Dear Editor,The list of persons dying in road accidents due to the parking of vehicles on both sides of the Corentyne Highway continues to escalate while persons in authority display the tendency to be deaf, dumb and blind to this avoidable carnage of our citizens.The Prime Minister’s representative in Berbice, Gobin Harbhajan, highlighted these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ at the end of last year and he lamented the fact that no Ministry was taking the responsibility of removing these vehicles, which include abandoned and derelict ones. These obstructions include tractors, trailers, draglines, water pumps, combines, grain carts, tanks and other types of agricultural machineries. This gets worse when large swathes of paddy – which actually take over more than half of the road – are being dried by the same farmers guilty of illegal parking. It was stated that pedestrians also faced a high-risk venture when they traverse these areas.A few days ago, another horrific accident at Number 59 Village on the Corentyne sent shockwaves through Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) when a car returning from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport slammed into a parked lorry on the side of the road. Regardless of what explanation is given, the fact is if the lorry was not parked there then the accident would not have been fatal. One life is lost, and another is fighting for her life.Moreover, when one looks at all the deadly accidents on the Corentyne Highway, a common trend can be discerned – all the vehicles slammed into these parked obstructions. In one of the gruesome accidents, which claimed the lives of five persons, the driver tried in vain to evade a pothole and slammed into an approaching lorry after he tried to avoid hitting the obstructions on the road sides. According to onlookers, if there were no parked obstructions then the driver would have evaded the approaching lorry.There is now an increasing number of grain carts parked on the roadsides. Each gran cart has the capacity for 80 bags of paddy and they have no lights or reflectors and I am sure they are not licensed. I am not against the rice farmers using technology, but they must follow the law and they need to be reminded they should not present a risk to other road users.As an NDC Councillor, I am requesting the Commissioner of Police to investigate and to instruct his officers to enforce the laws so that we can save some of the lives of our citizens.Yours sincerely,Raj Lakhram
Dear Editor,I am reading the news for the day, and I see the bold headline captioned “Essequibians walk out of meeting with GPL.” It is quite a depressing scene to behold persons, utterly devastated by the constant blackouts, have as a last resort appealed to the state-owned GPL for some redress, only to be further frustrated by an endless supply of lame excuses from its representatives.It is a situation that would cause even the coolest of individuals in this country to become seriously irate. The point is: you cannot plan an event; say, a wedding, a church service, or anything for that matter, without that lingering backward thought in mind that there would be a blackout at some stage of the event. This is the naked truth, and it has tortured us these three doomed years of Coalition rule.The citizens’ utter frustration stems from the fact that, prior to 2015, all of us in this Guyana were recipients of a continuous and affordable electricity supply. With the ushering in of the Coalition and the so-called “good life”, we are now saddled with this retardation that would not go away.The plain truth, which this present regime cannot run away from, is that the PPP/C brought us out of those hellish years of the Guyana Embarrassing Corporation (GEC) into the marvellous light of success and enlightenment; but from what obtains at the present moment, we have gone right back into those PNC years of doom and gloom, where blackouts are our main concern.So what has this Government achieved in its three-plus years of illegal occupation, and the answer comes back: Nothing! As someone said, this PNC-led Coalition has chalked up on its debit side a series of failures that make the 28 years’ rule of Burnham pale into oblivion. You are talking about every conceivable sector contracting while the hard life exponentially increases.The situation is more distressing when you realise that everything in the economy functions on a power base; without it, everything grinds to a halt whenever a blackout occurs. In this regard, the economy has since been on a backward trend.Is this ‘the good life’? Is this the flourishing economy the PNC has fashioned for us? I say, “Hell, no! From all appearances, it is the horrible life!”Compare the present scenario with the progressive and visionary Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, and you will get the real picture as to where we are going. The PPP/C has left us an internationally accredited project which has been the envy of many a First World nation.Hydroelectric power generation is cheap, reliable, and environmentally friendly. It is something which, if it had been pursued, would have put all of our energy matters to rest. But the PNC, with no plans of their own in that vision-less mindset of theirs, purposefully scrapped this project and ushered in the intendant evils we now see on a daily basis. Instead of implementing this world acclaimed project, the PNC, for political expediency coupled with vindictiveness, closed that important chapter in our history.Guyana is doomed to failure. We see it and experience it in every facet of our economy. Our only hope comes from the strength and resilience in the populace out there to break away from the decadence and make an about change for the good.The Year 2020 will soon be here. Come on, people; let us get back on to the beaten path of success.Respectfully,Neil Adams
Dear Editor,Whenever one is faced with an explanation of what’s going on at the Georgetown Municipality, the choice is always between incompetence, corruption and conspiracy. The latest news is that the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) has not had financial audits into its affairs for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.This, according to its Internal Auditor, is in complete violation of Chapter 28:01 of the Laws of Guyana, which states, “The City Council and the Town Council shall, not later than the thirty-first day of March in every year, submit to the Minister a report in writing containing an account of all monies received, expended, and applied during the preceding financial year.”Of course this is not the most shocking, unusual, or monumental of revelations coming out of City Hall, as everyone in Georgetown — except maybe for the thirty City Fathers and Mothers sitting around the horseshoe table — is well aware of this; but the question to be asked is: what work and tasks did the Internal Auditor and the not insignificant number of staff assigned to her do for the last three years; since, according to her, the requisite documents are never submitted to her for auditing. Has the Auditor and the staff of her division just been twiddling their thumbs for the last three years whilst being well compensated?And the next question is: what did she then do about it? Did she formally bring to the attention of the Town Clerk, the Mayor, the Minister of Communities and the Auditor General of Guyana the existence of this indefensible and appalling state of affairs? Or is she only raising the alarm now that there is a Commission of Inquiry?But most worrying in all of this is that, during the period referred to, 2016-2018, Central Government has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the system; property rates and other municipal charges have risen sharply; new taxes, such as the container tax, have been levied upon the citizenry, bringing in hundreds of millions additionally; and yet the Council, over the last three years, has been, and is always, broke and bankrupt.Citizens would like to know whether the Internal Auditor has been afforded the opportunity to audit the income and expenditure of the recently held 175th Anniversary celebrations of the city? I seriously doubt it. This present City Council will never willingly allow an audit there, as all hell would break loose when one is forcibly done.It would be interesting to know how the internal Auditor was recruited, and whether she is competent and qualified to carry out those responsibilities effectively. Such a determination should also be of the competencies of the other staff of the Internal Audit Section.The most egregious of all these goings-on is the fact that some of the 30 Councillors in key positions, who sat idly by and allowed such a travesty to occur, are now seeking to be re-elected to another three-year term with the usual ‘pie in the sky’ promises. These persons are in effect just seeking to insult the intelligence of the citizenry.Regards,Jermain Johnson
Dear Editor,A recent article in the media mentioned that a certain NGO has received permission from the Ministry of Education to go to all schools in Guyana to deliver training with respect to drugs and alcohol use. That is indeed highly commendable and we do wish them every success. But we also sincerely hope that the training includes the provision of the mental wherewithal for students to be able to say ‘no’ to drugs and alcohol. As well, one would expect that not only will teachers be trained to help in this respect but that a set of teachers in every school will be prepared to turnkey the training to new teachers and to parents. The bottom line is to ensure that all stakeholders are part of the process and that the information and skill sets are not phased out over time so that this current endeavour does not become a piecemeal Band-Aid.Some years ago, The Caribbean Voice had reached out to the Ministry of Education to seek similar permission to deliver our youth and student workshops that focused on mental health in general, including such issues as building self-esteem, developing coping skills, child and sex abuse, living in a home with domestic violence, self-harm including cutting and suicide ideation, bullying, safe use of the Internet, as well as drugs and alcohol use. We were told that no NGO could be given permission for all schools but that we would have to apply for permission on a school-by-school basis. And since our training is always delivered free of cost, all schools had to do were to cover cost of training materials.At that time, our Youth & Student Workshops had already been delivered and well received at many private schools and to a number of youth groups. As well many public schools had also requested our services but the principals requested that TCV sought permission from the Ministry of Education. And the Ministry of Education was so impressed by the training curriculum that they promised to incorporate it into their Health and family Life Curricula, supposedly offered in schools.From inception, TCV has made strenuous attempts to ensure that we are not aligned politically, ethnically, culturally, ideologically or religiously not only because our members reflect the gamut of politics, ethnicity, culture, ideology and religion but also because we work with people across all these demarcations, although our advocacy has sometimes being affixed various labels over the years, depending on who’s doing the labelling. In fact, at one time most of our then Guyana-based members were highly apprehensive of our advocacy as they felt that their jobs could be jeopardised, given that most of what is advocated for falls into the realm of Government undertaking.In any case, if there are conditions to be met for us to be accorded permission, TCV certainly was not informed of any such in our many meetings with Ministry of Education officials and we do have the emails and reports to prove this. So our question is this: does the Ministry of Education operate on the basis of ‘different strokes for different folks when it comes to delivery of much-needed mental health training in schools?’Sincerely,The Caribbean Voice
Following discussion with Junior Public Infrastructure Minister Annette Ferguson, some 65 vendors fromAttendees during the meeting discussing the relocation to facilitate the WCD Road Improvement ProjectVreed-en-Hoop, West Coast Demerara, have agreed to relocate in order to facilitate works under the West Coast Demerara Road Improvement Project (RIP).Minister Ferguson met with the vendors at the Vreed-en-Hoop Primary School to discuss a way forward that is agreeable to both the RIP and vendors. She was accompanied by officials from the Public Infrastructure Ministry, Finance Ministry, and Region Three Democratic Council (RDC).During the interactive session, it was emphasised that the project was one which would ultimately benefit the entire community, particularly its economic wellbeing through the provision of farm-to-market access.Furthermore, it was relayed by project coordinator Kester Hinds, that the US$44 million Road Improvement Project is the largest infrastructural development to ever be undertaken in Region Three. However, for the RIP to be successfully completed, the 65 vendors from Vreed-en-Hoop would have to temporarily relocate since their current location is in the direct path of the proposed road. As part of the contract, the technical specifications must be adhered to and are therefore unchangeable.
As the Police, through community relations initiatives, continue to work to reduce youth inactivity and crime, 71 students are now certified in technical areas by the Leonora Technical and Vocational Skill Training Centre.This year’s batch received certificates in a number of areas, namely: data operations, general office administration, motor vehicle works, carpentry, electrical installation, welding and fabrication, metal work engineering and Information Technology.At the award ceremony at the Vocational Centre on Tuesday, acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine praised the students for their outstanding achievements, cautioning that a lack of reading and reasoning skills has contributed to an uptick in crime.He posited that one’s youth was the prime period during which one should capitalise on opportunities.“If you can’t make the best of your opportunity and make the best of your youth, you will simply pass through life [as] a basin of water,” the acting Police Commissioner expressed.He also appealed to parents, stating that they have “every responsibility” to ensure that their children attain an adequate education.In his closing remarks, Ramnarine told the students that they should embrace a “positive attitude” in moving to their future paths.“To become someone, that one in a million; to stand out [and] be a good example in your community, to your family and the country, you have to have a positive attitude… you will be on the path of becoming a better person [in] equipping yourself to make a better contribution [to society],” the Acting Commissioner encouraged.Meanwhile, Commander Stephen Mansell, who initiated the technical and vocational programme in the region, noted that it was part of the Community Relations Programme that enlisted requisite stakeholders to reduce crime. These stakeholders include the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), the business community and members of the public.“Our intention is to transform Region Three through community relations,” he stated, and observed that Amerindian communities, like Bonasika, and others should continue to benefit from the initiatives. Mansell also expressed the view that the work of the Leonora institute has aided in reducing the number of youth “hanging out on the street”.Principal of the Training Centre, Eon Nickelson, posited that the programme, which started in 2015, was established to give youths in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) the necessary training to “add to Guyana”. Although the number of graduates this year declined from last year’s figure of 94 to 71, the Principal pointed that enrolment for the next academic year was encouraging.This year’s outstanding students included Rannie Martin in the motor vehicle works programme, Tyrese Trats in carpentry and Kerry Sookra in welding and fabrication. Annette Sumbir was adjudged Best Graduating Student, as well as Best Performing Metal Work Engineering Student.The centre caters to students in the Region Three area, and the programme is collaboration between the Education Ministry and Guyana Police Force D Division (West Demerara-East Bank Essequibo). This year’s graduating class ranged from ages 16-21. Additionally, mature students also enrolled in some programmes.
On this Sacred Observance of Eid-ul-Adha, IAC would like to extend Eid Mubarak to all Guyanese and especially the Muslim Community.Eid-ul-Adha is a time for believers to learn the value of self-denial by making a sacrifice of the things they love, to Almighty God.Abraham’s great act of submission is thus regarded solely as an example of genuine surrender to the will of his Creator. Today, more than ever, human beings need to incorporate the lesson of this great sacrifice with humility thus underlining the importance of the festival in memory of Prophet Abraham’s great act of faith, many centuries ago.In the spirit of sacrifice, let’s not forget the poor and needy in our community, by sharing the sacrificial offerings with them. Let it be our sincere hope and prayer that we are able to affirm the unity among our peoples and between Islam and other religions.The message of Eid-ul-Adha is an example of co-existence and cooperation of mutual benefit the world can learn from. This festival incorporates the great pilgrimage to Mecca or the performance of the Hajj. Over two million pilgrims from the world over, covering all races, economic and social backgrounds gather, only for one purpose, humbleness.IAC congratulates our brothers and sisters from home, who have undertaken this journey and extend good wishes for their safe return.Today, as our Muslim brothers and sisters observe Eid-ul-Adha, IAC urges that special prayers be offered for continued peace, so that our country can move forward with prosperity.Eid Mubarak.
The two teenagers who were nabbed in Alexander Street, Georgetown, on Tuesday with the stolen car belonging to Andrew Nurse appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts where they were both placed on remand for charges of robbery under arms.It was alleged that on September 26, 2016, at Bishop Street, Georgetown, while being armed with a gun they stole a cellular phone valued $19,000 from Kendell Shortt.Additionally, it was further alleged that on the same day with the same weapon, they stole car PVV 6825 valued $2.5 million, property of Andrew Nurse.Both teens pleaded not guilty before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.Police Prosecutor Deniro Jones stated that the car was recovered but not the cellular phone.The unrepresented defendants of Ketley Street, Charlestown, made applications for bail but were denied when the prosecution indicated that the duo gave Police conflicting addresses.Both teens will return to court on October 21, 2016.Reports are that the owner of the car had just stepped out of his vehicle on Monday afternoon to visit his mechanic in Bishop Street and as he returned to his car, he felt a gun pressed to his head and he was shoved aside as the teens grabbed his keys and made off with the vehicle.It is reported that the teenagers changed the registration plates of the car but police became suspicious after spotting the car and realising that the original registration that had been engraved on the mirrors and other parts had been scratched off.
To contain the deadly Ebola virus that is now confirmed to be in the country, the Government of Liberia, has launched an urgent appeal for the US$1.2 million that it has budgeted to prevent the spread of the virus.This appeal was echoed by authorities of the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare (MoSHW), Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) and the World Health Organization (WHO) at a major press conference Monday, March 31, held at the Information Ministry on Capitol Hill.Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. (MD) Walter T. Gwenigale said the US$1.2 million is urgently needed to address some of the problems necessary to prevent the “deadly Ebola virus,” which is now confirmed to have claimed at least one life in Foya, Lofa Country.“We are appealing to the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Finance, and to all our partners, to make the US$1.2 million available so that we can prevent the spread of the virus from reaching other parts of the country,” he said.According to the Health Minister and his deputy, Dr. Bernice Dahn, the money would be used for case management, surveillance and health promotion.Notwithstanding, in a March 30th interview with the Daily Observer, Dr. Gwenigale said a portion of the money would be used to give daily subsistence allowances (DSA) for health workers in the suspected counties, fuel and gasoline for vehicles and generators and for protective gear for the health workers, among others.However, Mr. Thomas Nagbe, Director of Disease Prevention and Control at the Health Ministry, also told the Observer Sunday evening that the National Public Emergency Task Force (NPETF), which is coordinating the GOL’s efforts at curtailing the spread of the Ebola virus, has received at least five percent—US$60,000—of the total amount needed.Nagbe further clarified out of that amount US$50,000 was provided by the GoL and the US$10,000 from the MRU Secretariat. He also stated that other partners, including UNFPA had come forward with material support.At the Monday press conference, Health Ministry authorities clarified that instead of five as had been told the media the day before, seven blood samples, were sent to Lyon, France for testing and two of the samples showed the presence of the virus. Of the two, one has since died and the other is reportedly “at large.”Experts have warned that a single case of the Ebola virus, which has a “case fatality rate of 90 percent,” is an epidemic (tending to affect a disproportionately large number of persons within a community or region at the same time.)Even though one doesn’t know how long it is going to take to curtail the spread of the virus in the country, aggregating the total amount is very important and urgent to prevent a greater portion of the population from being affected.Speaking further about the two blood samples from one patient that tested positive and the other from one that has since died, Health Minister Gwenigale disclosed that the other person was the sister of the deceased. “This sister was the one looking after [the deceased] when she fell sick. Blood from her, too, tested positive,” he added. According to him, his worries were now centered on the surviving sister of the deceased (both of their names remain unknown) as she travelled from Lofa to Firestone in Margibi County and likely interacted with several persons along the way. This opens a possibility that some of the people she interacted with on her way and since her arrival in Firestone have also become infected.Dr. Gwenigale told journalists that they had informed the medical director at the Firestone-run Duside Hospital, Dr. Lyndon G. Mabande, was doing all he could to keep the affected lady and all those she might have interacted since her arrival in Harbel, Firestone, isolated so that the rest of the population doesn’t get infected.According to Dr. Bernice Dahn, who is also the Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, the Health Ministry has taken blood samples from the Firestone area to a laboratory in Guinea for testing.Dr. Dahn and Dr. Gwenigale, along with Information Minister Lewis G. Brown, said the GoL was doing everything in its power to provide the necessary pieces of information to the public and that the public needs not panic.They reiterated the safety tips for everyone to follow: “Do not eat animals that are found dead in the bush, and avoid contacts with fruit bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, antelopes and porcupines. Limit as much as possible, direct contact with body fluids of infected persons or dead persons. Wash your hands with soap and water as frequently as possible. Treat your water with chlorine before drinking.Concerning a border closure with Guinea, Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, Country Representative of WHO-Liberia, said it was not necessary to close the borders. The WHO Rep. stated that his organization does not support the closure of borders in situations like these, and that such measures have not proven to help in other cases.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
IPI members, distinguished guests, colleagues …What a privilege it is to welcome you here today. Many of you either were not here or … unlike me … aren’t old enough to remember when IPI held its last World Congress in Cape Town … exactly 20 years ago.How times have changed.Twenty years ago, the vast majority of South Africans had few rights, were excluded from the country’s immense prosperity, and the media were under horrific pressure not to rock the boat. In many other African nations … like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania … journalists struggled under the grip of strongmen. Today, these countries boast some of the most dynamic media markets on the continent.Twenty years ago, we were welcoming new IPI members from a wave of young democracies in Europe … and celebrating the media’s role as guardian of the transition to democracy in many parts of Latin America.Twenty years ago, many of the world’s strongest media were found in the leading economic powers. Today, as they struggle to find their place in the digital world, traditional and new media are thriving in many parts of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East… and might grow even more if freed of the clutches of government control.And speaking of the digital world, we pay homage this year to the 20th anniversary of the invention of the worldwide web.For all the changes these past two decades, the challenges have not gone away… nor has the need for great organizations like the International Press Institute.When IPI was last in Cape Town, it was relatively easy to halt a newspaper… you break the presses, confiscate the press run or put a lock on the newspaper office. That still happens. Just recently in Sudan, security agents confiscated the pressruns of nearly a dozen newspapers. In Egypt, they outlawed the Freedom and Justice newspaper and several broadcasters. In Venezuela, the government restricted foreign currency exchanges that affected imports of newsprint, effectively forcing newspapers to limit pressruns or suspend publishing altogether.Today, digital media is playing the role of the old samizdat. Social media fuelled the Arab Spring, last year’s Turkish protests, and Ukraine’s most recent revolution … but also helped journalists stay ahead of the story.Yet those who fear journalism have kept up the pressure. In Jordan, where we met a year ago, the government blocked scores of websites within weeks after our Congress ended and some of those remain blocked today for not having government licenses. In February, Turkish leaders approved measures that, unless amended, give the government power to block websites without judicial oversight and to engage in mass surveillance of Internet users. The Syrian Electronic Army… an ad hoc hacker group that backs the Assad government… has played havoc with opposition as well as foreign media, including the Financial Times and The New York Times.When IPI was in Ethiopia last year on a press freedom mission, websites of opposition media and human rights groups were blocked. Ethiopian journalists told us that the security forces shut down the government-run mobile phone network whenever they want to pre-empt anti-government demonstrations organized through text messages.Meanwhile, our business remains a profoundly dangerous one. Just look at Syria, the deadliest country for our profession for two years running … 16 journalists killed in 2013 and 39 the year earlier. Dozens more have been wounded or held captive.Even in countries not in the throes of a terrible civil war, like Syria, journalists walk with targets on their backs. In the Philippines, at least 13 journalists died on the job last year, 11 in India and six in Brazil. All in all, IPI tracked 119 journalists killed in the line of duty… a slight decline from the 133 who died in 2012 but nonetheless an appalling toll. So far this year, more than 20 have either been killed while on the job or died while on duty.IPI is not standing idle when it comes to safety. We’ve pushed the Mexican authorities to improve security for media workers covering drug lords and organized crime. We’ve also pressed the government to end impunity by launching swift investigations into attacks or threats against media and journalists.In January, an emergency IPI delegation went to Cairo to urge the government… including the foreign minister and state information chief… to halt indiscriminate attacks on journalists by the police and vigilantes.Yet journalists face other challenges, perhaps less violent, but no less alarming. Governments have an arsenal of laws that are being turned against our colleagues … laws on sedition and terrorism, for instance. Criminal defamation and insult laws are another example. But more about this later.Twenty years ago, South Africans knew all too well the tricks that oppressors use to silence a free press. Back then, the transformation to a multiracial democracy had not yet taken place. South Africa had a brand new constitution when this Congress last met here, but it was untested and one too many laws restricting press freedom remained on the books … and do so to this day. Criminal defamation is one of them.David Laventhol, the IPI chairman at the time, wrote a beautiful speech for the 1994 Congress. He said: “There are many different cultures represented here, but our mission is a common one: to protect the rights of journalists and the free flow of information everywhere. The subject matter for our deliberation is Africa, a continent that is a mighty mix of cultures, religions, politics and changing ways of life. And of course, one special focus is the Republic of South Africa.”“Of all the places we could be on the globe this year,” he continued, “this is perhaps the most appropriate. A changing society which is headed towards multi-racial democracy after generations without it; a country where, throughout all its troubles, courageous people reported and edited and spoke the truth, as best they could under immense pressure and sometimes threats to their personal safety.”I would like to take a moment to honour those South African journalists … those brave enough to fight the injustice of apartheid … including one who is here today … Mathatha Tsedu. [Round of applause]Mathatha is not alone, by any means. Many African journalists carry on that tradition of determination. Anas Aremeyaw Anas of Ghana and Joseph Mwenda of Zambia as well as our own Ferial Haffajee, who helped make this Congress possible, are some of them. [Round of applause]We are also honoured to have representatives from Al-Monitor, the recipient of our Free Media Pioneer Award, and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the courageous Iranian journalist who is our World Press Freedom Hero this year. Welcome to both.Back to David Laventhol. As he noted in his Cape Town speech, South Africa was preparing for elections. Again today, we are on the eve of elections and their impact on South Africa is no less important. We have just heard Minister Chabane speak on behalf of President Jacob Zuma … we thank him for his warm welcome to South Africa and we are honored to be here in this great land of hope.But we say to President Zuma, please do not cheat us of that hope. Parliament last November approved and sent to the president the Protection of State Information Bill, also known as the “secrecy bill”, which in our view gives too much authority to politicians to determine what is confidential information. It also lacks a public interest defence, which would directly impact whistleblowers and journalists who obtain information through their confidential sources.We strongly urge the President to veto the “secrecy bill” and send it back to the Parliament for reconsideration – before the election. Doing so would send the message that South Africa is determined to protect freedom of the press and defend the right of the public to access information that affects their lives.There has also been no progress under the African National Congress-led government in banning defamation and insult laws… a horrible legacy of the apartheid era. The Table Mountain Declaration… signed right here in Cape Town in 2007 with IPI’s backing… calls for abolishing criminal defamation and insult laws in Africa. Only two African leaders have signed it… President Issoufou of Niger and President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.It’s not too late for President Zuma to add his name and personal commitment to abolish these heinous laws.Doing so is not just important to South Africa. It is important to all of Africa and beyond because it sends the message that Africans can be global leaders on this issue… as Ghana did when it abolished criminal defamation more than a decade ago.Yet for all the progress in Africa … and much progress has been made… terrific challenges still remain.Just look at Ethiopia. Our board members, Ferial Haffaje and Kiburu Yusuf, were there with me when we tried to visit five journalists imprisoned on terrorism charges. When we were there last November, these journalists were being denied access to their lawyers, their friends and their colleagues. One of them, a courageous young woman named Reeyot Alemu, is battling breast cancer from her prison cell. Her struggle and that of her colleagues … Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Eskinder Nega and Yusuf Getachew… brought tears to the eyes of members of our delegation who spoke with those closest to them.Ethiopia’s neighbor, Somalia, remains Africa’s most dangerous country for journalists… at least 24 journalists have been killed there since the start of 2012. Meanwhile, Eritrea’s dictator has literally locked away journalists and thrown away the key… some of our colleagues have languished in prisons for years. Some have died in confinement.This week the world is marking the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide. As a series of commentaries we published this past week showed, some local media played a terrible role in fanning ethnic hatred in 1994. While there is no defence for such hate speech, we are concerned that the Rwandan authorities use that experience to maintain tight control over today’s news media and call on the government to allow independent media to flourish.A few moments ago I mentioned the scourge of criminal defamation and insult laws. In Angola, journalists who step out of line regularly face the cudgel of criminal defamation. Rafael Marques, who will be speaking here at the Congress, wrote a report alleging involvement of high-level government officials in abuses of mining workers. Angolan prosecutors have harassed him for a year, accusing him of criminal defamation. IPI and a coalition of our partners have rallied in his defence… for example, by pressuring the European Union, a main trading partner and aid donor, to demand accountability from Angola’s autocrats for harassing Marques and other journalists.Even in countries with relatively strong constitutional foundations for press freedom, there is a tendency to flaunt laws. Governments in Tanzania and Uganda have dredged up old press laws to suspend newspapers… damaging these publications’ reputations and financial stability.Kenya is another concern. President Kenyatta has signed legislation… the Information and Communication Act… that we believe would lead to state control of news and information during emergencies, plus give the government the power to perform functions currently executed by the country’s Media Council. We’ve protested these measures and Kenyan journalists are not about to have their rights trampled on. They’ve filed legal challenges against the Information and Communication Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.Elsewhere in Africa, we’ve led the campaign against the use of sedition laws to arrest and intimidate journalists in The Gambia and Sierra Leone.And in Egypt these past few months, dozens of journalists have been detained, sometimes for days or months without being indicted. Recently 20 were put on trial for charges such as reporting “false news” or aiding terrorists. And IPI member Al Jazeera has borne the brunt of the government’s wrath, with no less than four journalists still in jail on trumped-up charges.Elsewhere, Morocco has to stand out as one of the more bizarre cases we’ve handled in recent months. Ali Anouzla, whom many of you might know as editor of Lakome.com, was arrested last September and is now on trial for “glorifying terrorism”. What did he do? Anouzla published a news article that included a link to a YouTube video posted on the website of El País in Spain. The video was removed by YouTube, but it allegedly accused King Mohammed of corruption and despotism, and urged young Moroccans to engage in jihad. IPI has joined with more than 40 other organizations in calling for the charges to be dropped.In the Middle East, we’ve seen the great promise of the Arab Spring wither in many countries. I’ve already mentioned the terrible death toll for our colleagues in Syria.But the Arab Spring has also delivered some advances for press freedom. Tunisian and Egyptian voters have adopted promising constitutions with strong guarantees of press freedom. We challenge leaders in both countries to live by the spirit of these constitutions and to adjust national laws to the new guarantees … and then abide by those laws.Press freedom is under siege in other areas as well.In the last few months, we have seen upheavals in Venezuela where government forces have assaulted at least 78 journalists. Fourteen national and international journalists were arrested. In some cases, journalists were taken into custody despite showing their press credentials and media equipment. A few were held for hours incommunicado and then released. Some journalists were threatened even as they were freed from detention.At least 13 cases of theft took place… with the police seizing photos and film showing violence between government forces and protesters. By our count, there were at least 10 separate cases of censorship against national news outlets carried out by the government agency in charge of regulating broadcast media in Venezuela. Colombian news channel NTN24, which has a station in Caracas, was ordered off the air on February 12 after reporting on protests taking place across the country. At the same time, Venezuelan President Maduro threatened CNN en Español and ordered press credentials be taken away from three of its reporters.Turning to Brazil. Since last year, eight journalists have been killed in incidents directly linked to their work as members of the press. Impunity reigns in Brazil when it comes to crimes committed against journalists. Press freedom advocates report that a law already in place could federalize investigations on crimes against journalists … yet this law is not strictly enforced today. Although there are efforts by Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat to get input from local press groups, it is our responsibility to bring light to these inconsistencies that undermine freedom of the press.Last year, after years of advocacy by IPI and other groups, the Mexican government finally put into practice two critical institutional measures designed to protect journalist safety and combat impunity. Unfortunately, the government’s performance leaves much to be desired. Just ask renowned investigative journalist Anabel Hernández, whose home was stormed by 11 armed assailants in December. Or the family of Gregorio Jimenez de la Cruz, a Veracruz reporter kidnapped and murdered in February. We remind Mexico that new laws and programmes mean nothing unless they are backed up by action.With respect to the Caribbean, media independence in Cuba continues to be hampered by government officials. At least 19 journalists have been forced into exile since 2008. As IPI’s World Press Freedom Hero, Yoani Sánchez, has said: the journalism community in Cuba must “shed its political commitments and take on the truth as its only obligation.”I am thrilled to report that IPI’s campaign to repeal criminal defamation laws has already met with great success. Last November, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to completely abolish criminal defamation. Grenada, along with Trinidad and Tobago, have also taken steps to partially decriminalize defamation. We are hopeful that governments in Antigua and Barbuda… and the Dominican Republic… will honor public commitments and follow suit.Despite these fantastic accomplishments, the Caribbean faces several troubling trends on the press freedom front … including a new wave of electronic defamation laws that threaten citizens’ rights to self-expression online. Secrecy laws are another area of concern: under a bill pending in the British Virgin Islands, journalists could face up to 15 years in prison for publishing sensitive computer data.In Asia, too, press freedom has witnessed many successes and too many defeats. The most astonishing success of the last few years remains Myanmar, where only four years ago we had little hope that press freedom may ever become a reality. Today, after the state censorship office was abolished and most journalists and political prisoners were released from prison, the government is in the process of developing a new legal framework for the media that promises to guarantee a good degree of press freedom. Challenges nevertheless remain and, as I speak, four journalists and one publisher are facing trial for revealing state secrets in connection with an article on an alleged chemical weapon factory.In numerous East and South-East Asian countries … older democracies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, the Philippines … and newer democracies … such as Indonesia and Mongolia – appear to remain stable and journalism remains strong in its watchdog function.Nevertheless, threats to press freedom linger in the established democracies. For instance, Japan approved a special state secret law in December 2013. The new law was hailed by Washington, which had long pushed Japan to exert tighter control on classified information. But journalists in Japan say the law is too vague and open to abuse … and represents a serious obstacle to the dissemination of information of public interest.China remains a repressive country. More than 30 journalists and bloggers remain in prison in China and foreign journalists have been facing increasing difficulties in getting a visa to work in the country. Despite these challenges, journalists in China have continued to push the limits.Nine journalists were killed last year in Pakistan, 13 in the Philippines, 11 in India… and three in Afghanistan. In many Asian countries, the authorities fail to address threats and crimes against journalists. Violence has become a powerful deterrent to the coverage of certain sensitive issues.The continued forced exile of so many Sri Lankan journalists… and the Sri Lankan government’s repression of critical voices in the country even after the civil war that ended in 2009… raises concerns that democracy may not be restored any time soon. Tragically, 30 years of civil war has left little space for independent news.In Thailand, the editor of the banned Voice of Taksin is serving an 11-year sentence because of two articles he wrote that were perceived as offensive towards the country’s royal family. This case is a reminder of the threat that criminal defamation and insult laws represent for press freedom. Thailand has turned a deaf ear to repeated appeals by international organizations, including the UN, to amend its laws against insulting the monarchy.There is little progress to report in Central Asia… where governments use an arsenal of tactics to intimidate and silence journalists, including imprisonment, criminal charges, forced closure of newspapers, the blocking of websites… and impunity in crimes against journalists.In Europe, former Soviet republics remain some of the most difficult in which to practice journalism.Impunity flourishes in Russia, where the vast majority of the 64 journalists’ deaths IPI that has recorded there since 1997 remain unsolved. Four journalists died in connection with their work in 2013… two gunned down, two succumbing to the effects of savage beatings they suffered years ago.Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, Russia has re-criminalized defamation, created an Internet blacklist, expanded the definition of treason, prohibited discussion of homosexuality that isn’t negative, converted one of the largest news agencies into a pro-Russian public relations firm, and annexed Crimea, where journalists have been menaced by masked gunmen in uniforms without insignia and pro-Russian militia.Meanwhile, Ukraine still reels from the effects of a revolution in which observers recorded more than 120 attacks on domestic and foreign journalists this year.Belarus remains a totalitarian state where journalists are routinely detained or summoned to appear before authorities, and self-censorship is the norm in the Caucasus, particularly in Azerbaijan, where independent media continue to face pressure.Throughout the Balkans, journalists confronted issues of corruption, media concentration and monopolization, as well as physical attacks. In Greece, SEEMO [South East Europe Media Organization] measured a sharp increase in attacks, many of which were attributed to alleged supporters of the xenophobic, right-wing Golden Dawn party.Journalists in Hungary struggle with the effects of both an ailing economy and legislation centralizing regulatory authority in the hands of parliament, while Turkey remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists. Some 44 are still behind bars, most on what appear to be politically-motivated claims of connections to terrorists or armed groups.Media owners’ economic dependence on government connections continues to stifle reporting in Turkey, as did the reported attacks by police on dozens of journalists as they covered protests that erupted last year following the brutal treatment of demonstrators opposing the demolition of Gezi Park in Istanbul. In recent months, a growing corruption scandal has led to the release online of wiretapped conversations allegedly revealing government willingness to apply direct pressure on both the media and the judiciary to achieve political goals. Authorities went so far as to shut down Twitter and YouTube in an apparent bid to staunch that flow of information ahead of local elections.Media in Western Europe generally fared better. But journalists in Italy still faced attacks and intimidation, as well as the very real threat of imprisonment under criminal defamation provisions – provisions with analogues in criminal codes across the continent.As the United Kingdom continued to deal with fallout from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and disclosures by Edward Snowden, IPI and other leading international press freedom groups warned of the dangers of previously unthinkable regulatory proposals and of criminal investigations targeting The Guardian, reminding Prime Minister David Cameron that his government’s actions could be used to justify media restrictions elsewhere in the world.The United States was the scene of similarly unthinkable developments. In addition to Snowden’s disclosures, the Justice Department acknowledged that it secretly subpoenaed Associated Press journalists’ records and obtained a warrant for a Fox News reporter’s private communications on the grounds that talking a State Department official into sharing information on North Korea made the journalist a co-conspirator to espionage.U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines on handling investigations involving reporters, but federal prosecutors continued to argue in court that the First Amendment creates no privilege, at least in criminal cases, allowing journalists to protect a confidential source’s identity. Senators considered enacting a federal law on source confidentiality, but a bill to do so remains stalled – the victim of a political process paralyzed by partisan strife.Meanwhile, the White House’s efforts to control news coverage led 38 U.S. media organizations to sign a letter protesting limits on photojournalists’ access to the president.Twenty years ago, IPI held its World Congress in South Africa … in part to celebrate freedom, but also to show that we stood on guard to defend those freedoms everywhere in the world.The transitions that were beginning in Africa, in Europe, in Latin America and in Asia would not be easy … and we continue to see far too many obstacles to press freedom today. For every Tunisia, with its promising new constitution, there is a Russia, where those in power tighten their grip on the media. For all the successes of our Campaign to Abolish Criminal Defamation in the Caribbean, there are countries around the world that continue to use it in a sinister effort to hush journalists.Just weeks before he became president, Nelson Mandela was here… at the IPI World Congress. He gave a touching endorsement of why IPI and press freedom matter. As tempting as it is to read Nelson Mandela’s gently eloquent speech in full, let me highlight one excerpt that embodies why we are here today.He said: “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring, without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the Constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”Twenty years on, we still have our work cut out for us. This Congress will demonstrate the challenges, as well as the potential to fight back. Thank you all for your support this past year, your participation in this important congress… and your determination to carry on in the years ahead in defence of journalists around the world.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)