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Ban Ki-moon Talks Climate at City Hall, Takes No Questions, No First Amendment East of 1st Av

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 13 -- When Mayor Bill de Blasio's Commissioner for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena took questions about the United Nations' impact on New York City, she answered Inner City Press' question about Legionnaires disease by saying the UN works with the City to comply with applicable local laws.

On December 7, Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesman if this compliance extends to the US First Amendment and due process guarantees, both of which Abeywardena's co-panelist Cristina Gallach of the UN appears to have violated. UN transcript here and below.

On December 13, the second day in a row on which Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople canceled the UN's "daily" noon briefing amid mounting Ban Ki-moon and family corruption questions, from Myanmar to Kenya (where Ban promoted his own son in law to the top UN post, without recusal), Ban went to meet de Blasio himself.

  Inner City Press went to cover it. After a wait, it was ushered into the Blue Room, where de Blasio spoke of a 2000 climate march and Ban about peace and security. There was no mention of Haiti, much less cholera, and no questions were taken. The report reviewed below was flashed.

   UN Communications and Censorship chief Cristina Gallach was there, filming with her phone. Inner City Press shot Periscope, so far with 2,400 viewers (Tweeted video here).

Note that just the day before in Ban's conference room at the UN his guards ordered Inner City Press to stop Periscoping, even as UNTV filmed.

  The City of New York should at a minimum demand that the UN not retaliated against publications due to their coverage - but so far, NYC under de Blasio has not. For now, the First Amendment ends at First Avenue.(TM)

From the December 7 transcript:

Deputy Spokesman: I would refer you back to what Penny Abeywardena said yesterday in her role as the New York City Commissioner for International Affairs about the more than $3.3 billion, I believe it was…

Inner City Press: I asked her whether the UN is subject to New York City health rules like on Legionnaires' disease and on self-inspection, and she sort of said, oh, we work very closely, the UN basically kind of philosophically accepts all of these things even if it's not legally required.

So I'd wanted to know, one, things like the First Amendment, as to the freedom of the press or due process, is there… can you say that the UN is… is… is accepting, in the same way she described as Legionnaires' disease and health regulations, of freedom of the press and due process provisions of its host country? 

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not about the laws of the host country.  Of course, the UN also upholds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as you know, that includes the freedom of the media, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and many other key rights.

  Then how could the UN's Gallach order Inner City Press out of the UN, for seeking to cover an event in the UN Press Briefing Room, without once speaking to it - i.e. providing any due process at the time, with no right to appeal in the nine months since?

Gallach has been written to by the UN's own Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Human Rights Defenders and, after a three month day, misled them about a non-existent "altercation." The UN and Gallach do not comply with locally-applicable laws.

  On December 6, there was an initial joke about parking tickets, as if that would be the extent of issues New Yorkers might care about.

But while the City's study enumerates people directly employed by the UN Community, their lack of labor and other rights due to immunity was not acknowledged in the study.

   Inner City Press covers both the UN and its headquarters city, New York, and routinely receives complaints from diplomats' domestic workers and drivers about work place abuse and lack of benefits, and the lack of any recourse. Due to immunity, not only defrauded workers but those subject to physical abuse are left without rights.

  Inner City Press asked Abeywardena what the de Blasio administration proposes to do about that - for example, diplomat Joachim Haubrichs punched his wife Henna Johnson, 35, in the face and was not subject to arrest at all. Abeywardena said, in essence, that Johnson could get counseling. Video here.

   What about the UN having brought cholera to Haiti and killed 10,000 people, leaving sorrow and economic harm in many New York City communities - does the de Blasio administration have a position on that? Abeywardena did not answer, leaving the question for the UN moderator Cristina Gallach.

    But Gallach, as mentioned even in the New York Times, is responsible for the ouster and eviction of the investigative Press from the UN, and its confinement to minders to cover events on the UN's second floor for the past nine months and for the foreseeable future.

Gallach is giving Inner City Press' longtime shared UN office to an Egyptian state media, Akhbar al Yom, which rarely comes into the UN and never asks any questions.

    Abeywardena answered Inner City Press' second round of questions by saying the City works with the UN on such issues as testing for Legionnaires Disease - something legally required for (other) buildings in New York.  

We question whether the City administration is doing or should do anything to ensure that the UN lives up to the basic principles, applicable right outside the UN's gates, of press freedom and due process.

Gallach's pretext for throwing Inner City Press out and restricting it since was Inner City Press' attempt to cover an event in the same UN Press Briefing Room on January 29, as part of its coverage of the ongoing Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case set for trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in January 2017.

Inner City Press left the briefing room - which had no “closed” sign on it - as soon as a single UN Security officer said to, at the request of UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. But three weeks later, without once speaking with Inner City Press, Gallach ordered it out on two hours notice.

  When Inner City Press was physically thrown out onto First Avenue on Gallach's orders on February 19, 2016 (audio here) and its laptop thrown onto the sidewalk, it called the New York Police Department, which said it had no recourse at all, the UN controls even the sidewalk in front of it.

While the UN certain does some good work, is this censorship and impunity something New Yorkers should be represented as supporting? We'll have more on this.


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