RSF campaigns for release of three women journalists

[TamilNet, Sunday, 03 May 2009, 01:38 GMT]
Reporters sans frontiers (RSF), a Paris-based media watchdog, in a press release issued Saturday said it is mounting a campaign for the release of three women journalists, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on a charge of spying for the United States, and two American journalists employed by California-based Current TV, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who have been held in Pyongyang since 17 March. In the 2009 report released earlier in the year the RSF said in Sri Lanka, "[m]urders, physical assaults, kidnappings, threats and censorship are the lot of Sri Lanka's journalists. Top government officials, including the defence minister, are directly implicated in the serious press freedom violations that accompanied the military offensive against the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels."

Full text of the press release issued Saturday follows:

    WHEN GOVERNMENTS TAKE JOURNALISTS HOSTAGE

    In the run-up to World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Reporters Without Borders is campaigning for the release of three women journalists who have been "taken hostage" by governments.

    Four members of Reporters Without Borders have been on hunger strike since 28 April in support of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on a charge of spying for the United States .

    Saberi has herself been on hunger strike since 21 April in protest against her conviction on a trumped-up charge. Her life is in danger. Reporters Without Borders is taking over her hunger strike so that she does not have to continue it herself. Beginning on 3 May, similar protests are going to be staged in Canada , the United States , Britain , Belgium and Spain .

    There is also an urgent need to obtain the release of two American journalists employed by California-based Current TV, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who have been held in Pyongyang since 17 March.

    During a special evening event dedicated to the subject of North Korea which Reporters Without Borders organised in Paris on 27 April, the French secretary of state for foreign affairs and human rights, Rama Yade, offered her support for human rights organisations campaigning for their release.

    The detention of Saberi, Lee and Ling on arbitrary charges demonstrates more than ever the importance of World Press Freedom Day, which we will be celebrating on 3 May. We appeal to the Iranian and North Korean authorities to free these three women without delay.

    Saberi, Lee and Ling are professional journalists who are neither spies nor criminals. Through them, press freedom and the right to report the news freely are being taken hostage by Iran and North Korea .

    More information about the Reporters Without Borders protests on behalf of Roxana Saberi: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30949


SRI LANKA - PRESS FREEDOM

    Murders, physical assaults, kidnappings, threats and censorship are the lot of Sri Lanka's journalists. Top government officials, including the defence minister, are directly implicated in the serious press freedom violations that accompanied the military offensive against the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.

    The Colombo government's crushing military victory over the Tamil separatists was coupled with a brutal campaign against the press and dissident voices. Sri Lanka is of all the countries with an elected democratic government the least respectful of media freedom.

    The war that left several thousand dead in the north of the country was waged in the absence of any independent witnesses. Sri Lankan and foreign journalists were kept away from the battlefield, for their safety according to the army, but above all so as not to "hamper" the military offensive. The authorities also restrict press access to the Jaffna peninsula and detention camps holding Tamils who have fled the north.

    The army and Sinhalese ultra-nationalists have carried on a campaign of permanent harassment of the privately-owned media and particularly specialists in military affairs. Media, which have been forced into exile or gagged, no longer dare to criticise or investigate military strategy while the press on the island was previously known for the high quality of its investigations. Neither military nor civilian casualty figures are published, apart from those of LTTE combatants killed by the army.

    The cornered Tamil Tiger fighters have launched suicide attacks, one of which killed a television reporter. The separatists also try to gag journalists through threats and propaganda, on the subject of their defeat and crimes against civilians.

    Tamil journalists, particularly those who defend the "cause", have to beware of the paramilitary groups, such as the EPDP in the Jaffna peninsula and the Karuna group in the east. These paramilitaries can count on the friendly protection of the security forces.

    Violence against the press that was for a long time restricted to the Tamil media, now affects journalists working in Sinhalese and English. Armed men attacked the popular TV station Sirasa of the MTV group, apparently because it was not sufficiently "patriotic". Editor of the highly independent Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was assassinated in Colombo, in January 2009. Police have proved incapable of arresting the suspects, as in every case of murder and assaults against journalists in the past three years.

    The government has deliberately sown fear among Tamil journalists by imprisoning three of them and accusing them of "terrorism", including two of the most independent, J. S. Tissainayagam of the Sunday Times and N. Vithyatharan of the Uthayan press group. They have all being arrested without any evidence against them. [TamilNet Note: Vithyatharan has now been released]

    The foreign press has found it harder than ever to work in the island. The brother of the president, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, threatened reprisals against the BBC and al Jazeera, after the two media did reports in the country. Photojournalists working for the international press were forced to flee the country after being threatened by army supporters. Several dozen journalists and free expression activists have also been driven into exile.

 

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