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On #FreeAJstaff, UN's Ban Belatedly Recalls His Previous Statements

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 29 -- Amid news that Egypt imposed prison sentences on Al Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste, at 5 pm in New York while the UN had still said nothing at all, the US State Department said it was disappointed, see below.

  At 10:30 pm in New York, 5 and a half hours after the US, the UN's Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a canned statement, "recalling" his own earlier canned statement - this from an organization which allowed its head of Peacekeeping to use Ban's guards to eject the Press from an open meeting, and refused to answer this week about the torching of a radio station in Burkina Faso. Here's what Ban belatedly said:

"The Secretary-General deeply regrets the decision by the Egyptian court of Cassation today to uphold the sentencing of Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste (in absentia), as well as others.

"The Secretary-General recalls his earlier appeals for their cases to be resolved expeditiously and in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression and association and in full observance of due process guarantees.

"The Secretary-General underscores once again the importance of pluralism and respect for fundamental freedoms for the long-term prosperity and stability of Egypt."

  The US's 5 pm statement:

"The United States is deeply disappointed and concerned by the verdict handed down by an Egyptian court to the three Al-Jazeera journalists - Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste. The freedom of the press to investigate, report, and comment – even when its perspective is unpopular or disputed – is fundamental to any free society and essential to democratic development.

"We urge the Government of Egypt to take all available measures to redress this verdict, which undermines the very freedom of expression necessary for stability and development."

  But what will the US actually DO about this? And the UN? It remained silent, just as it refused to answer Press questions about the burning-down of a radio station in Burkina Faso, as raised by the Free UN Coalition for Access (FUNCA).

  Back on February 13, 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said:

"The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the Egyptian authorities to release on bail the journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. He hopes that their cases, as well as those of other journalists in detention, will be resolved expeditiously and in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations to protect the freedoms of expression and association."

   Ban Ki-moon didn't 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.

  On February 12, 2015 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 exampe 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.


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