Thursday, March 27, 2014

The custom of vani: Tit-for-tat, the tribal way

Even when victims are able to register a case, this seldom leads to justice.
Faisalabad:  What started as an elopement has devolved into a criminal case involving forced marriage, gang-rape and torture. 22-year-old Saleem*, of Chiniot’s Mawar Bhattian locality, eloped with 19-year-old Baano* on 27th February this year, after the girl’s parents did not consent to the marriage. Baano’s father, Mukhtar*, then called for a punchayat [a form of jirga held in tribal regions of Punjab] and demanded his daughter’s return.
The punchayatees [elders at a Punchayat] came to an agreement that Saleem had disgraced Mukhtar’s family and so, Saleem’s 20-year-old sister, SB*, should be handed over to Baano’s 24-year-old brother, Zulfiqar*. When SB refused to comply, she was kidnapped and her thumb impressions forcibly made on her nikkahnama to Zulfiqar on 1st March.
Two weeks later, Zulfiqar reported that his new wife was ‘out of his control’; she was subsequently divorced and remarried to Zulfiqar’s 50-year-old uncle, Noman*. At his haveli, SB was reportedly gang-raped by her new husband and three other men. She was stripped and tied to a tree inside the haveli. Noman then sent a message to SB’s family, saying, “Hand over Baano to us and take SB from here.”
The practice of vani
In tribal areas, girls pay the price for crimes committed by men of their family. A man commits a crime and in return, a girl from his family, aged between 4 to 14 years, is ‘forcibly’ married to a man from the aggrieved party’s family. This is the tribal tradition of vani. A 400-year-old tradition, this practice was initially used to settle feuds between tribes. Later, tribal elders called for jirgas in which girls were declared vani. Although banned and declared illegal by the government in 2011, the custom still exists and has spilled over into other provinces in the country.
SB’s family informed the police of the treatment meted out to her, and she was rescued by elders from the haveli and returned to her home. When the media took notice of the case on March 19th, an FIR was registered – five days after the incident took place – at the Muhammad Wala police station in Chiniot.
“We did not register an FIR earlier because SB had not approached us immediately after the incident,” said an official at the police station. On the other hand, SB says she went to the police station but was told to go to another station. “I was running from one police station to another,” SB told The Express Tribune. SB’s father is said to be under pressure from the accused party to withdraw the case. Additionally, locals have refused to give testimony in the case, fearing retaliation.
Making a case
According to Advocate Chaudhary Umar Daraz Aasi, SB’s lawyer, the police did not handle the case correctly. “If a female is married twice without completion of Iddat, it is considered manhoos (ominous). The punchayat deliberately did this to disgrace SB,” he said.
Aasi said the accused rapists are in police custody and are being treated well as they are ‘influential people’ in the area. While speaking to The Express Tribune, Aasi shared that the police is pressuring SB to retract her statements. “She is being threatened. The police have told her that they will implicate her in fabricated cases if she does not take her case back.”
SB’s advocate also revealed that sections 310-A and 354-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) were not added to the FIR. According to section 310-A, “Whoever gives a female in marriage or otherwise in badal-i-sulh shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to ten years but shall not be less than three years.” On the other hand, section 354-A says, “Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman and strips her of her clothes and in that condition, exposes her to the public view, shall be punished with death or with imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
District Prosecution Officer Imtiaz Ahmad said the FIR includes only section 376 (2). It says: “When rape is committed by two or more persons in furtherance of common intention of all, each of such persons shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.”
Investigation Officer Ahmad Khan Sapra, a sub-inspector at Muhammad Wala police station, said that 10 out of the 12 accused have been arrested while two were given bail. He said that evidence and statements collected in defence of the accused have questioned SB’s account. “They have created doubts as to whether the gang rape and torture ever took place,” he said. Sapra further revealed that an initial medical report, conducted by a female medical officer of District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital Chiniot, revealed that injuries on SB’s body were 10 to 12 days old.
“The statements recorded in favor of the accused by notables of the area pointed out that the accused has been implicated in the case for taking revenge at the instigation of their opponents,” Sapra claimed.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2014.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Seminar on Media Ethics

Seminar on Media Ethics
Speakers at a seminar on Tuesday urged media to make ensure implementation of the media ethics, end to sensationalism in news, and give solution to the social issues of common man, instead of focusing on crime and politics in large. They were addressing a seminar on Media Ethics arranged by Public Relations and Publications Department, University of Agriculture Faisalabad and Higher Education Commission in collaboration with the Press Council of Pakistan. The Council Chairman, Justice (r) Shafqat Abbasi, chaired the seminar while Director Publication, HEC, Ayesha Ikram, UAF Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan, former Dean, Punjab University, Prof Dr Mughees ud Din Shiekh, Dr A.R Khalid and journalist Shamus Islam  Naz were guests of hounour on the occasion.      
Justice (r) Shafqat Abbasi said that the self-regulation within the media organizations must be developed to keep a check on the media ethics and make it ensure to convey real issues of the public by ending sensationalism. He said press councils were functioning in the 90 countries across the globe. By involving the journalists, civil society, members of parliament and others, we are determined to make Press Council of Pakistan more effective in order to implement the media ethics and framing a course of action in this regard. He said that the council also worked to address the issues of the common man and the media persons.  Lauding the efforts made on the part of the media persons, the credit goes to the journalists who are doing their best to give information to the people even in the time of war. 
He said that the press council was constituted in India in 1965, Bangladesh 1975 and in Pakistan, it started functioning a couple of years ago. But the Indian media was not enjoying freedom of Press as Pakistani journalists  were enjoying under the constitution.
UAF Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan stressed the need to avoid the sensationalism. Uses and gratification process should have the truth, accuracy and reality in news, information and cultural goods. He lauded the efforts of the journalists to highlight the issue of the county and aware he people about the various issues of national interests. He said that the University is launching a FM radio to guide the farming community about the latest agricultural practices of the country. He said that under the outreach programs and Agri Extension, the university was putting its best to translate the knowledge into good and services by using the mass communication.  
Ayesha Ikram said that no one can deny the importance of the media as it is the power to change the minds and the presenting the real picture and truth was prerequisite to make development. He said that in this regard, the media was doing tremendous job to give voice to the issues of the common man. She said media had the power to change the public opinion and this power must be used for social changes, social mobilization, awareness and give a roadmap to the progress of the nation.    
Prof Dr Mughees Ud Din Sheikh said that it was must to follow the objectivity but absolute objectivity was a mere a dream as the frame of minds affect the selection and news treatment.  He said it is very vital to prioritize the socio political health of the public through credible and news worthy information and positive entertainment.
Dr A.R Khalid said that it is vital to ensure the national security at every stage in the production process of news and cultural goods.  He said that the constitution of the Pakistan in article 19 A gives the freedom of the press that must be used keeping in view the presenting the real issues instead of sensationalism. He stressed the need to spread the truth in the society. He also said to shun the blame game. Ha lauded the efforts of media for the progress of the country.
Shamsul Islam Naz said according to a survey, the majority of people from Pakistan believed that the media failing to present the real picture and truth. He said media ethics kept the journalism and cultural industries with the responsibility to perform for the betterment of society, but in the race to be first in delivering the news and information to the audience and for the sake of being popular among the viewers, readers and listeners, they compromised the media ethical values. PRP Principal Officer said Prof Dr Jalal Arif said that that it is still a debatable issue that to what extent media has liberty to act upon the code of ethics and to what limits they intentionally do not follow the rules to gain advantage of the corporate world.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Journalist killed by sniper fire in eastern Syria

Journalist killed by sniper fire in eastern Syria
A journalist falls to the ground amid sniper fire in the ancient Christian Syrian town of Maalula. (file photo)
A journalist falls to the ground amid sniper fire in the ancient Christian Syrian town of Maalula. (file photo)

A cameraman working with a Beirut-based television channel has been killed in eastern Syria, becoming the latest journalist to lose his life in the war-torn country.
Omar Abdel Qader, who worked for al-Mayadeen station, was killed on Saturday in Deir Ezzor, the largest city in eastern Syria.
The privately-owned channel said Abdel Qader was killed on his 27th birthday while covering clashes between Syrian troops and foreign-backed militants in Deir Ezzor.
In a telephone interview, a Syrian army officer told the broadcaster that the cameraman died in hospital after he was "shot in the neck by a sniper from a distance."
Dozens of journalists, including a Press TV correspondent, have been killed in Syria since the deadly conflict began more than three years ago.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has described Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, blaming al-Qaeda-linked militants for kidnappings and murders of journalists, even in neighboring Iraq.
According Reporters Without Borders (RSF), over 130 news providers were killed in Syria between March 2011 to December 2013.
More than 130,000 people are said to have been killed and millions displaced in Syria since the country plunged into rampant violence in March 2011.
The Western powers and their regional allies -- namely Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – have reportedly been supporting the militants operating inside Syria

Syrian journalist killed covering fighting - Al Mayadeen TV

Syrian journalist killed covering fighting - Al Mayadeen TV

(Reuters) / 9 March 2014

Beirut-based Al Mayadeen said on its website that its cameraman Omar Abdelqader was shot in the neck on Saturday and was pronounced dead in hospital shortly afterwards. 

A Syrian journalist has been killed covering clashes between government forces and opposition fighters in the eastern city of Deir al Zor, a regional broadcaster said.
Beirut-based Al Mayadeen said on its website that its cameraman Omar Abdelqader was shot in the neck on Saturday and was pronounced dead in hospital shortly afterwards.
Syria was the deadliest place for journalists in 2013 for the second year, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a media rights group based in New York, said in December.
At least 29 journalists were killed last year in a three-year-old conflict that turned into civil war after a crackdown on peaceful protests, and has claimed more that 140,000 lives.
Al Mayadeen quoted a local Syrian military commander as saying Abdelqader was shot by a sniper while he was filming government forces advancing on an area in the rebel-held city.

His sister was quoted as saying the family was preparing to celebrate his 27th birthday when news of his death arrived.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Forced to flee false perceptions, ICC, and Kenyan press

Forced to flee false perceptions, ICC, and Kenyan press

Omwa Ombara left Kenya for the United States. (CPJ)
Omwa Ombara left Kenya for the United States. (CPJ)
EDITOR'S NOTE: February 15, 2014 marked one year since Omwa Ombara arrived in the U.S. to seek political asylum after attempts on her life in Kenya between May and December 2012. She fled her native land after being contacted by International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators probing the violence that followed the Kenyan elections in 2007-2008, in which more than 1,000 people were killed, according to news reports. Ombara was never a witness, nor did she ever meet any ICC investigators, but the mere suspicion that she was participating in the ICC process prompted a spate of threats. She describes her own ordeal and the culture of silence that has settled over most of the Kenyan media. CPJ's Journalist Assistance program supported Ombara throughout her ordeal.
As the world watches the efforts of the ICC to prosecute Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and journalist Joshua Sang for post-election violence in Kenya, few realize the repercussions for those of us perceived to have been witnesses. Nowadays in Kenya, even the word "witness" has been tagged with such a hostile connotation that one had rather not use it.
Anyone who attempts to say anything they know about the infamous post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008 risks being branded an "unpatriotic traitor," whistleblowers who want to reveal Kenyan society's "dirty secrets"--they can lose their lives at any time.
Many Kenyans do not want to believe that among prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's list of Kenyan witnesses, some could be real and deserve a chance to be heard. It is as if a political spell has been cast on the Kenyan people. Some Kenyan journalists too have caught the conspiracy bug, while some have been bewitched into emotional propaganda reporting, or dazed into silence.  Most have lost their tongues and pens.
Indeed post-election violence did take place and those of us who were reporters in the field covered both the election campaign and the violence. The lack of balanced reporting is a big failure in the journalism fraternity. Political wolves hound those who will testify as well as those they think might enter the witness box, ready to dismiss any account that could put the politicians they support on the spot. And while this happens, the Kenyan media continue to run with the crowd. There is hardly any analytical reporting on The Hague trials, merely a regurgitation of a dangerous public chorus. Instead, the Kenyan media focus on the apparent failures of witnesses and the prosecution.
I arrived in the U.S. a year ago to seek political asylum after attempts on my life in Kenya between May and December 2012.
A mere phone call in May 2012 from an investigator from the International Criminal Court (ICC) changed my life and put me in danger. I was never a witness nor did I ever meet any Hague investigators but some people somewhere in government perceived that I was one and from there the intimidation started. People I believe to be state agents not only followed my every move, but also tried to abduct me twice--in the capital, Nairobi, and the western city of Kisumu. Some men in plainclothes went to homes of my relatives demanding to know my whereabouts. They hacked my e-mails and blocked my phones. I immediately went into witness protection and contacted the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Hague investigator wanted to discuss an interview I had done in 2008 with an investigative journalist regarding corruption by both media and politicians. The story was later published in a local magazine called Expression Today under the title "Dirty Hands" by Otsieno Namwaya. They were interested in candid comments I made about corruption in the media while I was the Standard's bureau chief in the coastal city of Mombasa. Corruption in the media involved incidences where individual reporters and editors accepted bribes either in kind, cash, or gifts from certain politicians to have their stories captured favorably. This practice is common among journalists and politicians in East Africa. This interview was about some media coverage in 2007, prior to the Kenya's chaotic elections, and touched on some politicians who the ICC later had an interest in prosecuting.
Being perceived to be a witness put my life in danger. In an effort to escape from my pursuers I fled from one part of the country to another. I tried to hide. Walking in the streets, in dark shadows waiting for a shot in my back any moment was one of the scariest experiences I have ever had.
With the help of the Committee to Protect Journalists' Nairobi and New York offices, and witness protection agencies, I escaped by the skin of my teeth. A driver in an unmarked car not only tried to knock me down as I waited for a taxi in Kisumu, but just moments after I had served dinner and sat to eat in Nairobi, a white unmarked car with four men tried to abduct me from my house. I jumped out of my back window and fled. Being under protection meant a humble monthly allowance of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (US$231) a month, far below my monthly income of 120, 000 to 150,000 shillings (US$1,300-$1,700) that I made while working.
But today is an exciting day for me. As I sit in my room, awaiting my asylum interview, I toast to my freedom. I live in the inner city. I have moved from a shelter where I lived for the past six months. The winter chill is biting and everyone is in a hoodie. I watch the fierce winter snowstorm through my window. But I am not afraid of it. I do not even feel the cold weather everyone is complaining about. The warmth of safety emanating from my heart keeps me warm and safe and that is all I feel now. Living in a small neighborhood in the city is a unique experience, something akin to living in the rural villages of Kenya, where everyone knows everyone's business and is always friendly and ready to assist.
I miss home--no Kenyan should feel more entitled to citizenship than another. Those who cast the stones at real and perceived witnesses have never had a phone call from The Hague asking them to be a witness. They have never worn the shoes of being in the middle of a bloodthirsty emotive crowd and Hague investigators. Like mourners at a funeral who cry louder than the bereaved and eat the chunkiest meat, they are nothing but actors who feel nothing for the dead or the bereaved. If they truly loved Kenya they would have come up with the truth by now.
I am a product, or should that be a casualty, of investigative journalism; that secretive world of bringing things that happen in darkness to light. A world that is often wrought with danger, something akin to being on the war front, and few journalists opt for this dangerous and narrow road. Some are shot dead after exposing crime, corruption, and other evils in society. Some are declared enemies of the state, while some become enemies of the very society they are trying to protect. It is a risky job and definitely not for the fainthearted.
Freedom of expression still remains elusive in Kenya as real witnesses are denied a chance to give evidence in court through threats and intimidation. Kenyan media need to support the work of investigative journalists--to nurture society's watchdog and restore its image as the Fourth Estate. With investigative journalists who do not fear exposing the truth, the circus going on at The Hague now would long have been put to rest.

Crimean authorities take two more broadcasters off air

Crimean authorities take two more broadcasters off air

Cossacks stand guard near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol, March 6. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)
Cossacks stand guard near the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol, March 6. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)
New York, March 6, 2014--Crimean authorities should immediately restore broadcasting in the region by the independent Ukraine television stations Channel 5 and Channel 1+1, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
According to local journalists in Crimea and news reports, regional authorities in the administrative center Simferopol stopped transmitting the two privately owned broadcasters' analogue signals to the peninsula today on the order of Sergei Aksenov, the recently appointed pro-Russian prime minister of the region. Earlier this week his government threatened in a statement to "shut off the flow of deceitful and biased information in order to save the public from negative impact," the independent news website Lenta reported.
A spokeswoman for Channel 5 told CPJ by phone that the station's programming is currently unavailable in Crimea and that regional authorities have not responded to Channel 5's requests for explanation. Evgeniy Garkusha of the Simferopol-based Center for Investigative Journalism told CPJ that some regional cable networks also stopped carrying programming of the two channels. Garkusha said Russian state-owned broadcasters Rossiya and Rossiya-24 are being transmitted on the airwaves of Channel 5 and Channel 1+1.
CPJ's calls to Crimea's State Television and Radio Transmitting Center for comment went unanswered.
This is the second time this week that regional authorities have moved to censor independent broadcasters in Crimea. On Monday, popular independent broadcaster Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya (Black Sea TV) had its signal removed from the air without explanation.
"We condemn this blatant censorship of Ukrainian television stations which is part of a growing pattern by Crimean authorities of restricting the flow of independent news and opinion," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "All inhabitants of the peninsula have a right to unfettered access to news. The authorities must restore transmission of Channel 5, Channel 1+1, and Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya immediately."  
Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya and Channel 1+1 have also experienced debilitating denial-of service (DOS) attacks on their websites. According to the BBC, hacking and DOS attacks between Ukrainian and Russian websites and telecommunications networks have intensified in recent weeks.
Separately today, pro-Russian protesters attacked a Channel 5 crew when the journalists approached the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the city of Sevastopol, news reports said.
According to Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Kiev-based press freedom group, journalists reporting on the stand-off between Russia and the interim Ukrainian government over the future of Crimea have faced official obstruction, intimidation, and physical attacks from pro-Russian protesters. The IMI documented 24 such incidents since mid-February.
Tension in the predominantly Russian-speaking southern and eastern Ukraine hasincreased since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country and was oustedby Parliament late last month. Over the weekend, the Russian military occupied parts of the Crimean peninsula. Today, the Crimean Parliament voted to become part of Russia, and scheduled a referendum on the issue for March 16, news reports said.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Six men convicted of murdering TV journalist in Pakistan

Six men convicted of murdering TV journalist in Pakistan

A Pakistani court has convicted six people for their roles in the murder of Wali Khan Babar, a Geo TV journalist who was shot dead in Karachi in January 2011.
The convictions are significant because they are the first in a decade to follow the murder of any journalist in Pakistan, where impunity has reigned.
Babar, who had been threatened because of his coverage of political corruption, extortion and land-grabbing, was shot to death while driving home from work.
After his murder, several people connected to the investigation, including a police informant, two police officers and the brother of an investigating officer, were also killed.
In 2012, the one remaining witness to the case who had agreed to testify in court, was murdered. And the two original prosecutors in the case were threatened and fled into exile.
Police said the murders were organised by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan's third-largest political party, which has repeatedly denied any involvement.
A special anti-terrorism court sentenced Naveed Polka, Muhammad Ali Rizvi, Faisal Mahmood and Mohammad Shahrukh Khan to life in prison for the murder of Babar. Two others, Kamran (alias "Zeeshan") and Faisal Mota, who have not yet been arrested, were sentenced to death in absentia.
Bob Dietz, the Asia programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said: "These convictions mark a significant step in addressing the deep-rooted culture of impunity surrounding the murders of journalists in Pakistan.
"They indicate what can be achieved when the country's legal system commits itself to pursuing justice."
The CPJ published a special report in May 2013, Roots of impunity,which documented the lead-up to Babar's murder and its aftermath.
Prior to these convictions, the high-profile killing of US reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan was the only known journalist murder case in the country in which partial justice was carried out.
At least 46 journalists have been killed in Pakistan over the course of the last decade, according to CPJ research.
Source: CPJ