International Roundup: China, Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran

Chinese Research Assistant Zhao Yan Released from Chinese Prison

Zhao Yan, a Chinese research assistant for The New York Times, was released from prison in China in September 2007 after serving three years for a fraud conviction.

Zhao was an investigative reporter before he joined the Beijing bureau of The New York Times in 2004. He was detained by state security agents in September 2004 on charges of disclosing state secrets to the Times. Although the Chinese government did not release details of the charges, it alleged that Zhao was the source for an article that ran in the Times on former President Jiang Zemin’s plans to step down as Chairman of the Central Military Commission. (See “Endangered Journalists: Journalists in China” in the Fall 2004 issue of the Silha Bulletin and “Chinese Journalists Battle Censorship, Yahoo!” in the Fall 2006 issue.)

The Times denied that Zhao divulged any state secrets to the newspaper, according to a Sept. 14, 2007 story.

The state secrets charge against Zhao was first dismissed by a Beijing court in March 2006. PA Mediapoint, a British newswire service, reported on Sept. 17, 2007 that the charges were dismissed in an effort to ease strains with Washington before a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States in April 2006. According to the Times, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice lobbied for Zhao’s release with President Hu Jintao. The charges were then reinstated after the Chinese President returned to China, but were again dismissed after trial in June 2006.

A fraud charge was also added to the charges against Zhao after he was detained. The Times reported on September 14 that an official in Jilin Province stated that in exchange for a cash payment, Zhao promised to use his political influence to help him in a legal matter.

At trial in June 2006 on both charges, Zhao asserted that he was innocent, even challenging the court to subject him and the witnesses against him to a polygraph test, the Times reported on Sept. 14, 2007. Zhao’s lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, and Zhao was not allowed to call witnesses on his own behalf, according to the Times.

In August 2006, the Beijing court dismissed the state secrets charge, but it convicted him on the fraud charge.

According to the Times, Zhao’s arrest prompted an international outcry over the Chinese government’s treatment of media representatives.

Zhao issued a statement after his release from a Beijing detention center. “These three years I have missed my family very much, especially my maternal grandmother, who is now more than 100 years old,” the statement said, according to PA Mediapoint on September 17.

Japanese Photo Journalist Gunned Down in Rangoon

Japanese photo journalist Kenji Nagai was shot by a Burmese soldier on Sept. 26, 2007 as he was shooting video of panic-stricken demonstrators protesting against the ruling military junta in Rangoon, according to the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in an article posted to its Web Site, www.nppa.org, on September 26.

Nagai was standing on the edge of a crowd shooting video of Burmese soldiers advancing on the demonstrators near Sule Pagoda in the center of the Burmese capital when he was shot, according to the NPPA article.

The Times of London reported September 28 that footage of Nagai’s death was later broadcast on Japanese television networks. Video of a Japanese news broadcast showing the shooting is available online at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2550369.ece or at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUUQi1ooEAs.

The footage shows a Burmese soldier shoving Nagai to the ground. Lying face up, Nagai was holding his video camera above the ground in his right hand, ostensibly to protect it from damage. The officer shot him at point blank range. According to The Times, the official Burmese explanation for Nagai’s death was that he was killed by a stray bullet. The footage contradicts this explanation.

Nagai was a contract photographer for the Japanese news agency APF News, his father told the NPPA. He had come to Myanmar two days before to cover the anti-government protests organized by monks and other demonstrators.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said that Tokyo would press the junta for an explanation regarding the photo journalist’s death, according to The Times. The Japanese government is sending the deputy foreign minister to Burma to conduct inquiries.

Japan is the largest foreign donor of development aid to Burma. Foreign ministry sources told The Times that its donations to the country are now under review.

Zimbabwe Leaks “Hit List” Containing Names of 15 Journalists

A “hit list” including the names of 15 journalists was leaked in September 2007 from what appear to be official sources within the government of Zimbabwe. The list was published September 26 in the independent Zimbabwean press, according to Newswatch India, a media portal for journalists, in an article dated September 28 posted on its Web site, www.newswatch.in.

The list, dated June 2007, is printed on government letterhead and includes the headline “2008 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.” The journalists’ names are listed after a subheading, “Targeted Journalists.” Beneath their names is a note stating “The following media personnel and others as discussed in the previous meeting are to be placed under strict surveillance and taken in on the various dates set. They’re working hand in hand with hostile anti-Zimbabwe western governments.”

Several of the journalists on the list have already been the victims of violence. Abel Mutsakani, the former editor of the Zimbabwe daily newspaper The Daily News, which was banned in 2003, recently survived an assassination attempt in South Africa, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in an article on its Web site, www.ifj.org.

Gift Phiri, a correspondent of the London-based weekly newspaper The Zimbabwean, was arrested in April 2007 in Zimbabwe, charged with publishing false news and working without proper accreditation, and beaten during four days in police custody, according to the Paris-based free press advocacy group Reporters sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders or RSF) in an April 6, 2007 article on its Web site.

Bill Saidi, deputy editor of the newspaper The Standard, received threats in January 2007, including an envelope containing a bullet and a message warning him to “watch out,” the IFJ reported.

The Association of Zimbabwe Journalists issued a statement on September 29 calling on government officials to assure the safety of the journalists on the blacklist. It also stated that while it could not vouch for the authenticity of the hit list, “[T]he very existence of the list is cause for great concern as it reflects the hostile and harsh environment that Zimbabwean journalists operate under some of whom have been assaulted, harassed, arrested, tortured and detained in terms of the country’s repressive media laws.”

The IFJ also called on the government of Zimbabwe to guarantee the safety of journalists in an article on its Web site. “The government of President Robert Mugabe must make it clear to the international community that it is not targeting journalists,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “It can do that by guaranteeing the safety of all the journalists named and all other journalists in Zimbabwe.”

Iran Sentences Two Journalists to Death

Two Kurdish reporters were sentenced to death on July 16, 2007 by an Islamic tribunal on charges of “Moharebeh,” a word used in Sharia law to denote crimes against the religion and Islamic state.

Reporters Adnan Hassanpour and Abdoulvahid (also known as Hiwa) Boutimar were detained in the aftermath of Kurdish protests held in 2005 in Sanandaj, the capital of the western Iranian province of Kurdistan, according to the AP. Protesters were denouncing the killing of a Kurdish activist, Shwane Qaderi, by the Iranian police.

The RSF reported in an article dated August 29 on its Web site, www.rsf.org, that the revolutionary tribunal, a special court that tries individuals charged with crimes against national security, sentenced them for spying, “subversive activities against national security,” and “separatist propaganda.”

The official Islamic Republic News Agency had no information as to when or how the sentence would be carried out, according to the AP on July 31, 2007.

Both Hassanpour and Boutimar were writers for Asu, a Kurdish language weekly, before it was banned Aug. 4, 2005, according to the Inter Service Press, a non-profit international cooperative of journalists, on Aug. 1, 2007.

Hassanpour also contributed to foreign media such as Voice of America, the U.S. broadcasting service, and the Prague-based Radio Fardo, which broadcasts in Iran in the Persian language, RSF reported.

According to BBC News on July 31, such death sentences are rare in Iran. Government officials usually instead choose to imprison activist writers, journalists, and intellectuals without due process.

On September 7, RSF called on the Supreme Court “to allow a review of [the journalists’] trial and to quash their death sentences.”

- Amba Datta, Silha Research Assistant

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on October 21, 2009 12:42 PM.

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