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UN Answers ICP on Zainab Al-Khawaja as FAO Honchos Sue Media, Kaye Echo

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 23 -- Sometimes the UN does answer questions about the lack of freedom of expression. And sometimes the UN and its agencies try to quash freedom of the press (on this, today we have an example from the UN system in Rome.)

On October 22 Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: in Bahrain there is a noted activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, has on appeal been sentenced to one year for ripping up a photograph of the king.  And I wanted to know it seems like, what does the UN think about that?  And other than sort of a generic statement, is there any UN response to the idea of a prison sentence for a nonviolent expression of opposition?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, we need to look and see what the verdict was and how it was achieved so we would have to examine that.

On October 23, the UN sent Inner City Press this response:

"Regarding your question yesterday about Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are aware of and have been monitoring her case for a few years now.

On the most recent developments, while acknowledging that the decision of the Court of Appeal to reduce Ms. Alkhawaja's initial three-year-sentence to one year is a welcome development in the ongoing trial, OHCHR notes that participation in peaceful protests and criticising the Government should not be grounds for detention or prosecution

The Office therefore urges the Government to take all necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with fundamental principles as set forth in article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights."

  Meanwhile in Rome, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization or its executives are trying to sue a publication for its reporting:

"Four FAO executives denounced Italian Insider to the Italian judiciary for alleged defamation in an evident attempt to prevent coverage of dubious activities at the UN agency. FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva also is sueing Insider editor-in-chief John Phillips for allegedly damaging the reputation of the Rome-based agency.  The trial has been set to open at the Rome Tribunal Nov. 4."

  So, this UN agency or its executives are suing (while the UN itself claims immunity.)

On October 22 when UN Rapporteur of Freedom of Expression David Kaye -- who could and the Free UN Coalition for Access believes should chime in on the FAO executives' legal case against a publication -- held a press conference before his appearance before the UN's Third Committee, his topic was whistleblower protection, on which the UN itself is particularly weak.

 When called on, Inner City Press asked Kaye about retaliation against UN official Anders Kompass for blowing the whistle on alleged child rapes by French troops in the Central African Republic. Video here and embedded below.

  Kaye said he would avoid speaking about individuals cases, but said that the UN suffers from a lack of transparency. He should know that while UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous is listed in the Kompass ruling(s) of the UN Dispute Tribunal as trying to get Kompass fired, Ladsous has refused to answer on his role, other than a terse “I deny that.”

 Likewise, Ladsous has claimed the right to refuse to respond to ANY Press questions, in which the UN Spokesperson's Office has taken to backing him up. (When Ladsous did speak, he linked the peacekeepers' rapes to “R&R,” here.)

  Earlier this month, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked if UN Peacekeeping's MONUSCU mission had any comment or action on Burundian journalist Egide Mwemero being silenced then arrested in Eastern Congo. So far, none. These are cases Kaye could work on.

  Free speech ironies at the UN were on display right in Kaye's press conference. The representative of the UN Correspondents Association, which among other things took funds from now-indicted David Ng's South South News and then give it an award, and gave Ng a photo op with Ban Ki-moon at Cipriani, demanded to ask the first question, even claiming that the UN Department of Public Information has granted this “right” in writing. Where?

  In fact, UNCA leaders tried to get the Press thrown out of the UN, with missives to DPI, one of which (from Voice of America) was released under the US Freedom of Information Act, another of which Reuters' bureau chief has gotten Banned from Google on the claim that his anti-Press complaint was copyrighted. Is this is whistleblower? UNCA has become the UN's Censorship Alliance. We and the new Free UN Coalition for Access will have more on this, and on free speech issues through the UN system.


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