THE PRESS: 2010
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An unidentified man threatened photojournalist Shahidul Alam on March 26 in the capital, Dhaka, after the photographer objected to the government shutting down his exhibition of photos of extrajudicial killings, according to international news reports. The man told a guard at Alam’s gallery, Drik Picture Library, that the photographer “would meet his death on the streets, by bullets,” Drik said in a statement.
The Supreme Court sentenced Mahmudur Rahman, editor and part owner of the Bengali-language daily Amar Desh, to a six-month prison term on August 19, according to international news reports. The court said the paper denigrated its reputation in an April article accusing it of bias toward the ruling Awami League. Rahman, a former energy adviser for the opposition Bangladesh National Party, was arrested in June, when 200 or more police officers shut down the paper’s Dhaka publishing facilities. More than 20 defamation charges against Rahman, filed by members or allies of the ruling Awami League, including current energy adviser, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, were pending in late year.
Hang Chakra, editor and publisher of the pro-opposition daily Khmer Machas Srok, was pardoned as part of a Cambodian New Year amnesty and released from prison on April 13, three months short of completing his one-year prison term for “criminal disinformation” in articles about government corruption, news reports said. After his release, he told local journalists he would continue publishing the newspaper, although it suspended operations in June for financial reasons, local news reports said. A relaunch was scheduled for late year, the Phnom Penh Post reported.
The military regime barred criticism of leader Frank Bainimarama’s decision not to call national elections. Bainimarama had pledged to restore democracy after he took power in a 2006 coup. The government monitored newsrooms and maintained heavy censorship under so-called emergency regulations that were imposed in April 2009 after courts challenged the legitimacy of Bainimarama’s leadership.
In June, the government issued a Media Industry Development Decree that barred any news content deemed as being against national interests or creating communal discord, news reports said. The decree, which took effect in September and replaced the prior set of censorship rules, required that 90 percent of media company shareholders be citizens of Fiji. The ownership clause appeared to target the outspoken Fiji Times, owned by an Australian subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The decree established a state-appointed six-person regulatory authority and a one-person tribunal to monitor news media. Penalties included fines of up to 25,000 Fiji dollars (US$13,000) and prison terms of up to two years, news reports said.
Anti-press violence spiked in the eastern state of Orissa in early year, according to media support groups, which documented 12 assaults and six cases of threats and intimidation between January and July. Three attacks had been reported in all of 2009. In some cases, the victims accused members of the Central Industrial Security Force and Indian Reserve Battalion of being involved. In three assault cases, police were present but did not respond, support groups and local media said. The attacks were linked to a range of sensitive issues, including Maoist uprisings, government corruption, and student protests.
About 3,000 people stormed the premises of the Delhi-based television news channel Headlines Today on July 16. The attackers, members of the Hindu nationalist organization Rashtirya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), destroyed the building’s lobby, blocked all exits for two hours, and assaulted a camera operator, according to news reports and media support organizations. Headlines Today stories had recently accused RSS members of involvement in bombings across the country.
Also on July 16, in an apparently unrelated attack, members of the far-right nationalist party Shiv Sena ransacked the studio of TV channel Zee 24 Taas in Kolhapur, western Maharashtra state. The attack, which injured five, came during the middle of a live broadcast on a border dispute with the neighboring state of Karnataka, news reports said. Eleven assailants surrendered to police the following day and were released on bail.
Vijay Pratap Singh, senior correspondent for the daily Indian Express, died on July 20 from injuries received from a bomb blast a week earlier in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. The blast occurred during an interview the journalist was conducting with Nand Gopal Gupta, minister for institutional finance. The explosive had been concealed in a motorized bike outside Gupta’s house, news reports said. Police arrested two members of the local Samajwadi Party in connection with the blast, according to Indian media outlets.
Newspapers and TV news channels in India’s northeastern state of Manipur shut down for a day on July 22. The All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union and the Manipur Hill Journalists’ Union organized the protest to publicize threats against Singlianmang Guite, correspondent for The Sangai Express. A local militant group had reportedly threatened Guite.
Strict enforcement of curfews by security forces in cities across Indian-controlled Kashmir greatly hindered press coverage. On several occasions, local publications and regional TV channels were paralyzed as employees were unable to leave their homes without risk of police obstruction, according to local media reports and journalists’ organizations. Sanam Ajaz, assistant managing director of the private JK Networks, was assaulted by police in Srinagar, capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, on September 15. Police appeared to disregard Ajaz’s curfew pass, according to local news outlets Rising Kashmir and Kashmir Media Service. The same month, BBC Urdu service journalist Riaz Masroor was stopped and beaten by police as he was trying to obtain his curfew pass. He suffered a fractured arm, the BBC reported.
Police in southern Karnataka state lodged criminal charges in December against Tehelka magazine reporter K.K. Shahina in connection with an article questioning the arrest of a political activist on terrorism allegations, according to Shahina and local news reports. Shahina, based in neighboring Kerala state, was charged with intimidating witnesses based on the interviews she conducted for the December 4 piece, “Why is this man still in prison?” She told CPJ that police followed her as she was conducting interviews for the article. The charges carry a maximum seven-year prison term. She was free in late year.
In June, the Home Ministry banned a series of political cartoons critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, saying they were “prejudicial to public order,” according to news reports. The series, by satirist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque (popularly known as Zunar), included cartoons that appeared on the independent news website Malaysiakini from 2005 to 2009 and in Isu Dalam Kartun, a monthly magazine, news reports said. On July 26, Zunar and Malaysiakini filed for a judicial review of the ban, according to local press freedom group the Centre for Independent Journalism. The case was pending in late year.
Zunar was then arrested on September 24, just hours before the launch of his book of political cartoons, Cartoon-o-phobia. Held on suspicion of violating Malaysia’s Sedition Act, he was released on bail the next day. The cartoonist told CPJ that police served a search warrant at his office and seized 66 copies of the book. The case was pending in late year. In June, the government banned three other compilations of his political cartoons. Zunar filed his own lawsuit, pending in late year, challenging the censorship orders.
Blogger Irwan Abdul Rahman was charged in September with “intent to hurt” in connection with a satirical entry on his blog, Nose4news, that made fun of Malaysia’s state-run power company Tenaga (TNB), according to news accounts. The article, titled “TNB to sue WWF over Earth Hour,” joked that Tenaga might take legal action against the World Wildlife Fund’s annual energy-saving initiative. The blogger, who is also lifestyle editor for the Malay Mail newspaper, could face up to a year in prison and a fine of 50,000 ringgit (US$16,000) if found guilty under the charge, which is part of the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998. The case was pending in late year.
Court officers raided the daily Niigmiin Toli in Ulaanbaatar in August, seizing the paper’s computers, according to local media support group Globe International. The Chingeltei District Court ordered the seizure after the paper reportedly failed to comply with the terms of a December 2009 sentence in a defamation case. The court had ordered the paper to print a retraction and apology for a September 2009 letter to the editor from citizens of Bayan-Ölgii, in Mongolia’s far western Kazakh province. The letter had alleged corruption among local government officials.
In March, the New York Times Co. apologized to Singapore’s prime minister and his two predecessors for a February 15 article describing them as a political dynasty, according to news reports. The company agreed to pay 60,000 Singaporean dollars (US$42,600) to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; 50,000 Singaporean dollars (US$35,500) to his father, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founder and first prime minister; and another 50,000 Singaporean dollars (US$35,500) to Goh Chok Tong, who served as prime minister between father and son, according to The Associated Press. The article appeared in the Times-owned International Herald Tribune.
British author Alan Shadrake was sentenced in November to six weeks in prison on contempt-of-court charges stemming from his 2010 book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, which criticized the country’s use of capital punishment. Shadrake, 76, was also fined 20,000 Singapore dollars (US$15,400) and ordered to pay 55,000 Singapore dollars (US $42,000) in legal costs, according to news reports. High Court Judge Quentin Loh said he imposed the harsh penalty in order to send “a signal to those who hope to profit from controversy,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Shadrake, based in Malaysia, was arrested in July when he visited Singapore to launch his book. Shadrake was free in late year pending appeal.