(Annie Game, IFEX Executive Director)
Thanks so much to everyone who networked, shared, debated, learned, laughed and in any other way contributed their time and energy to participating at the 2011 IFEX GM and Strategy Conference in Beirut. While some stories may never surface…there is certainly enough in circulation that testifies to the success of the conference. We realise how busy you are and how hard everyone works so taking the time to prepare for and attend is very much appreciated. We were fortunate to have such great resource people on deck and a crowd of very engaged and inquiring participants…a hotbed of free expression in action; just what we all hoped for!
We also extend our thanks to the donors who contributed and saw the great value in bringing the network together and who continue to support the work of IFEX and its members. Also our appreciation goes to Maharat and the incredible hospitality of the Lebanese people who added so much to our stay while in Beirut. We all took away good memories and in many cases a few extra pounds!
We learned a lot and made new connections and reinforced others. Our hope is that the success of the conference will continue to resound in the ongoing efforts of the network in its defence and promotion of free expression and we continue to build on our successes.
Thanks again and best wishes from all of us at the Clearing House.
(Rachael Kay, IFEX Manager)
Following the voting and with great applause IFEX members attending the IFEX General Meeting in Beirut welcomed their new Council on Tuesday 31 May 2011. The new Council’s first task was to elect the Convenor, Deputy Convenor and 2 other members of the Executive Committee which they did that afternoon.
Meet your new IFEX Council members for 2011-2013:
*IFEX Convenor: Edetaen Ojo, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
*Deputy IFEX Convenor: Melinda Quintos de Jesus, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), The Philippines
Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
*Wesley Gibbings, Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), Trinidad and Tobago
*Arnold Amber, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Olga Kravtsova, Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES), Russia
Maria Salazar-Ferro, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), USA
Andrés d’Alessandro, Foro de Periodismo Argentino (FOPEA), Argentina
*Corina Cepoi, Independent Journalism Center, Moldova
Sulemana Braimah, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana
Matai Akauola, Pacific Islands News Association (PINA), Fiji Islands
Owais Aslam Ali, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
Riham Abu Aita, Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), Palestine
(*Executive Committee members are denoted with an asterisk)
The Council acts on behalf of IFEX members as it oversees policy, deals with all strategic and substantial matters facing IFEX between general meetings and participates in the development of the agenda for the General Meeting. IFEX Clearing House work is guided by the Council and all projects of IFEX are the Council’s responsibility. The Executive Committee is charged with considering applications for membership and assisting the Council in dealing with any crises and issues that may occur in consultation with their colleagues on Council.
As you can see from the class photo above we have not only a very diverse, experienced and committed group of individuals willing to serve but also a very good looking gang which can never hurt on the website!
Smile! You were captured on film in Beirut. Below is just a sampling. Check out our Flickr IFEX GM 2011 Pool to see if you made the cut, and to add your own photos (Matai, Melanie and Emin, we’re talking to you)!
The following joint actions were agreed upon by dozens of IFEX member groups at the IFEX conference in Beirut:
On 1 June, the King of Bahrain has promised to end the state of emergency he imposed in mid-March to quell pro-democracy demonstrations. This would be a welcome occasion for the Bahraini government to end human rights abuses including lifting the travel ban on Nabeel Rajab so that he can join us in Beirut.
Even though a new government has been formed in Burma after the elections in November 2010, there is still no guarantee of improvements in the country’s media environment.
IFEX members note with alarm the efforts of China’s authorities to restrict freedom of expression in regard to debate on political reform in China, following reform movements in the Middle East and North Africa since late 2010.
IFEX members express their concern over the current situation of press freedom in Ecuador and the conditions of extreme hostility in which the country’s journalists and private media must do their work.
The detained journalists are held without charges and forced to endure terrible conditions such as extended periods in the sun and denial of medication.
Representatives from the international community of journalists’ organisations and press freedom defenders gathered in Lebanon for IFEX’s bi-annual conference and urged the Pakistani government and its law-enforcement and security agencies to take immediate action to implement all appropriate measures to protect media personnel and to prosecute murderers of journalists.
Thirty-six IFEX members, along with Centre for Law and Democracy and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, expressed concern about the 12 April resolution of the Court of Appeals, Manila Special Division of Five, requiring Monette Salaysay and Rowena Paraan to explain why they should not be held in contempt for comments attributed to them in a “Philippine Daily Inquirer” article regarding the Ampatuan Town Massacre trials.
IFEX members condemn the increased attacks and judicial harassment against Somali journalists and media organisations.
The groups urged President Rajapaksa to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, to Sri Lanka, while expressing deep concern for journalists who continue to be subjected to threats, harassment and assaults with alarming regularity.
(Kristina Stockwood, IFEX MENA Outreach Coordinator) At a meeting of 20 rights groups including IFEX members attending the GM in Beirut on 2 June, Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights joined the group by skype to give an overview of the current situation in Bahrain. He says, “My people began to protest peacefully since 14 February. They didn’t want to remove the government but just have democratic reform, respect for human rights and anti-corruption. For that the government has responded with a bloody crackdown with troops from Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Jordan. They have been arresting people, raiding homes and mosques. People wanted democratic reform but then the government wanted to try to frame it as a religious dispute.”
As Nabeel is speaking he can hear the helicopters overhead above his house.
He continues, “At least 2 people for every thousand people are in jail all of them systematically tortured. At least one editor and blogger have been tortured to death. There are journalists, photographers and editors all in detention, many have left the country. Anyone who criticises the government is jailed. Many people have been interrogated including myself for 6 hours on 31 May for interviews with international media.”
Zainab Al Khawaja has been called for interrogation right now [but then released.] Nabeel syas, “Her crime is doing an interview with CNN and other TV stations. Her father, husband, brother in law and uncle are all in jail All of the people who were jailed are tortured badly. All of them – if they come out of jail – they are silenced. All bloggers are silenced except a few people still blogging with fake names.”
Only a few brave people are free – in the sense that they are not in jail, but not in any other way- except for a few like Nabeel and Zainab. Thousands have been fired from their jobs. University students are in court for tweeting or Facebook criticism and saying they would go to pearl roundabout to protest. Nabeel says, “Harassment is severe for rights defenders.”
Nabeel was arrested 2 months ago and tortured in a car and then let go after he was woken in the night with masked men pointing guns in his head, at 2 oclock in the morning. “My daughter had to experience this – she was there with me,” he says, noting she is very young and has been tramautised. On 21 March, there was a teargas attack on his house which hurt his mother but they saved her an gave her oxygen. His house was last week again attacked by teargas which happens he says “every time I go on the tv and do interviews.”
Nabeel repeatedly thanked the IFEX members and Clearing House staff for their support, along with other international NGOs like Frontline. He said, “Thank you for the statements by ANHRI and Maharat (http://ifex.org/bahrain/2011/05/31/travel_ban/) about these attacks. The Bahraini people feel happy that people are watching and happy to stand with them. We are a victim of the foreign policy of governments. People feel alone. We can be arrested and tortured and sexually assaulted all the time. We see silence from the west because this region has a lot of friends, especially Saudi Arabia which is a known human right violator. This region is the worst region for violations. We are victims of the west who won’t criticise the Bahrain government even though they criticised Libya and supported the revolutions in Egypt or Tunisia. But the international human rights groups with the help of IFEX give us support. You don’t know how much those statements mean. It sounds easy to sign a statement but it’s very important, influential and touching, people really feel very happy that people are watching these crimes and are getting very angry about these violations. Human rights groups are angry at their governments’ policy towards this region. For how long will they be silent? Can the rights groups influence their own governments?”
Nabeel also notes the silence of regional media. He says, “Al Jazeera took a leading role in giving voice to the revolution in other countries, like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt but silent on Bahrain (Al Jazeera English is much better but the Arabic one is influenced by Gulf policy). In the last couple of weeks, we are seeing a bit of movement in media. A few newspapers and TV channels that are pro-democracy will mention it. But really compared to other democracy movements we are not getting coverage.”
He says there are protests going on now in Bahrain: “I am supposed to be in the street right now protesting with my people where I always am. But I wanted to talk to you now because I couldn’t be with you since we met at the IFEX meeting in Oslo in 2009.”
He closes, “Thank you, your support is like air for us, it’s like hope for us. It is lifting our spirit. I admire IFEX members and IFEX staff for their help. I am proud to be a part of the IFEX family.”
He says if the government is serious about dialogue now that the state of mergency is lifed, they must stop persecuting people for doing their human rights work, lift bans on blogs and newspapers, allow newspapers to publish freely.
His message to international NGOs: “You are the only hope we have.” The group was visibly moved by his comments and we went around the room as each person promised their solidarity. Some of the people will join a fact-finding mission – colleagues from Europe, Tunisia, Egypt will all try to go to Bahrain. Watch for upcoming news on IFEX about Bahrain, including trial monitoring of rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and blogger Abdulhadi AlKhawaja who will be sentenced on 22 June – they are in jail and being tortured for peacefully protesting. IFEX members have repeatedly called for their release: http://ifex.org/bahrain/
(Erin Woycik, Action Alert Coordinator)
As an Alerts Coordinator I have spent the last two and half years emailing with many of our IFEX members, asking questions about their alerts, learning from their websites and reading their reports. These past few days have allowed me to FINALLY put faces to names and to truly be inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of our network. Seeing so many representatives here in person has given me a fresh perspective both on my work and the strength of IFEX.
Yesterday I went to a Campaigns Strategy session with Rafael Barca where people from Hong Kong, Uganda, Thailand and Russia worked together to help set possible objectives for each others’ campaigns. At the Clearing House I have helped with the Campaigns section of the website, but I was so glad to have the opportunity to see Rafael bring that content to life. He was very frank about setting objectives that are achievable and making sure that organisations do not set themselves up to fail. We discussed potential allies and opponents and how to evaluate their attitudes and influence. You can read about these tools on the IFEX Tools and Resources pages.
Today I was able to listen in on discussions participants were having with Gilberto Cutrupi and Ramsey George from the Tactical Technology Collective. Their tips on changing passwords to pass-paragraphs and not leaving online login information on post-it notes have been circulating by word of mouth – I’ve now heard about them from at least 5 different people!
Thanks to everyone for their energetic contributions to these past few days. I look forward to seeing your names in my email inbox when I get back to Toronto and continuing our conversations online until we meet again!
(Annie Game – Executive Director) Here we are in Beirut bustling around and finalizing details for the IFEX GM and Strategy Conference. As you can see from the photo it is pretty clear sailing out our window; we are hoping it will be the same for everyone making their way here to join us. Our country hosts Maharat are busy helping with the finishing touches for the final reveal and like us very excited about next week. Being in Beirut together will be a unique opportunity for us to meet with colleagues from the region who will give us the insider view of what we are calling the Many Seasons of Arab Spring.
Following the e-G8 in France this week Netizens were heard voicing their concerns about the implications of what French President Sarkozy called the “civilizing “ of the internet. Just in time, on Wednesday June 1 the day is filled with seminars, workshops and meetings devoted to digital security, online advocacy and new internet laws which surely will have the room buzzing with ideas and opinions. That is our hope!