Survey Reports on Freedom of the Press

Survey Reports on Freedom of the Press

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

PARIS, France – The non-governmental, international organization Reporters Without Borders has released its annual report of World Press Freedom, in which it ranks 173 countries for the relative freedom of their press. Among the factors the organization uses to gauge the countries are violations that have a direct impact upon journalists including murders, imprisonment, physical attacks, threats of physical attack, censorship, confiscation and harassment.

Of the 20 countries rated as having the most free press, eight are European, but the report finds that the seventh most free press belongs to New Zealand.

While Australia is ranked 29 in the ranking (the same rank it held last year), the report makes specific mention of tensions between the Howard administration and the press.  The report noted “at least 1500 legal decrees and rulings” that made limited press and public accessibility to information.  Specifically mentioned was a provision that journalists “who might interview a person suspected of terrorism, is at risk of up to five years in jail.”  The report referred to Australia’s anti-terror laws “simply outrageous.”

Despite recent deportations of newspaper editors, Fiji ascended the list from last year.  The reports finds Fiji at 79, up from 107 last year.  Despite the marked improvement, Pramod Rae, General Secretary of the National Federation Party, called the ranking an “eye-opener” saying, “There are 79 more steps to climb and the press in Fiji should not throw in the towel now.”

Other countries in the region also moved up the list.  Tonga, which was listed last year at 119, is now listed at 84.  East Timor is ranked at 65, up from 94 last year.

The full list can be found here.

For more information please see:
Fiji Daily Post – Moving Up – 25 October 2008

The Australian – Australia’s press freedom criticised in Reporters Without Borders rankings – 24 October 2008

Fiji Times Online – Fiji ranked 79 for press freedom – 24 October 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji and Tonga move up in World press freedom rankings – 24 October 2008

Fiji Interim PM Will Refuse to Address Coup’s Legality at Next Meeting

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Fiji’s interim prime minister has announced that his government will not be pushed around by leaders from Fiji’s political parties in Monday’s meeting.

Interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, says Monday’s meeting will not be about the legality of the interim government. Bainimarama added that leaders interested in merely expressing grievances with the interim government may as well not show.

On October 9, a three judge court ruled that the 2006 military coup of Fiji’s federal government was legal. Ousted Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, is among several advocates pushing for elections in 2009 to restore Fiji to democracy.

But at this year’s 63rd UN General Assembly, Bainimarama told leaders that those elections will not happen as previously planned.

Bainimarama has preemptively told leaders attending Monday’s meeting, that the interim government is in charge and will do whatever it believes is in Fiji’s best interest.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim regime stakes out political talk framework – 22 October 2008

UN’s Frustration Towards Myanmar Junta

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YONGANG, Myanmar – U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar’s Government and opposition to increase dialogue in his latest report to the General Assembly.  The report covers Myanmar’s development between 23 October 2007 and 5 September 2008, when the junta faced global condemnation for its crackdown on the biggest opposition protests in almost 20 years.   It also highlights UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari failure to meet with Suu Kyi or win concessions from the regime when he visited Myanmar in August.

In the report, Ban said “it remains a source of frustration that meaningful steps have yet to be taken by the Myanmar authorities in response to the concerns and expectations of the United Nations and the international community.” The main U.N. demands have been for the junta to release political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and start a serious dialogue with the opposition.  However, it is unfortunate that specific suggestions of the United Nations to improve the credibility and inclusiveness of the political process have thus far not been taken up by the government.  Ban continued, “It is unfoHe urges all countries aiming for a solution in Myanmar to “work constructively together” in support of the UN’s efforts.

Myanmar Junta announced it had overwhelming public support in a May on an army-drafted constitution referendum, which was part of a process meant to culminate in multiparty elections in 2010 and end a nearly 20-year political stalemate.  However, Western countries have condemned the referendum as a sham.  Myanmar appointed a liaison officer to meet with the opposition leader Suu Kyi five times between November and January. The talks, the first since 2003, then stopped.  The UN also remains concerned about ongoing reports of armed conflict, associated human rights abuses, and humanitarian problems in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Kayin and Kayah states.

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Myanmar’s Failure to Talk With Suu Kyi Frustrates UN, Ban Says – 21 October 2008

Reuters – U.N.’s Ban frustrated by Myanmar inaction – 20 October 2008

UN News Centre- Enhanced dialogue among all parties vital for Myanmar’s political future – 20 October 2008

Kyrgyzstan Fails to Protect Lesbians, Transgender Men, and Bisexual Women from Violence

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan
– Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Kyrgyzstan government to protect lesbians, transgender men, and bisexual women from violence.  According to HRW, lesbians, transgender men, and bisexual women face violent abuse, including rape, from family members as well as strangers on the street.

The HRW report documents beatings, forced marriages, psychological and physical abuse endured by the lesbian, transgender men, and bisexual women communities.  “No one should have to confront brutality or danger because of who they are or whom they love,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at HRW.

The violence in Kyrgyzstan occurs with impunity as the government refuses to protect lesbians, transgender men, and bisexual men while allowing the atmosphere of prejudice to continue.  There is a pervasive social prejudice that leaves victims little hope that the government will protect them.  In some instances, the police participate in the abuse and harass organizations that attempt to protect possible victims.  Dittrich stated, “It is time for the government to protect these communities instead of denying they exist.”

The government has also ignored addressing the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. In one case, an official actually endorsed hate and violence. Three years ago, a Ministry of Interior official said of lesbians and gay men at a human rights roundtable, “I would also beat them. Let’s say I walk in a park with my son. And there are two guys walking holding each other’s hands. I would beat them up too.”

Several persons interviewed by HRW recounted their past violent experiences.  One lesbian told how, when she was 15, her girlfriend’s brothers raped her brutally, saying, “This is your punishment for being this way and hanging around our sister.”  Another woman told of an acquaintance that locked her in a room and allowed several men to rape her. The men promised the acquaintance “that they would help her to ‘cure’ me of being a lesbian,” she said.  Another woman told HRW, “One time, these men on the street thought that I was a gay man and wanted to beat me up. I didn’t know which would be better, to say I was [a gay man] or to say, no I’m a lesbian. So I ran. They chased me and I just managed to get inside [my apartment], but they beat at the door for hours.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Kyrgyzstan: Protect Lesbians and Transgender Men From Abuse – 6 October 2008

Human Rights Watch – These Everyday Humiliations: Violence Against Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Men in Kyrgyzstan – October 2008

United Press International- Kyrgyzstan Faulted for Human Rights Abuse – 6 October 2008

Bainimarama Wants Elections as Soon as Practicable

By Sarah E. Treptow

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Fiji’s Interim PM, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama wants to call for elections as soon as practicable.  It is reported that Bainimarama has written to political parties for a meeting next week to set the agenda and terms of reference for a forum for presidential political dialogue.  Political leaders were told the agenda would remain open and flexible but the overall objective would be to move toward constitutional and democratic governance.  Ousted PM, Laisenia Qarase, has welcomed this call for a meeting.

The independent interlocuters named are Dr. Sitiveni Halapua of the Pacific Islands Development program of the East West Centre and Robin Nair who is a member of the President’s Independent Monitoring Group.

As SDL party leader, Qarase has said they will participate though they have reservations over the interlocuters.  Political parties have until Wednesday to respond to the invitation.

For more information, please see:

Fiji Times Online – It’s on – 21 October 2008

Pacific Magazine – Fiji’s Interim PM Wants To Call For Elections – 21 October 2008