Amid US Pullout, Taliban Issue Threat to Afghan Journalists


The Taliban on Wednesday issued a threat to Afghan journalists they accuse of siding with Afghanistan’s intelligence agency in Kabul, a warning that came amid a U.S. troop pullout and rising fears of more violence in the war-wrecked country.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said those Afghan journalists who give one-sided news in support of Afghanistans intelligence” service and warned them to stop or face the consequences.

The U.S. and Britain responded, with their embassies in Kabul quickly condemning the Taliban threat just two days after World Press Freedom Day.

We strongly support Afghanistans independent media, tweeted Ross Wilson, the U.S. charg daffaires in Kabul. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the on-going violence and threats against the media, and the Talibans attempts to silence journalists.”

Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2006, as many as 76 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the U.N. Education and Cultural Organization.

Last year alone at least 15 were killed, and earlier this year, three women employed by media outlets were killed in eastern Afghanistan. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, including that of the three women. The majority of the targeted journalists have been women.

The government blames a resurgent Taliban who now control or hold sway over half the country for many of the targeted killings. The insurgents, meanwhile claim the Afghan intelligence service is carrying out these attacks so as to blame the Taliban.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International decried the spiraling violence against journalists in Afghanistan and the impunity of the culprits carrying out the attacks.

Nearly all the killings, invariably carried out by unidentified gunmen, have gone uninvestigated, Amnesty said. Dozens of others have been injured, while journalists routinely receive threats, intimidation and harassment because of their work. Faced with this dire situation and with multiple journalist hit lists in open circulation, many journalists are fleeing the country.

Also Wednesday, an Afghan open media advocacy group expressed concerns about statements reportedly made by the head of the intelligence agency, known as the National Directorate of Security or NDS, criticizing some outlets he accused of carrying insurgent propaganda.

The comments by the intel chief, Ahmad Zia Seraj, were tweeted by Arif Rahmani, a lawmaker from the central Ghazni province who attended a private meeting of lawmakers with the NDS chief.

Rahmani told The Associated Press that at the meeting, Seraj was asked by lawmakers about alleged pro-Taliban coverage by some media outlets. The NDS chief said in response that there would be severe legal consequences for outlets carrying terrorist propaganda,” according to Rahmani.

He did not name the outlets, Rahmani said. There was no immediate comment from the intelligence agency.

Last week, the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 American troops officially began leaving Afghanistan. They are expected to be out by Sept. 11 at the latest a deadline set by President Joe Biden.

The U.S. has openly also warned of battlefield gains for the Taliban and officials in Washington say Afghan government forces face an uncertain future against the insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.

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French journalist kidnapped in Mali appears in video asking for help



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A French journalist kidnapped by Islamist militants in the northern Mali city of Gao last month has appeared in a video appealing to French authorities to do everything they can to free him.

“I’m Olivier Dubois. I’m French. I’m a journalist. I was kidnapped in Gao on April 8 by the JNIM (al Qaeda North Africa).

“I’m speaking to my family, my friends and the French authorities for them to do everything in their power free me,” Dubois said in a 21-second video shared on social media.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the clip’s authenticity.

Malian authorities were not immediately available for comment. The French foreign ministry declined to comment.

(REUTERS)



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Karnataka Declares Journalists as Frontline Workers, to be Vaccinated on Priority Basis


The Karnataka government on Tuesday decided to treat journalists as frontline COVID warriors and inoculate them on a priority basis. “We will treat journalists as frontline workers and vaccinate them on a priority basis,” Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa told reporters after a special cabinet meeting to control the growing COVID cases in the state.

He, however, appealed to journalists not to cover incidents in a manner that it created fear among people.

“There is a health emergency situation in the state as well as the country. It is the responsibility of the media

to point out flaws and shortcomings but showing one issue continuously will create fear among people,” Yediyurappa

pointed out.

The cabinet decided to import five lakh doses of Remdesivir injection and also one lakh oxygen concentrators.

The Chief Minister also warned those black-marketing Remdesivir drug by colluding with company officials, their agents and middlemen.

The cabinet also decided to appoint ministers to supervise the oxygen and Remdesivir supply, bed availability

and COVID Call centres and war rooms, the Chief Minister said.

According to him, the district in-charge ministers have been asked to camp in their respective district and have

been given full authority to bring COVID cases under control.

“In order to procure more oxygen and Remdesivir drug we are constantly in touch with the Central government,” the Chief Minister said, adding, more number of COVID care centres would be opened in the districts.

Suitable action would be taken to appoint doctors and nursing staff for COVID control, he added.

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Full List of States That Have Declared Journalists as Frontline Workers for Covid-19 Vaccination


Punjab Chief Minister on Monday announced all accredited and yellow card journalists as “frontline workers.” All accredited and yellow card journalists in Punjab are now included in the list of Covid Frontline Warriors, said Raveen Thukral, Media Advisor to Punjab Chief Minister.

The Editors Guild of India has demanded that journalists be given priority in vaccination against COVID-19 and also urged all media organisations to take necessary steps to ensure the safety of their scribes. In a statement, the Guild condoled the deaths of journalists who have died because of COVID-19 over the past year.

“In April 2021 itself, more than 52 journalists died because of the virus. Further, according to the Delhi based Institute of Perception Studies, more than 100 journalists have died since the lockdown was first declared from April 1, 2020,” the Guild said in a statement.

On World Press Freedom Day, News18 listed states that have announced journalists as frontline workers for priority vaccination amid the covid-19 pandemic.

Madhya Pradesh

Earlier in the day, Madhya Pradesh declared media professionals accredited with the state government as ‘frontline workers’. While making the announcement, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said journalists were risking their lives while doing their duty during this “dangerous period of COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Therefore, we have decided to declare all accredited journalists as frontline workers in Madhya Pradesh. They will be taken care of,” Chouhan said in a video statement on Twitter. Around 4,000 journalists are currently accredited with the state government, according to a public relations department official.

West Bengal

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a presser after her landslide win with 213 of the 292 assembly seats that went to polls declared journalists as Covid warriors. “Journalists have taken risk and worked on the field all these days like other Covid warriors. I declare you Covid warriors too. Let the Chief Secretary note this down. I am still the chief minister since I have not resigned as per rules before taking oath again,” she was quoted as saying.

Bihar

The Bihar government decided to give status of frontline workers to the journalists who will get COVID vaccination on a priority basis. All the journalists accredited with the Information and Public Relations Department at the state level and also non-accredited scribes authenticated by the district public relation officers, from print, electronic and web media, will be considered as frontline workers for inoculation, an official statement said.

All of them will be given COVID vaccine on a priority basis, it said. The state government decided to consider the important role media persons play in making people aware of the danger of the highly infectious disease.

Odisha

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared working journalists of the state as frontline Covid warriors. While approving a proposal to this effect, the chief minister said, journalists are doing a great service to the state by providing seamless news feed and making people aware of coronavirus-related issues.

“They are a great support for our war against COVID- 19,” a statement issued by the Chief Minister’s Office said. The decision would benefit over 6,500 journalists.

“As many as 6,944 working journalists of the state have been covered under the Gopabandhu Sambadika Swasthya Bima Yojana. They are getting health insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh each,” the statement said. Odisha has also announced an ex gratia of Rs 15 lakh for the next of kin of journalists who die of COVID-19 while performing their duty, it said.

Uttarakhand

The Uttarakhand government had declared all journalists and media organisation representative as frontline workers and had ordered inoculations for them

“During the ongoing pandemic, the journalists in the state worked like frontline workers in providing the required information to the people about Covid-19 which helped the government significantly,” said Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat.

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US Exempts Categories of Students, Academics, Journalists from India Travel Ban


Certain categories of students, academics, journalists and individuals have been exempted from the India travel ban announced by President Joe Biden, the US State Department said. The exemptions were issued by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, hours after Biden issued a proclamation restricting travel from India beginning May 4 because of the “extraordinarily high Covid-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the country”.

According to the State Department, the travel ban exemption is in line with a similar exemption that the US has granted to some categories of travellers from Brazil, China, Iran and or South Africa. In keeping with the Department of State’s commitment to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States, Secretary Blinken decided today to apply the same set of National Interest Exceptions to India that he had previously applied to all other regional travel restrictions currently in effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Department said.

Students seeking to commence studies in the fall, academics, journalists and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support in countries affected by a geographic Covid-19 restriction may qualify for the exception, it said. This includes qualified applicants who have been present in India, Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa, it added. The pandemic continues to limit the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process, it said. As always, visa applicants should check the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information about visa appointment availability, the State Department said.

As the global situation evolves, the Department continues to seek ways to process more visa applications, in line with science-based guidance from health authorities and with the health and safety of staff and applicants as our priority, it said. In a national interest exemption issued by the State Department on April 26, which it said is good for India too, students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic programme commencing August 1 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual exemption to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.

Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate. Those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel, it said. The Department of State also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travellers seeking to enter the US for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response and national security. These travellers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States’ national interest should also review the website of the nearest US embassy or consulate for instruction on how to contact them, it said.

In another memorandum on April 8, the Secretary of State had determined that the travel of immigrants, fianc(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots and air crew travelling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the geographic Covid presidential proclamations. These proclamations restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in the People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federative Republic of Brazil, or Republic of South Africa. This article provides further details regarding this determination. India has now been added to the list.

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Moroccan journalist Omar Radi breaks hunger strike due to ill health



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Jailed Moroccan journalist Omar Radi has suspended his three-week hunger strike due to a “significant deterioration” of his health, his father said Friday.

Radi and fellow journalist Soulaimane Raissouni began hunger strikes earlier in April demanding to be provisionally released, having been held in detention for months awaiting a verdict on their cases.

Radi, 34, decided to “temporarily suspend his hunger strike” due to “the significant deterioration of his health over the past two days”, his father Driss Radi said on Facebook.

Raissouni, on hunger strike for 23 days, continues his protest. 

Known for his human rights work, Radi was placed in pre-trial detention in July charged with receiving foreign funds for the purpose of harming “state security”, the justice ministry said at the time.

He is also accused separately of rape. He denies all charges, and “continues to defend his constitutional right to a fair trial”, his father added.

Radi’s trial has been postponed twice, with the next hearing scheduled for May 18.

Raissouni, chief editor of Moroccan independent daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, faces charges of “indecent assault” against another man. He also denies all charges.

‘Press freedom in Morocco under siege’

Supporters allege the cases are part of a defamation campaign targeting journalists and rights activists critical of Moroccan authorities.

In a statement released earlier this month calling for a fair trial for Radi, the New York-based Human Rights Watch noted that his arrest comes “in a context where what remains of press freedom in Morocco is under siege, and those who dare to publicly criticize the increasingly repressive regime face prosecution on dubious charges and slander campaigns by media closely aligned with the authorities. Amid these attacks, Akhbar al-Yaoum, one of the last independent newspapers in the country, ended its operations after 14 years.”  

The statement, which was also signed by 14 other leading human rights groups, called on the international community to “press Moroccan authorities to ensure that no defendant is detained pretrial except on the basis of compelling reasons that are spelled out and reviewed regularly by an independent judicial body. Detention before trial should be the exception, not the rule”.

The Moroccan government denies the claims and has stressed the independence of the judiciary.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)



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Bodies of three Europeans killed in Burkina Faso arrive in Spain



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The bodies of three Europeans killed in Burkina Faso were flown to Spain on Friday, with Madrid pledging to keep up a “relentless” fight against the jihadist insurgency raging in Africa’s Sahel region.

The two Spanish journalists and an Irish wildlife activist were ambushed during an anti-poaching patrol in the impoverished West African nation which has been struggling with a surge in Islamist attacks since 2015.

Journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile were with Rory Young, head of the Chengeta Wildlife group, in the Arly National Park in eastern Burkina Faso when the attack occurred on Monday. 

They were with a group that included soldiers and forest rangers when the assailants turned up in pickup trucks and on motorbikes, with the three Europeans initially reported missing. 

The Burkina authorities said they had been “executed by terrorists”, becoming the latest victims of the ruthless Islamist insurgency gripping one of the poorest countries in the world.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya and Defence Minister Margarita Robles were on the tarmac at Torrejon de Ardoz airbase as three wooden coffins were carried off the plane by 24 air force officers.

“These are the heroes of the day: David and Robert, who have done so much to give a voice to those who do not have one, who have done so much to shed light on the realities that surround us and that are sometimes invisible,” Gonzalez Laya said.

The pair had been working on a documentary on conservation in Burkina Faso. 

The Irish ambassador to Spain, Sile Maguire, was also at the airbase. 

Young’s body was to be flown back to Ireland later on Friday, the Spanish foreign ministry told AFP, without giving further details.

‘We will be relentless’

Hailing the pair for “doing so much to give a voice to the voiceless,” Gonzalez Laya said the government was posthumously awarding them the Order of Civil Merit “for their work in pursuit of a journalism that enhances our democracy”.

The violence had highlighted the importance of Spain’s continued involvement in “efforts for peace and stability” in the war-torn Sahel region, she said. 

Extending condolences to the families who were also at the airport but not on the tarmac, Robles said Spain would do “everything possible to find out who was behind these appalling acts”. 

She vowed that Spain would press ahead with efforts to help those fighting the Islamist insurgency in the region. 

“The fight against terror in these areas is not going to stop, we will be relentless,” she said. 

Hotbed of lawlessness

Burkina, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have joined forces in a French-backed alliance called the G5 Sahel to fight jihadism on the southern edge of the Sahara, with the initiative also backed by Spain, Germany and Italy. 

In a joint statement on Friday, Spain, France, Germany and Italy pledged continued security support for nations in the Sahel region which stretches from Senegal to Sudan and has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness over the past decade.

“We will continue existing initiatives to support the armies of the region, as well as the gendarmerie and internal security forces in their operations, training and capacity building,” they said. 

Since 2015, more than 1,300 people have been killed and one million have fled the violence in Burkina Faso, which has ravaged this land-locked nation’s once-vibrant tourist industry 

(AFP)



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Good news for journalists! Facebook to pay $5 million to local journalists in newsletter push | Technology News


Facebook Inc said Thursday it will give $5 million to pay local journalists in multi-year deals as part of its new publishing platform to help independent writers attract an audience and make money through the social media network.

The move is part of Facebook’s answer to the trend of email newsletters, led by platforms like Substack, as it focuses on reporters “who are often the lone voice covering a given community,” the company has said.

The publishing platform, which Facebook announced last month, will be integrated with Facebook Pages and include a free self-publishing tool for journalists to send out newsletters or create their own website.

Independent journalists in the United States can apply to the program beginning on Thursday, and priority will be given to reporters who plan to cover “Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian or other audiences of color,” in locations that lack an existing news source, Facebook said.

Journalists will be able to earn additional money from publishing stories using Facebook`s tools, starting with subscriptions, and each writer can set their own price, the company added.

The growth of paid newsletters has shaken up the media world, as high-profile journalists from outlets including the New York Times and Vox Media have left to strike out on their own on platforms such as Substack and Patreon, lured by cash advances and un-capped earning potential from subscriptions.

Substack announced “Substack Local” this month, a $1 million program to pay up to 30 local reporters to build their own subscription-supported business.

Facebook said it would partner with the International Center for Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists to evaluate applications and would give the journalists selected access to experts and services to help them build a news business.

The social network has long had a strained relationship with the news industry, which came to a head in February after a showdown with the Australian government overpaying news outlets for content. Following the conflict, Facebook pledged to invest $1 billion in the news industry over the next three years.

 

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Three Vietnamese Journalists Arrested Over Reporting on ‘Toll Booth’ Schemes — Radio Free Asia



Police in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho city on Tuesday arrested three independent journalists connected with the publishing of articles online last year criticizing tollbooths set up under a controversial infrastructure funding program, state media sources said.

Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao—all writers for the popular Facebook page Clean Newspaper, which discusses Vietnamese social issues—were taken into custody in connection with an investigation into the activities of journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was arrested in December.

Danh, another contributor to Clean Newspaper, had posted criticisms online of build-operate-transfer (BOT) highways that Vietnam has adopted in recent years, sparking rare protests over toll collections described by motorists as unfair.

He was detained by police in Can Tho, a province-level city in the country’s Mekong Delta, on charges of “abusing democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of other individuals and/or organizations,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.

The Clean Newspaper page was taken offline, presumably by state authorities, at around the time of Danh’s Dec. 10, 2020 arrest and prosecution.

The decision this week to charge and arrest Nha, Giang, and Bao was approved by the People’s Procuracy of Can Tho City, and authorities raided the journalists’ homes and seized many items and documents related to the case under investigation, state media said.

Harsh forms of persecution

With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.

Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year’s.

“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.

Also ranked low in this year’s survey were Vietnam’s neighbors Laos at 172, Cambodia at 144, and Myanmar, whose ranking at 140 represents a one-point drop from last year’s score, RSF said.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.





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Media Freedom Deteriorated During Pandemic; Situation Worse in Asia, Mideast, Europe: Report


There’s been a “dramatic deterioration” of press freedom since the pandemic tore across the world, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report published Tuesday. The group’s new World Press Freedom Index, which evaluated the press situations in 180 countries, painted a stark picture and concluded that 73% of the world’s nations have serious issues with media freedoms.

It says countries have used the coronavirus pandemic, which erupted in China in late 2019, “as grounds to block journalists’ access to information, sources and reporting in the field.”

This is particularly the case in Asia, the Mideast and Europe, the media group said.

Issues have also arisen from a drop in public trust in journalism itself. The group said 59% of people polled in 28 countries claimed that journalists “deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false.”

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