Press Cuts: 12–Media Freedom Round-Up

Hong Kong | Belarus | India | Nigeria

Hong Kong

Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to shut down its operations on June 23, following the latest raid by Beijing in which around 500 police officers entered the tabloid’s office, arrested five executives of the newspaper over “concerns of national security”, and froze company assets. 

The Hong Kong police alleged that articles dating back to 2019 may have breached the security law – a controversial law pushed through by China last year – and seized journalistic materials. 

Jimmy Lai, the owner of Apple Daily, was earlier arrested by security forces during a raid that happened in 2020. Lai was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment for participating in pro-democractic protests. 

The raid was condemned by international press freedom groups and the UN. 

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said that Hong Kong is ramping up crackdown on press freedom on the pretext of “national security.”

“It is farcical for the authorities to suggest that the critical media articles that apparently prompted today’s raid have met this threshold, while pretending to use international law as their justification. Once again, ‘national security’ is being used as a catch-all to silence critics in Hong Kong,” said Mishra.

The Committee to Protect Journalists announced that Jimmy Lai will be honored with the 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award for being a “press freedom warrior.”

Also read:

Hong Kong Bids Emotional Farewell to Newspaper Shut by Beijing 

Apple Daily | In the line of fire (might be under paywall)

Belarus

The Belarusian government, on May 23, arranged for the diversion of a Lithuania-bound flight to arrest Roman Protasevich, a 26-year old dissident activist. The following day, Protasevich appeared in a video and confessed to organizing mass riots in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus. 

Protasevich is the founder and former editor of Nexta, a social media channel that was crucial in leading protests against Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime. 

The aerial abduction of Protasevich warranted wide-spread outrage from political leaders, United Nations, and European Commission. 

“The manner, through threat of military force, in which Mr. Protasevich was abducted from the jurisdiction of another State and brought within that of Belarus, was tantamount to an extraordinary rendition”, said Rupert Colville, spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

According to news reports, Belarus has been intensifying press freedom attacks by blocking news websites and passing stifling legislative amendments. A Voice of America report said that more than 500 journalists have been arrested since August 2020 when President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory and the opposition leader was forced to flee.  

Also read:

The aerial abduction of Roman Protasevich in Belarus

3 Reasons Why The Arrest Of A Journalist By Belarus Is Troubling 

Journalists and media freedom under attack in Lukashenko’s Belarus 

India

The Uttar Pradesh police has booked social media platform Twitter, Congress politicians, digital news publication The Wire, and journalists Mohammed Zubair of Alt News, Saba Naqvi, Rana Ayyub over tweets of a viral video showing a group of men assaulting an elderly Muslim man. 

The police concluded that the incident in the video was not motivated by religion and hence the tweets amounted to spreading of hate and communal disturbance. 

The move has been criticised by journalists and free speech organisations. Reports allege that the police “selectively targeted” specific individuals although hundreds of social media users and news publications had shared the video. 

In this case, Twitter has been considered “publisher” as it has still not agreed to comply with the IT Rules, hence losing its status as an “intermediary.”

The Editors Guild of India said that it has noted the “discriminatory, targeted” FIRs and is “deeply concerned by the UP Police’s track record of filing FIRs against journalists to deter them from reporting serious incidents without fear of reprisals.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded that the charges against journalists and the news website be dropped.

 “The Indian authorities singling out journalists, some of whom are known for critical coverage of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for sharing and commenting on a video looks suspiciously like selective law enforcement and amounts to a serious attack on press freedom,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator.  

Also read:

They Shared a Video of a Muslim Man Being Attacked in India. Now They’re Being Investigated by Police 

Govt vs Twitter: Will courts decide who champions freedom of expression? 

Nigeria

Two days after Twitter removed a tweet by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the government issued directives to telecom companies to suspend the social media platform indefinitely. 

The tweet by Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists in the West African country was widely perceived to be offensive. 

Information Minister Lai Mohammed said that the government had acted because of “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”

Nigeria’s attorney general ordered immediate prosecution of those who break rules banning Twitter. 

A local rights group called the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), along with 176 other Nigerians, challenged the ban in court, which restrained the government from “unlawfully” prosecuting people from using Twitter while it is considering legal actions to reverse the ban. 

Rights groups condemned the action and demanded the reversal of suspension. The International Press Institute said that the ban seriously undermines the public’s right to share and receive news and information. 

Gill Atkinson, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, wrote in a tweet on Saturday that “all Nigerians have the right to freedom of speech and the responsibility not to misuse that right”.

Also read:

Nigeria’s Twitter ban: The people risking arrest to tweet 

3 things to know about Nigeria’s Twitter ban

(Compiled and written by Geetha Srimathi Sreenivasan)