Stiletto by Max Kolbe — January, 2010

Journo Deaths Strike a Record High in 2009

Thanks largely to the Ampatuan clan on Mindanao a record 121 journalists were killed in 2009. They died in 25 countries, and represented an increase of 33 percent from a year earlier, according to a report released by the Press Emblem Campaign.

It said the killings in the Southern Philippines marked the “worst massacre of journalists in history,” when 31 were killed in November during an attack on an electoral convoy in Maguindanao province.

“On average 10 journalists were killed per month by armed groups, criminal groups, governments and in terrorist acts,” Blaise Lempen, the group’s secretary general, said.

“Others were kidnapped or exiled and in many cases silenced while impunity continues.”

The Philippines had the highest media casualty numbers, and together with Mexico, Somalia, Pakistan, Russia and Iraq, accounted for two-thirds of the casualty count in 2009.

In Mexico, 13 journalists were killed as the battle against drugs and trafficking intensified. Another nine were killed in Somalia, caught in the cross fire and by terrorist attacks.

Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang was the last to die, killed alongside four Canadian soldiers by a massive explosion in Afghanistan on December 30.

In Russia, seven journalists were slain due mainly to the conflict in the Caucuses while some improvements were observed in Iraq compared to 2003-2007. Six journalists died there in 2009.

In the Philippines the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) is investigating allegations that its regional office had been giving special treatment to the four detained Ampatuan clan members, charged in connection with the November 23 Maguindanao massacre.

Philippine National Police Director General Jesus Versoza ordered the investigation following the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s report the detainees were allowed to use their mobile phones, and had their cooks and maids on hand to feed and clean their cells.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his younger brother Sajid were among the four while dad, Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr,. has been hospitalized.

Andal Jnr, a local mayor, was also among them.

Military officials said the clan were not receiving anything special but were simply being given the attention that fits a wounded soldier from battle. The poor things.

Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said Andal Sr has been “treated as a detained patient who receives the same food as our sick soldiers.”

“If he wants to order out, it is from his own pocket,” Cabangbang said.

And that’s not special treatment at all.

The Junta in Burma has been up to its old tricks. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has thrown some light on the harsh sentencing of Hla Hla Win, a broadcast journalist with the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

She was sentenced to 20 years in prison on December 30 for violating the vague and draconian Electronic Act.

The CPJ said Hla Hla Win was first arrested on September 11, 2009, on her way back from a DVB reporting assignment in Pakokku Township where she conducted interviews with Buddhist monks in a local monastery.

According to DVB editors, she was working on a story pegged to the second anniversary of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, when Buddhist monks rose up against the military-run government in countrywide protests which were violently suppressed.

On October 6, a Pakokku Township court sentenced Hla Hla Win and her assistant, Myint Naing, to seven years in prison for using an illegally imported motorcycle.

After interrogations in prison, they were both subsequently charged with violating Section 33 of the Electronic Act, which forbids unauthorized use of electronic media and is increasingly used by the regime to punish journalists and activists for sending information out of the country.

Hla Hla Win now faces a combined 27 years in prison for her reporting activities.

“Burma’s military government says that it is moving toward democracy, but at the same time continues to punish journalists with harsh sentences,” said CPJ’s Southeast Asia senior representative Shawn Crispin.

“Before the international community rewards the regime for holding ostensibly democratic elections this year, it should demand demonstrable progress on press freedom, including the unconditional release of Hla Hla Win.”

On the other side of the ledger, Chinese journalist Li Junqi has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for taking bribes to help cover up a coal mine disaster.

As the Hebei bureau chief of the Farmers Daily he was apparently among a number of journalists who were paid about 380,000 US dollars by mine officials.

The officials are also accused of moving bodies and destroying evidence after a July 2008 explosion in which 34 miners and a rescue worker were killed.

Nine more journalists are to be sentenced, and at least 48 officials also face charges of paying or taking bribes.

Meanwhile The Vietnam Journalists’ Association (VJA) has condemned attacks on three of its members. Interesting, the VJA’s complaint made it into the official government media.

In the most serious case, reporter Tran The Dung was seriously beaten while working on a story about about poultry smuggling in the northern province of Lang Son.

Reporters Vo Minh Chau and Minh Thuy from Tien Phong newspaper were attacked in the central province of Ha Tinh while investigating reports of land grabbing.

Le Quoc Trung, VJA deputy chairman, condemned the attacks and asked local authorities to protect reporters as the go about their daily work.

Trung said journalists had a right to be protected.

ENDS

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