Fight For Press Freedom Rages On In South Asia_Featured_, Corporate Controlled Media, Media Monday, February 18th, 2013
While American journalists lament about President Barack Obama’s preference for TV interviews over sit-downs with newspaper outlets, journalists on the other side of the world are fighting — and dying — for press freedom. The situation in South Asia is dire for truth-seekers and news outlets as journalists are detained without reason, attacked and killed by their governments.
Press freedom, protected and guaranteed by the First Amendment, is something we often take for granted in the United States. The idea that journalists and citizens can write or talk about their rulers without fear of retaliation by a tyrannical government is as foreign to much of the world as their struggles are to Americans.
Four of the world’s most-populated countries — China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and their neighbors are shamefully militant against the freedom of the press, and tensions have been escalating since the turn of the new year.
Many Nepali journalists in the far-west Dailekh region have been forced into hiding in light of violence against the press corps. Cadres, or groups of non-commissioned officers, of Nepal’s ruling party — the United Communist Party (Maoist) — were recently arrested in connection with the murder of Nepali journalist Dekendra Thapa. Last month, the party levied public threats against journalists in the region, saying they’d meet the same fate as Thapa if they didn’t cease and desist.
Cadres vandalized the offices of the daily newspaper Hamro Teshro Anka, barred journalists from covering a program presided over by Nepal’s prime minster and threatened journalists with pistols and handmade weapons.
On Jan. 29 in Nepal’s central Kavre district, six journalists were injured in attack from the Youth Communist League, the Maoist party’s youth affiliate, and face increased threats about releasing pictures of the event captured by Nepali photojournalists.
On Feb. 9, a journalist in New Delhi, India, was detained by a “special cell” of capital police and held for five hours at a flat belonging to his father-in-law, a Kashmiri politician. His wife was also pulled from his home and their children (left under police supervision) to be interrogated.
The Kashmir region, located in the far north of India, is hotly contested by the Indian and Pakistani governments, which both claim control over the area and have fought three wars over the region (1947, 1965 and 1999). Kashmiri dissidents also claim the Aksai Chin region to the east (currently part of China), and regional groups have called for independence from India, Pakistan and China.
The Indian government has imposed a curfew to curtail dissident activity in Kashmir, which has kept some journalists from getting to work. The government also suspended news printing and broadcasts Feb. 9, as well as partially disabling Internet and cell phone services in the region.
It’s been one year since the murder of husband-and-wife journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi on Feb. 11, 2012, in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and the government has yet to release any information from investigations’ findings.
Local police initially failed to produce suspects or motive, and though the following investigation by Bangladeshi anti-terrorism force Rapid Action Battalion yielded nine arrests but no answers.
Bangladeshi journalism unions and associations observed a day of protest to demand results and due justice from the fledgling investigations.
It’s been three years since the mysterious disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda on Jan. 24, 2010. The country was about to hold its first presidential election after ending a 26-year civil war with militant separatists calling for independence for the island nation’s Tamil region. Ekneligoda had contributed to the campaign of a retired general who led the country’s army against the insurgency.
The retired general ran against incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who won reelection Jan. 26, 2010.
It’s unclear whether Ekneligoda’s disappearance is connected to his campaign involvement, but investigators into his disappearance have repeatedly called for extra time to examine the case details in the years since. Ekneligoda’s wife even petitioned the UN’s Human Rights Council.
In 2004, the IFJ joined forces with journalism outlets and press freedom organizations in the area to form the South Asia Media Solidarity Network, which seeks to “work together for media reform, for an independent pluralist media and to build public respect for the work of journalists in the region.”
This solidarity is based on a shared understanding of the importance of the craft of journalism, a commitment to good will and an understanding that journalists need to support each other to do their job in safety. Solidarity is also based on an understanding that journalists’ unions and press freedom organisations work together for these common interests and are crucial allies in this shared concern. (SAMSN website)
You can join them in solidarity to call for freedom of expression, freedom of association and journalists’ rights in South Asia by visiting their website and sharing their bulletins, released monthly to raise awareness of the issues and achievements of press freedom in the region.