3 August 1999
Volume 08 - 1999 Issue 29 (03 August 1999)
On 2 August, the award-winning independent Radio B92 in Belgrade came back on the air under the new name of B2-92 four months after being taken over by the Serbian government, reports the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM). Not only did the government take over the station after Yugoslav telecommunications authorities banned Radio B92 on 24 March, it began broadcasting on the same frequency and installed a government supporter at its head on 2 April. The station continued to broadcast on the Internet through ANEM's Radio and Television Networks until the takeover. According to B2-92, its news "is produced by the real team of Radio B92, all of whom refused to work for the new government management currently using the B92 name and frequency, and [B2-92] is broadcast on the third frequency 99.1 FM of the Belgrade municipal station Studio B." Actions against the real B92 led to a massive international campaign. The launch of B2-92 "is part of a broader campaign to restore Radio B92 to its listeners and its rightful owners - its staff," says B2-92. The campaign will continue with public actions in Belgrade, cyberspace and worldwide. For more information, visit B2-92's website at:
On 28 July, only two days after withdrawing a proposed amendment to the 1978 gag law, the Panamanian Cabinet approved an amendment to the law which the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticises as "only slightly different." A 30 July editorial in the Panama City-based daily "La Prensa" calls the new bill "the same injection with a different needle." The government's new proposal is expected to reach the Legislative Assembly early this week. CPJ says, "It is better than the first proposal in some respects, but worse in others."
On 12 July, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) released its tenth annual report on the situation of human rights in Egypt in 1998. The report records the main developments in the human rights situation through three principle parts. The first part reviews "the most important laws, court rulings and procedures related to human rights in Egypt in 1998;" and the second part highlights "the most significant human rights violations." Part three lists all of EOHR's activities during 1998, including the monitoring and observation, support for human rights culture, and legal assistance provided for women. There is an additional section on EOHR's crisis last year when EOHR Secretary-General Hafez Abu Seada was arrested after the group published a report on torture in Al-Kosheh village, Sohag.
Fidel Castro's government silence dissent through intimidation, oppressive laws and imprisonment of dissidents in Cuba, says a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on 23 July. The 263-page report, "Cuba's Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution", also says the United States trade embargo imposed against Cuba in 1961 "only makes matters worse." HRW adds, "Other international policies toward Cuba have shown more promise, but proved similarly ineffective in the absence of vigorous government support." The report describes how "Cuba's laws deny basic rights such as freedom of expression, association, and movement, and describes the plight of dozens of individuals prosecuted under those laws," including ill-treatment in prison.
Sri Lanka's parliament plans to review the country's media laws, reports the Free Media Movement (FMM). Parliament will debate a motion on the 'Necessity of Reformation of Media Laws in the Country'. FMM says, "Freedom of speech and of the media is a fundamental requirement in a democratic society. The media has to play an independent and responsible role in disseminating accurate information without fear or favour, on issues of public interest." Welcoming media law reform, FMM notes that a government-appointed committee headed by R.K.W. Goonesekera called for the "changes in the existing law, in keeping with international obligations imposed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
The draft Freedom of Information (FOI) bill in Britain, due to be passed into legislation next year, has created new ways for the government to keep information secret, says the latest issue of "Index on Censorship" (Vol. 4/1999). Mark Fisher writes that the government is championing the bill for its openness, with Home Secretary Jack Straw saying, "It will radically change the relationship between the government and its citizens." On the other side, "Index" reports, the Campaign for Freedom of Information declaims the bill as "deeply disappointing" and "as notorious and disreputable as the 1911 Official Secrets Act." The draft will finally allow the public "a legal right to see what information about them is held by public bodies, such as the police, health authorities, public sector employers, the Benefits Agency, Inland Revenue, and by private bodies carrying out public contracts or functions," with small fees for accessing such information. However, "the bill constructs a hedge of exemptions, exclusions and gateway provisions that limit and inhibit the new statutory right of access," says Fisher.