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Hong Kong’s fight for democracy, Pakistan journalists decry rising censorship, and more (Demo)

Pakistan: “We are not living in a free country”

Media groups in Pakistan have decried the increasing censorship in the country and the vilification campaign of the supporters of the ruling party against critical journalists.

On 1 July, a Geo TV interview with former president Asif Zardari was cut off the air. On 7 July, the audio of the televised speech of opposition leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif was muted by authorities. News channels Abb Takk News, 24 News, and Capital TV were blocked the following day for covering Maryam’s press conference. On 11 July, another interview featuring Maryam was taken off the air after it appeared on Hum News.

Authorities initially denied that they directly ordered the blocking of these interviews. They said media should be circumspect in interviewing politicians who are facing charges of corruption and terrorism. But media groups reminded them that citizens accused of committing crimes do not lose the right to free speech.

The blocking of media coverage continued even during the arrival of Prime Minister Imran Khan in the United States for an official visit on 20 July. Geo News TV reported that its transmission was suspended during the day.

Aside from its role in restricting access to news networks, the government is being held to account for the state-backed smear social media campaign directed against members of the press. An example of this is the sending out of more than a dozen cryptic tweets from the social media accounts of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) which appear to exhort the media to be responsible – but can also be seen as a veiled threat.

A PTI leader clarified that these tweets were not meant to ridicule but to ‘educate’ the media. But PTI supporters continued to use hashtags like #ArrestAntiPakjournalists, #layofflifafaJournalists and #JournalismNotAgenda which were clearly intended to malign journalists.

In response, journalists across Pakistan organized a ‘Black Tuesday’ protest on 16 July to denounce the alarming rise of censorship and the orchestrated Twitter campaign of PTI supporters. They wore black armbands and waved black flags in front of press clubs. They also highlighted how the government withdrawal of its media ads gravely affected the industry which led to the loss of 5,000 jobs in the past year.

This tweet by prominent journalist Hamid Mir sums up the sentiment of many media groups:

Hong Kong protesters attacked by thugs

Hundreds of thousands continue to march in Hong Kong every weekend demanding the complete withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill amendments.

Last June, the massive protests in the city forced the government to suspend the bill which critics said would allow mainland China authorities to order the extradition of Hong Kong-based critics, dissidents, and even journalists.

Despite clinching this initial victory, protesters continued to demand an independent probe of the excessive use of violence by the police, the release of all arrested activists, and the removal of the ‘riot’ reference by the police in describing the June protests.

On 1 July, protesters were able to briefly occupy the legislature building. After this, district-level protests were organised across the city. On 7 July, around 230,000 assembled in Kowloon. On 21 July, an estimated 430,000 joined another anti-extradition bill protest. But after the rally, gang members wearing white attacked protesters at Yuen Long subway station which caused at least 45 injuries. The police were criticized for failing to respond on time and arrest the thugs.

Journalists were not spared from the violent dispersal of protests in the past two months. The Hong Kong Journalists Association received a total of 29 cases of complaints by journalists against the police for alleged excessive use of force and obstruction of their coverage. In one instance on 14 July, even protesters were seen attacking journalists who were covering the activity.

In response, several media groups organized a silent protest condemning the violence directed against journalists.

“The last thing journalists want is to hit headlines. But we must stand up to vent out our fury through in the form of silence.”

A lethal month for radio reporters and cartoonists

In Afghanistan, “Seday-e-Gardiz” (“Voice of Gardiz”) radio presenter and producer Nadershah Sahibzada was abducted, tortured, and stabbed to death on 12 July. He is the sixth journalist to be killed in Afghanistan in 2019.

In southern Philippines, news anchor and former station manager of dxKE 97.5 Brigada News FM Eduardo Dizon was shot dead in Kidapawan City on 10 July. If proven work-related, this will be the 13th media killing since President Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016.

In Hong Kong, masked men ransacked the office of Citizens’ Radio, which has been extensively covering the massive protests in the city. The four men carrying hammers and a bat smashed the office door, windows, and broadcasting equipment of the independent radio station.

In Japan, an arson attack at Kyoto Animation studio killed 35 people. The Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) called it “one of the deadliest attacks against media workers and certainly the very worst ever against anyone involved in any form of cartooning, over twice the scale of the atrocity at Charlie Hebdo in 2015.”

In Pakistan, supporters of the ruling PTI waged an aggressive campaign against cartoon websites and social media pages which publish ‘disrespectful’ images of the country’s prime minister. CRNI has vowed to support artists and cartoonists “who fall foul of the PTI and its supporters’ increasing intolerance of dissent, critique or mockery.”

Cambodia and Philippines under spotlight at the UN

Cambodia has accepted 173 out of 198 recommendations made by 73 member states of the United Nations during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review on 5 July. Several groups including IFEX delivered a joint statement at the Human Rights Council’s session urging the government “to take proactive and immediate measures to restore civic space, foster a free and enabling environment for civil society, and ensure that all Cambodians can freely exercise their fundamental freedoms.”

But a few days later, the country’s commitment to pursue reforms was put to test after several activists were arrested for simply commemorating the third death anniversary of political analyst Kem Ley. UN experts issued a statement calling for the release of the activists while expressing concern that Cambodian authorities continue to target free speech and peaceful assemblies.

On 11 July, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution sponsored by Iceland which calls for a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Human Rights Watch acknowledged the measure as a modest but vital measure which “signals the start of accountability” for the extrajudicial killings perpetrated under the Duterte government.

In brief: Court updates

In Indonesia, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Baiq Nuril, a victim of online sexual harassment who was found guilty of recording a conversation with her harasser. Civil society groups are asking Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant her amnesty and repeal the draconian Electronic Information and Transactions Law.

A Myanmar judge has ruled that filmmaker and founder of Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity Film Festival Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi will stand trial for posting Facebook posts that allegedly defamed the military. He petitioned for bail citing his weak health and liver cancer but this was denied by the court.

In Cambodia, two former Radio Free Asia journalists, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, faced the court on 26 July on an espionage charge which was dismissed by media groups as arbitrary and baseless. The two were arrested in November 2017

In the Philippines, the cyber libel trial of Rappler editor and founder Maria Ressa started on 23 July. Many groups believe her prosecution is intended to intimidate the press and other critics of the Duterte government. Related to this, the Department of Justice is now conducting a probe based on the complaint submitted by the police that the country’s vice president and 35 other prominent critics of the government committed sedition.

Focus on gender

Media Matters for Democracy has published a series of stories themed #SheConnects which explore Pakistani women’s experiences in the digital world. One of the featured stories is about a trans activist, artist and an entrepreneur who is working to increase visibility of the transgender community in a patriarchal society. Another story digs deeper into how dating apps are affecting the lives of Pakistani women.


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