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Campaign ‘Free Them’: Activists seek Release of Eritrean Journalist Seyoum Tsehaye Jailed for 15 Years

Between 1998 and 2000, during Eritrea's war with Ethiopia, Seyoum was critical of the government's secrecy and increasing restrictions on free speech and democracy

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Seyoum Tsehaye has not been heard from since 2001 when he was taken by the Eritrean government. Image Courtsey: VOA
  • Seyoum Tsehaye was taken from his Asmara home by government agents on September 21, 2001, and has not been seen or heard from since
  • Using the hashtag #FreeThem, Human Rights Watch is encouraging people to share Seyoum’s story, hold events and tweet to world leaders asking for his release
  •  Seyoum’s 19-year-old niece Vanessa Berhe has been campaigning for her uncle’s release and started a website onedayseyoum.com for the same

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. Human Rights Watch would like to see that he is not forgotten.

As part of its Free Them campaign to highlight political prisoners around the globe, the rights group is focusing attention on Seyoum, the former head of Eritrean state television, who was taken from his Asmara home by government agents on September 21, 2001, and has not been seen or heard from since

Seyoum was part of a group of Eritrean journalists rounded up in a crackdown on independent media. Using the hashtag #FreeThem, Human Rights Watch is encouraging people to share Seyoum’s story, hold events and tweet to world leaders asking for his release.

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Seyoum’s advocates believe he is still alive, based on a comment that Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh made to Radio France Internationale in June.

“The political prisoners are all alive and in good hands,” he said.

“Good hands” might be an inaccurate term. A former prison guard who escaped Eritrea in 2010 said Seyoum’s hands were bound 24 hours a day. The guard also said that the journalist was being held at the maximum security prison north of Asmara.

The Eritrean government has never commented on Seyoum’s arrest or disclosed his location or condition. His family and friends have not had access to him since he was taken away.

Niece seeks uncle’s release

Seyoum’s 19-year-old niece Vanessa Berhe has been campaigning for her uncle’s release for years. She started a website, onedayseyoum.com, to raise awareness of his plight.

She led a silent protest September 23 in London in which people wore black bandanas over their mouths and marched silently to the Eritrean embassy. Berhe said she hopes the attention will pressure Eritrean leaders to at least offer a trial for the jailed journalists and political dissidents.

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“The main purpose was to stand in solidarity and in that action also to stand in protest. So our act of solidarity was also an act of protest,” she told VOA. “What we’re calling for and what we’ve been calling for since day one is to give these people a fair trial. I mean we think they should be released, but if there is any doubt of their innocence, give them due justice and a trial.”

Seyoum, 66, was a famed war photographer during Eritrea’s 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Between 1998 and 2000, during Eritrea’s war with Ethiopia, Seyoum was critical of the government’s secrecy and increasing restrictions on free speech and democracy. He apparently made enemies.

The state-run television continues to use his photographs during their broadcasts.

“If they use his materials on television fairly regularly, or frequently anyway, why don’t they release him?” asks Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch.

Family still hopeful

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Berhe said her family hasn’t given up hope of seeing him again and believes the campaign will draw the attention of more people.

“He believed in the power of the word, the power of the people and the power of democracy, and I want to show him that what he believed in was strong enough to get him released,” she said.

Seyoum’s wife and two daughters now live in France. The older daughter, Abie, was two years old when the government arrested her father, and his wife was seven months’ pregnant with their youngest daughter, Beilula.

“The youngest one doesn’t have any memories because she never met him. It’s very tough for her,” Berhe said. “The fact that she doesn’t even have any memories and no connection with him whatsoever and that it is impossible to get it because he is imprisoned is something that she’s been carrying with her for a very long time.”

Human Rights Watch said it plans to continue the Free Them campaign, addressing a different case each week. Unfortunately, Stroehlein said, there is no danger that the rights group will run out of cases.

“We can literally do one political prisoner every hour, and we still wouldn’t scratch the surface of a number of people that we’re talking about around the world,” Stroehlein said. “We’re looking at a lot of regimes that are actually getting worse and worse, that are jailing civil society and activists, opposition figures more and more.”

“There’s a huge number and so you know it’s not fair to take one person over the others,” he added, “but if one person is a symbol for the others, it might be able to put a face on this kind of persecution.” (VOA)

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Restrictions on Freedom of Expression : Pakistani Journalists Struggle with Growing Threats from Government and Militants alike

A recent cybercrime bill in Pakistan has become a vehicle for curbing media freedom, allowing the government to censor digital content, criminalize internet user activity and access bloggers' data without judicial review. Media defenders say the country's blasphemy laws also are being used to cut off public debate.

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Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Assailants riding on motorcycles have attacked an outspoken Pakistani journalist, leaving him badly hurt with head injuries. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil) VOA

Pakistan, November 2, 2017 : Journalists in Pakistan say they are facing increasing risks ranging from the government’s expanding control over social media to extremist threats that have spread from long-volatile regions to the streets of the capital.

The latest attack left a journalist badly beaten on a street in Islamabad. Earlier this year, security agencies picked up several bloggers from urban centers who said after their release that they had been tortured and humiliated.

Threats to reporters have long been a problem in volatile Baluchistan and the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, but the recent incidents have reinforced complaints by media groups that the danger is spreading to the nation’s heartland.

The victim of the beating in Islamabad was Ahmad Noorani, a senior reporter for the influential Daily News newspaper, who previously had been warned to close his Twitter account after criticizing the powerful military. The attack attracted widespread condemnation on social media, where many posts blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for the attack.

Other journalists have been charged with violating the country’s vague Anti-Terrorism Act, which defines terrorism as creating “a sense of fear or insecurity in society.” Critics say it has broad potential for abuse.

Several bloggers critical of the government or the military have vanished for weeks, later saying they had been kidnapped by the intelligence services.

Popular blogger Asim Saeed was snatched by unknown men earlier this year. He told the BBC in an interview last week that he was picked up by Pakistan intelligence agencies and tortured during his detention.

Digital media rights activists, meanwhile, are warning that Pakistan is attempting to cut back on internet freedom.

“In my opinion, the government is terrifying the social media activists,” Usama Khilji, director of the internet freedom organization Bolo Bhi, told VOA’s Deewa service. “Social media is a democratic medium where people can express their thoughts without any restrictions. However, it has been observed, when people share their thoughts, the government feels insecure.”

Anwar Iqbal, a Washington-based senior journalist and correspondent for the leading English-language newspaper Daily Dawn, agreed.

“The Pakistani state feels vulnerable in the presence of growing social media and wants to stifle the discourse on topics it considers sensitive,” he said.

The state does not want media to discuss sensitive issues like relations with the U.S., China, Afghanistan and India, Iqbal said, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s new policy for the region calling for Islamabad to crack down on terrorist safe havens.

Reports from watchdog groups

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report said media were being deterred from reporting on or criticizing human rights violations by the security services.

“Many journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship, fearing retribution from both state security forces and militant groups. Media outlets remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticizing human rights violations by the military in counterterrorism operations,” the report said.

Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, in its annual report this year, ranked Pakistan 139 of 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index, despite its reputation having one of the most free media environments in Asia. The report says the nation’s media “are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organizations, and the feared intelligence agencies” — all of which are on the group’s list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”

Even when the threats come from extremist groups, journalists say, the government has done little to pursue the perpetrators.

But Interior Minister Talal Chaudry defended the government’s actions, suggesting the reporters should be doing more to protect themselves.

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Journalist Zafar Achakzai, who was held for sharing content criticizing security forces on social media, sits in his office after being released from jail, in Quetta, Pakistan, July 9, 2017. VOA

“We have included insurance for journalists in the journalists ‘protection bill,” he said. “Sometimes, journalists are not trained or not properly equipped, and that is why they become victims of violence. We understand journalists are sometimes victims of violence, and that is why we are bringing a comprehensive bill for working journalists in the parliament.”

Journalists: Situation worsening

But many journalists say things are getting worse. A recent cybercrime bill has become a vehicle for curbing media freedom, allowing the government to censor digital content, criminalize internet user activity and access bloggers’ data without judicial review. Media defenders say the country’s blasphemy laws also are being used to cut off public debate.

“We have laws in place for social media, but it’s not being controlled,” Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousef told Deewa when asked how the government can avoid the blasphemy law from being misused against social media.

Such problems are longstanding in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern Baluchistan province, where newspapers have been shut down and newsstands shuttered for more than a week amid threats from militant groups claiming the local media are too supportive of the central government.

“The resistance [militant] groups are calling on boycotting all media houses, threatening press offices and journalists,” Behram Baloch, who is now working from home, told VOA. “To address this issue, we held a meeting here at the press club. We decided to suspend our activities for a while, and press club will remain closed. Our movement is limited, and many of our colleagues have left their jobs.”

Militants from separatist groups, banned by the state, threw a hand grenade at an office of a newspaper agency in Turbat, Baluchistan, injuring eight people.

“Journalists as well as the Newspaper Editors Council received threats. As a result, our workers were forced not to leave their homes. They include press workers and hawkers. We were, thus, unable to pick up newspapers [for delivery],” said Mir Ahmed, general secretary of the Newspapers Wholesalers Association.

“Life and death are in the hands of God.” (VOA)

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been named the new Goodwill Ambassador by WHO

New WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health

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Robert Mugabe
President of Zimbabwe and Chairman of the African Union Robert Mugabe. Wikimedia

United Nations, October 21, 2017 : The World Health Organization (WHO) has appointed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador to help tackle non-communicable diseases.

New WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health, BBC reported on Saturday.

But critics say Zimbabwe’s health care system has collapsed, with the president and many of his senior ministers going abroad for treatment.

They say that staff are often unpaid and medicines are in short supply.

Tedros, who is Ethiopian, is the first African to lead the WHO and replaced Margaret Chan, who stepped down from her 10-year post in June.

He was elected with a mandate to tackle perceived politicisation in the organisation.

The WHO head praised Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.

But US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch said it was an embarrassment to give the ambassador role to Mugabe given his record on human rights.

“If you look at Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s corruption, his utter mismanagement of the economy has devastated health services there,” said executive director Kenneth Roth.

“Indeed, you know, Mugabe himself travels abroad for his health care. He’s been to Singapore three times this year already. His senior officials go to South Africa for their health care.

“When you go to Zimbabwean hospitals, they lack the most basic necessities.”

The idea of hailing Mr Robert Mugabe “as any kind of example of positive contribution to health care is absolutely absurd”, he added.

President Robert Mugabe heard about the award while attending a conference held by the WHO, a UN agency, on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Montevideo.

He told delegates how his country had adopted several strategies to combat the challenges presented by NCDs, which the WHO says kill about 40 million people a year and include cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes.

“Zimbabwe has developed a national NCD policy, a palliative care policy, and has engaged United Nations agencies working in the country, to assist in the development of a cervical cancer prevention and control strategy,” Mugabe was reported by the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper as saying.

ALSO READ Countries with best Health Care in the world

But the President admitted that Zimbabwe was similar to other developing countries in that it was “hamstrung by a lack of adequate resources for executing programmes aimed at reducing NCDs and other health conditions afflicting the people”.

Zimbabwe’s main MDC opposition party also strongly criticised the WHO move.

“The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state, it is an insult,” said spokesman Obert Gutu.

“Robert Mugabe trashed our health delivery system. He and his family go outside of the country for treatment in Singapore after he allowed our public hospitals to collapse.” (IANS)

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What Gives Husbands The Licence to Rape? Decoding Marital Rape in the Indian Legal Scenario

Can there be two different definitions of rape? Can there be a differentiation between the rape of a married woman and the rape of an unmarried woman?

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While most of the developed world has penalized marital rape, surprisingly it is yet to be categorized as an offence in India. Pixabay
  • Cases of sexual violence, including rape, fall within the larger realm of domestic violence
  • Marital rape is yet to be categorized as a criminal offence in India
  • According to the central government, criminalizing marital rape “may destabilize the institution of marriage”

New Delhi, September 2, 2017 : Baby works as a domestic help; she says she cannot recall her age when her parents married her off to a man who was much older to her; a man she barely knew. She didn’t anticipate her husband would demand to have intercourse on their wedding night. She was still young and not ready, but that didn’t stop him. Baby was raped by her husband on her wedding night. But marital rape means nothing to her.

Sunita irons clothes for a living. She says has been married for more years than she can remember. The duo has four kids together, but that doesn’t stop her husband from raising a hand or two on her, every once in a while. Every night, her husband would get drunk, hit her and forcefully demand to have sex, paying no heed to her resistance. Sunita has three daughters, and a son, and the husband still wants to have progenies. “I told my mother that this man has raped me multiple times. She protested, arguing that he is ‘your husband’ after all,” she said.

But did she never decide to approach the authorities?

To this, Sunita promptly replied, “I once had a sore eye after he (the husband) hit me with his shoe when I refused to have sex. I went to the local hospital and then the police. I narrated the entire scene; they were very considerate, offered me water and then asked me to go home and ‘adjust’.”

Sunita is unaware of a term called ‘marital rape’.

This is the reality of a huge part of the society in real India.

Like Baby and Sunita, women who suffer such indignities are often asked to “adjust” with perpetrators of violence because of a deep –embedded fear of what the society would say. This notion of an ‘ideal woman’ impedes women to object to illicit treatment meted out by their ‘better halves’.

The debate around the issue has become ripe once again with the Central Government stating that what “may appear to be marital rape” to a wife “may not appear so to others”. In an affidavit to the Delhi High Court, the central government took a stand against criminalizing marital rape saying that it “may destabilize the institution of marriage” and also become easy tool for harass the husbands and the in-laws.

Rape v/s Marital Rape

Rape is defined in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, but with an irregularity: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

While rape is addressed as perforation without a woman’s accord in its main clause, the only remedy to forced intercourse provided to ‘married’ woman is specified under Section 498-A of the IPC and the civil provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestiic Violence Act.

Following the horrific 2012 Nirbhaya rape case that brought the entire world to a standstill, the Indian media has given paramount coverage to instances of rape across the country. But even after 5 years of the gut-wrenching incident, there seems no end to this crime.

ALSO READ The Hardships of Sexuality: Marital rape, violence and humiliation

Cases of sexual violence, including rape, fall within the larger realm of domestic violence. However, rape by husbands within holy matrimony continues to remain an obscure subject in India and the exact number of cases is hard to gauge.

According to a 2015 report by National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) tracing the proximity of offenders to the victims of sexual violence, it was revealed that in 95 per cent of all rapes, the offenders were familiar to the survivors. These, presumably include acquaintances, friends, relatives and colleagues.

And what about rape committed by husbands?

These cases continue to be an under-reported crime in India. This can be attributed to two major reasons,

  • Because of the stigma associated with it
  • Because of the presence of a defunct justice system

Furthermore, more often than not, these cases go missing because of several additional (and unnecessary) barriers stemming from a combination of familial and/or social power structures, shame and dependency.

Marital Rape In India

While most of the developed world has penalized marital rape, surprisingly it is yet to be categorized as an offence in India.

A United Nations’ report titled ‘Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?’ published in 2013 disclosed that nearly a quarter of 10,000 men  in Asia-Pacific region, including India, admitted to have indulged in the rape of a female partner. The report traced their rationale to a deep-embedded belief that they are entitled to sex despite the consent of their partners.

The study also revealed that the majority of these instances were not reported and the perpetrators faced no legal consequences.

In 2014, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in association with International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) brought out a report titled ‘Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence and Son Preference in India’. Among other things, the report analyzed the average Indian male’s understanding and interpretation of the idea of ‘masculinity’ and how that molds their interactions with women.

Not surprisingly, the study revealed that a typical man in the Indian society associated the attributes ‘tough’, and ‘controlling’ with masculinity.

Segments of the present day Indian society continue to look at men as tough forces, who can (must) freely exercise their privilege to establish rule in personal relationships and above all, continue to control women.

Additionally, the study also revealed that 60 per cent of the Indian men disclosed the use of physical violence to establish authority.

In India, stiff patriarchal norms continue to tilt the gender balance firmly in the favor of men, as a result of which, women are forced to internalize male dominance in their lives.

Marital Rape in India : A Legal Perspective

Section 375 essentially distinguishes between two categories of women

  • Married women
  • Unmarried women

Much to the Indian society’s disappointment, the Indian legal system denies protection from rape to the married woman. This creates discrimination as the women belonging to one section are denied justice merely by virtue of being married.

But can there be two different definitions of rape? Can there be a differentiation between the rape of a married woman and the rape of an unmarried woman? Is it justified to discriminate a woman just because she is married to the man who has raped her?

The Debate Around Marital Rape In India

Despite the piquant situation, the issue raised furor when Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary told the Parliament that the question of criminalizing marital rape in India has no relevance “as marriage is treated as sacred here.”

Does marriage being a sacrament provide one with the legal right to rape a woman?

South Asia director at Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly had retaliated saying that it is particularly concerning when a government that claims to secure the safety of women inside and outside national territory shamelessly turn to justify a crime in the name of culture and tradition.

Group director of social and economic development at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) Priya Nanda asserted in an interview with a leading portal that “the reason men don’t want to criminalize marital rape is because they don’t want to give a woman the power to say no.”

In 2013, a three-member commission headed by Justice J.S. Verma suggested remedial measures to combat sexual violence in India, following the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case. One of its recommendations was the criminalization of marital rape.

ALSO READ Reasons Why Marital Rape Should Be Recognised as a Criminal Offence

The recommendation was ignored by the government as a large amount of people questioned its efficiency saying if made a crime,

  • It might be misused by people
  • It will be difficult to prove
  • It might break up marriages

But, how fair is it to not have a law against marital rape, only because of the reason that it is ‘difficult to prove’?

In a broader understanding, it needs to be understood that the criminalization of marital rape must not be viewed as a step against men or the institution of matrimony, but as an attempt to demolish the patriarchal system that continues to clutch the Indian society.


 

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