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Journalists Around The World Faced Intimidation and Prison in 2018: Report

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year.

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Khashoggi, U.S., Jail
A man holds a poster showing images of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (L), dubbed "assassin," and of journalist writer Jamal Khashoggi, dubbed "martyr," during a prayer service for Khashoggi, in Istanbul, Turkey. VOA

A multipronged crackdown on the press continued throughout 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists concludes in a report published Thursday.

Imprisonment, intimidation and allegations that journalists produce “fake news” surged in 2016, when U.S. President Donald Trump won the election, CPJ found.

Trump has been a vocal critic of the press, often chastising journalists as “very dishonest people.”

The number of journalists in jail dipped 8 percent, from 272 in 2017 to 251 this year. But that doesn’t mean the situation has improved, Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, told VOA.

The numbers fluctuate and may not reflect every imprisoned journalist. They also remain markedly higher than just a half decade ago.

ethiopian PM, Jail
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct. 29, 2018. VOA+

More importantly, targeting a single journalist can have far-reaching repercussions.

“The effects are not only, obviously, [on] the journalists themselves and their families and their colleagues, but we really are talking about the effect on citizens as a whole,” Quintal said.

CPJ’s report highlighted several bright spots.

In Ethiopia, which has experienced dramatic reforms under new leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, for the first time in 14 years.

Improvements in some countries, however, don’t necessarily rub off on others.

“Unfortunately, neighboring Eritrea remains the highest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists in jail as we speak,” Quintal said.

Worldwide, report author Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, singled out China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as troublespots, highlighting how wide-ranging efforts to silence journalists have become.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Quintal’s region of focus, Cameroon, where seven journalists are in jail, is a new country of concern. At least four of those journalists faced false news charges in what Quintal called “a huge, huge setback.”

Times, Jail
Jamal Khashoggi on the cover of Times as the ‘Person of they Year”

Overall, more than two dozen journalists have been charged with publishing false news, mainly in Africa.

Accusations and imprisonments can propel self-censorship, with profound effects on citizens’ right to information.

“When you see your colleagues being put in jail, when you see them accused of so-called fake news, when they’re being arrested on false news charges,” Quintal said, “it does, obviously, have a chilling effect.”

Quintal herself was targeted, along with colleague Muthoki Mumo, in Tanzania last month.

Despite having an invitation letter from the Media Council of Tanzania, the two, both former journalists, were detained and interrogated.

Quintal, from South Africa, and Mumo, from Kenya, were kept in custody for five hours.

“We were lucky because we were able to leave Tanzania,” Quintal said, contrasting her experience to journalists in the country who have gone missing or continue to face intimidation.

jamal Khashoggi, trump, jail
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

“The abusive nature of what happened to us showed the world the true nature of what is going on in Tanzania at the moment,” she added.

Quintal and Mumo’s case was unusual. Governments tend to target their own citizens, and journalists imprisoned by their governments make up 98 percent of cases, CPJ concluded. They also found that 13 percent of journalists in jail are women, an 8 percent increase from 2017.

Despite worrying signs, there is room for optimism, Quintal said.

When new leaders come to power, she said, human rights and press freedoms can improve very quickly.

Also Read: Facebook Rolls Out New Tool that Lets Journalists Examine Political Ads

Quintal pointed to The Gambia as one example, where the new president, Adama Barrow, has created space for journalists to work without fear of reprisal.

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year. (VOA)

Next Story

1,700 Child Soldiers Reunite With Their Parents In Myanmar

In September 2018, the Myanmar government released 75 children and young people who were recruited and used by the military in the only discharge to take place last year.

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Myanmar
Colonel Tun Tun Win of Myanmar's Ministry of Defense speaks at a workshop on the creation of a complaint mechanism to report instances of forced labor, in Naypyidaw, Jan. 17, 2019. (RFA)

More than 1,700 child soldiers in Myanmar have been reunited with their parents, and about 800 military officers and other army personnel who recruited and used them have been punished, a defense ministry official said Thursday during a workshop in Naypyidaw to discuss the creation of a complaint mechanism to report instances of forced labor.

Colonel Tun Tun Win of the Ministry of Defense said that the army has taken action against the use of child soldiers in Myanmar based on regulations of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency that sets global labor standards and promotes social protection for workers.

“In response to the ILO’s regulations, the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] has taken action from 2007 to 2018 against a total of 379 military personnel, including 64 officers and 315 other ranks in accordance with military discipline,” he said.

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Child Soldiers, Representational Iamge

At the same time, the U.N. Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR), co-chaired by June Kunugi, UNICEF’s representative to Myanmar, and Knut Ostby, the U.N.’s highest representative and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, to report on grave violations committed against children during times of armed conflict, has taken action against 448 military personnel, including 96 officers and 352 other ranks, he said.

The punishments included sending military personnel to both civilian and army jails as well as demotions, Tun Tun Win said.

Besides sending nearly 1,730 child soldiers home, the army is addressing the issue in a transparent manner, he said.

Saw Tin Win, a lawmaker who is a member of the Farmers and Workers Affairs Committee in Myanmar’s lower house of parliament, said his committee receives about 40 complaints about the military’s use of child soldiers every month, though only two or three have been returned.

un human rights council
U.N.’s highest representative and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar

“Some underage children were allowed to resign from the service, while other cases remain under investigation,” he said. “And some children were not allowed to resign during their recruitment period.”He also said that the committee had gathered evidence of underage children being used as child soldiers and then sent complaint letters to the defense ministry.

Thein Swe, Myanmar’s minister for labor, immigration, and population said that the Myanmar military is cooperating with both the CTFMR and the ILO on the child soldier issue.

“It also has taken action if complaints were submitted under the Supplementary Understanding agreement,” he said.

The February 2007 agreement between the Myanmar government and the ILO provides for a complaint mechanism under which individuals can submit cases of forced labor under the ILO Convention 29 concerning forced labor, and including underage recruitment, to the ILO liaison officer in Yangon.

“For instance, if the Tatmadaw cooperated on the issue of child soldier recruitment, then it took action against those who recruit underage children and notified us once the issue had been resolved,” Thein Swe said.

He also said that the ministry would address the issue of forced labor by ethnic armed groups in Myanmar, but did not elaborate.

Widespread use of child soldiers

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Besides sending nearly 1,730 child soldiers home, the army is addressing the issue in a transparent manner, he said.

The use of child soldiers in Myanmar has been widespread since the country’s independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1948. For decades, the national military has engaged in hostilities with several ethnic armies fighting for varying degrees of autonomy in their states.

Some of the ethnic armies that are fighting against Myanmar forces, and some of the forces allied with them, also have recruited and used child soldiers, though the numbers have been much lower than those recruited and used by the Myanmar military.

In 2007, Myanmar and the U.N. began negotiations on ending the use child soldiers that culminated in a joint action plan in June 2012 to stop the recruitment and use of children by the armed forces.

Three years later, Myanmar signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), also known as the international child soldier treaty, but has yet to ratify it to make it fully binding.

Also Read: Reuters Journalists’ Appeal Gets Rejected by Myanmar Court

In 2017, the country signed the Paris Principles and Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces and groups and to reintegrate those who have been associated with armed forces into civilian life.

In September 2018, the Myanmar government released 75 children and young people who were recruited and used by the military in the only discharge to take place last year.

(Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service.)