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)

Press Cuts – 10: Media Freedom Round-Up

India | Belarus | Australia | #ArticleAlert

India

Update:

Second time in the same month, Manipur journalists have ceased work in light of the latest developments surrounding the daily Poknapham – the newspaper office that was subjected to a grenade attack mid-February.

According to reports, the newspaper was threatened by an “underground outfit”. The All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) and the Editors Guild Manipur (EGM) condemned the threat and resolved to stop news publication and broadcasting from February 27.

End of update.

Manipur journalists, on February 18, called off their indefinite strike held in protest against a grenade attack on a media office that publishes Poknapham, a vernacular daily, and the English paper People’s Chronicle. 

Local cable networks blacked out news channels and newspapers halted publication since February 13 – the day of the attack on Poknapham’s office.

The Hindu reported that according to a joint press release issued by the AMWJU and the EGM, newspapers and cable networks will end cease-work and resume duty from February 19. 

The decision was made following a meeting at the Press Club, in which it was observed that no rebel group had claimed responsibility for the attack, according to The Hindu.

Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has set up a four-member Special Investigation Team to look into the grenade attack. 

Belarus

Belarus has jailed journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova for two years on charges of orchestrating protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. Andreyeva and Chultsova were detained in November 2020, after they filmed demonstrations over the death of a protester killed several days earlier.

The two journalists worked for the Poland-based Belsat TV, which was reported to have rejected the accusation that by broadcasting footage of the demonstration the two journalists had disrupted bus services in the Belarusian capital.

According to a Reuters report, Belarus has detained more than 33,000 people since the August 2020 elections, which Lukashenko’s opponents and dissenters say was rigged. 

Hours after the sentencing of the two journalists, the United States Secretary of State has announced visa restrictions for 43 Belarusian officials identified as taking part in President Alexander Lukashenko’s “crackdown” on protesters and journalists.

Al Jazeera quoted US State Secretary Antony Blinken saying the US, “remains alarmed by the Lukashenka regime’s continuing violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, pro-democracy activists, and journalists.”

Australia

Facebook has blocked Australian users from viewing and sharing news content on its platform, in response to Australian government’s law demanding tech giants to pay publishers for their news content.

Australia’s proposed media law, which is being hailed as path-breaking, requires Google and Facebook to compensate news publishers for the content that appears on their sites. 

Announcing the move in a blog post, Facebook said, “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

After months of disputes and mounting criticism against the tech platforms, Google has striked deals with news companies, including Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp. An article in The New York Times noted, “Google’s rush to pay up in Australia shows how regulation in a relatively small country — or just the threat of it — can sharply alter the behavior of a global tech behemoth that grew with impunity back home in the United States.”

#ArticleAlert

An article titled, “Inside India’s War To Silence The Free Press”, published in Article14, a platform that discusses issues pertaining to India’s legal system, examines the actions of state authorities towards independent media. 

The author, Kavitha Iyer, writes that there has been a surge in violations against independent media since 2020 even as a “right-wing ecosystem issues rape and death threats and discredits any narrative against official interests.”

Iyer notes the sprouting of Youtube channels and Twitter handles that seek to “expose” the “anti-India conspiracy” laid by journalists such as Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, independent journalist Faye D’Souza, television anchor and owner of Mojo Story Barkha Dutt, senior editor of The Wire Arfa Khanum Sherwani, to name a few. One of the videos, she says, called for the hanging of the country’s prominent journalists.     

Detailing incidents of arrests, raids, threats, and sedition cases, the article juxtaposes the shrinking spaces for journalism and the impunity granted to pro-government media. 

“As more and more news consumers rely on non-legacy media outlets and independent reporters, a crackdown against such reporting has gathered pace,” writes Iyer.

Read the full article here – 

https://www.article-14.com/post/inside-india-s-war-to-silence-the-free-press

Also read:

Media Freedom India Round-Up

Three videos about the press freedom situation in Belarus

Australia news code: What’s this row with Facebook and Google all about?