David Longstreath/AP
Thailand King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Murders in Nepal, Sri Lanka Underscore Dangers for Journalists in Asia

January 15, 2009 07:32 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The deaths of a Nepalese reporter and a Sri Lankan newspaper editor are the most recent infringements on the press and freedom of speech in Asia.

Nepal, Sri Lanka Suffer Latest Infringements on Media

The United Nations is urging Nepal’s government to protect the media, after Uma Singh, a reporter with Radio Today FM and a member of the Women’s Human Rights Defenders, was hacked to death by unidentified men using traditional Nepalese knives earlier this week.

“Occurring amid a growing number of reports of incidents targeting journalists throughout Nepal, this tragedy should galvanize those responsible for protection of media freedom,” the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal said, according to Bloomberg.

In Sri Lanka, the editor of the publication The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was shot to death by unknown gunmen after predicting his own murder in his last editorial.

“When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me,” he wrote in a piece titled “And Then They Came for Me.”

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press have not had easy roads in Asia. Several nations in Southeast Asia have also struggled with such issues, including Thailand, which recently shut down Web sites it said were insulting to the king, and Vietnam, where two state newspaper editors were fired.

Background: Press freedom in Southeast Asia

Thai authorities recently shut down 2,300 Web sites that they said were insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej and were seeking a court order to shut down 400 other sites. They also planned to create a $1.3 million, 24-hour facility to monitor the Internet for violations.

In nearby Vietnam, the state firing of two newspaper editors last week was the latest sign that Communist authorities there are tightening control, with a new policy to crack down on both state-run media and the blogosphere. Nguyen Cong Khe, editor in chief of the newspaper Thanh Nien, and Le Hoang, who edited the publication Tuoi Tre, were fired just months after two of their reporters had gone on trial over their coverage of a major government corruption case.

Bloggers are the target of one new law, which bans them from discussing “politically sensitive subjects” and requires that they reveal all of their sources. International watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders has named Vietnam one of 13 countries that are “enemies of the Internet” and, according to PBS, Vietnam had nine cyber-dissidents in detention in December.
According to the World Association of Newspapers, the region saw numerous press freedom violations in the last half of 2008.

In nearby Burma, where media and access to the Internet are severely restricted, the military government recently released a list of rules that editors must follow or risk imprisonment or suspension of publishing rights. Since November, nearly 100 people have been put on trial for media-related violations.

Cambodia has seen several attacks on journalists reporting on government corruption. Most notably, journalist Khim Sambo was shot to death in July after writing about corruption in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

The Association also says that Asia as a whole has seen a rise in violence against journalists last year, and government restrictions continue to hamper press freedom in the region, particularly in China, which restricted foreign reporting and blocked Web sites related to Tibet during the Beijing Olympics.

Related Topic: Annual journalism report shows fewer deaths, fewer freedoms

In 2008, Reporters Without Borders continued to raise concerns about threats to freedom of the press worldwide, despite a decrease in the number of journalists who died on the job last year. It attributed the drop to fewer journalists’ deaths in Iraq and said the number also indicated a rise in journalists leaving the profession. Its annual report also raised concerns about increasing censorship and the compromising of journalists’ rights.

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