UN and rights groups blame Taliban for missing journalists

Since seizing power in August, the hard-line Islamists have cracked down on dissent by detaining critics and forcefully dispersing protests. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 February 2022

UN and rights groups blame Taliban for missing journalists

  • Human rights groups and the UN blame the Taliban for two missing journalists
  • he Taliban denied knowledge of their whereabouts, and say they are investigating

KABUL: The Taliban have arrested two Afghan journalists working for a local news channel, rights groups and the United Nations said Tuesday, weeks after two women activists went missing.
Since seizing power in August, the hard-line Islamists have cracked down on dissent by detaining critics and forcefully dispersing protests against their regime.
Several Afghan journalists have also been beaten while covering rallies not approved by authorities.
The Afghan Media Association — a newly formed journalists’ rights group — said Ariana TV reporters Waris Hasrat and Aslam Hijab were picked up by the Taliban on Monday “and taken to an unknown location.”
Without naming the Taliban, an official at Ariana told AFP the reporters were seized by masked gunmen in front of the channel’s office as they went out for lunch.
But he said Taliban officials “have assured us of a comprehensive investigation.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also expressed concern over their whereabouts.
“UN urges Taliban to make public why they detained these ArianaNews reporters and to respect Afghans’ rights,” it said on Twitter.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, demanded on Twitter that the Taliban “unconditionally and immediately” release the pair.
A Taliban spokesman told AFP he had no information on the missing journalists.

A fortnight ago, two women activists went missing after taking part in a demonstration in Kabul calling for women’s rights.
On Tuesday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for them and four of their relatives, who are also missing.
The Taliban denied knowledge of their whereabouts, and say they are investigating.
The UN said it was alarmed by what appeared to be a “pattern of arbitrary arrests... as well as torture and ill-treatment” of civil society activists, journalists and members of former government and security forces.
A UN report this week accused the Taliban and their allies of killing more than 100 security and civilian personnel linked to the former US-backed government since returning to power.
Taliban officials have rejected the claims.
Last month, the Taliban detained a well-known university lecturer and regime critic Faizullah Jalal but released him days later after a media furor in Afghanistan and abroad.
Despite promising their second time in power would feature a softer brand of governance, the Taliban have slowly introduced restrictions on freedoms — especially for women.
Western countries insist the Taliban must respect women’s rights to unlock billions of dollars in assets and foreign aid.
The halting of aid has triggered a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in a country already devastated by decades of war.


Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight

Updated 04 July 2022

Anghami expands into live events with acquisition of Spotlight

  • Platform aims to bridge the gap between online and offline channels

DUBAI: Music streaming platform Anghami has announced the acquisition of Spotlight Events, a company serving the Middle East.

Spotlight Events will become Anghami’s live event and concert arm. Its scope will include offline activities to expand Anghami's footprint in the music and entertainment ecosystem while also bridging the online and offline worlds.

The events arm will provide a stage for artists to perform and reach their audiences offline through live events and concerts, while the Anghami platform will provide access to exclusive concerts through its live video streaming capabilities and create immersive experiences through augmented reality and virtual reality.

The company envisions the acquisition as providing more opportunities for brands to collaborate with artists, and an enhanced experience for listeners including access to private concerts, VIP lounges, meet and greets, and backstage access.

“Our vision is to expand from music streaming to a fully integrated entertainment platform that meets our goal of building our own unique category that no other provider can compete with,” said Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami.

Last year, Anghami partnered with hospitality company Addmind to launch the entertainment venue Anghami Lab in Dubai followed by Riyadh and other major cities.

“Spotlight and Anghami Lab are among a number of initiatives we plan to develop as new business extensions to accelerate our growth and improve our margins while widening the gap with our competitors,” added Maroun.

Spotlight Events has recently confirmed its program of upcoming concerts and events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Paris, Cairo, and Riyadh, including Beat the Heat, a seven-concert festival organized in collaboration with Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

It also has six concerts planned in Abu Dhabi for the rest of the year and a live concert by Arab superstar Wael Kfoury in Paris.

Spotlight will be responsible for executing all Anghami events, including Amr Diab Live.

“Anghami is the largest music platform in the MENA region with an incredible number of users and a unique network of partnerships that, once connected to Spotlight, will open doors to amazing opportunities,” said Maher Khawkhaji, founder and CEO of Spotlight. “Our offline expertise, complemented by Anghami’s reach, data, and technical capabilities, is the perfect recipe for success.”

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India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

Updated 02 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

  • "Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” Sanna Irshad Mattoo said
  • She was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason.
In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020.
“Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said.
She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally.
There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities.
Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team.
She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.

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Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Updated 01 July 2022

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

  • An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday
  • Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content”

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of US public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting complaints of censorship.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television enforced a February warning to the two companies which air Turkish-language television content online to apply for a broadcast license or be blocked. An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday.
Neither website was available in Turkey on Friday. Deutsche Welle is German taxpayer-funded and Voice of America is funded by the US government through the US Agency for Global Media.
In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content.”
Director general Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the Turkish radio and TV board, abbreviated as RTUK.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content that RTUK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” Limbourg said.
The German government said it took note of the reports “with regret.”
“Our concern about the state of freedom of opinion and the press in Turkey continues,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that Germany is in a “regular, critical exchange” with Turkey on the issue.
Asked whether the German government can intervene in this case, Hebestreit noted that Deutsche Welle has said it plans to take legal action “and we have to wait for that.”
RTUK dismissed any criticism in a statement on its website Friday, saying that “no one needs to have uncertainties on the freedom of expression or press, worry unnecessarily or incriminate our Supreme Board that is doing its duties based on legal grounds.”
The RTUK statement added that had the media organizations “acted in line with regulations,” there wouldn’t have been access bans. It also promised to request from the court that the restrictions be revoked if the websites launch companies in Turkey and get licensed.
But Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK member from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the move to block the two foreign broadcasters. “Here is press freedom and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
The RTUK board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
Thursday’s move is based on an August 2019 regulation that says the RTUK would give 72-hour advance notice to unlicensed online media regarding when they had to apply and pay three months of licensing fees. Failure to do so could result in legal action against a media organization’s executives and access restrictions.
In February, RTUK said it identified three websites without broadcast licenses, which also included the Turkish services of Euronews. But Euronews said it argued that it did not broadcast live in Turkish or air visual bulletins and was therefore exempt from the licensing requirements.
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up on trying to ban everything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” it tweeted.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing for TV and radio broadcasts is a norm because broadcast airwaves are finite resources, the Internet does not have limited bandwidth. “The only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for Internet distribution is enabling censorship,” VOA said in a statement then.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing regulation emerged in February that the US was concerned with RTUK’s “decision to expand government control over free press outlets.”
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the US required Turkey’s state English-language broadcaster, TRT World, to register as a foreign agent under a law intended for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it was newsgathering and reporting like any other international media but had to register as a foreign agent in 2020.
“TRT abides by relevant regulations for its activities in the US Is that censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on the Freedom of the Net index by Freedom House. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at 149 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine critics,” including stripping journalists of press cards, online censorship, lawsuits and arrests.


Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Updated 01 July 2022

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

BRUSSELS: US online retail giant Amazon has made it easier for users to cancel their subscriptions to its fast shipping club Prime with just two clicks, following complaints from consumer groups, the European Commission said on Friday.
European Consumer Organization (BEUC), the Norwegian Consumer Council and the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue took their grievances to the EU executive in April last year.
They said users had to go through numerous hurdles such as complicated navigation menus, skewed wording and confusing choices, to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime.
The company will now allow users to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime with two clicks via a prominent and clear ‘cancel button’, the Commission said.
The changes will apply to all EU websites and for desktop devices, mobiles and tablets with immediate effect.
“Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms. One thing is clear: manipulative design or ‘dark patterns’ must be banned,” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a statement.

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Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Updated 01 July 2022

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

  • Media watchdog calls on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats
  • Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in the past seven years

OUAGADOUGOU: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats.
Ahmed Newton Barry, a former TV president and ex-editor of L’Evenement newspaper who now works as a current affairs commentator, was targeted in an audio clip circulating among WhatsApp groups, the watchdog said late Thursday.
The speaker in the clip identifies Barry by name, describes him as a “terrorist” and says a hundred people would assault his home.
“We are going to set fire to it and then destroy everything and collect the rubble that is piled up and leave the ground vacant,” the clip says, according to the CPJ.
Barry told the CPJ the threat may be related to comments he made on a TV program in which he described the Malian government as working with Russian mercenaries.
Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in Johannesburg, urged the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and ensure Barry’s safety.
“The security of journalists in Burkina Faso is tenuous enough without their having to worry about a mob being provoked to attack their homes,” she said.
Local press associations have also condemned the threats and urged the country’s junta-dominated authorities to investigate.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso is in the grip of a nearly seven-year-old crisis sparked by jihadist raiders crossing from neighboring Mali.
Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced.