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Guest post: “the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors to educate the donors’ taxpayers” – Thierry Uwamahoro

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“Free Kavumbagu” cause makes its way to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC – guest post by Thierry Uwamahoro

Yes, you saw right! That was a “Free Kavumbagu” sign among the thousands of other rally signs that either made you laugh or left you scratching your head as you attempted to understand what they meant or who their intended audience was.

This Saturday (10.30.10), hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington, DC to join a rally whose objective was to restore sanity in the discourse of American politics.

However, American politics are never too far from world affairs as the American people pride themselves in calling their President, the “Leader of the Free World”. As a Burundian residing near Washington, DC, I was drawn to think of a fellow Burundian – a journalist – who was not part of the “Free World” as the Rally to Restore Sanity went on.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an internationally-renowned journalist and human rights defender who has been unjustly arrested five times in this decade, but has never been found guilty. Today, he remains behind bars, despite promises by Burundian authorities and global calls for his release.

On July 17th, 2010, Jean Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and later jailed over an article that he published on his online journal “Net Press”. The article questioned the preparedness of the Burundian security forces, were the Somalia based militia Al-Shabab to attack Bujumbura (Burundi). The Burundian government considered the publication of such article “treason”, a charge that carries a life imprisonment sentence. Paradoxically, treason is an offense that Burundian law only recognizes when the country is at war due to external aggression. This is not the case today!

Last September, after meetings with some of Burundi’s highest officials, Omar Faruk Osman (President of the Federation of African Journalists) and his delegation left Bujumbura (Burundi) on a highly promising and optimistic note summed up in these words: “We agreed with the leadership of the country the urgency to resolve the case of Kavumbagu and our message was clear that was no longer a mere Burundian affair but an African and international press freedom case”.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu’s freedom has become a national, regional, continental and global issue. The Union of Burundian Journalists and the entire Burundian civil society, the East African Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Federation of African Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, FrontLine, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch; to name just a few – have all called for the release of Jean Claude Kavumbagu.

But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Kavumbagu has –this week – passed the 100 day mark behind bars in the notorious “Mpimba” prison, despite his constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The call for Kavumbagu’s freedom must not fade. This is no time to despair and quit.

But why carry the call to Washington, DC? This week, according to the journal Arc-en-Ciel, Washington hosted a high level delegation comprised of Burundian security apparatus heavyweights: the Director of military cabinet in the office of the President (Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye), the Minister of Internal Security (General Alain Guillaume Bunyoni) and the army chief of staff (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) alongside the top civilian advisor to the President. The delegation’s goal, according to trusted sources, was to promote greater cooperation between Bujumbura and Washington, and to secure funding for capacity building projects for Burundian securities forces.

If Washington and the American taxpayers are to fund these forces (the same forces that are carrying out the arrests of journalists), one can safely assume that Washington will have a greater voice in demanding that these security institutions improve their human rights record; or, at least, that should Washington voice any concern, Bujumbura would listen.

Ideally, a few months after celebrating our 48th independence anniversary, Burundians should not be expecting foreign powers’ coercion to be the safeguard to our freedoms. However, we have to be realistic. When a given government’s budget is financed at the tune of 70% by the international community, the perverse outcome is accountability to its donors (instead of its citizens). It is unfortunate! In the meantime, the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors wherever they reside to educate the donors’ taxpayers. This Saturday, a few Americans learned of Burundi and of another name that they weren’t able to pronounce: Kavumbagu.

by Thierry Uwamahoro

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Support Jean-Claude Kavumbagu – Guest blog for Index on Censorship

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From Index on Censorship, Free Speech blog:

While Burundi’s war criminals go unpunished, my friend faces “treason” trial over critical article, says Richard Wilson

What do you do when someone you love gets murdered in a distant country you know almost nothing about? A decade ago my sister Charlotte died in a massacre in the small Central African state of Burundi. In the years that followed I was consumed by a need to understand why she had been killed, who had been responsible, and what, if anything could be done to bring them to book. Only a handful of people in the world could help me. Almost all were journalists. One of them was Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of Burundi’s Netpress news agency.

The information, advice and contacts Jean-Claude gave me proved vital when I came to write the book about my sister’s life and death, Titanic Express. With truth comes a certain kind of cartharsis. To the extent that one ever can, I’ve “moved on” from what happened. But I will always remain endebted to those who helped my family find answers, asking nothing in return but that we do what we could to focus attention on the outrages happening in their country.

Jean-Claude has been a thorn in the side of successive governments in Burundi, both Hutu and Tutsi. His views are often controversial, but there is no questioning the price he has paid for them. In 1999, a year before my sister’s death, Jean-Claude was arrested by the Tutsi-led regime of Pierre Buyoya and held for two weeks on charges of operating an unregistered newspaper. He was detained again in 2001 by the same regime, and accused of insulting the public prosecutor. 2003 saw the installation of a new, Hutu-led government, which loudly proclaimed its commitment to peace, democracy and human rights. Three months later, Jean-Claude was arrested yet again and charged with “insulting the authorities”.

Elections in 2005 saw a landslide win for the Hutu ex-rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza, who has gained plaudits for his talk of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”. Sadly, Nkurunziza has been markedly unforgiving of critical coverage by the independent media. While no serious efforts have been made to prosecute those responsible for the ethnic massacres that have plagued Burundi over the last two decades, in recent years dozens of independent journalists have been detained or threatened over their work.

[Click here for full article]

Written by Richard Wilson

August 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Censorship, Democracy

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V for Vendetta: “Don’t Get Fooled Again” cited in UK High Court defamation strike-out

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From the UK High Court, case HQ09X02688 (published by 5RB), March 2010:

THE CLAIM

2. Professor Bridle, who is the managing director of the Second Claimant company, brings this defamation claim against Mr Williams, a Health and Safety inspector employed by the Second Defendant, the Health and Safety Executive, (‘the HSE’) at the HSE’s offices in Cardiff. The claim is made in slander in respect of words allegedly spoken by Mr Williams, when acting in his capacity as an HSE inspector, on or about 24 July 2008, to representatives of the University of Wales Lampeter, Mr Cennydd Powell, the University’s Head of Estates, and his assistant Mr John Fowden.

3. The words complained of were that Professor Bridle “is not a real professor as he claims” and that Mr Powell and Mr Fowden (and by implication also the university and all other third parties generally) “should not believe a word that he says”. It is further said that in telephone conversations between Mr Williams and Mr Powell between 24 July and 31 July 2008, Mr Williams repeated to Mr Powell the alleged defamatory statements…

Summary of Defendants’ Submissions

…48. The Defendants submit that publications by the journalists referred to and by the author Richard Wilson in his book ‘Don’t Get Fooled Again’ contain far more serious allegations than those complained of in these proceedings. They are in permanent form, have received and continue to receive far wider publication and would inevitably have caused much greater damage to reputation than the alleged slander by an HSE inspector to the University’s estate manager and his assistant.

49. Richard Wilson’s book contains a Chapter entitled ‘Fake Experts and Non-Denial Denials’ which is almost entirely devoted to attacking Professor Bridle. It disparages his academic qualifications, and brands him as a ‘charlatan’ and a ‘liar’. An article in ‘The Guardian’ dated 30 June 2008 by Peter Wilby refers to Professor Bridle and Asbestos Watchdog in disparaging terms and suggests that his scientific credentials should be subject to careful scrutiny. A critical article suggesting that Professor Bridle was not a neutral expert and was linked to the Asbestos Cement Product Producers Association was published in CMAJ [ a scientific journal] by Kathleen Ruff on 22 December 2008. Critical comments have been published on a blog run by Richard Wilson in September 2008. Julie Burchill wrote an article critical of Professor Bridle and Christopher Booker in The Guardian on 2 November 2002.

50. It is therefore submitted that the incident giving rise to this claim is a peg on which Professor Bridle hopes to hang the next round of his campaign. It is submitted that he has been waiting for the opportunity to “get HSE in the dock” and this action is a contrived way of seeking that. It is submitted that were this action allowed to proceed it would also cause harassment and prejudice beyond that usually encountered in litigation…

CONCLUSIONS

…82. It is, I consider, apparent from the correspondence exhibited to the witness statements that the dominant motive in bringing the proceedings is to cause embarrassment and prejudice to the HSE because of the Claimant’s anger at the HSE’s refusal to accept his views on the subject in question. It is apparent from the evidence that Professor Bridle believes that a claim against the HSE will be likely to bring the debate about the difference in scientific views to a public forum more readily than a claim against an individual journalist would do. Thus I have concluded that, whilst I would not go so far as to characterise the claim as ‘vindictive’ in the same league as the claim in Wallis v Valentine, it does, in my view, fall into the category of a ‘vendetta’ as outlined in that case and in Bezant v Rausing.

83. I note particularly the fact that no defamation proceedings have been brought by Professor Bridle against any of the authors of some of the attacks made against him in the press, in the book by Richard Wilson and on the internet. The content of those publications are mostly in terms far more pejorative than the words alleged to have been spoken by Mr Williams, and will have had a much larger audience. The fact that such publications are widely available will inevitably put into issue the extent to which Professor Bridle’s reputation has been damaged by the alleged publication in this claim. I do not consider that Professor Bridle’s explanation as to why no such proceedings have been brought is credible when compared to the issue of these proceedings for words spoken in either a private meeting or a telephone conversation to either one or two persons (depending upon the evidence).

84. In the light of the lack of any convincing evidence as to why the HSE have been singled out for a claim, and the publishers of the publications referred to have not had proceedings brought against them, and on the basis of the evidence relied on by the Defendants, I have concluded that there is an improper collateral purpose to the claim against Mr Williams and the HSE, rather than simply vindication of reputation…

Accordingly the Defendant’s application for summary judgment and for strike out succeeds in its entirety.

*See also*: “Asbestos critic was ‘pursuing a vendetta’ against HSE”

Written by Richard Wilson

July 28, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Censorship, libel terrorism

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Independent breaks UK media silence over Trafigura trial in the Dutch courts

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With help from the newly-elected Green MP Caroline Lucas, The Independent  newspaper has taken a clear lead in the “Trafigura challenge” – the race to see which UK media outlet will be the first to report fully on the upcoming trial in the Dutch courts of the controversial oil company.

No UK newspaper or broadcaster has yet made any mention of  allegations made to Dutch prosecutors by Greenpeace – and widely featured in the Dutch media – that Trafigura and their law firm MacFarlanes sought to bribe witnesses in an earlier London court case. But the Independent has, by citing Caroline Lucas’ remarks, at least been able to reference the ongoing legal proceedings.

Under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, “correct copies” of any Parliamentary publication may freely be republished without fear of legal action, including, crucially, any action under the UK’s notoriously expensive and one-sided libel laws, which Trafigura has been ruthlessly exploiting.

In a message on Twitter last night, Caroline Lucas promised an “EDM [Early Day Motion] and PQs [Parliamentary Questions] to follow”, so with luck the UK press may soon have more opportunities to cover this story freely.

From The Independent

Caroline Lucas used her maiden speech to raise concerns that the British media are unable to fully report legal proceedings involving the commodities trading company Trafigura.

The Green MP pledged to use her new position in Parliament to raise the issue after legal claims were launched in the Netherlands against the company, which chartered the ship whose toxic sludge was illegally dumped in the Ivory Coast in 2006.

The Dutch-based oil trader caused outrage last year when a High Court injunction issued on its behalf had the effect of blocking coverage of parliamentary proceedings involving its activities. The “super-injunction”, obtained by the law firm Carter Ruck, was amended after it was accused of infringing the supremacy of Parliament by preventing the reporting of a question tabled by an MP. Politicians from all sides criticised the legal manoeuvre.

The law firm agreed to change the injunction and insisted there was no question that Trafigura had sought to gag the media from reporting parliamentary proceedings.

In her maiden speech to the House of Commons, Ms Lucas said she was still concerned that proceedings in foreign courts were not being reported in Britain. She said: “Last year honourable members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

“There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly. This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here. And these are the kind of issues I would like to pursue.”

In unrelated proceedings, a court in Amsterdam is due to start hearing the trial next week of Trafigura for the alleged infringement of Dutch waste export laws relating to the Probo Koala, the chartered tanker whose waste was dumped at sites around the Ivorian city, Abidjan.

The company is accused along with the captain of the vessel, the municipal authorities in Amsterdam and a waste treatment company of breaking rules when the ship attempted to offload the waste in the Dutch city before it then departed for West Africa. The trial is expected to last five weeks.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 28, 2010 at 7:51 am

Trafigura and Macfarlanes deny bribing witnesses in toxic waste court case, threaten legal action against Dutch media

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Response to Volkskrant allegations, published on Scribd.com

Macfarlanes and Trafigura deny any involvement, whether direct or indirect, in what you describe as “bribery and influencing of witnesses”.

Not only would such conduct be grossly unethical, it would have been illegal and it would certainly have constituted serious professional misconduct by Macfarlanes. The suggestion that this firm or one of its partners would involve itself in such misconduct is as absurd as it is defamatory.

Furthermore, for reasons we touch on below, even if Macfarlanes or Trafigura had been willing to misconduct ourselves in this way (which we were not), it would have been completely illogical and counter-productive for us to have done so given the circumstances of these events.

We note that you acknowledge that these allegations are extremely serious. We trust, therefore, that if you consider yourself to be a responsible journalist, rather than pursuing a pre-meditated agenda against Trafigura, you will consider your position very carefully before publishing allegations about Macfarlanes which are indeed very serious, malicious, gravely defamatory, false and completely inconsistent with the previous course of conduct between the parties.

You state in your email that these are similar to allegations made last year. For the record, those allegations were also wholly without foundation. Indeed, they were formally withdrawn by the Claimants and their solicitors, Leigh Day & Co, in the Abidjan Personal Injury Group Litigation proceedings in September 2009.

Given your misapprehension of the true position and the fact that, regrettably, certain individuals have chosen to provide you with dishonest and malicious allegations, it is important that we address your questions.

It is equally important that you carefully consider our responses and weigh up how much reliance, if any, can be placed upon these false and malicious allegations.

In the event that you still decide to publish these allegations, we require you to ensure that you include our response to each allegation at the point in which it appears in the article.

You will appreciate that, given the seriousness and falsity of what you are seeking to allege, Macfarlanes and/or Trafigura will have no alternative but to commence legal proceedings without further notice if your story does not comply fully with the basic principles of truth, balanced reporting and responsible journalism.

From Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

Greenpeace accuses Trafigura

The environmental organisation accuses the multinational of having influenced witnesses.

In the Netherlands, Greenpeace has filed a complaint with the public prosecution against the multinational Trafigura, accusing the latter of having influenced witnesses and also of forgery.

According to the environmental organisation, a group of drivers reported to be Ivoirian would have agreed with Trafigura not to report being ill as a result of transporting toxic waste for the multinational.

A spokesman for Greenpeace has confirmed that information which had been disclosed by Dutch television and the center-left daily De Volkskrant.

According to the Ivorian justice, dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in August 2006, by the cargo Probo Koala, chartered by Trafigura from Amsterdam, had killed 17 people and poisoned thousands.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

Posted in Censorship

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Simon Singh: Osler case highlights need for prompt action by new government on Libel Reform

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Award-winning writer Simon Singh famously won a libel case earlier this year that had been brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association. Simon turned out today in support of Dave Osler, and gave me his thoughts on the wider issues highlighted by the case.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Censorship

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Support the Libel Reform campaign – Free speech is not for sale!

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Click here to support the campaign for freedom of speech in the UK

England’s libel laws are unjust, against the public interest and internationally criticised – there is urgent need for reform.

Freedom to criticise and question, in strong terms and without malice, is the cornerstone of argument and debate, whether in scholarly journals, on websites, in newspapers or elsewhere. Our current libel laws inhibit debate and stifle free expression. They discourage writers from tackling important subjects and thereby deny us the right to read about them.

The law is so biased towards claimants and so hostile to writers that London has become known as the libel capital of the world. The rich and powerful bring cases to London on the flimsiest grounds (libel tourism), because they know that 90% of cases are won by claimants. Libel laws intended to protect individual reputation are being exploited to suppress fair comment and criticism.

The cost of a libel trial is often in excess of £1 million and 140 times more expensive than libel cases in mainland Europe; publishers (and individual journalists, authors, academics, performers and blog-writers) cannot risk such extortionate costs, which means that they are forced to back down, withdraw and apologise for material they believe is true, fair and important to the public.

The English PEN/Index on Censorship report has shown that there is an urgent need to amend the law to provide a stronger, wider and more accessible public interest defence. Sense About Science has shown that the threat of libel action leads to self-censorship in scientific and medical writing.

We the undersigned, in England and beyond, urge politicians to support a bill for major reforms of the English libel laws now, in the interests of fairness, the public interest and free speech.

More than 30,000 people have signed so far – click here to join them

Written by Richard Wilson

March 4, 2010 at 7:29 am