Reporters Without Borders urges European foreign ministers to press their Asian counterparts for concrete progress in free expression during the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that begins today in Hamburg. The organisation especially hopes that France’s new foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, will raise the issue of free speech with Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi.
“There has been a distinct decline in press freedom in Asia in recent months,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Attacks on the press and free speech activists have increased not only in Vietnam, Burma and China, but also in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The credibility of cooperation between Europe and Asia depends on the results. The same should also apply to human rights. We urge Europe’s foreign ministers not to avoid the sensitive issues.”
Ministers and representatives from a total of 46 European and Asian countries are taking part in the eighth ASEM summit, which has been preceded by grave attacks on press freedom in Asia:
In China, free speech activist couple Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan were prevented from travelling to Europe and were placed under house arrest again on 18 May. More than 80 journalists and cyber-dissidents are currently detained in China. News control and the repression of dissent is being reinforced in the run-up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which took place on 4 June 1989.
In Burma, there has been no goodwill gesture by the military government towards political prisoners such as U Win Tin, who has been detained since 1989. On the contrary, there is a tendency to step up surveillance of the press and opposition activists.
Vietnam has cracked down hard on dissident journalists and all those who express their views online. Ten journalists, including Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, have received long jail terms after summary trials in the past two months.
In Pakistan, journalists are the targets of violence by the security forces, political parties allied with President Pervez Musharraf and militant jihadists. Privately-owned TV stations have been repeatedly censored when covering the current political crisis.
Finally, paramilitary militias are targeting the media in Sri Lanka, where three journalists have already been killed since the start of the year. Several editors have also been threatened by people close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa including his brother, a defence adviser.