World News You Missed in July

Yemen and Uganda, July 2

Arrested Yemeni Reporter Critical of Coalition Is Released

A Yemeni journalist known for his critiques of the Saudi-led coalition against the country’s Shiite Houthi rebel group was released after spending hours in police custody.

Fathy bin Lazrq, editor-in-chief of the Yemen-based Aden Al Ghad newspaper, was reportedly driving when he was stopped by authorities and arrested.

Bin Lazrq has openly criticized the coalition in various online posts, most recently alleging that reports of the coalition providing Yemeni citizens with millions of dollars in aid and services were false.

Reporting by bin Lazrq has brought attention to what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The three-year civil war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels has left thousands dead and over 8 million at risk of starvation.

Ugandans Angered By New Tax for Using Social Media

Ugandan government officials implemented a new social media tax, sparking outrage from journalists and citizens from the East African country.

The tax now requires social media users to pay a fee upfront to access all social media sites, in addition to usual data fees.

The measure received sharp criticism as an attack on free speech after long-time President Yoweri Museveni initially proposed it in a letter last March, in which he complained of online gossip and called on the finance minister to raise money to “cope with the consequences.”

Sri Lanka, July 3

Sri Lankan Lawmakers Target Reporters in Times Investigation

A group of Sri Lankan lawmakers openly criticized New York Times reporters after an investigation revealed how China seized one of the country’s seaports.

The lawmakers, who are allies of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said in a press conference that journalists Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wamanan were working on behalf of the current government in an attempt to defame Rajapaksa’s image.

In response, New York Times International Editor Michael Slackman said that the lawmakers’ claims were false and that the article on the seized seaport was thoroughly reported.

“It is unacceptable for journalists to be intimidated in this way,” Slackman said. “This action appears intended to silence critics and curb press freedoms, and ultimately deprive Sri Lankans of information in the public interest.”

Syria and Cambodia, July 6

Japanese Journalist, Missing in Syria Since 2015, Appears in New Video

After disappearing three years ago, a Japanese journalist who is believed to be a hostage of terrorists appeared in a recent video aired on Japanese television.

Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance reporter often known for reporting on war zones, went missing after traveling to Syria in 2015 to cover the country’s civil war. It was believed that he was kidnapped by Nusra Front, now called Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a group known to capture foreigners for ransom.

While the Japanese Nippon News Network aired the video of Yasuda, which was reportedly sent by someone connected to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the Japanese government has historically been unsympathetic to those who willingly go into danger zones, consistently refusing to pay ransom for hostages.

Cambodia ‘Fake News’ Crackdown Prompts Fears Over Press Freedom

The Cambodian government implemented new social media and press restrictions just weeks before the country re-elected Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 29, 2018.

The directive, aimed at cracking down on “fake news,” states that violators could be jailed for up to two years and fined $1,000. The measure also requires websites to register with Cambodia’s information ministry.

The move is seen by press freedom organizations as Sen’s latest attempt to maintain his 33-year-long hold on power, especially after dissolving Cambodia’s opposition party and repeatedly jailing critics.

South Korea, July 9

Seoul Metro Bans Feminist Ads on Metro Stations

Labor rights groups and feminist activists are denouncing a recent decision by South Korea’s Seoul Metro to ban ads that contain “personal opinions or motivations,”such as ones that promote ideologies of feminist organizations.

Seoul Metro made the decision following a series of controversial ads over the past year, including one in May by students at Sookmyung Women’s University that attempted to protest misogyny and spycam porn videos at the subway station named after their school.

The Seoul Metro Labor Union immediately condemned the decision, calling it a limitation on free speech.

“We believe metro stations in Seoul are a wonderful space for Seoul citizens to share their opinions freely, as the city does not provide such spaces, especially for students, social minorities and civic groups,” the union said in a statement.

Cyprus and India, July 10

OSCE Official Defends Journalists’ Glossary in Split Cyprus

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recently created a glossary for journalists that contains alternatives to terms deemed offensive or negative in their reporting on the decades-long conflict in ethnically-divided Cyprus.

The tension between the journalists and citizens of Cyprus stems back to the Turkish military invasion and occupation of the island nation in 1974.

Today, Greek Cypriot journalists and some political parties have called it an attempt to limit free speech and skew historical facts, despite the fact that the glossary was compiled by journalists from both the Turkish north and Greek south.

WhatsApp Launches Indian Media Blitz to Dispel Fake News Woes

After a series of beatings and deaths triggered by false messages in India, Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform published advertisements in various Indian newspapers to combat the spread of further misinformation.

According to Reuters, fake messages from WhatsApp prompted numerous mob lynchings in India, the app’s biggest market with more than 200 million users.

The recent ads by WhatsApp called for readers to carefully review information before sharing it. A spokesman for the app said in a statement that the ads are part of an education campaign in India to stop the spread of online fake news.

Zimbabwe, July 14

‘Free But Not Free’: Zimbabwe’s Amateur Filmmakers Turn A Lens On Their Country

In a country that was plagued by authoritarian rule under former president Robert Mugabe, for over 37 years, criticising the government meant arrest or physical punishment. Even after Mugabe’s reign, a law still exists criminalizing open disdain for the sitting president.

Since former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa rose to power, Zimbabweans are experiencing more freedom of expression than ever before, including Nigel Munyati, the director of the Zimbabwean International Film and Festival Trust.

In April, Munyati launched a smartphone short film competition centered around the question, “What does it mean to be Zimbabwean?” At first, people were hesitant to submit their true thoughts but soon after, almost 50 submissions were sent in showing a vast range of perspectives, each expressed in their own way.  

Nigeria and Uzbekistan, July 16

Two Years After, Coalition Seeks Release of Detained Bayelsa Journalist

The Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom called on the Nigerian federal government to release Jones Abiri, publisher of the Bayelsa State-based Weekly Source newspaper. Abiri has been detained without charge for two years.

Upon arrest in 2016, officials from the Nigerian Department of State Services alleged that Abiri was the leader of the separatist group Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, and claimed that Abiri had confessed to bombing oil pipelines, sending threatening messages to international oil companies and planning a fake military coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.

The coalition said in a statement that there was no justification for these claims, nor for Abiri’s arrest without trial, and that his detainment directly violates Nigeria’s constitution. The statement was endorsed by both local and global press freedom organizations, including the International Press Centre and the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Uzbek Journalist Bekjon Reunited With Family In U.S. After 18 Years In Prison

After almost 18 years behind bars, Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjon was reunited with his family and allowed travel to the United States.

Listed by Reporters Without Borders as “one of the world’s longest-held journalists,” Bekjon was editor-in-chief of the pro-democracy Erk (Freedom) newspaper within Uzbekistan’s authoritative regime. In 1999, he was kidnapped and later convicted of being involved in an alleged terrorist attack against then President Islam Karimov.

British News, Egypt and Myanmar, July 17

Gender Pay Gap Figures 2018: Guardian, BBC and Financial Times First Media Organizations to Publish Reduced Wage Gaps

In the era of #MeToo and Times Up, multiple UK-based news outlets have published the gender wage gaps for their reporters for 2018 one year after the first legal requirement to publish the statistics passed. This requires companies with 250 or more employees to publish annual figures comparing men and women’s average pay, including figures from 2017.

For The Guardian and its affiliate, The Observer, the wage gap between male and female staff dropped from 12.1 percent to 8.4 percent, still favoring the men. BBC cut its median gender pay gap by one-fifth, with hopes to eradicate the gap entirely by 2020. The Financial Times wage gap lowered slightly by 1 percent, with women still making 18.4 percent less than their male counterparts.

While gender wage gaps exist in all industries, it is particularly crucial that news outlets be transparent about efforts to remedy injustice in their own newsrooms as they uncover inequality in other spheres of work.

Egypt to Regulate Popular Social Media Users

The Egyptian parliament passed a controversial law allowing the government to regulate social media users. It states that personal social media accounts, blogs or websites with over 5,000 followers could be considered a news outlet and would be subject to existing restrictive media laws.

Multiple critics see this move as a means to further censor free speech in Egypt, especially after the recent arrests of opposition activists charged of “spreading false news online.”

The new law affects platforms including Facebook and Twitter. Those that protest against or break the law will answer to the Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, which is supervising these oppressive changes.

Myanmar Reuters Reporter Says He Was Hooded, Deprived of Sleep

Two journalists from Reuters who were arrested in Myanmar while investigating a series of mass graves containing Rohingya Muslims have claimed that they were hooded and deprived of sleep following the arrest. The two reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, face up to 14 years in prison if they are convicted of the official secrets law.

The Rohingya are a minority Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar who have fled to neighboring countries to escape rape, massacre and crushing poverty.

“The police took us to a place but they covered our heads with masks,” Wa Lone said.

He and his colleague were arrested in December in Yangon and driven to a secret location after investigating the murder of 10 Rohingya men in September.

Israel and Guatemala, July 18

Netanyahu Nixes Controversial ‘Facebook Law’ Allowing Censorship of Social Media

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked a bill that would allow the government to monitor and censor social media in the country. Specifically, content could be deleted, without the need for a criminal proceeding or evidence, if it was found to incite terrorism.

Though the bill is known as the ‘Facebook law,’ it would impact all platforms, including Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, YouTube and Reddit. Civil rights groups immediately called for the blocking of this legislation. The Israel Democracy Institute said the bill would “effectively create censorship” and “harm political speech in this country tremendously.”

In the midst of recent heightened tension at the Israeli-Palestinian border, many were afraid that those most affected by this bill would be Palestinians describing daily hardship. Reports also show that Israel’s security services monitor Palestinians’ social media accounts on a constant basis, giving them grounds to arrest hundreds of people in recent years who have “incited violence” on various platforms.

Guatemalan Chancellor Uses Law Meant to Protect Women to Get Judge to Silence Criticism from Journalist

The Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs used a law designed to protect women from violence in order to silence a reporter from continuing to publish articles pertaining to said violence or the minister himself.

Reports show that the minister has abused this law in order to prevent José Rubén Zamora, founder and director of elPeriódico, from publishing articles pertaining to corruption cases and other hard-hitting news. Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti used a similar strategy to attack Zamora during her time in office in order to protect the reputations of those in power.

Judges have engaged in this behavior as well, one of which banned Zamora from mentioning Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel in his publications for a period of three months. Should Zamora mention Jovel again, he could face jail time.  

Romania and Bulgaria, July 19

Radio Free Europe to Resume Broadcasts in Romania, Bulgaria

In an effort to mitigate the spread of fake news in the region, Radio Free Europe announced that it would resume news services in Romania and Bulgaria. The news outlet had not worked in  Bulgaria since 2004 and in Romania since 2008.

Radio Free Europe president Thomas Kent said in a statement that “government officials, civil society representatives and journalists… have expressed concern that disinformation, corruption, and social division are undermining their political systems.”

The decision was made to curb low-quality journalism as a result of lack of resources to fund accurate and effective reporting.

Egypt, July 24

Jailed for Five Years, Journalist Arrested in Egypt Could Face Death Penalty. ‘We Miss Everything About Him,’ His Father Says

Award-winning journalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid was arrested on Aug. 14, 2013, and charged with illegal assembly, possession of a weapon, murder and attempted murder while on assignment for former British photo agency Demotix.

Abou Zeid caught on camera the violent clashes between security forces and supporters of the former president, resulting in the death and arrests of hundreds of civilians.

After five years of imprisonment, the court is expected to give a verdict. Abou Zeid’s family never waned in their support and now pray not only for his return home, but for escape from the death penalty.

Philippines, July 31

Journalists Attacked, Threatened and Arrested Covering Strikes in the Philippines

Journalists were arrested as they covered workers striking at the NutriAsia factory in Marilao, Bulacan in the Philippines on Monday, July 30, 2018. While the workers did not have a union to back them up, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have denounced the arrests of the journalists who had clearly not joined in the protest but, instead, were reporting on the events taking place.

A total of 19 people were arrested, four of which were journalists. When asked why they were arrested, the reporters were told that police had discovered drugs and weapons supposedly owned by the journalists. They were then told that permits were required for covering events such as workers’ strikes.

The IFJ said in a statement: “The actions of the local police and guards covering the NutriAsia strike against the media are a blatant violation of press freedom. The allegations against the arrested journalists are outrageous claims, simply made in an attempt to validate the police actions. We stand with NUJP and demand the arrested journalist be immediately released and all charges withdrawn.”

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