqbool Dar of Pakherpora died in custody after he was questioned by the Rashtriya Rifles, an army counter-insurgency force. A magistrates’ inquiry and an internal army inquiry were ordered.

Impunity for human rights violations by state agents continued, although in a few cases criminal action was initiated after years of delay.

b In April, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) indicted five army officers for the extrajudicial killing of five villagers at Pathribal in March 2000. The officers were charged with fabricating evidence to support their claim that the men were foreign fighters killed in an “encounter” with security forces. The officers had earlier claimed that the men had killed 35 Sikhs at Chittisinghpora four days before the “encounter”. When local villagers protested in Brakpora that the five men were innocent villagers, the army opened fire, killing 10 protesters. An inquiry into the Pathribal incident stalled when it was found that DNA samples had been tampered with.

A new report indicated that some 10,000 people had been victims of enforced disappearance since 1989. The Association of the Parents of Disappeared People reported that the authorities failed to provide information to the families of the victims about their whereabouts. Outstanding concerns over the existing powers of the state Human Rights Commission were heightened in August when its chairperson resigned over the “non-serious” attitude of the state government towards human rights violations.

Impunity

Little progress was made in cases relating to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi which followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards and led to a massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs. In 2005 the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government promised to reopen the latest of many inquiries following the forced resignations of two leaders of the ruling Congress party, which heads the UPA. A judicial commission had concluded that there was credible evidence of involvement in the attacks against the two leaders who resigned.

In Punjab, a majority of police officers responsible for serious human rights violations during civil unrest between 1984 and 1994 continued to evade justice. In response to 2,097 reported cases of human rights violations during this period, the NHRC ordered Punjab state to provide compensation in 1,051 cases concerning people who died in police custody and appointed a commissioner to decide on compensation for 814 additional cases. CBI findings on these deaths in custody were not made public and the NHRC did not actively pursue with the judiciary the outstanding issues of impunity.

2002 Gujarat violence

Justice continued to evade most victims and survivors of the 2002 violence in Gujarat in which thousands of Muslims were attacked and more than 2,000 were killed. Rehabilitation continued to be slow. Members of the Muslim minority in Gujarat reportedly faced difficulties in accessing housing to rent and public resources. An official panel concluded that over 5,000 displaced families lived in “sub-human” conditions.

There continued to be few successful prosecutions relating to the violence. However, 1,594 cases closed by the state police were reopened on the orders of the Supreme Court and 41 police officials were being prosecuted for their alleged role.

New evidence on the riots emerged, in the form of details of mobile phone calls made between those leading the attacks and politicians belonging to the then ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party. The judicial commission appointed in 2002 by Gujarat’s state government to investigate the attacks had not completed its work by the end of the year.

The Gujarat High Court set aside the Union government order appointing another commission to investigate the cause of the 2002 Godhra train fire which killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. The Court said there was no need for a second commission into the fire, which triggered attacks on Muslims and the subsequent violence.

Six key cases relating to killings and sexual assault of Muslim women in which complainants had sought transfer to courts outside Gujarat were still pending before the Supreme Court at the end of the year.

• In March, a Mumbai court sentenced nine people to life imprisonment and acquitted eight others after a retrial in the Best Bakery case, relating to the massacre during the 2002 violence of 14 people in Vadodara city. In 2003, a local court had acquitted all the accused, but the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai. The Mumbai court later convicted Zahira Shaikh, and another female relative of the victims, of perjury after they “turned hostile” and retracted their statements, reportedly under pressure.

The UPA government’s draft bill to prevent communal violence was still pending before parliament. It had been introduced in 2005 following widespread criticism of the BJP-led government for failing to halt the Gujarat violence. Meanwhile, two other states ruled by the BJP – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – passed laws criminalizing religious conversion in certain circumstances, inviting criticism that they were acting against freedom of choice of religion.

Chhattisgarh

There was rising violence in the Dantewada area between Maoists and members of the anti-Maoist Salwa Judum, a militia widely believed to be sponsored by the Chhattisgarh state government. Civilians were routinely targeted by both sides and 45,000 adivasis were forced to live in special camps putting them at increased risk of violence. The Chhattisgarh authorities enacted legislation banning media coverage of certain human rights violations.

• On 28 February, suspected Maoists set off a landmine blowing up a truck; 26 people were killed and 30 injured.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Around 300 million people remained in poverty despite implementation of new legislation guaranteeing minimum annual employment for the rural poor. New legislation on the right to information, seen as a means to empower the poor, was not fully implemented; the Union government and state governments were reluctant to disclose crucial information about their decision-making processes.

Concerns grew over protection of economic, social and cultural rights of already-marginalized communities (including adivasis) amidst fears of unchecked exploitation of their resource base by the government and businesses. Several states witnessed periodic protests against acquisition of land and other resources for mining, irrigation, power and urban infrastructure purposes. Such developments were associated with forced evictions, harassment, arbitrary detentions, excessive police force and denial of access to justice.

• In January, 11 adivasis were killed when police fired into demonstrators protesting against the displacement that would be caused by the proposed Tata Steel project in Orissa.

• In April, police used excessive force against activists staging a protest fast in Delhi against displacement caused by the Narmada dam project; some protesters were detained.

• In July and September/October, activists protesting against the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to acquire farmland for the Reliance gas project faced police harassment and detention.

Bhopal

Twenty-two years after the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked toxic gases that devastated countless lives and the environment, survivors continued to struggle for adequate compensation, medical aid and rehabilitation. After a sustained campaign, including a survivors’ march from Bhopal to Delhi in April, the government agreed to clean up toxic waste, provide safe drinking water and set up a commission for rehabilitation of the victims. However, there was little progress on the ground on these initiatives by the end of 2006. In August, monsoon rains caused flooding in areas around the UCC plant, raising fears of contamination of groundwater. UCC and Dow Chemicals (which took over UCC in 2001) continued to reiterate that they had no responsibility for the gas leak or its consequences.

Violence against women

Legislation passed in 2005 to ensure comprehensive protection of women from all forms of domestic violence, including dowry deaths, sexual assault and acid attacks, came into effect in October. It was yet to be fully implemented by states.

Traditional preference for boys continued to lead to abortions of female foetuses, despite the ban on pre-natal sex determination since 1993. Only a few people were convicted of violating the ban, a fact criticized by the Supreme Court. Protests were staged in Punjab and Rajasthan over the slow pace of investigation into such cases.

Many of the abuses suffered by Muslim women in Gujarat in 2002 fell outside the definition of rape in national law. This continued to hamper victims’ quest for justice.

Two Supreme Court directives offered advances for victims of rape. The Court directed that lack of medical evidence would no longer be grounds for discounting testimony, and that the identity of victims should remain confidential in court judgments.

Death penalty

At least 40 people were sentenced to death in 2006; no executions took place. Comprehensive information on the number of people on death row was not available.

Anxiety rose over the fate of clemency petitions after the Supreme Court ruled that it could review executive decisions on such petitions. The ruling followed fierce debate triggered by the clemency petition submitted on behalf of Mohammed Afzal, who was sentenced to death on charges relating to the armed attack on India’s parliament in December 2001.

Other issues

There were concerns that amendments to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, would weaken the operating framework of the NHRC which already had no mandate to investigate abuses by armed forces and complaints more than a year old. The amendments also allow for transfer of cases from the NHRC to state-level commissions which continued to be starved of resources; 11 of the 28 states had yet to set up such commissions and five of those operating had no chairpersons.


REPUBLIC OF INDIA

Head of state: APJ Abdul Kalam
Head of government: Manmohan Singh
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not ratified


AI country reports/visitsStatements

• India: Amnesty International condemns multiple bomb attacks in Mumbai (AI Index: ASA 20/017/2006)

• India: Continuing concern over the safety of civilians, including adivasis, caught in escalating conflict in Chhattisgarh (AI Index: ASA 20/018/2006)

• India: Concerns with Protection of Human Rights Act (AI Index: ASA 20/019/2006)

• India: Amnesty International condemns multiple bomb attacks in Malegaon, Maharashtra (AI Index: ASA 20/025/2006)

• India: Continued detention two years after the repeal of POTA (AI Index: ASA 20/026/2006)

• India: The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) Review Committee takes one step forward and two backwards (AI Index: ASA 20/031/2006)

Visits

AI’s Secretary General and other delegates visited India in February and met government officials and civil society organizations. AI delegates also met officials and activists in May, July and December.

http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Asia-Pacific/India

Indian Defence and its Objections against 3G spectrum

April 6, 2007

India is a unique democracy, probably as unique as unique could get. A powerful judiciary, a free press, all very good. But will somebody please explain since when has India turned a demo-militia.  You think that is an exaggeration then why is the defence raising objections in commercial policy matters of the country? Will somebody please explain what is the defence’s problem in allowing the country to progress in the new global economy? Why isn’t spectrum being allotted to 3G services as per promises made by the Telecom Ministry?

Liberty, Air, Water and Spectrum – Our birth right

Let’s get this in perspective. Air, water etcetera we all know about. Did you know in the 21st century there is another element added if you wish to survive. The element is “SPECTRUM”.  While over 150 countries don’t have an issue about releasing spectrum for 3G services, the Indian Defence combined with other hurdles have a major issue with releasing spectrum. Consider this not even a dynamic and an absolutely brilliant minister like Dayanadi Maran has been able to get this job done.

Lal Tape Babugiri at its best

Passing the parcel. Guess who gets a gold in that. Your guess is as good as mine.
Can a policy ever be implemented without a committee of ministers, without some PSU’s though privatized (but the same old genes) creating nuisance.

The status so far is the Wireless Planning Coordination (WPC) panel apprised the Telecom Commission on the status of spectrum issues recently (last month). Defence had some objections.  There is also some hindrance from BSNL, MTNL etc. Last year, DoT embarked on a Rs 1,000-crore optical fibre cable project to enable the defence forces vacate spectrum for use by commercial cellular service providers. However, the Ministry of Defence is understood to have informed the DoT that it would require additional time, up to 390 days, to vacate the spectrum (includes 3G spectrum.)  390 days!  Will somebody tell them that 365 days make a year! Maybe 390 is a lucky number for them.

So the big picture is No Spectrum. Defence, BSNL and MTNL are playing passing the parcel. One says it’s because of  BSNL and MTNL’s failure to complete the alternative optic fibre backbone as per requirement. The other also has an argument. Arguments, arguments and more counter arguments. But no spectrum, no 3G services.

Promises are meant to be broken

Maran is an absolutely brilliant minister. This is probably the 3rd time I am writing about him in the last 3 years. He has brought about almost a revolution as far as growth is concerned. But he has hasn’t been able to deliver as far as this issue goes.

Flash back to May 2006. It was reported that the defence ministry will release 45 Mhz of spectrum by the end of last year (2006) for providing 3G services.   It’s a quarter after that deadline. I don’t see anybody using a 3G phone in India.

The Common Man

Who suffers? The common man. A whole economy that will be based on this spectrum policy. Rural India who will get access to wireless education, e-governance and perhaps much more. The young entrepreneurs of small metros who will use this for creating value added services to be sold globally.

The Last Word

Spectrum is our right as the citizens of this country.  3G is a necessity of our time. There maybe minor commercial issues about 3G per se but they are irrelevant as far as release of spectrum is concerned. 3G is required. Period.

An entire new economy will blossom once this comes into effect. It’s much bigger than any of us can imagine. Last year I had written as kids we played games Made in Japan. Kids in Japan will now download and play games made in Almora, in Bareilly and many such cities. The entertainment business is just a small fraction of the opportunities that this will open up. The future is here. Don’t deny our future. In support for releasing spectrum for 3G in India.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist at http://www.cyberzest.com and edits http://www.thebusinessedition.com

Puneet Mehrotra, Hindustan Times , April 04, 2007

Indians are worlds most undemocratic people: Book

March 6, 2007

New Delhi, March. 4 (PTI): Indians are perhaps the world’s most undemocratic people, living in the world’s largest and most plural democracy where a person’s self-worth is almost exclusively determined by the rank he occupies, says a new book. A profoundly hierarchical society, in India the determination of relative rank (Is this person superior or inferior to me?) remains very near the top of subconscious questions evoked in an interpersonal encounter, says the book The Indians, Portrait of a People by psychoanalyst and culture commentator Sudhir Kakkar and anthropologist Katherina Kakkar.The gratification of the 300 million middle-class consumers, does not lie in their being consumers in a global marketplace but in being somebody in a profoundly hierarchical society, the authors say. You must be somebody to survive with dignity, since rank is the only substitute for money. Thus retired judges, ex-ambassadors and other sundry officials who are no longer in service are never caught without calling cards prominently displaying who they once were, authors say.

Irrespective of his educational status and more than in any other culture in the world, an Indian is a homo hierarchicus, the book says.

Although at first glance the notion of Indian-ness among the one billion population speaking 14 major languages with pronounced regional differences may seem far-fetched, yet from ancient times European, Chinese and Arab travellers have identified common features among India’s peoples, it says.

Some of the values that govern Indian institutional and work life empirically demonstrated by the GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) revealed that South Asia has the greatest power distance – that is, the degree to which people are separated by power, authority and prestige. In other words, the difference in status between the chief executive and the office peon, the raja and the runk is at its maximum in this region and in India, the book says.

Second only to the family as a pervasive social dimension of Indian identity is the institution of caste, the authors say. The ancient divisions of Hindu society into the priest (Brahmin), warrior (Kshatriya), tradesman (Vaishya) and servant (Shudra) classes, in that order of ranking is still used to locate a person in the wider social space, the book says and quotes an example political commentators speaking of mobilising the Brahmin, Vaishya or the backward classes (as the Shudras are called now) during elections.

The authors also say that although the cliched relationship between an overpowering mother-in-law and a silently suffering daughter-in-law is a bitter reality for many young women, the changes that are taking place in the power structure of the educated middle class have made many a mother-in-law views herself as a loser across the board. She feels bitter and shortchanged that although she suffered under the whims and moods of older family members when she was young bride, now, when it is her turn to reap the fruits of being the family matriarch, she can neither take the respect of her better educated daughter-in-law or the loyalty of her son for granted.

The Indians: Portrait of a People by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar
Published by Penguin Books India Price: Rs 395.00, ISBN: 0670999237

Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006 : India remains at one of the lowest position, 105

October 28, 2006

War, the destroyer of press freedom in Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority

France and the United States slip further The Arab world affected by row over Mohammed cartoons

New countries have moved ahead of some Western democracies in the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index, issued today, while the most repressive countries are still the same ones.

“Unfortunately nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom,” the organisation said, “and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.

“Each year new countries in less-developed parts of the world move up the Index to positions above some European countries or the United States. This is good news and shows once again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression. Meanwhile the steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming,” Reporters Without Borders said.

The three worst violators of free expression – North Korea, bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th) – have clamped down further. The torture death of Turkmenistan journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country’s leader, “President-for-Life” Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticise him. Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about a number of Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years. The all-powerful North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, also continues to totally control the media.

Northern European countries once again come top of the Index, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals in Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands, which all share first place.

Deterioration in the United States and Japan, with France also slipping

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists’ homes is very worrying for media organisations and trade unions. Autumn 2005 was an especially bad time for French journalists, several of whom were physically attacked or threatened during a trade union dispute involving privatisation of the Corsican firm SNCM and during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs in November.

Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists (uyoku).

Fallout from the row over the “Mohammed cartoons”

Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published there in autumn 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

Yemen (149th) slipped four places, mainly because of the arrest of several journalists and closure of newspapers that reprinted the cartoons. Journalists were harassed for the same reason in Algeria (126th), Jordan (109th), Indonesia (103rd) and India (105th).

But except for Yemen and Saudi Arabia (161st), all the Arab peninsula countries considerably improved their rank. Kuwait (73rd) kept its place at the top of the group, just ahead of the United Arab Emirates (77th) and Qatar (80th).

War, the destroyer of press freedom

Lebanon has fallen from 56th to 107th place in five years, as the country’s media continues to suffer from the region’s poisonous political atmosphere, with a series of bomb attacks in 2005 and Israeli military attacks this year. The Lebanese media – some of the freest and most experienced in the Arab world – desperately need peace and guarantees of security. The inability of the Palestinian Authority (134th) to maintain stability in its territories and the behaviour of Israel (135th) outside its borders seriously threaten freedom of expression in the Middle East.

Things are much the same in Sri Lanka, which ranked 51st in 2002, when there was peace, but has now sunk to 141st because fighting between government and rebel forces has resumed in earnest. Dozens of Tamil journalists have been physically attacked after being accused by one side or the other of being biased against them.

Press freedom in Nepal (159th) has shifted according to the state of the fighting that has disrupted the country for several years. The “democatic revolution” and the revolt against the monarchy in April this year led immediately to more basic freedoms and the country should gain a lot of ground in next year’s Index.

Welcome changes of regime

Changes of ruler are sometimes good for press freeedom, as in the case of Haiti, which has risen from 125th to 87th place in two years after the flight into exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004. Several murders of journalists remain unpunished but violence against the media has abated.

Togo (66th) has risen 29 places since the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema in February 2005, the accession to power of his son and internationally-backed efforts to make peace with the opposition.

A coup in Mauritania in August 2005 ended the heavy censorship of the local media and the country has risen to 77th position after being 138th in 2004, one of the biggest improvements in the Index.

Improvement in North Africa, except for Tunisia

Things got better in Algeria and Morocco, where the authorities treated the media better than in previous years. Reporters Without Borders was also allowed into Libya for the first time ever to meet regime officials.

The lessening of restrictions by the royal family and the opening up of broadcasting moved Morocco up 23 places to 97th position. But two independent weeklies, Tel Quel and Le Journal hebdo, were sentenced in 2006 to pay huge fines after being found guilty of libel.

Algeria (126th) was up three places and Libya up 10 (152nd). Algerian journalists got a break with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s partial amnesty in July 2006 but no structural reform was made to expand press freedom. The Libyan regime allowed more access to news, especially online and through Arab and other foreign satellite TV stations, but still cracked down just as hard on all criticism of the government.

In Tunisia (148th), seizures of newpapers, unjustified dismissals of journalists and suspending them without pay were common. The November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis was a farce. Several foreign journalists covering it were closely and openly spied on by the secret police. Just before the Summit opened, a journalist of the French daily Libération was beaten up and stabbed, a Belgian RTBF TV crew roughed up and two journalists of France’s TV5 harassed.

Repression continues in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia (161st), Syria (153rd) and Iran (162nd) were again among the bottom group on the Index, as they have been for years since they have no independent media, only organs that spout government propaganda. The rulers of these countries keep a tight grip on the news and have set many red lines journalists must not cross. Self-censorship remains the best protection for journalists. Foreign journalists can only rarely get entry visas.

Newcomers to the top ranks

Two countries moved into the Index’s top 20 for the first time. Bolivia (16th) was best-placed among less-developed countries and during the year its journalists enjoyed the same level of freedom as colleagues in Canada or Austria. But the growing polarisation between state-run and privately-owned media and between supporters and opponents of President Evo Morales could complicate the situation.

Bosnia-Herzegovina (19th) continued its gradual rise up the Index since the end of the war in ex-Yugoslavia and is now placed above its European Union member-state neighbours Greece (32nd) and Italy (40th).

Ghana (34th) rose 32 places to become fourth in Africa behind the continent’s three traditional leaders – Benin (23rd), Namibia (26th) and Mauritius (32nd). Economic conditions are still difficult for the Ghanaian media but it is no longer threatened by the authorities.

Panama (39th) is enjoying political peace which has helped the growth of a free and vigorous media and the country moved up 27 places over the year.

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The ranking

Country Score

http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/cm2006.pdf

Sarai Report on Media Censorship in South Asia 2006

February 28, 2006

Report on the curtain raiser at Sarai, 21 February, 2006

The curtain raiser at Sarai to the South Asia seminar on censorship – Free Speech & Fearless Listening: The encounter with censorship in South Asia -organised by the Delhi Film Archive and the Films For Freedom, Delhi, in collaboration with Sarai and the Max Mueller Bhavan began with a briefintroduction to the event by Shuddhabhrata Sen Gupta, who chaired the session. The panelists were Sudheer Pattnaik, Jitman Basnet, Hasan Zaidi,Vinod Jose, Malathi Maithri and Andres Viel.

Welcoming the participants to the curtain raiser Shuddha suggested that the seminar be seen as a celebration of freedom of expression, not just a lament against censorship. Outlining the contours of the discussions planned for the next few days of the seminar he spoke of issues related to creativity, reportage and law and the censorship exercised by the state as well as non state actors.

Shuddha also emphasized the need for a complex analyses and understanding of the issues related to censorship given the diversity of positions around free speech. He ended his introductory remarks by listing out some of the 54 books that have been banned in India through the past hundred years. These include Mother India by Catherine Mayo that was banned by the colonial government, Behind the iron curtain in Kashmir, a pamphalet, The Ramayana by Aubrey Menon and Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert. Recently two books by David Laine on Shivaji have faced a similar fate.

Shuddha then invited Sudheer Pattnaik, a media activist and journalist from Orissa to share his thoughts. Sudheer contextualised his presentation within the contemperory situation in Orissa and spoke pf the culture of questioning that has been emerging from amongst the tribals, the peasantry and the fishing communities who for decades have been promised development and well being through the setting up of by big projects such as NALCO and the Rourkela steel plant. Over the years people have realized the hallowness of these attempts to gain popular legitimacy. Interestingly and pointedly it is not only the state that is trying to repress this questioning through measures that are completely violative of human rights like mass arrests but various arms of the civil society too are not far behind in suppressing the voice of the people. The mainstream media, corporate sector as well as the NGO’s have joined in the chorus of a “conspiracy theory” and finger pointing at possible “culprits” who have “instigated” the “innocent” tribals. This theory rests on the belief that the poor are not capable of thinking for themselves. It also makes it a crime to share the truth with people.

Sudheer shared that his group the Independent Media consisting of filmmakers, writers and journalists have been trying to share this process of questioning by different groups of people with others in similar position in Orissa. They have been producing Samadristi an Oriya fortnightly news magazine and also creating videos, screening films and producing diverse literature that challanges the censorship being faced by the people.

Jitman Basnet, a journalist and lawyer from Nepal now living in exile in Delhi shared his personal experience of censorship both by the Maoists and the monarchy. He was abducted by the Maoists for publishing in the monthly magazine edited by him, Sagarmatha Times , reports of the destruction caused by the political group. Subsequently he was arrested by the Royal Nepal Army and kept in detention for over 9 months for writing against the human rights abuse by the army and about the private assets of the king. Giving a broad outline of the climate of censorship that prevails in Nepal today, Jitman, said that over 20 journalists and 1500 political and human rights activists
are still in custody of the Royal Nepal Army. More than 500 Nepali people are missing for the past 4-5 years .Press censorship is being forced on the media and no adverse reports on the monarchy are allowed. Several places in the Kathmandu valley have been declared restricted areas where no demonstrations or protests are allowed. Civilian areas have been bombed by the army and these have resulted in the death of so far uncounted civilians.

Hasan Zaidi, filmmaker, journalist from Pakistan and also director of the Kara Film Festival talked of the anomolous situation in Pakistan today where under the present military regime media has seen a huge boom. Karachi alone has 9 FM radio channels and all over Pakistan atleast 25 new private television channels have come up. Hasan also shared that with the increase in TV channels there has been a reduction in the diversity of programming. Fierce competition for audiences has resulted in the complete phasing out of more “serious” programming like documentaries.

The media boom in Pakistan has to operate within given restrictions. For example officially FM channels are not allowed to broadcast anything on politics. Some channels have flouted this restriction and one of them has been regularly re broadcasting the BBC’s Urdu news. Similarly although Indian film music is banned it is broadcast regularly by the FM radios. Certain issues are tabboo for all media. Any issue categorised as “in the national interest” and that could include anything, is precluded from media scrutiny. Thus for example, issues related to development if examined from a critical or “hardline” perspective can be a cause of official ire. Similarly the role of the military, though open to being questioned, can only be done at one’s peril. After 9/11 there has been a debate and requestioning of what constitutes freedom of expression and this has led to self censorship within the media. Hasan also talked about the role of the multinationals as censor bodies, apart from the state, since they provide funds for media outfits.

Vinod Jose from the Free Press a Malayalam magazine that was published from Delhi by a group of young journalists shared how the periodical was forced to close done by the state and business interests. Letters from readers to the magazine were routinely scanned by the IB. Bundles of magazine on theirway to Kerala would be picked up by the intelligence agencies. Increasingly no press in Delhi was ready to print the magazine and for some time it was printed from a press in Meerut. The newsprint suppliers too refused to supply newsprint under pressure from the state agencies. Distributors of the magazine as well as the Kerala based reporters were harassed and pressurised
to leave the Free Press. Vinod Jose’s family and acquitances too were questioned by the police.

Sharing with the audience the possible reasons of this continuous harassment in the 16-17 months of the Free Press’s existence Vinod talked of the investigative stories that the magazine had done about some of the biggest corporate interests in the country. One of the article had exposed the role of Reliance in the black economy and had listed 300 benami companies that operated from Reliance address and had taken crores worth of bank loans. He also talked about another investigative story on Intel Microsoft project in Kerala to impart computer education that had been riddled with corruption. Another article had exposed the succesful attempt by a South India based
industrialist to get a river transferred to his name! This had led to a stay order in the court.

Malathi Maithri a Feminist poet writing in Tamil talked about the need to speak out when violence and exploitation of all manner is being unleashed by the poweful. There is
a need to formulate one’s own means of resistence. Sharing her personal experience of being a women poet writing on female desire and the body she shared how large sections of a conservative literary mainstream had labeled her as an “anti cultural element” and she has been reported by the press as being “immoral”. She said that women poets like her were not only writing about desire but also about the material hardships faced by women. However the latter aspect has never been highlighted by the literary mainstream who have been vocal about their outrage at women writing about sexuality. Feminist today, said Malathi, is one of the most abusive terms in Tamil
literature.

Andres Viel, noted filmmaker from Germany talked of the subtle and hidden ways in which censorship can be exerted by a coalition of interests that includes the state as well as economic forces. Direct economic pressure in the form of threats to stop advertisements are an effective way to silence investigative reports. Another way is more subtle. Journalists can be threatened with not being given a future chance to get any more information about a company if they were to persist in carrying on with their present story. Andres talked about his personal experience with censorship during the making of Black Box Germany when his house seemed burgled without any
forced signs of entry or anything missing. It was a subtle threat that worse could follow. This form of censorship casts a shadow of fear and the longer this form of subtle intimidation continues the greater the erosion of confidence in the journalist or filmmaker about the validity of his investigation. This can eventually lead to self censorship.

There was a vibrant discussion following these presentations. Sanjay Kak and Lawrence Liang spoke about the censorship regime posed by copright laws in the west and its advent to India. The discussion then geered back to Sudheer Pattnaik who spoke of his group’s long term strategy plan to organise readers collectives to protect their magazine from being shut down as Free Press had been forced to do. The need to mobilise people – readers, audiences – as a vibrant and active force to challenge the censorship regimes was stressed.

Arundhati Roy however made an insightful observation that it is easier to organise people to protest against censorship of information around “just” causes such as development but society itself can pose a threat to freedom of expression when it is seen to be violative of existing norms as in the case of Malathi Maithri and other women poets writing about female desire in Tamil.

Saba Dewan (Delhi Film Archive, Campaign Against Censorship)
A-19, Gulmohar Park, New Delhi 110049
Tel: 00-91-11-26515161
Fax: 00-91-11-26522230
Email: sabadewan@gmail.com