Crisis: International

Egyptian editor, reporter convicted
Ibrahim Eissa and Sahar Zaki, editor and reporter of the weekly Al-Dustour, respectively, were recently convicted for publishing a report critical of President Hosni Mubarak and other top government officials in Egypt.

In a decision handed down on June 26, the court in Al-Warrak sentenced the two journalists to a year in prison for insulting Mubarak, his family, and other officials. The journalists, who were not present for the verdict, are free on bail.

The case against Eissa and Zaki stemmed from an April 5, 2005 news item that reported efforts by an Egyptian lawyer to take Mubarak and his family to court on allegations of corruption, including the alleged misuse of foreign aid.

Said Abdullah, the lawyer, was also sentenced to a year in jail.

Two years ago, Mubarak pledged to eliminate prison penalties against journalists for what they publish. The promise remains unfulfilled, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as Egyptian journalists continue to be brought before criminal courts and sentenced to jail because of their criticism of government officials and other influential figures.

In 2006 alone, CPJ has documented the cases of at least two other journalists sentenced to jail terms on defamation charges in Egypt.

Indian journalist stoned to death
Indian journalist Aran Narayan Dekate was ambushed and stoned by attackers who left him fatally injured in the rural area of Maharashtra state, central India, on June 8. He died in a hospital two days later.

According to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Dekate’s colleagues believe that his murder could be linked to articles he wrote in the Marathi-language regional daily Tarun Bharat, a newspaper close to the Hindu nationalist movement RSS. He was the second journalist to be killed in India since the start of 2006.

At least four people ambushed Narayan Dekate, as he was traveling on a motorbike with a friend, hitting him with several stones.

Local police who have opened an investigation said the journalist had recently written about an illegal gaming scam. He had also apparently provided the police with information which reportedly helped in the arrest of the criminals.

Thaksin sues opposition, 3 newspaper editors
Thai caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has filed criminal and civil defamation suits against the opposition Democrat Party and three newspaper editors, and is seeking 800 million baht (approx. P1.7 billion) in damages.

Thaksin said he was libeled by Democrat Party spokesman Thepthai Senpong when the latter suggested that the embattled premier was clinging to power.

Thaksin has been running the government in a caretaker capacity ever since the controversial polls in April failed to award his ruling Thai Rak Thai party with a legitimate parliamentary mandate to convene a new government.

The entire process was stymied by an opposition boycott of the elections and accusations of irregularities. The political deadlock that ensued prompted the Thai king to intervene and call for a judicial review of the whole election process.

Nonetheless, Thaksin has remained a caretaker prime minister since the elections, and there is still no clear timetable as to when a new round of elections will actually set in place a more permanent government. Mean-while, he is said to be testing the waters for another run to head government.

The criminal complaint said that in the Thai-language dailies Matichon, Khao Sod, and Daily News, Thepthai had compared Thaksin to a wandering spirit desperate to get back into a body.

The civil case named the editors of the three newspapers as co-defendants.

In the past two years, he and his interests—represented largely by his family’s holdings in the Shin Corp. conglomerate—had filed no less than six defamation complaints seeking billions of baht in damages. All those past cases have since either been pulled from or defeated in court.

Vietnam prepares stricter press laws
Stricter press regulations would be taking effect in Vietnam starting July, reports coming out of the country say, amid signs that national leaders are growing wary of the trend toward more aggressive and enterprising journalism.

The Deutsche Press Agentur (DPA) reported that a new decree has been announced that will, among other things, punish “denying revolutionary achieve-ments” and require journalists to have articles reviewed before publication.

Vietnam’s press is entirely state-controlled, with the govern-ment running the broadcasting sector and print industry. In recent years, however, journalists have been pushing the envelope on investigative and social reporting, shedding light on poverty and health matters, as well as corruption issues.

A recent scandal that forced the resignation of the transport minister and the arrest of his deputy over embezzlement of some $7 million in state funds, however, appears to have forced the hand of government.

“Under the new rules, Vietnamese journalists can be fined three million dong (about P10,000) for publishing stories with anonymous sources and up to seven million dong (P24,500) for refusing to allow an interviewee to read an article before publication,” the news agency reported, citing a copy of the decree that it says it had seen.

“Disseminating reactionary ideology is banned, along with any articles that reveal “Party secrets, state secrets, military secrets and economic secrets,” which carry fines of up to 30 million dong (P106,000),” the report added.

Vietnam’s laws have already meted out prison terms of up to 15 years for stories that “reveal state secrets.”

Japanese court backs journalists’ right to protect source
The Tokyo High Court, in the second decision of its kind, recently reaffirmed journalists’ right to protect their sources.

In its June 13 decision, the court ruled that the protection of news sources served the public interest and the public’s right to know.

This decision, which overturned an earlier Tokyo District Court decision, reaffirmed the March 17 Tokyo High Court ruling that it was not illegal for a journalist to protect his source’s identity, even if that source were a public official.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, the ruling refers to a series of lawsuits filed by a US firm in which a journalist from Yomiuri Shimbun refused to reveal the source for an Oct. 1997 article. The article claimed a US company and Japanese affiliate had been ordered to pay tax penalties by Japanese and US tax departments for underreporting.

This recent reaffirmation by the High Court effectively gave journalists in Japan legal support for keeping their sources confidential.

Blogger charged for Jesus cartoons in Singapore
A blogger was charged recently with violating Singapore’s Sedition Act authorities for publishing four cartoons of Jesus on his blog last March. He faces up to three years in prison, according to a report by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“We understand that cartoons relating to religious symbols may be found shocking, but they should be tolerated for the sake of free expression,” RSF said. “Anyway, it is hard to see how posting a few humorous drawings, no matter how bad their taste, could destabilize social harmony in Singapore, as the authorities suggested,” it added.

The story was first reported by the Singapore-based Straits Times daily, which referred to the blogger only by his pseudonym and did not give his real name or his blog’s address. The news-paper said the blogger did not draw the cartoons himself; he just found them on the Internet and posted them on his blog.

One of them, posted in Janua-ry, portrayed Jesus as a zombie. All of the cartoons were taken down after the police stepped in.

The case followed the con-viction of three other bloggers for posting racist comments about the Muslim and Malay communities. One of them got a one-month prison sentence.

Afghan journalists reject gov’t restrictions
Afghan journalists have deplored the issuance by government of directives that ban or restrict materials pertaining to the “national interest” from being published.

In a joint statement issued last month, the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association and the Committee to Protect Afghani Journalists said the document containing the orders was illegal, unconstitutional, and having “no importance and credibility for journalists.”

Afghan intelligence officials also reportedly summoned executives and editors from more than 10 of Afghanistan’s leading media outlets to a meeting in their Kabul headquarters on June 12. The directives were presented in that meeting and signed by the director of the National Security Directive, Amrullah Saleh.

Other unwelcome types of coverage include “negative propaganda, interviews and reports which are provocative or slanderous and which are against the presence of the international coalition forces and ISAF [in Afghanistan].”

On June 22, President Hamid Karzai gave a speech describing the directives as important for security and peace in Afghanistan, and said these would put an end to propaganda from the Taliban and other groups.

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