Burundi prosecutors Monday sought 15-year jail terms for four reporters and their driver who were detained covering an incursion of rebels from DR Congo and charged with endangering state security.
The journalists were working for Iwacu, one of Burundi’s few independent media outlets when they were arrested on October 22.
A witness in the northwestern province of Bubanza, where they were arrested, told AFP on condition of anonymity the long jail terms were sought after two hours of deliberations.
The source said the prosecution based the hefty sentencing demand largely on a WhatsApp exchange of messages between one of the reporters and a colleague based abroad in which the former wrote: “We are heading for Bubanza … to help the rebels.”
A further demand was for the detained to be denied their civic rights for 20 years.
Judgement was stayed for one month.
“We had the time to assure our clients’ defence. We hope they will be acquitted purely and simply,” defence counsel Clement Retirakiza, told reporters.
Police say at least 14 rebels from the Burundian RED-Tabara group, based across the border in eastern DR Congo, were killed in an attack the day the journalists were arrested.
The rebels say they killed a dozen security personnel.
The Reporters Without Borders NGO, which places Burundi a lowly 159th on its global list of press freedom, says those detained were simply doing their job while Human Rights Watch has called for their release.
Observers see the case against the four as a signal of toughness by the Burundi government just five months ahead of elections.
The country is currently mired in violent unrest sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza announcing in April 2015 he was controversially standing for a third term. He won re-election in July.
A Turkish court on Friday issued jail terms to six journalists from an opposition newspaper accused of links to the group blamed by the government for the 2016 failed coup, a lawyer told AFP.
The court in Istanbul sentenced journalists from the Sozcu daily including columnist Emin Colasan and editor-in-chief Metin Yilmaz to prison terms ranging from two years and one month to three years and six months on terrorism charges, their lawyer Celal Ulgen said.
The nationalist Sozcu is on occasion vehemently anti-government and its angry front pages are regarded with suspicion even by some liberal Turks critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It is the second opposition daily to be targeted after Cumhuriyet newspaper.
“This is an empty case,” Colasan was quoted by the paper as telling the court. “There is no evidence or witness against us.”
Sozcu condemned the verdict as a “black stain”, saying those convicted were only carrying out their work as journalists.
The court also sentenced the newspaper’s accountant to two years and one month in prison.
It said the case against its owner Burak Akbay, who is the subject of a 2017 arrest warrant but remains abroad, would be treated separately.
Lawyer Ulgen said a higher court was due to decide whether to uphold the sentences, adding that the journalists were currently free.
“There is neither a judicial control or any measure that restricts their freedom right now,” he said.
The government blames the movement of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen for the July 2016 failed coup but the Erdogan foe strongly denies the charges.
Critics say the vast crackdown in the wake of the failed putsch goes well beyond alleged coup plotters and opposition politicians and dozens of journalists have been caught up in the crackdown.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Musa Bagos, has said that if the proposed Hate Speech Bill is passed, about 50% of journalists could end up in jail.
He said this on Monday while briefing journalists after presenting a letter of protest titled: ‘Rejection of the proposed legislation on hate speech protection from Internet falsehood and manipulation’, from his constituents in Jos South/Jos East Federal Constituency, to the Senate.
Hon. Bagos lamented that the bill seeks to breach the fundamental rights of Nigerians as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
If passed into law as envisaged by its sponsor, “I’m sure half of you pressmen will be in jail,” he said.
He, however, maintained that it is dead on arrival and therefore, assured Nigerians that it will be shut down in the House when transmitted for concurrence.
The lawmaker believes that Nigeria does not require such a ‘draconian and tyranical law’ in the 21st century, as there are existing laws that address such issue raised in the proposed bill.
The letter read: “I humbly write in view of the above subject matter, having received series of complaints and objections via text messages, calls, emails, WhatsApp messages and direct contact with some of my Constituents who are aggrieved and had to express their concerns over the Hate Speech and Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bills currently undergoing passage into law by the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The views expressed by my Constituents, many Nigerian citizens and even foreign nationals who have reached me all voiced out against the passage of the two Bills.
“The views so expressed align with my thoughts and position as the Honourable Member, Representing Jos South/Jos East Federal Constituency, Plateau State. More so that there are extant laws in our Jurisprudence and under the Law of Tort like the Defamation of Character, Libel and Slander, that addresses the concerns raised by the two Bills.
“Having sworn to an oath to defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended), I am herein guided and constraint to categorically and unequivocally state in strong terms, that I and my Constituents will not be a party to, nor grant consent to any proposed legislation that will compromise nor subvert the Fundamental Rights and Justiciable Rights of citizens as enshrined in Chapter VI of the Constitution of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) and in particular, Section 33 the right to life, also Section 39 (1) which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and the press which clearly states that; “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and import ideas and information without interference” and bearing in mind that the Constitution is the grand norm of Nigeria.
“This approach is even more crocodile and draconian in nature seeing that death sentence has been advocated for as penalty in the Hate Speech Bill. Thus, to endorse these bills is tantamount to taking our dear nation back to the days of anarchy and tyranny that deprives citizens of the right to freedom of expression and the press thereby reaping the citizens from the right to dignity of human person as provided for in Section 34 (1) (a)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
In the 42-page document launched in Abuja on Monday, the group noted that the figure was the highest recorded in the country since 2015.
One of the cases highlighted in the report is that of Jones Abiri, a journalist based in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, who was arrested and detained for more than two years without trial for publishing a story about oil blocks and politics in Nigeria.
Another incident is that of Ahmed Salkida who was declared wanted by the Nigerian government for publishing an article and proof of life video of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram, among other cases.
Amnesty decried that the civic space has continued to shrink, stressing that clear examples of such were the attacks on freedom of information and expression as well as media freedom.
“Since 2015, attacks on journalists and media activists have continued unabated. Amnesty International has been closely monitoring these attacks and now reports on how they have contributed to the violation of other human rights in Nigeria.
“These attacks take the form of verbal and physical assault, as well as indiscriminate arrest and detention by Nigerian authorities,” Amnesty said in the executive summary page of the report.
It accused the security forces of perpetrating most of the violations, adding that they occur when journalists and media practitioners seek access to information, share information or express critical views that could drive public opinion.
The group was worried that dissenting views expressed by media practitioners were often criminalised, particularly when they revolve around sensitive issues.
It also noted that there was stifling of freedom of expression in circumstances where journalists were pressured to disclose their sources of information.
“Those who spoke to Amnesty International confirmed that they came under intense pressure from Nigeria’s security officials to reveal their sources of information, particularly when they published stories that focused on corruption, elections, and armed conflict.
“Some of the journalists were kept under surveillance, while others received death threats via telephone calls from unidentified people.
“Many journalists also came under attack while reporting the 2019 General Elections across Nigeria,” the report revealed.
According to the group, the failure of the Nigerian government to investigate cases of indiscriminate arrest, detention, and prosecution of journalists and media practitioners ensures that perpetrators are not held to account for human rights violations.
It said while many of the victims faced indiscriminate charges such as ‘defamation’ and ‘terrorism’, others had charges such as ‘kidnapping’, criminal trespass and theft of state documents brought against them.
Amnesty accused the government at both federal and state levels of violating and repressing the human rights of bloggers, journalists, broadcasters and social media users.
It stated that the Nigerian authorities have legally binding obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information, media freedom and personal liberty in the country.
The group, therefore, asked the government to immediately end violations and abuses of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information, as well as media freedom and personal liberty.
It recommended that journalists, bloggers, and media activists must have access to information and be able to do their job freely without any fear of reprisal.
Amnesty also called for thorough and effective investigations into allegations of attacks against victims and bring to justice anyone suspected to be responsible through fair trials.
Among other demands, it called on the government to issue clear directives to the police, military, and other security agencies to refrain from applying existing laws in a manner that restricts or interferes with rights to freedom of expression.
A total of 1,799 journalists from more than 150 domestic media organisations were accredited to cover the 2019 General Elections.
This is according to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, who spoke at a meeting with the media to review the last general elections on Thursday in Abuja.
He also said that 332 journalists from 52 foreign media organisations from different parts of Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia came to cover the elections, describing it as the ‘most extensively’ covered event in Nigeria in 2019.
Mr Yakubu added that the meeting is aimed at addressing salient aspects of the election processes that require improvement.
“The Headquarters of the Commission alone accredited 1,799 journalists from more than 150 domestic Media organisations to cover the 2019 General Election.
“Foreign Media presence was also impressive. We had 332 journalists from 52 foreign Media organisations from different parts of Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia to cover the elections. It was, indeed, an engaging experience. The General Election was the most extensively covered event in Nigeria in 2019.
“The purpose of this meeting, therefore, is to discuss all the salient aspects of the process which require improvement. You were accredited to cover all aspects of the processes. The Commission wants to hear from you how processes can be improved upon.”
He assured that all the observations will be considered during the Kogi and Bayelsa Governorship elections scheduled for Saturday 16th November 2019.
“Let me remind you that the Kogi and Bayelsa Governorship elections have been scheduled for Saturday 16th November 2019. I assure you that we will consider all the recommendations arising from this meeting that can be implemented administratively by the Commission before the conduct of the Governorship elections in the two States.”
The publisher of National Daily Newspaper, Sylvester Ebodaghe, has questioned the National Assembly on the new guidelines released for the accreditation of journalists.
Ebodaghe during an interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, said it is not the job of the Parliament to demand a journalist’s tax clearance before authorising them to cover plenary.
“All around the world, we have guidelines. We are not against guidelines; we want you to be clear as to who is coming into your space.
“But to start demanding for tax clearance that you must have a patron or circulation figure verifiable of not less than 40,000, the US Congress is not asking for your patron. They just want to be sure that you are gainfully employed.
“And that you will not abuse your privilege of having access to the chambers. And I think that is what we should be looking at. And not necessarily your tax clearance. They are not CAC; they are not FIRS. So it’s not their job to start asking for a tax clearance,” he said.
His comment comes two days after the National Assembly released new guidelines for accreditation of media organisations, journalists/correspondents covering the Senate effective June 11, 2019.
NASS in a letter signed by its Director of Information, Agada Emmanuel noted that all previous accreditation granted will lapse with the dissolution of the 8th Assembly.
Ebodgahe during the interview on Wednesday recalled that when the Senate had issues on the invasion and theft of mace, the media was solidly behind it.
He then wondered why the Parliament would issue out such a directive suggesting it may have a problem with media practitioners.
“This Assembly when it came under intense pressure during the invasion and all the crisis it has gone through, the best friend the National Assembly had was the media.
“So what problem do they possibly have with the media? All the tweets that were reproduced on various platforms, they were enjoying the manage. So it didn’t really matter who was drawing the attention to their plight as it were,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has said that the leadership of the Eight Assembly are not aware of the new guidelines to journalists reporting the National Assembly.
The Speaker, on Tuesday, said the leadership of the legislative arm is committed to the freedom of the press and promised to investigate the allegation promptly.
President Muhammadu Buhari has felicitated with journalists on the World Press Freedom Day, asking them to be fair and accurate while reporting.
In a statement by Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity on Thursday, Buhari urged media practitioners to be rededicated to be the societal watchdogs.
“Journalists must constantly recommit to the canons of fairness, accuracy, objectivity, balance, and other ideas that guide their profession.
“On this occasion of World Press Freedom Day, I urge you to rededicate yourselves to the role of being watchdogs of society, while being mindful of the cohesion and equilibrium of that same society,” he stated.
The President also reiterated his administration’s commitment to promoting the principles of transparency and press freedom for journalists to strive.
While appealing to reporters to be wary of people that would use the media to emphasize the nation’s fault lines, Buhari stated that the Federal Government “would continue to ensure that the media was not muzzled in any way, since democracy and freedom of expression were kindred spirits.”
“Our administration is committed to the highest levels of transparency, and we will guarantee press freedom at all times.
“We only require that the freedom be used responsibly, and for lofty ideals of national unity and development,” he added.
The World Press Freedom Day is observed every May 3 to celebrate fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluate press freedom around the world and defend the media from attacks on their independence.
It also seeks to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession globally, especially in conflict-plagued countries.
Here in Nigeria, the theme of this year’s celebration is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation,” comes at a time when the nation recently conducted her general elections.
Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal Tuesday by two Reuters journalists jailed for seven years each on charges linked to their reporting on the Rohingya crisis, one of the defence lawyers confirmed.
Reporters Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, have been behind bars since their arrest in December 2017 under the Official Secrets Act.
The initial conviction in September was upheld by the Yangon High Court in January.
On Tuesday, the reporters were not at the Supreme Court in the capital Naypyidaw to hear the ruling that once again went against them.
“Our appeal was rejected,” Khin Maung Zaw told AFP. “They upheld the ruling of the lower court.”
Supporters believe thee pair have been punished for investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state in September 2017.
The story earned the team a Pulitzer Prize, one of the top honours in journalism.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted of possessing classified documents relating to security operations in Rakhine during a brutal military crackdown against the Rohingya that forced some 740,000 to flee over the border into Bangladesh.
Rights groups and legal experts say the case was riddled with irregularities.
A whistleblowing police officer testified during their trial that his superior had ordered his team to trap the reporters in a sting — testimony the judge chose to ignore.
Rights groups have urged Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to use her influence to secure a pardon for the pair, but she has so far refused to intervene.
“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit any crime, nor was there any proof that they did,” Reuters Chief Counsel Gail Gove said in a statement following Tuesday’s ruling.
“Instead, they were victims of a police set-up to silence their truthful reporting. We will continue to do all we can to free them as soon as possible.”
Dozens of Sudanese journalists Monday protested in downtown Khartoum demanding the release of a prominent editor detained for criticising a state of emergency imposed by President Omar al-Bashir, witnesses said.
Osman Mirghani, editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Tayar, was taken away by security agents from his office on the night of February 22 after making televised comments on Bashir’s decision to impose emergency rule nationwide.
Bashir declared the state of emergency after an initial crackdown failed to quell widespread protests against his administration that erupted in December.
The journalists gathered in downtown Khartoum to express their solidarity with Mirghani and to fight for freedom of expression in the east African country.
“We are the voice of our own people and not of the regime,” they chanted and carried banners demanding Mirghani’s release, witnesses said, before dispersing.
The protest was organised by the Sudanese Journalists Network, a group belonging to the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) that is spearheading the protest campaign against Bashir’s iron-fisted rule.
Mirghani was arrested after an interview with Sky News Arabia in which he said Bashir’s measures would “spark a new wave” of protests and send a message that the public “can exert more pressure to achieve its goal of removing this regime”.
The US-educated engineer turned journalist has often been targeted by security agents, who have detained him several times, confiscated copies of his newspaper or barred its publication without giving any reason.
Sudan’s powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) regularly seizes entire print runs of newspapers over articles it deems inappropriate, especially those criticising the authorities or government policies.
Sudan is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in media watchdog Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
On Monday, scores of protesters also staged a demonstration in south Khartoum’s district of Jabra, where Bashir inaugurated a hospital hours earlier.
Men and women chanted anti-government slogans as they walked through the district, witnesses said.
Protests first erupted on December 19 in response to a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But they swiftly escalated into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s three-decade rule, with protesters calling on him to step down.
Protesters accuse his adminstration of mismanaging the country’s economy that has led to soaring food prices, shortage of fuel and foreign currency.
Bashir, 75, has remained defiant in the face of protests.
Addressing reporters at the NUJ Secretariat in the state capital, the acting chairman of the union in Adamawa, Umar Dankano, said journalists jointly condemn proliferation of small arms, thuggery, hate speeches, and fake news.
He also appealed to winners in the elections to be magnanimous in victory and urged the losers to seek justice in court rather than cause violence.
The NUJ chairman also called on political actors in the state to continuously engage their followers in a bid to achieve a peaceful exercise.
Highpoints of the rally are captured in the pictures;
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the Federal and state governments to the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja over alleged attacks on journalists and bloggers.
According to a statement issued on Sunday, the SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said the group is suing the government for what it described as “the frequent and repressive application of the Cybercrime Act to harass, intimidate, arbitrarily arrest, detain, and unfairly prosecute anyone found publishing views or facts perceived to be critical of the government at the federal and state levels and government officials.”
In the suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/09/19 filed by its Solicitor Femi Falana last week at the ECOWAS Court, SERAP argued that: “The Federal Government and several state governments and their agents have trampled on the rights to freedom of expression and information of bloggers, journalists, activists, and social media users through the repressive use and implementation of the vaguely worded provisions of the Cybercrime Act.”
SERAP stressed that the idea of democracy is that the people are encouraged to express their criticisms of elected government officials, with the expectation that it will improve the process of government.
In cases of alleged defamation of government officials, the group believes sanctions should “not be so large as to exert a chilling effect on freedom of opinion, expression and media freedom; penal sanctions, in particular imprisonment, should never be applied”.
SERAP is, therefore, seeking the following reliefs:
1. A declaration that the actions of the defendants and its agents and several states of Nigeria in arbitrarily enforcing the provisions of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015 particularly its section 24 to harass, intimidate, arrest, detain, prosecute and imprison journalists, bloggers, and social media users, violate the rights to freedom of expression, information, opinion and privacy and media freedom, guaranteed under Articles 6,8,9 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Articles 7,9,17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party
2. A declaration that the provisions of the Cybercrime (Prohibition Prevention, etc) Act 2015 are entirely inconsistent and incompatible with international human rights standards and infringe on the rights to the freedom of expression, information and opinion guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
3. A declaration that the continuing use and application by the Defendant and its agents and several states in Nigeria of the Cybercrime is illegal and unlawful, as it amounts to breaches of obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression and information and media freedom
4. An order directing the defendant to immediately repeal and/or amend the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015 in line with Nigerian obligations under international human rights law
5. An order directing the defendant and/or its agents and several states of Nigeria to provide effective remedies and reparation, including adequate compensation, restitution, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition that the Honourable Court may deem fit to grant to human rights defenders, activists bloggers, journalists and other online and off-line media practitioners that have been harassed, intimidated, unlawfully arrested, detained, and unfairly prosecuted by the Defendant.
A date is yet to be fixed for the hearing of the suit.
A Turkish appeals court Tuesday upheld jail sentences against opposition journalists in a long-running case targeting the Cumhuriyet newspaper — one of the few remaining dailies critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Last year 14 former Cumhuriyet staff, including journalists and executives, were given multiple sentences for “aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member” but they remained free pending trial.
An appeals court in Istanbul said it unanimously approved the sentences.
Cumhuriyet reported that six former staff, including cartoonist Musa Kart, would have to go back to prison because their appeals had exhausted.
Veteran journalist Kadri Gursel and lawyer Bulent Utku would remain free given time they have already served in jail, the daily said.
But the remaining journalists who were given sentences of more than five years, including investigative reporter Ahmet Sik who is now an MP with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, will have to apply to the Supreme Court of Appeals, Cumhuriyet reported.
This is also the case for the former boss of the paper Akin Atalay and former editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu.
The controversial Cumhuriyet case sparked global outrage over the state of press freedom in Turkey.
Unlike many Turkish newspapers — Cumhuriyet, the country’s oldest daily founded in 1924 — is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation.
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey strategy and research manager, slammed the “biased” ruling.
“Today’s ruling to send the former Cumhuriyet staff back to prison exposes yet again the way in which politically motivated trials and unsound court decisions are simply rubber-stamped by an equally biased appeals process,” he said in a statement.
“By using the courts to increase their stranglehold on the media, the authorities have once again displayed the ugly side of Turkey’s broken judicial system,” he said.
According to the International Press Institute, 155 journalists and media executives are in prison in Turkey, making it the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.
Kart, who was awarded last year a top prize by the Swiss organisation Cartooning for Peace, wrote on Twitter: “Yes, prison is calling me again. Take care of yourself.”
Sik reacted with a quote attributed to French philosopher Voltaire: “We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals.”
After the convictions last year, Cumhuriyet was shaken by the resignation of several journalists in protest at management changes.
The daily has often had troubles with government authorities, with its former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar fleeing to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria.