Ban Ki-moon’s silence on Ethiopian Bloggers Case

February 13, 2015

Amid UN Free Press Talk, Ban Still Silent on Zone 9 Bloggers, Kaye at IPI

by Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 12 — Amid news that Egypt has released two Al Jazeera journalists MohammedOpen letter to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General United Nations Fahmy and Baher Mohammed on bail, statements are churning out from all corners. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have one — but he should still explain his silence while in Ethiopia for the recent African Union summit about the terrorism trial of that country’s Zone 9 Bloggers.

The Free UN Coalition for Access has been asking Ban’s UN, and those who pass through it, about #FreeZone9Bloggers, as it asked about Peter Greste and his colleagues, for example here.

But the UN in New York, and the UN in Addis Ababa, have been silent.

On February 12 across First Avenue from the UN there was a panel discussion on protection of journalists at the International Peace Institute. Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo spoke.

Inner City Press ran across First Avenue and posed a question: does the UN system do for independent journalists and bloggers what it does for corporate or state media?

The panelist who answered was David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Kaye said, “As an independent journalist, it’s good to see you here. From different perspectives, I think that’s right. Sometimes the UN can do so loudly and publicly. Some situation might call for a little bit more of a quieter engagement.”

Rapporteur Kaye said that “from the OHCHR perspective, we have different tools. Our first tool is to communicate with governments on the quiet side, send them allegation letters or urgent appeals, Zone 9 Bloggers being a good example of that.

If we don’t get a response, to issue press releases, to call out bad behavior. I agree with the tenor or your comment — we should be out there calling out the bad behavior at the moment that it happens, quietly or more publicly. Article 19 is not written to protect only journalists, it protects everyone’s right to seek, receive and impart information.”

The other panelists were Bård Glad Pedersen, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Agnes Callamard, Director of the Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project at Columbia University and former Executive Director of Article 19, Matthew Rosenberg, Foreign Correspondent of the New York Times (with interesting stories of Afghanistan but who declined to discuss the NYT’s coverage of Iraq before the US invasion) and Judith Matloff of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. There will be video.

Back on January 30 when the UN held a “Social Media Summit,” it concluded with a panel about trends, from mobile to analytics to video and Facebook’s acquisition of Snapchat.

But what about the UN defending or at least speaking up for freedom of expression on the Internet?

Earlier on January 30, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric why Ban while in Ethiopia for the African Union summit had not raised the terrorism charges brought against the Zone 9 Bloggers. Video here.

Dujarric said Ban has spoken elsewhere about freedom of expression in Africa, and that the (other) contents of his AU speech were interesting.

So Inner City Press went to the #SocialUN final panel and asked, does the UN do enough to speak up for freedom in social media? One of the panelists had just finished praising high tech in Qatar. What about arrests for insulting the leader? What about Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain? Video here.

Panelist Hayes Brown of BuzzFeed, who advised and practices Be a Person on Twitter, including baking and (good) jokes, said it is hard for the UN, since it has member states that pay its bills. He said he agreed about bloggers in Ethiopia but wasn’t sure what the UN could do, beyond speaking up.

Well, as to the Zone 9 Bloggers, the UN has yet to speak up. That would be a start.

Panelist Liz Borod Wight, who moderator Sree Sreenivasan marveled is paid to do Instagram for the BBC, cites those who tweeted #JeSuisCharlie and said those who have freedom of expression should use it.

Panelist Adam Glenn from CUNY Journalism School said, hoping not to offend the hosts the UN, that the UN should ensure that all of its staff have training and can tweet.

Inner City Press and FUNCA note, for example, that a UN staffer in South Sudan abruptly stopped tweeting after she tweeted this: “#breaking Lou Nuer youth are mobilising in big numbers leaving #Akobo town empty heading towards Dengjok #Southsudan.”

As Inner City Press reported at the time, after Mathilde Kaalund-Jørgensen raised this alarm, the tweet and her Twitter account profile both disappeared. So much for Rights Up Front.

At the end of the panel a UN staffer took the floor to acknowledge that UN staff cannot tweet what they think. But can’t Ban Ki-moon say what he thinks? Or doesn’t he think it? We’ll have more on this.

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