A Statement from the Commonwealth Journalists Association

    On the eve of the CHOGM, press freedom concerns linger in Commonwealth

    TORONTO, Nov. 21 /CNW/ - A cornerstone of the Commonwealth is the right
to freedom of expression. It is central to the Harare Principles, the
Millbrook Declaration and the Latimer House Rules to which all Commonwealth
member governments are committed.
    The Commonwealth record in freedom of expression is better than other
international organisations and the Commonwealth Journalists Association takes
some comfort from that. It is an enduring testimonial to the power of open
discourse and a free press as contributing factors to a strong democracy.
    However, in some parts of the Commonwealth as the Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting prepares to get underway in Kampala, Uganda, on Nov. 23,
the CJA worries about the assaults on press freedom. We cite such examples as:
    In The Gambia, Daily Observer journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh is missing
and believed to be detained, for more than a year. There's been a ban on
publication of The Independent, without court order and the use of state
broadcasting is most as a government mouthpiece, when the constitution
requires diversity of views. There are reportedly more Gambian journalists out
of the country than in it and those remaining in the country have resorted to
heavy self-censorship.
    In Pakistan, the state of emergency and the brutal stifling of opposition
voices and the independent media have severely stained the fabric of
democracy. Three well known journalists have been killed recently, Muhammed
Arif, a TV cameraman, lost his life during the bombing of Benazir Bhutto's
welcome-home procession. Azar Abbas Haidri of the Islamabad-based Post was
found shot dead for unclear reasons in Karachi in October. Rab Nawaz Chandio
of the Daily Halchal in Hyderabad was shot dead in September. Over 20
journalists were injured by police in Islamabad on Sept. 29, when they staged
a sit-in in the scrutiny of presidential candidates' nominations. This led to
a protest by the Pakistani journalists in London.
    In Sri Lanka, a student journalist was shot and killed in August. That
brought to eight the number of journalists who have been killed in Jaffna in
the past 18 months. On Oct. 26, the ministry of information withdrew the
licence of the ABC network of five radios because the network had broadcast a
report of an attack in Southern Sri Lanka which proved to be inaccure. Also in
October, a government media spokesman said that anyone criticizing the armed
forces was a traitor.
    In Zimbabwe, what appears to be a government hit-list of 15 journalists,
all on independent newspapers, has been leaked. Among those supposedly
targeted, Bill Saidi, deputy editor of The Standard, and Foster Dongozi,
secretary-general of of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. In another
incident, police in September raided a theatre, arresting two actors and James
Jemwa, a journalist filming the performance of a satirical play about Zimbabwe
    These are just a few of the scores of incidents of disturbing and
unwarranted beatings, detention, killings, censorship, and intimidation
against journalists that have been documented in many Commonwealth countries.
    The Commonwealth Journalists Association urges those attending the CHOGM
gathering in Kampala to set aside some time in their busy agenda to issue a
statement in support of the hundreds of journalists facing severe restrictions
in their work and at the same time condemn those Commonwealth countries that
shamefully impose such draconian measures on the media.

    Issued, Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For further information:

For further information: Bryan Cantley, Executive Director, Commonwealth
Journalists Association, (416) 575-5377

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