Global Anti-Terrorism Laws Used to Repress Journalists and Writers

by Merritt Wuchina    /  March 26, 2012  / No comments

“There can be no free society without free journalism.” Turkish journalists stage a demonstration in December, 2011 during the trial of 10 arrested journalists from Oda TV. Photo: Global Voices

On December 31, 2011 President Barak Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. The legislation permits the US military to indefinitely detain persons suspected of terrorism or “associated forces,” including American citizens. While Obama stated that he does not entirely agree with the law and will not adhere to “across-the-board” detention, the American Civil Liberties Union decried the law as unconstitutional.

In a column on TruthDig, Chris Hedges, a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, stated he filed a formal legal complaint against Obama and the Secretary of Defense for the signing of the NDAA. He worries that his journalistic correspondence with leaders of groups such as Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and others labeled as terrorist organizations by the US government, would put him at risk for detainment as an “associated force” under the new legislation.

Hedges explained: “I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have ‘disappeared’ into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation.”

So far, no US journalists have been persecuted under the NDAA.

Below Sampsonia Way presents some other countries with anti-terrorism laws where journalists and writers are in danger, or have been convicted of associating with alleged terrorist forces. Like the NDAA, these laws outline provisions for indefinite and undisclosed detainment of citizens without trial. Also included is a summation of parts of the laws referring to detainment and punishment for publishing information on “terrorist” groups.

Ethiopia

The Law:
Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, July 7, 2009

What it States:
Criminalizes statements deemed as “encouraging, supporting, or advancing” groups or causes the government labels as terrorist. It gives the executive branch the power to detain writers of such statements for up to four months without charge and imprison the accused for as long as 20 years.

Some Journalists Affected:
In October 2011, Committee to Protect Journalists reported that eight journalists were imprisoned in Ethiopia under the anti-terrorist law, including two Swedish journalists, who were later sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 21, 2011, and Eskinder Nega, a blogger who will be up for trail in March.

In November 2011, six journalists were charged with “terrorism, treason, and espionage,” including Mesfin Negash, the editor of the independent newspaper Addis Neger who currently lives in exile in Sweden.

Negash and two other exiled editors will be tried in absentia with a single terrorism charge each.

In January 2012, two journalists and a blogger were convicted on terrorism charges with the possibility of a death penalty sentence. Negash and two other exiled editors were also tried in absentia under a single terrorism charge each.

Turkey

The Law:
Anti-Terror Law (pdf) (3713), 1991 – amended by Law No. 5532, 2006

What it States:
Broadly-defines terrorist threats and contains a wide range of punishable crimes. Punishment is increased by half for press and media criticism of the state or politicians labeled as “terrorist propaganda.” Writers and journalists have been arrested under the law for “belonging to a terrorist organization.”

Some Writers and Journalists Affected:
On October, 29 2011, writer, academic, and publisher Ragip Zarakolu was charged for “membership of an illegal organization.” He is currently imprisoned.

On March 3, 2011 two investigative journalists, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, were detained. In November 2011, they were tried along with 10 other journalists of Oda TV, and accused of membership with the alleged terrorist network Ergenekon. Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener and two others were released on March 14, 2012, yet the remaining defendants from the Oda TV trial are still in prison.

The Journalists Union of Turkey estimates the country has 94 reporters in prison, surpassing Iran and China for the most journalists in jail.

China

The Law:
Amendment to China’s Criminal Procedure law was passed on March 14, 2012

What it States:
Under the “residential surveillance” provision (Article 73), citizens can be detained in the location of law enforcement’s choice for up to six months for suspicions of “endangering national security” or “terrorism.” “National security” crimes may be defined as criticizing the Communist Party or peaceful avocation for Tibetan independence.

Some Writers / Journalists Affected:
So far, no arrests have been made under the new provision. However, poets such as Zhu Yufu, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” in February 2012, and Tibetan bloggers such as Tsering Woeser, who is currently under house arrest, could be targeted under the law.

Sri Lanka

The Law:
Prevention of Terrorism Act, 1979

What it States:
Citizens suspected of supporting or hiding knowledge of terrorist activities can be detained without charge or trial for 18 months or longer by order of a magistrate.

Some Journalists Affected:
On March 6, 2008 the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) arrested Vettivel Jasikaran, a writer, publisher, and manager of the news website Outreach Sri Lanka, and his wife, for “terrorism-related activities.” In August 2009, after almost 6 months without charge, he was indicted for “inciting communal disharmony” for his publication the Northeastern Monthly. Jasikaran and his wife were acquitted in October 2009.

Tamil journalist J. S. Tissainayagam was released with presidential pardon on May 3, 2010 after a 20-year jail sentence for allegedly supporting terrorism.

Chandana Sirimalwatte, chief Editor of the newspaper Lanka Irida, was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department on January 29, 2012. The department’s director told the BBC that an article Sirimalwatte published may have violated rules on government inquiries into terrorism.

Uganda

The Law:
The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002

What it States:
Prohibits the publication of information prejudicial to national security and “false news” likely to disturb “the public peace.” Those who “publish or disseminate” news or materials that “promote terrorism” can be sentenced to death.

Some Writers Affected:
Author Vincent Nzaramba was arrested by Uganda’s anti-terrorism Rapid Response Unit (RRU) in September 2011and was detained for five days for his novel, People Power – Battle the Mighty General, which chronicles nonviolent protest and expresses disappointment with President Yoweri Museveni. He was released on bail and is charged with inciting violence. Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba stated “It’s not the first time we are holding people for inciting material.”

About the Author

Merritt Wuchina is an editorial intern at Sampsonia Way and also assists with its Twitter marketing. In April 2012, she will earn a B.A. in English Writing and anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh as well as certificates in Latin American and global studies. She received third place in the University of Pittsburgh’s 2011 Undergraduate Creative Nonfiction Writing Contest for her essay “Between the Sunlight and Salvia: The Life of Khet Mar and Sampsonia Way,” which was also published in Issue 8 of The Original Magazine.

View all articles by Merritt Wuchina

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