Category: Press Releases, IPI Events, Congress, Africa, South Africa, Ethiopia, Swaziland, The Americas, The Caribbean, Asia & Pacific
By: Steven M. Ellis

IPI members call for court review of South African bill

General Assembly delegates unanimously adopt resolution criticising 'secrecy' legislation


IPI members gather for the 63rd annual General Assembly during the World Congress in Cape Town on April 14, 2014. Steven M. Ellis/IPI

By: Steven M. Ellis

CAPE TOWN, April 15, 2014 – Leading global journalists are urging South African President Jacob Zuma to send controversial legislation to the Constitutional Court for review amid concerns that the bill could block reporters' access to sensitive public information.

The General Assembly of the International Press Institute (IPI), meeting in Cape Town yesterday, unanimously called on Zuma to submit the Protection of State Information Bill, also known as the “secrecy bill”, to the court for a ruling on its constitutionality.

“Doing so would send the message that this and future South African governments will not hesitate to engage in a comprehensive legal review of legislation in order to protect the freedoms of the press and expression, as well as freedom of information,” said a resolution adopted at the IPI World Congress in Cape Town.

The IPI members added that the bill, “as written, vests too much power in the hands of the minister of State Security to determine what information can be classified, giving the minister power to bury information that is potentially embarrassing.”

The members additionally criticised the bill’s lack of a public interest defence or sufficient protections for whistleblowers. The measure was approved by lawmakers and sent to the president in November 2013. Zuma has not yet signed the bill into law.

In a related move, the IPI assembly also endorsed a resolution criticising the South African government’s visa-granting process which, they said, gave many participants the impression that diplomatic officials in South African missions abroad were trying to prevent them from attending the conference.

The IPI members approved six other resolutions during the course of the meeting, including language sharply criticising the governments of Ethiopia and Egypt for their use of anti-terror laws against journalists and a call for authorities in Russia and Ukraine to end pressure on media and allow greater exchange of information between and within both countries.

They further called on Swaziland’s government to release a journalist and a lawyer who are behind bars for articles they wrote this year criticising the country’s chief justice.

The IPI members also agreed to back a call by Iranian journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, this year’s IPI World Press Freedom Hero, for Iran to allow the Association of Iranian Journalists to resume its activities. Tehran has barred the operations of the organisation, which Shamsolvaezin formerly headed.

Separately, IPI members also re-elected three members of the executive board and chose four new members. 

Owais Aslam Ali, chairman of Pakistan Press International; Linus Gitahi, group chief executive of the National Media Group in Kenya; and Ken MacQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland, were each elected to an additional four-year term.

Those elected as new members of the board to a four-year term were: Karl Amon, director of radio for Austrian public broadcaster ORF; Sami Elhaj, manager of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network’s public liberties and human rights department; Kaius Niemi, editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat in Finland; and Martha Steffens, Society of American Business Editors and Writers endowed chair at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Following the election, the new executive board, meeting this morning for its first time, selected MacQuarrie to serve as a vice chair and a member of the board’s executive committee.

"I am delighted with the re-election of the current board members from Pakistan, Kenya and the UK," Alison Bethel McKenzie, IPI's executive director, said. "They are dedicated and passionate men who work hard on issues of press freedom at home and abroad.

"I am particularly excited to welcome a press freedom hero in his own right and staunch press freedom advocate, Sami Elhaj from Al Jazeera to the board; and Karl Amon from Austria. In addition, we have a young and impressive new board member from Finland and a longtime friend and workhorse for IPI from the United States."

Following are the resolutions adopted by the IPI General Assembly:

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on Swaziland’s government to drop charges against jailed editor and human rights lawyer and ensure press freedom

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on the Swaziland government to release unconditionally the editor of the independent news magazine The Nation, Bhekitemba Makhubu, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. The arrests were in connection with separate articles each wrote that criticised Swaziland Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi earlier this year. 

Makhubu and Maseko were first jailed on March 18, denied bail and held for 20 days before being released on grounds that the chief justice had no power to issue an arrest warrant. Three days later, on Wednesday, April 9, Swaziland police re-arrested the pair. This is the second time Makhubu has been prosecuted for his journalism. In April 2013 he was convicted and sentenced to two years in jail or a U.S. $20,000 fine for criticising the chief justice in 2009 and 2010 for, among other things, using the law to settle personal accounts. Makhubu is appealing this decision. 

IPI members urged Swaziland’s government to respect the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the role of journalists to raise alternative perspectives in Swazi society.

IPI members also called on Swaziland authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure that in the future the country fully upholds its international obligations to freedom of expression. They further called on the government to repeal criminal defamation, insult laws and other laws that limit the free flow of information and independent media.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on South Africa’s president to send the ‘secrecy bill’ for constitutional review

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to submit the Protection of State Information Bill, also known as the “secrecy bill”, to the Constitutional Court for review.

IPI members said the legislation – as adopted by the National Assembly and sent to the president on Nov. 12, 2013 – could hamper reporting and access to information if it becomes law. They expressed concern that the legislation lacks a public interest defence as well as sufficient protections for whistleblowers. The members further agreed that the legislation, as written, vests too much power in the hands of the minister of State Security to determine what information can be classified, giving the minister power to bury information that is potentially embarrassing to the government.

The Constitutional Court, under Section 167 of the South African Constitution, has the authority to rule on the constitutionality of parliamentary legislation and its decisions are binding. IPI members said that a ruling on the constitutionality of the Protection of State Information Bill would set the stage for reconsideration of the legislation by Parliament to address concerns about its impact on press freedom and access to information. 

IPI members noted that President Zuma, citing constitutional concerns, rejected an earlier draft of the legislation and that Parliament has taken steps to improve it, including adding provisions requiring prosecutors to prove unlawful intent in disclosing information before an individual may be convicted. However, the members agreed, further improvements are needed if the draft law is to shield journalists and whistleblowers from wrongful prosecution that could have a chilling effect on press freedom and access to information.

IPI members therefore urged President Zuma to again use his prerogative to request the Constitutional Court to review the “secrecy bill” to determine if it passes constitutional muster.  Doing so would send the message that this and future South African governments will not hesitate to engage in a comprehensive legal review of legislation in order to protect the freedoms of the press and expression, as well as freedom of information.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution expressing deep concern that South African diplomatic missions were obstructive in responding to visa applications, and calling on the government to explain why

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution expressing their deep concern about complaints received from IPI members in Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere that serious impediments were placed in their way when applying at South African diplomatic missions for visas to enter South Africa for the Congress.

Among the responses applicants received from the diplomatic missions were claims that applicants did not have sufficient funds to travel to South Africa despite having complied with all the documentary requirements, including producing bank references. Some delegates were also given limited-duration visas, which in some cases prevented them from attending all the sessions of the Congress and from taking part in the customary post-assembly tours of the country.

These delegates gained the impression from the conduct of the mission officials that the officials were trying to prevent them from attending the conference.

The Congress was held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Congress held by IPI in South Africa in 1994, which was opened by Nelson Mandela and then-President F.W. de Klerk and was attended by nearly 500 delegates.

By placing obstacles to the issuance of visas to delegates, South Africa lost an opportunity to showcase the country to journalists from a wide variety of foreign countries, as was done in 1994 with ascertainable positive economic results.

IPI members called on the South African government to explain the purpose was to adopt these obstructive tactics.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on authorities in Russia and Ukraine to end pressure on media and allow the open exchange of information

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on authorities in Russia and Ukraine to end pressure on news media and to allow the open exchange of information.

IPI members noted that as the world waits to see whether events following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine will lead to a military conflict that could potentially pull in other nations, a “media war” has already erupted in the region. They also noted that the first casualty has been the open exchange of information within and between both countries.

Journalists seeking to report from Crimea have faced violence, harassment and intimidation, and the signals of Ukrainian broadcasters have been blocked or dropped by cable providers in Crimea. Meanwhile, authorities and cable providers across Ukraine have blocked the programming of state-controlled media outlets from Russia, accusing those outlets of broadcasting falsehoods, war propaganda and hate speech. Russian journalists report having been denied entry to Ukraine, while Ukrainian and foreign journalists were barred from entering Crimea.

Press freedom has also suffered in Russia, where authorities have used the situation as a pretext to place ever-greater pressure on media outlets, with some going so far as to suggest that journalists and others who report unwelcome viewpoints are “traitors”. IPI members noted that these developments – coming in a region in which pressure on journalists and impunity for crimes against them have remained rampant in recent years – are particularly troubling, as they threaten to silence the few remaining independent voices in Russia.

Accordingly, IPI members expressed their solidarity with the thousands of Russians who took to the streets of Moscow on April 13, 2014 in a “March for Truth”, demonstrating “For a truthful and independent mass media”, “For the right of information”, and “For an open minded community without xenophobia”. IPI members also called on all authorities throughout Russia and Ukraine, including the de facto authorities in Crimea, to:

- End all official harassment and intimidation of news media, both foreign and domestic.

- Hold accountable all individuals involved in threats against or attacks on journalists.

- Allow all journalists free movement in order to carry out their duties.End the practice of blocking broadcasters' signals or pressuring cable providers to drop those signals, absent clear evidence of calls to violence.

- Refrain from all statements that could be construed as approval of harassment, intimidation or violence directed at journalists.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on all sides in Venezuela to ensure the safety of journalists and for the government to halt arbitrary detentions of media workers

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by majority vote a resolution calling on President Nicolas Maduro to ensure the safety of journalists and to halt government-led efforts to censor the media.

IPI members said the attacks against national and international journalists who have been covering recent public demonstrations undermine freedom of the press and access to information.

Taking into account complaints from journalists, IPI members said that the government must ensure a safe working environment for reporters and editors, who have faced arbitrary arrest and physical attacks by security forces following the outbreak of public demonstrations on Feb. 12, 2014. Additionally, a number of journalists have reported that their equipment was confiscated or that they were forced to delete footage of street unrest.

IPI members further expressed concern about policies that have led to tight supplies of newsprint purchased from foreign companies, forcing at least 10 newspapers to limit or suspend publication.

IPI members also called on the Venezuelan government to:

- Appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate reports of police attacks on journalists and allegations that equipment was illegally confiscated by the security forces.

- End the practice of censorship and/or restrictions on foreign and international media.

- Review policies that hamper the ability of newspapers to buy newsprint and other necessary supplies from foreign providers.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on the Ethiopian government to review its use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on the Ethiopian government to end its practice of arresting journalists under anti-terrorism laws and to review its anti-terror statutes to protect freedom of the press.

The members noted that the broad application of anti-terror measures against journalists impinges on fundamental rights – including freedoms of the press and expression, and access to information – that are guaranteed under the nation’s Constitution as well as on its obligations under United Nations and African Union treaties.

The use of the laws in Ethiopia to arrest and detain, in some cases without formal charges, have fuelled a sense of fear among media workers, both foreign and domestic.

In Ethiopia, at least six journalists have been convicted and imprisoned under the 2009 anti-terror law, some of whom are in failing health and have had restricted access to lawyers, friends and colleagues.

Noting Ethiopia’s high-profile role as home of the African Union, IPI members said that the government must ensure that journalists are allowed to report on national security, unrest and dissenting politics without fear of arbitrary arrest, harassment or intimidation under laws intended to prevent attacks or prosecute terrorists seeking to do physical harm.

Citing the conclusions of IPI’s press freedom mission to Ethiopia in November 2013, the IPI members urged the 547-member lower house of the Ethiopian parliament to revamp the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation – specifically sections 2(6), 4 and 6, which have been used to prosecute dozens of journalists and opposition politicians – to ensure that it does not trample on the rights of freedom of speech and assembly provided under Article 29 of the Ethiopian Constitution and further guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Covenant.

Additionally, the IPI membership called on Parliament to exercise its independent authority and investigate the use of anti-terror laws against journalists by the security forces and prosecutors, and to approve an amnesty for those imprisoned under these laws.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on the Egyptian government to review its use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists

The members of the International Press Institute (IPI), meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on the Egyptian government to end its practice of arresting journalists under anti-terrorism laws and to review its anti-terror statutes to protect freedom of the press.

The members noted that the broad application of anti-terror measures against journalists impinges on fundamental rights – including freedoms of the press and expression, and access to information – that are guaranteed under the nation’s Constitution as well as on its obligations under United Nations and African Union treaties.

The use of the laws in Egypt to arrest and detain, in some cases without formal charges, have fuelled a sense of fear among media workers, both foreign and domestic.

The IPI membership noted that since the military-led ouster of Egypt’s democratically elected president in July 2013, more than 20 journalists have been indicted on terrorism-related charges, including several Al Jazeera employees now facing trial in Cairo. 

Noting Egypt’s significant role in regional stability and as a crossroads between Africa, the Middle East and Europe, members said that the government must ensure that journalists are allowed to report on national security, unrest and dissenting politics without fear of arbitrary arrest, harassment or intimidation under laws intended to prevent attacks or prosecute terrorists seeking to do physical harm.

Taking into account the approval of a new Egyptian Constitution in January 2014, the IPI members urged future government leaders to move swiftly to revamp the country’s laws so that they adhere to the provisions of the new Constitution – specifically Articles 70, 71 and 72 which, respectively, ensure press freedom, freedom of publication and the independence of the news media, and also include protections against censorship, confiscation, suspension and closure of news media.

Additionally, the IPI membership called on Parliament to exercise its independent authority and investigate the use of anti-terror laws against journalists by the security forces and prosecutors.

 

IPI General Assembly resolution calling on Iran to respect press freedom and journalists’ rights

The members of the International Press Institute, meeting at their 63rd Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on April 14, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on the Islamic Republic of Iran to change its policies towards media outlets, journalists and media associations, and therewith ensure full respect of press freedom and journalists’ rights in adherence to Iran’s commitments to the international community.

As reported by IPI World Press Freedom Hero Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, 48 journalists are currently in prison in Iran, many held without charges in secret prisons. At least 500 newspapers and media outlets have been banned over the past 10 years and prevented from operating. Furthermore, the government in 2009 shut down under temporary orders the Association of Iranian Journalists, which included some 4,000 members, and has banned the association ever since.

IPI members noted that such restrictions are a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, and other international treaties that protect the journalists’ rights of assembly and to participate in the activities of journalists’ associations.

IPI members called on the Islamic Republic of Iran and its newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, to show their commitment to ending Iran’s isolation and to becoming an active member in the international community by:

- Unconditionally releasing all journalists currently held in Iranian prisons in connection with their work, as the criminalisation of journalistic activities breaches international standards on human rights.

- Lifting restrictions on news outlets and on the publication of newspapers, and permit the free flow of information and opinions.

- Allowing the Association of Iranian Journalists to operate freely and carry out its mission in support of journalists across the country without interference by authorities.