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Participants at IFEX General Meeting demand action

IFEX members gather at the IFEX general meeting this week in Oslo, Norway
IFEX members gather at the IFEX general meeting this week in Oslo, Norway

Sherif Azer

Free expression advocates from around the world gathered this week in Oslo, Norway for the General Meeting (GM) of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). The meeting took place as part of the Global Forum on Free Expression, which brought together more than 500 journalists, activists and writers in Oslo. The following four joint actions were agreed upon by dozens of IFEX member groups. Stay tuned to the IFEX website and next week's communiqué for other joint appeals coming out of the conference.

SRI LANKA - Officials of the Sri Lankan government are putting the lives of independent journalists in grave danger by publicly accusing them of association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Journalist and unionist Poddala Jayantha was abducted and brutally beaten on June 1, just days after government ministers described him as an anti-government campaigner. Thirty IFEX member organisations are directly appealing to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to instruct all members and officers in government to stop making statements that incite violence against media workers. In addition, the IFEX members are extremely alarmed by the recent spate of murders and abductions of journalists and are demanding that authorities investigate the attacks and arrest those responsible.
-See: http://www.ifex.org/sri_lanka/2009/06/03/ja_gm/

AZERBAIJAN - Four journalists - seen internationally as political prisoners - remain wrongfully imprisoned in Azerbaijan. Ganimat Zahid, Eynulla Fatullayev, Mushfig Huseynov and Novruzali Mammadov were all detained on trumped up charges because of articles they wrote criticising the government. Since the election of President Ilham Aliyev in October 2003, the situation for press freedom has sharply deteriorated. Azeri journalists are frequently physically attacked and verbally threatened and the government fails to prosecute individuals who harass, beat and murder journalists. Also, despite calls by the local and international community for its decriminalisation, defamation remains a crime that carries a jail sentence. FM radio broadcasts of Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and British Broadcasting Company (BBC) - all blocked by the government late last year - remain off air. Thirty-seven IFEX members are calling on authorities to seriously investigate the 2005 murder of newspaper editor Elmar Huseynov, end impunity for individuals who violate the rights of journalists, decriminalise defamation, release the country's wrongfully imprisoned journalists, restore RFE/RL, VOA and BBC broadcasts on FM radio and ensure pluralism and diversity of public and private broadcasters.
-See: http://www.ifex.org/azerbaijan/2009/06/03/ja_gm/

BAHRAIN - Over the past few months, the new minister of Information and Culture, Mai Al-Khalifa, and Bahraini authorities have waged a relentless campaign against free expression. Writers, activists and journalists have been persecuted for sharing their opinions and hundreds of websites and blogs have been blocked. Abusive laws, including the counter terrorism laws of 2006, are being used to impede the work of dissidents and human rights defenders. A joint petition signed by 40 IFEX members demands Bahrain stop breaching its obligations to uphold free expression, which it agreed to as a recent signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
-See: http://www.ifex.org/bahrain/2009/06/03/ja_gm/

NORTH KOREA - Euna Lee and Laura Ling, journalists with California-based "Current TV," remain imprisoned in North Korea and face a trial on 4 June on charges of illegally entering the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and unspecified "hostile acts." Jointly, 40 IFEX members are pleading with diplomats to press for the release of the journalists, who appear to have inadvertently crossed the border while interviewing North Korean refugees in China. The two women have been held captive since March. The joint appeal is addressed to representatives of countries involved in the Six-Party talks with North Korea.
-See: http://www.ifex.org/north_korea/2009/06/03/ja_gm/

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