2005: Nepal: General concern

29.08.2005

King Gyanendra
Narayanhity Royal Palace
Kathmandu, Nepal
c/o press@ntc.net.np

Re: Reinstate Press Freedom in Nepal

Your Royal Highness,

The Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and the Norwegian PEN Centre are deeply concerned about the systematic and aggressive attacks on press freedom in Nepal.

Since February 1, civil rights, including freedom of speech and expression, have been systematically eroded by the government in direct contradiction of international standards and rights guaranteed in the Nepalese constitution.

It has become clear that the government is sanctioning the use of threats, violence, detention and censorship against the media community in Nepal either through the direct government action or inaction in the face of press freedom abuses.

The comprehensive control being exercised over press rights has resulted in around 2000 journalists becoming unemployed, and put many journalists under the continual threat of arrest and violence.

Policies limiting government advertising and other revenue sources for the media, have impacted on the independence of the media and bans of the broadcast of news on FM stations have directly deprived the people of Nepal of valuable sources of information.

It is completely unacceptable to allow the harassment, intimidation and censorship of journalists in Nepal: their safety and right to free speech should be guaranteed under the democratic principles that you claim to adhere to.

The Norwegian Union of Journalists, Human Rights House Foundation and Norwegian PEN will – together with IFJ affiliates and other organisations opposed to your sanctions – be participating in a Global Day of Action for Press Freedom in Nepal on August 30 to express our solidarity for this cause.

We urge you to take notice of the global support for press freedom in Nepal and immediately reinstate press freedom in Nepal as a fundamental democratic right.

A strong, free and independent media will in turn support democracy in Nepal.

Yours sincerely

Ann-Magrit Austenå/s.    Carl Morten Iversen                Maria Dahle
president, NJ                  secretary general,N-PEN        director,  HRH

CC.: Minister for Information (info@hmgofnepal.gov.np)
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

2005: Belarus: General concern

President Alexander Lukashenko
The office of the President of Belarus
Fax: + 375 17 2260610

Oslo, August 24, 2005

Dear President Lukashenko

Norwegian non governmental organisations, the Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and Norwegian PEN, express grave concern over recent crackdown on free expression in general, and the harassment of Polish-speaking journalists in particular, in Belarus.

We are alarmed at the increased harassment of journalists and media outlets in Belarus, in particular those working for the Polish minority press and we strongly condemn this latest crackdown on local and foreign journalists working in your country. We urge the authorities to ensure everyone’s right «to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers» as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.»

According to information from the International Press Institute (IPI), several Polish and Belarusian journalists of Polish descent were recently harassed and detained in the Belarusian cities of Schuchin and Grodno. The Norwegian Journalists Association, the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and Norwegian PEN are particularly concerned about the following incidents:

On 1 August, Belarusian police arrested Andrzej Pisalnik, editor-in-chief of Glos znad Niemna, a Polish minority newspaper based in Belarus and a contributor to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita in Schuchin.

* On 6 July, Pisalnik and several of his colleagues from Glos znad Niemna, as well as Andrzej Poczobut, editor-in-chief of Magazyn Polski, and Ivan Roman, a reporter for the Solidarnost newspaper, were arrested by police in Grodno, while they were protesting in the city centre against the harassment of their newspapers.

* On 27 July, special police officers and plainclothes policemen entered the SPB headquarters and detained many of the journalists present in the offices at the time. Among them were Pisalnik, Inesa Todryk, a reporter for Glosznad Niemna, Waclaw Radziwinowicz and Robert Kowalewski, journalists for Gazeta Wyborcza, Pavel Mazheika, the head of the Grodno office of the BAJ, and Siarhey Hryts, a photographer for the Associated Press (AP).

* On 27 July, Schuchin police detained Agnieszka Romaszewska, a Polish journalist for the television channel TVP1, near the «Polish House» in Schuchin, where a conference of the outgoing members of the SPB was beingheld at the time. Reportedly, she did not have the necessary accreditation from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

* On 27. July 2005, Andrei Pochobut, editor-in-chief of the Polish-language magazine «Magazyn Polski», was given a 15-day prison sentence for «taking part in an illegal demonstration» in the western town of Shchuchin on 3 July and for «civil disobedience» in protesting the government’s taking control of the Union of Poles in Belarus.

* On 6. August 2005 The expulsion of Adam Tuchlinksi, 25, of the weekly news magazine Przekroj. Tuchlinksi is a Polish photojournalist who was expelled from Belarus and banned from the country for five years.

* On 11. August 2005 beating of Pawel Reszka, Moscow correspondent for the Polish daily «Rzeczpospolita».

* On 16. August 2005 raids were carried out by the Belarusian secret police (KGB) in Minsk and the western city of Grodno. The KGB raided the apartments of three young members of the Third Way opposition movement who reportedly create satirical, animated cartoons for Internet distribution. The KGB confiscated at least 12 computers and other equipment used to produce the cartoons and interrogated three Third Way members.

The Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), the Human Rights House Foundation and Norwegian PEN condemn the authorities´ attempts to worsen the relationship between the Belarusian and the Polish people. We appeal to the Committee for Religious and National Questions to respect the freedom of association and ensure that the Association of Belarusian Poles is free to operate without restrictions.

We urge the Belarusian authorities to:

– give Polish diplomats permission to enter Belarus

– recognise the election of the new leader of the Association of Belarusian Poles

Angelika Borys, who was elected chairwoman of the Polish Association in March 2005

– respect freedom of expression and stop hounding and arresting journalists from Belarus´s Polish minority as part of  your present conflict with neighbouring Poland.

.
Sincerely
Maria Dahle          Ann-Magrit Austenå             Carl Morten Iversen
director, HRH        president, NJ                       secretary general, Norwegian PEN

Cc:

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Belarusian Ministry of Justice
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Constitutional Court in Belarus
The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kiev
Association of  Belarusian Poles
Association of Polish Journalists
Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ)
Law Initiative, Pravova Initiativa
PEN Belarus
Polish Society Assosiation in Belarus
OSCE

2005: Tunisia: M. Abbou, H. Jebali etc.

June 25, 2005

His Excellency Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Presidential Palace
Carthage
Tunisia
c/o Tunisian Embassy
Haakon VIIs gt. 5 B
0161 Oslo, Norway

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you to express our deep concern at the upsurge in attacks on freedom of expression in Tunisia since our first fact-finding mission in January and to urge you to act to end these attacks, which in the minds of many call into question Tunisia’s suitability to host the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in November.

As members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), established in 2004 under the umbrella of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) to evaluate the conditions for participation in the WSIS, we met with Tunisians of different political and intellectual persuasions, including government officials, and witnessed and documented attacks on freedom of expression and association and movement in January and May.

Following months of research and monitoring of attacks on freedom of expression and harassment of journalists in Tunisia, we concluded that the credibility of the WSIS would be seriously compromised and the Tunisian authorities would assume a huge responsibility in the eyes of the international community for this, if effective measures were not taken immediately to:

1- Release from prison human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou and Hamadi Jebali, editor of the banned weekly Al-Fajr, who are imprisoned like hundreds of other Tunisians on charges related to the peaceful exercise of their basic right to freedom of expression and association.

Local, regional and international rights groups and Western governments on friendly terms with your government, including the US administration, maintain that these prisoners, known worldwide as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, have neither used nor advocated the use of violence and have been denied the right to a fair trial.

Abbou was kidnapped by the police in the streets of Tunis on March 1, 2005, less than 24 hours after posting a piece on the Internet criticizing the government’s decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the WSIS. Paradoxically, he was sentenced by a criminal court in Tunis, following an unfair trial on April 28, to three and a half years of imprisonment for publishing statements last year «likely to disturb public order» and for «defaming the judicial process» and also for «violence», nearly three years ago, against a female lawyer close to the government. A Tunisian appeals court on June 10 confirmed his prison sentence following a hearing that fell short of international standards for a fair trial, according to human rights defenders and diplomats.

The opinion piece used to indict Abbou was not the one he posted on the Internet on the eve of his abduction by the police, but another posted in August 2004 in which he compared the inhumane conditions in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to those prevailing in Tunisian prisons.

Arrested in 1991 following the publication in Al Fajr of an opinion piece by human rights lawyer Mohamed Nouri on the unconstitutionality of military courts, Jebali is currently serving a 16-year sentence for allegedly belonging to an «illegal association» and attempting «to change the nature of the state».

2- End arbitrary administrative sanctions and unrelenting police harassment compelling journalist Abdallah Zouari to live nearly 500 km from his wife and children and preventing him from earning a living or even from using public Internet cafes.

3- Release all banned books and publications, including those written by prominent democracy advocates like Mohamed Talbi and Moncef Marzouki, and edited by institutions committed to human rights education like the Arab Institute for Human Rights, the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women and the Temimi Foundation.

The IFEX TMG welcomed your announcement on May 27 to abolish the legal submission procedure applicable to the press, but made clear at the same time to the Tunisian authorities that the release of all blocked books and publications in Tunisia would be interpreted as «a step in the right direction.»

4- Recognise the inalienable right of civil society groups to operate freely and without any form of harassment of their leading figures and members. The recognition of and respect for the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, the Tunis Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, the Association for the Struggle against Torture, the International Association to Support Political Prisoners, the League for Free Writers, Raid-Attac Tunisia and many others would bring Tunisia into conformity with international human rights standards and enhance its image worldwide.

5- End harassment of independent journalists and leading figures of the Tunisian Journalists’ Syndicate, whose establishment in May 2004 was in conformity with the Tunisian Labor Code.

6- End the abusive use of the Law on Terrorism ironically promulgated on December 10, 2003 and which unfortunately turned out, according to local and international human rights groups, to be a tool to silence and punish critics of the government. One of the latest victims of this law is the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR). The assets in Tunisian banks of this regional institution, aimed, since its establishment in Tunis in 1989, at raising human rights awareness in the Arab world, have been frozen for political reasons.

7- Make sure that the right to establish media outlets is not solely reserved for individuals or groups close to the government or implemented in the absence of basic rules of fairness and transparency and that the right to access Internet cafes and to freely surf the Web is not restricted.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. We look forward to your early reply.

Sincerely,
Members of the IFEX-TMG:
ARTICLE 19, UK
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Index on Censorship, UK
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Publishers’ Association (IPA), Switzerland
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Namibia
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC), UK

2005: Iran: Akbar Ganji

His Excellency Hojjatoleslam Sayed Mohammad Khatami
The Presidency
Palestine Avenue
Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
E-mail: Khatami@president.ir
Web: www.president.ir

3 June 2005

Excellency,

We, the undersigned member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), are writing to call for the permanent release from prison of journalist Akbar Ganji.

Our members welcomed the news earlier this week that Ganji had been granted a week-long leave from Evin Prison in Tehran. As you are aware, he was said to be in very poor health. Doctors had recommended that Ganji be hospitalized for back problems and asthma, which worsened because of his prison condition. His lawyer, Nobel peace laureate Shirin Edabi, voiced great concern about his health. We trust that, during his temporary release from prison, Ganji will be given required medical treatment in order to improve his health.

Now that Ganji has been released from Evin Prison, we urge that his freedom from incarceration be made permanent and that he not be returned to prison next week. He has already served more than five years of his prison sentence, much of it in solitary confinement. His health, already weakened by the imprisonment, <>will only worsen and reverse any gains made during this week of freedom.

We believe that Akbar Ganji has been held in violation of his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We call for his immediate and unconditional release, by which he will not have to return to Evin Prison next week. This action by your government will underscore the humanitarian concerns for Ganji’s well-being and be seen as a positive development by the international community.

Sincerely,

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN Centre
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
World Press Freedom Committee