Umar Cheema
Umar Cheema

At Attacks launch: What if governments are perpetrators?

When we launched the new edition of Attacks on the Press at the United Nations today, I was hit with questions about Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Both dealt with what amounts to the same problem: What do you do when you’re asking a government to investigate a crime in which it might have been the perpetrator? 

The Sri Lanka question came first. What is happening in the case of Prageeth Eknelygoda, a critical cartoonist and columnist who disappeared more than a year ago? The question starts around 17:07 on the U.N.’s archived webcast of the event. The Pakistan question, which starts at around 33:55, addresses the case of Umar Cheema, another critical columnist. Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka get ample coverage in this year’s Attacks on the Press.

The answer to both, I’m afraid, fits well with the theme of this year’s launch–that international organizations such as the United Nations and regional groups such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation must step up their pressure on behalf of journalists under attack. As CPJ’s Joel Simon pointed out in his introduction to this year’s Attacks, “many international governmental organizations created to defend press freedom are consistently failing to fulfill their mission.” Nowhere is that more true than in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

On Wednesday, in Bangkok, CPJ Senior Representative Shawn Crispin and Internet Advocacy Coordinator Danny O’Brien are scheduled to discuss Attacks at the Foreign Correspondents Club. Shawn will have plenty to say about his essays on Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma. Danny will talk about the many significant issues raised by the explosion of digital information platforms across Asia. You can get a jump on his views by reading his analysis, Exposing the Internet’s Shadowy Assailants.”

Danny is in Bangkok for the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, head of the independent news website Prachatai. Premchaiporn faces severe criminal charges for comments posted to the website that authorities considered insulting to the monarchy. Chiranuch took down the comments immediately after they were brought to her attention, but that was not enough.