5 May 2010

World Press Freedom Day in Asia-Pacific

Nepali journalists clash with police.
Nepali journalists clash with police.
via AFP

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World Press Freedom Day is being observed at a crucial moment in Asia - during the violent, political crisis in Thailand where media workers are caught in the crossfire, upcoming elections in Burma and the Philippines, and national security concerns being used to override press freedom throughout the region from Vietnam to East Timor, says the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

In a positive development, SEAPA acknowledged Laos for ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including Article 19, in 2009, which recognises free expression and access to information as fundamental right for all peoples. SEAPA also brought attention to the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) transferring from Thailand to Vietnam this year, asking how far ASEAN and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) will go in recognising press freedom as a critical focus for the region's leaders. http://www.ifex.org/asia_pacific/2010/05/03/seapa_wpfd/

In the midst of the current upheaval in Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) paused on 3 May to urge journalists to report fairly on the roots of the turmoil, and is asking all political parties to not interfere with the media by attempting to use it as a political tool, and to stop distorting facts to their own benefit and inciting violence. http://www.seapa.org/

Taking on the Mongolian parliament, Globe International called for the enactment of a freedom of information law on World Press Freedom Day. Access to information is the biggest obstacle in a journalist's effort to tell the truth to the public, says Globe International. Self-censorship is also a major issue among journalists because of attacks on the press, the threat of civil and criminal defamation charges, and the fear of losing their jobs. Journalists have no legal protection. If a media outlet is hit with legal action and fined for an article, the journalist must reimburse this fine out of their salary. The Mongolian press freedom group gave its 2009 Press Freedom Award to two women journalists for reporting on government corruption. http://globeinter.org.mn/index.php?cmd=Content&id=247&menuid=200

Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a pardon on 3 May to Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam - sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for his critical journalism and then released on bail in January 2010. The announcement was intentionally made on World Press Freedom Day, but the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wants to know if Tissainayagam will be free to travel outside the country. The announcement should not deflate concern for threats and intimidation Sri Lankan journalists continue to face. "Unpunished violence against journalists is very high in Sri Lanka," reports CPJ. http://www.ifex.org/sri_lanka/2010/05/04/tissainayagam_pardon/

The Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) took the occasion of World Press Freedom Day to urge Nepali political parties to deliver a democratic constitution - that protects a free press and human rights - to the people of Nepal. At this time, political groups are moving toward confrontation, says CEHURDES. If a just constitution is not created, then those who are against press freedom will be "emboldened, jeopardising peace and democracy." Media owner Jamim Shah was killed in Kathmandu in February. A month later, Arun Singhaniya, director of a radio station in the city of Janakpur, was killed.

Other activities:

- In the last year, Freedom Forum recorded 169 incidents of press freedom violations in Nepal, including the murder of two media workers, burning newspapers and vandalising media houses, arrests of journalists and 26 physical attacks on journalists. Freedom Forum used 3 May to report that there has been an increase in attacks on the press despite repeated commitments from the Nepali government and political parties to curb anti-press incidents, once again urging the state to come up with concrete measures to end impunity.

- In honour of UNESCO's theme, "Freedom of information: the right to know," the Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) is challenging the Cambodian government to provide unfettered access to information without discriminating against any particular institution. "CAPJ strongly believes that protecting access to information allows dialogue between state institutions, the private sector and the public - a vital contribution to democratic governance." CAPJ is also urging the state to protect all whistleblowers who provide information in the public interest. http://www.seapabkk.org/

- The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) honoured the at least 11 Cambodian journalists killed for criticising the government since the country became a democracy in 1992. Cambodian journalists face harassment, intimidation, violent attacks, politically motivated legal charges, and repressive legislation. CCHR is calling on the Royal Government of Cambodia to protect journalists and their right to free expression. http://www.cchrcambodia.org/

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