Press under pressure

Regardless of what Heather Mills says about the media, they are often at the frontline when it comes to human rights, particularly in times of crisis.

Amnesty today condemned the arrest of at least 100 journalists in Pakistan after police baton-charged a peaceful demonstration against curbs on media. Many of them were beaten.

Its strange how President Musharrafs clampdown on islamic extremists has so far targeted peaceful lawyers, journalists and opposition politicians, isnt it? I dont recall seeing any of them wielding an AK47.

Pakistan's free media was one of the first casualties of Musharrafs suspension of the constitution. All independent TV channels, including international channels transmitted by cable, were blocked hours before the suspension came into force. While restrictions on international news channels have been lifted, independent channels transmitting from Pakistan remain blocked.

We also issued an urgent appeal today for an Iranian journalist and womens rights activist, Maryam Hosseinkhah. She was arrested on 18 November in Iran, reportedly accused of "disturbing public opinion", "propaganda against the system" and "publication of lies" in connection with articles posted on websites she edits.

Maryam is an active member of the Campaign for Equality, which aims to collect a million signatures in support of an end to legislation which discriminates against women, and is one of the editors of the campaign's website. She is also a member of the Women's Cultural Centre (WCC), an organisation founded in 2001 to promote women's rights in Iran.  Several days before her summons, the website of the WCC was shut down on the orders of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and the Judiciary.

Next door in Iraq, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held for more than 19 months without charge. The Pentagon says they have evidence that 36-year-old Hussein has links to terrorist groups. The APs own intensive investigations of the case conducted by a former federal prosecutor, Paul Gardephe have found no support for the allegations that he was anything other than a working journalist in a war zone.

Sounds like the kind of disagreement that a fair trial might sort out, doesnt it? But thats not looking likely. Neither Bilal Hussein nor his lawyers have not been allowed to see or challenge any evidence. And the Pentagon says that even if an Iraqi court acquits him, they may continue to detain him anyway.

Perhaps understandably, the President of AP has been quite outspoken about this case,  accusing the Pentagon of  callous disregard for the justice system sadly a not-unfamiliar scenario in the war on terror.

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