Tag Archives: Journalist

Death Toll Reaches 140 as Ethiopia Halts City’s Master Plan Following Oromo Protests

The Ethiopian government has reportedly ceased its plan to expand its capital, Addis Ababa, after protesters from Oromia demonstrated against the expansion plans over concerns that they would lose their homes.

According to BBC, “Oromia is Ethiopia’s largest region, surrounding the capital, Addis Ababa.” The Oromos are an ethnic group that make up over 40% of the population of Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch reported that the Master Plan’s objective is to expand the city of Addis Ababa. Oromo students and farmers have been demonstrating for months against the government’s Addis Ababa Master Plan.

Human Rights Watch also reported that since November, at least 140 activists have been killed by police and military forces in Ethiopia’s Oromia region and hundreds more have been injured or arrested.

Feliz Horne of Human Rights Watch wrote that “The generally peaceful protests were sparked by fears the expansion will displace ethnic Oromo farmers from their land, the latest in a long list of Oromo grievances against the government.”

Al-Jazeera reported that, to date, 150,000 Oromo farmers have already been exiled by military forces from their homes, with no rearrangements or reparations, to make room for Addis Ababa, “one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.”

This isn’t the first time activists have accused the Ethiopian government of ethnic cleansing in pursuit of its development agenda. OPride.com reported in 2013 on forest fires occurring in a region of Oromia, with many believing they were deforestation schemes to make way for development projects:

“Several diaspora-based activists have accused the government for setting the forest ablaze to make a way for its development projects. The state-run media ignored the fire, and instead reported on a new fertilizer factory being built near the area. Citing several ‘journalists working for the government TV and radio stations,’ New York-based political analyst Jawar Mohammed said, Ethiopian authorities have once again imposed a media blackout warning local reporters, including those working for state-run media houses, not to cover the story.

EPRDF, Ethiopia’s ruling party, now in power for 22 years, has been accused of setting forest reserves on fire in the past. For example, in 1999 and early 2000, a similar forest fire in Bale and Borana, also in the Oromia region, led to Oromia-wide student protests and the government’s slow response caused a strong public outcry. At the time, instead of putting out the fire, the government resorted to cracking down on students.”

The government reportedly took no action in stopping the fire in 2013 and barred journalists from reporting on it.

The surge of individuals joining the protest throughout the region led to arrests and reports of people being tortured for speaking out. Radio France Internationale reported that the government has repeated a push for a media blackout by seizing satellite dishes. RFI also reported that pictures have been spread on social media showing activists dead in ditches, hung from trees and brutally beaten.

The White House posted a statement from United States National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price regarding the arrest of journalists in Ethiopia, calling for “the Ethiopian Government to release journalists and all others imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, to refrain from using its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as a mechanism to silence dissent, and to protect the rights of journalists, bloggers, and dissidents to write and speak freely as voices of a diverse nation.”

This statement comes after government officials justified the arrests by calling the protesters terrorists. Al-Jazeera reported that “over the last decade, the government in Addis Ababa used the ‘war on terrorism’ and the rhetoric of development to silence independent voices and curtail democratic debate.”

Many activists believe that there are even deeper political issues that no one is addressing. Kulani Jalata, a vocal activist for Oromo and a third year law student at Harvard Law School, believes that mainstream coverage of the protests is missing two key points. She stated those points in an interview with Truth In Media:

“The first point regards the Ethiopian government’s illegitimacy. The Ethiopian government is entirely controlled by Tigrayan elites. The Tigrayan population is 4 million—Ethiopia’s population is 94 million. The Tigrayan-led government and its party won 100% of the parliamentary seats this year— if that doesn’t scream illegitimacy, I don’t know what does. Furthermore, the Tigrayan-led government is very much in the business of holding on to state power by terrorizing and killing the political opposition members and supporters, students, farmers, artists, etc. and enriching Tigrayan state elites and their domestic and international supporters by extracting resources and land from the Oromo and other groups. The Oromo, the largest ethno-national group, has been particularly targeted because of their rich economic resources, particularly their land, the size of their population and their determination to resist land grabbing policies–for example, the recent #OromoProtests movement. The Oromo Protests are against this government’s new “Master Plan.” The “Master Plan” is touted as a development plan, but as we know it essentially will evict millions of poor Oromo farmers and deprive them of their livelihoods. This plan is a simply a continuation of the Tigrayan-led Ethiopia government’s legacy of land grabbing, and thus, the grievances that the protesters are expressing have deep roots.

The second point regards the implications of the Tigrayan-led regime’s practices on national and regional stability and security. It is key to point out that the state apparatus is very much focused on terrorizing the largest ethnonational group in all of the Horn of Africa, the Oromo. This focus on oppressing such a large proportion of the population makes the state very unstable, illegitimate, and bound for self-destruction. Although Ethiopia is seen as an ally on the ‘War on Terror’, it is perpetuating a form of state-terrorism on the Oromo as well as other ethnic groups such as the Amhara, Gambella, Sidama, etc. The Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government’s mask of legitimacy has entirely worn out.”

So were these cases of corruption as the activists say, or an economic strategy? The U.S. State Department released a statement from United States State Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner’s about the situation which said, “We urge the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances. We also urge those protesting to refrain from violence and to be open to dialogue. The government of Ethiopia has stated publicly that the disputed development plans will not be implemented without further public consultation. We support the government of Ethiopia’s stated commitment to those consultations and urge it to convene stakeholders to engage in dialogue as soon as possible.”

VIDEO: Journalists murdered on live TV during interview, suspect identified

MONETA, Va., A bone-chilling interview broadcast on live TV captured the screams of two WDBJ7 journalists as they were shot to death on location early Wednesday morning.

(This video may be disturbing for some viewers.)

Shortly after the shooting, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe took to Twitter to announce that a former employee is the suspected killer of Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27. However, no arrest has yet been made.

UPDATE: WHSV News reports that the shooting suspect has been identified as Vester Lee Flanagan:

UPDATE: Police say that Flanagan shot himself in an attempted suicide. He is in critical condition.

For updated information about the shooting, click here.

Follow Michael Lotfi on Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn.

Montana Becomes First State To Pass Law Protecting Journalists’ Electronic Privacy

Last week, Montana became the first state to include a provision in its Media Confidentiality Act that protected journalists’ electronic communications from the government when Governor Steve Bullock signed a bill “prohibiting disclosure of media info from electronic communications services.”

HB 207 was authored by Daniel Zolnikov, a Liberty-minded Republican representative from Billings, and was created to close a loophole in the existing law that gave government entities access to journalists’ electronic communications through third party providers.

Zolnikov tells Benswann.com that his bill ensures that journalists in Montana can use modern technology to safely and securely report important news, by protecting their electronic communications from government intrusion.

“A free press is vital to government transparency and accountability,” Zolnikov said. “This bill is a perfect example of how we can maintain our constitutional rights as technology advances.”

The text of the bill states that it both prohibits “governmental bodies from questing or requiring the disclosure of privileged news media information from services that transmit electronic communications,” and prohibits “an electronic communication service from being adjudged in contempt” if that service “refuses to disclose certain information.”

Zolnikov tells Benswann.com that he created the bill to help Montana set the precedent at the state level for the rest of the nation.

Freedom of the press is one of the most crucial rights contained in the First Amendment,” Zolnikov said. “The federal government has cracked down on whistleblowers and journalists in the past few years, and many have said this has a ‘chilling effect’ on news reporting.”

As previously reported, HB 207 is one of several bills Zolnikov has sponsored that promotes the protection of Americans’ electronic privacy. One bill that was sponsored by Zolnikov, which made Montana the first state in the nation to require a search warrant for cell phone location information, was passed during the 2013 legislative session, just months before Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program.

Lawmaker Proposes Bill to Protect Journalists’ Electronic Information

A bill introduced in Montana’s House Judiciary Committee on Thursday would prevent state government agencies from using companies such as Google and Yahoo to obtain a Journalist’s sources and information.

The Associated Press reported that “no one spoke in opposition to the bill,” which would prohibit all state government officials from “asking for a member of the media’s emails or other electronic communications from companies that store that information.”

Representative Daniel Zolnikov, a Republican from Billings, Montana, proposed the bill. He claimed he is not looking to change the existing law; rather he wants to close a loophole in the current law.

“My bill does not change existing law, but adds to it based on a new age of digital communications,” said Zolnikov. He explained that the existing media shield law does not protect a reporter’s emails or other electronic information that might be stored on the servers of Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook.

According to Courthouse News, after proposing a bill in 2013 that was later labeled “anti-business,” but would have “given consumers control over their personal data and prevented companies from reselling it behind their backs,” Zolnikov is “no stranger to privacy issues.”

The Associated Press reported that this bill is one of several Zolnikov is sponsoring to “protect privacy rights in the state.” His other proposed bills would secure privacy for the citizens of Montana by banning license plate readers in the state and by prohibiting state officials from gathering electronic data without a warrant.

On his website, Zolnikov wrote that after seeing “unprecedented attacks on the rights of the press in recent years at the federal level,” he felt it was best to show support for reporters by starting at the state level.

Freedom of the press is one of the most crucial rights contained in the First Amendment,” wrote Zolnikov. “We can’t change the Federal Government’s attitude towards the important of the reporter’s privilege, but we can strengthen Montana’s shield laws.

Justice Department Will No Longer Try To Compel James Risen To Reveal CIA Whistleblower

The Department of Justice has announced it will not subpoena and pursue criminal charges against New York Times journalist James Risen in an effort to force the writer to reveal a confidential source.

Free speech and civil liberties advocates have long lambasted the federal government for its coercion efforts against the veteran reporter, and are welcoming the move as a victory for journalistic freedom and government transparency.

In this video, RootsAction.org’s Norman Solomon tells Ben Swann why this victory is so important.

Journalist Barrett Brown Faces Sentencing on Tuesday After Two Years Behind Bars

On Tuesday morning journalist Barrett Brown is scheduled to be sentenced at a federal courthouse in Dallas, Texas.

Barrett Brown has been an activist, and a journalist. Articles and blogs from Brown have been featured in numerous publications including the GuardianVanity Fair, and the Huffington Post. He is part of the new breed of online activists who are also free-lance writers.

Brown’s home was raided and he was arrested in September 2012. In October 2012 he was officially charged. The charges dealt with a YouTube video posted by Brown in which the FBI alleged he made threats to one of their agents. In December, Brown was indicted again on charges related to the hack of Austin, Texas based intelligence firm Stratfor. Jeremy Hammond would later receive ten years for that leak. Despite Barrett Brown having no direct connection to the hack, he was facing a century in prison for writing an article with a link to the leaked documents. Those charges were later dropped.

The entire time Barrett has been incarcerated the federal government has sought to suppress details related to the case. In September 2013, Judge Sam Lindsay accepted a motion for a gag order related to the case. Brown and his attorneys would be barred from talking to the public about the proceedings. The gag order remained in place for 8 months until Brown’s team signed a plea agreement in April.

Once the gag order ended, unsealed court documents revealed the prosecution’s fears that Brown’s media connections would paint the government in an unfavorable light. Prosecutors argued that silencing Brown’s attorney’s, Charles Swift and Ahmed Ghappour, was necessary to protect the jury, and Barrett himself, from being tainted by media portrayal of the case.

The transcript of the proceedings that led to the gag order reveal a fearful government attempting to silence a rising voice in independent media. The prosecution attempted to limit Barrett’s ability to write while in prison based on an article where “He is critical of the witnesses that will be called. He is critical of the government which has the tone, and I mentioned the tone of the article was problematic.” Prosecutors claimed criticism of the government would affect the FBI agents she wanted to call as witnesses. Judge Lindsay did not buy the claim however. “I think at this point what you are saying, Ms. Heath, is too broad. I think it is overly broad, and  I really do not think if I put something like that in the order that it would pass constitutional muster.”

Eventually the court would decide on a gag that forbade Brown or his attorneys from speaking to the media, but did allow Brown to write articles unrelated to the case and for the Free Barrett Brown organization to continue making statements regarding fundraising.

Another telling part of the unsealed documents relates to media connections Brown maintained. Ms. Heath told the court that after listening to recorded phone calls made from the county jail between Barrett Brown and Kevin Gallagher she worried more articles would be written about the case. Gallagher is the head of Free Barrett Brown. The prosecution discussed conversations between Brown and Gallagher where the two discuss journalists who had been in contact with Brown regarding writing about the case. The documents mention Michael HastingsJanet Reitman of Rolling Stone (listed as Jenna Wrightman), and Glenn Greenwald.

Last week federal prosecutors filed their arguments, for the maximum sentence of 8.5 years, under seal. Brown’s team responded with their sentencing memo, requesting time served. Since the prosecutors arguments were under seal, Brown’s attorneys memo is also under seal from public view. His lawyers filed a motion to unseal the memo in support of the public’s right of access. The government initially opposed the release of the memo. As of Monday morning Judge Lindsay announced that the memo would be released, albeit a redacted version.

The exact charges Barrett Brown faces are (1) transmitting a threat in interstate commerce (2) accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer and (3) interference with the execution of a search warrant and aid and abet. (Brown has since apologized for the threat and admitted it was a mistake caused under duress)

The charges stem from the FBI raiding Brown’s home while conducting a search warrant. Working on a tip from hacker turned informant Sabu, the FBI sought computers and records related to “conspiracy to obstruct justice, and the obstruction of justice” and “conspiracy to access without authorization protected computers”. The government was looking for any information Brown had on a hack of intelligence firm HBGary and others.

Barrett Brown’s focus on the private intelligence industry is what many believe put him in the cross-hairs of the government. He had called attention to the firm Booz Allen Hamilton who would come to the public’s attention one year later when employee Edward Snowden began leaking documents related to the NSA’s massive spying apparatus to journalists around the world.

As Kevin Gallagher of Free Barrett Brown points out, “Numerous prominent individuals, including Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald have spoken out in his defense, as well as organizations like WikiLeaks, CPJ, EFF, Reporters Without Borders, PEN American, and Article 19.” 

Free Barrett Brown compiled this list of actions taken by the prosecutors and/or the FBI:

  • written that Brown, along with Anonymous, sought to overthrow the U.S. government
  • tried to seize funds that were raised for his legal defense
  • obtained a gag order against the defendant and his lawyers restricting what they could say about the case for several months
  • sought to identify contributors to a website where Brown and others dissected leaks and researched links between intelligence contractors and governments
  • pursued a case against Brown’s mother, who was forced to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for obstruction, resulting in six months probation and a $1,000 fine
  • argued that he should not be allowed to criticize the government, his First Amendment right
  • federal agents seized the Declaration of Independence from his apartment as evidence against him
  • used a retweet of a quote from Fox News commentator Bob Beckel threatening Julian Assange – “a dead man can’t leak stuff” – and attributed it to Brown within his indictment as threatening

Tomorrow morning a powerful mind, writer, and activist for this generation will be sentenced. If the judge decides to listen to the federal government and keep Barrett Brown behind bars it will be a crime against the people. Brown has continued to be a prolific writer while in federal custody and will surely pen more thought provoking and explosive investigative pieces upon his release. His presence in the public domain is needed, and only governments with secrets need fear.

If the government is allowed to use the court of law to target dissident voices and keep the public in the dark we are likely to see a decrease in quality reporting that raises important questions about the nature of government and the populations expectation of privacy. It is up to each of us as free humans to call attention to injustices where ever they happen. If Barrett Brown’s story could be suppressed and kept from the minds of the masses who else could be caged and forgotten? It’s time to stand up for the voices that take risks to speak truth among the empire of lies.

Sotloff family says their son was sold to ISIS prior to beheading

A family spokesman for the Sotloff family is now saying their son Steven, who was the second American journalist to be beheaded on film by ISIS, was sold to the Islamic State by moderate rebels in the Middle-East.

“For the first time we can say Steven was sold at the (Syrian) border,” said Sotloff family representative and research fellow at the New American Foundation, Barak Barfi, according to CBS News.  “We believe these so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support- one of them sold him probably for something between $25,000 and $50,000 and that was the reason he was captured.”

Barfi also says he received a phone call from Sotloff, before he was kidnapped, from inside the Syrian border.  According to RT, Barfi says “sources on the ground” are pointing to rebel forces who opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as hose responsible for tipping off members of ISIS to their capture and willingness to sell Sotloff.

These moderate rebels who captured Sotloff and have been waging this war against al-Assad have reportedly received support from the U.S. in the form of weapons and training to support their opposition to al-Assad.  A report from the research group Conflict Armament Research has also said the weapons, which have been given to the moderate Syrian rebels, have ended up in the hands of ISIS fighters across the region.

After making these statements, Barfi said the relationship between the Sotloff family and President Obama’s administration has been strained and tense.

They (the administration) said that these hostages were moved frequently,” Barfi told CNN.  ” We know that for most of the beginning of part of this year they were stationary. We know that the intelligence community and the White House are enmeshed in a larger game of bureaucratic infighting and Jim and Steve are pawns in that game and that’s not fair.”

“We need to be able to work closer with our allies,” Barfi said, according to the International Business Times. “Intelligence sharing and cooperation just isn’t as good as it should be.”

UN Ambassador: Obama releasing details of failed Foley rescue from ISIS is security breach

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2014– Information is now being released to the public detailing the Obama administration’s attempted rescue of reporter James Foley and other hostages, but proving the mission to be a failure. The news continues to damage the administration’s credibility given their track record with Benghazi and other scandals such as the IRS, the NSA, the VA, etc.

Former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton spoke with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren about how the release of information to the public on the failed mission amounts to a “breach of security.”


Follow Michael Lotfi on Facebook & Twitter.

Islamic Militants Execute American Journalist


A video posted online Tuesday by The Islamic State showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley who was kidnapped in November 2012 while he covered the Syrian civil war.

The group, also known as ISIS, posted the video on YouTube. In it, Foley, wearing orange, is seen kneeling next to a man dressed in black. He reads a statement, presumably written by his captors. In it, he claims that America is his “real killer.”

“I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again,” Foley said in the video.

He continues with a message to his parents: “Save me some dignity and don’t accept any meager compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hammered the last nail in my coffin with their recent aerial campaign in Iraq.”

In a slightly quivering voice, Foley then calls on his brother, John, whom he said serves in the U.S. Air Force, to “think about who made the decision to bomb Iraq recently and kill those people, whoever they may have been. I died that day, John, when your colleagues dropped the bomb on those people. They signed my death certificate.”

After his statement, the terrorist moves behind Foley to execute him with a knife.

Government officials are investigating the validity of this video.

“The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity. If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We will provide more information when it is available,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

Foley was previously held captive while reporting on the civil war in Libya in 2011. He was released, and then he returned to the Middle East to cover the Syrian civil war and was taken captive on Thanksgiving Day, 2012. He was forced into a vehicle by men with guns and not heard from again.

The video also features another American journalist Steven Sotloff, who was kidnapped at the Syria/Turkey border in 2013.

According to the video, Sotloff’s life depends on what President Obama does next in Iraq.

Foley’s mother, Diane, released a statement Tuesday:

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.

“We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

“We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

Foley’s alma mater, Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. also released a statement:

The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist, James Foley, Arts ’96. We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James’ family and friends during this very difficult time.

James, who majored in history at Marquette, had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world – a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder.

Following his first capture in 2011, after he safely returned from Libya, James expressed in a letter to the Marquette community the power and strength he drew not only from his own prayer, but the prayers of his family and friends. As a community, we offer this prayer for peace.

US Senator Feinstein Seeks to Further Limit Freedom of Press

The majority of America now gets its news from online sources. This has opened the country up to a whole new variety of sources including blogs, vlogs, youtube and other alternative media sources. The term “Freedom of the Press” has certainly expanded to include multiple new-age venues of modern press. However, in a developing story, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) is seeking an amendment to restrict who gets protection under new media shield laws.feinstein

First, consider the problem with a media shield law. On the surface, it may seem great. Here, you will find one of government’s dirtiest tricks. Journalists and media already have a shield law. It’s called the first amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

DC will now try and pass a law that will put parameters on media, journalism, journalists, etc. We are told that this will strengthen protection for journalists. In reality, it  could open the door for government persecution due to purposefully placed ambiguous language.  This is certainly by design, as it is repeated in almost every law passed by Congress and signed by the President.

S. 987 (Free Flow of Information Act) defines what a media provider is and who a journalist is, and is not. However, Senator Feinstein is not satisfied with the language and wants it further restricted. According to a report, Feinstein says, “I’m concerned this would provide special privilege to those who are not reporters at all.” She is referring to bloggers and the likes of Edward Snowden, NSA whistle-blower. Feinstein went on to suggest that the term journalist only apply to those who report for mainstream media sources, and do so as a primary source of income. H. 1962, the House version of the bill, already includes such stipulation:

The term ‘‘covered person’’ means a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.

This meaning, if you aren’t being paid- then you don’t get protection under the new law.
Feinstein’s amendment, which is scheduled to be introduced will seek to restrict who is protected under the law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the amendment will require journalists to meet one of the following criteria:
  1. working as a “salaried employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information;”
  2. either (a) meeting the prior definition “for any continuous three-month period within the two years prior to the relevant date” or (b) having “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications by an entity . . . within two years prior to the relevant date;” or
  3. working as a student journalist “participating in a journalistic publication at an institution of higher education.” (emphases added)

Amendment to S. 987, 113th Cong. § 5(A)(i), § 5(B)(iii) (2013)

Her amendment continues to muddy the waters by retaining original language that requires:

  1. that individuals “engage[] in . . . the regular gathering, preparation, collection, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing on” matters of public interest; or
  2. that individuals “regularly conducted interviews, reviewed documents, captured images of events, or directly observed events.” (emphases added)

Amendment to S. 987, 113th Cong. § 5(A)(ii), § 5(B)(i) (2013)

These criteria are troublesome. What about those not salaried? How do you define a “substantial contributor”, “entity”, or “significant”? What happens to these students once they have graduated? How do you define one who is “regularly” engaged in journalism? It is certainly ambiguous at best.

This attempt to restrict protection to bloggers and leakers is nothing new. In 2009, Senator Schumer introduced an amendment to the Free Flow of Information Act that purposefully excluded bloggers and non-salaried writers from protection.

In the future, keep an open eye for federal legislation, which claims any association with your innate rights such as the “Free Flow of Information Act”. Rights such as those to keep and bear arms, or the freedom of speech. When our rights are left to the hands of vague legislative language, no good can be found as result. For liberty and freedom are words of absolute, and ambiguity must find no refuge here.

After researching the law and proposed amendments, I cannot even be certain if my colleagues and myself would protected here at BenSwann.com due to the ambiguity. This ambiguity and fear certainly leads to restrictions on the press.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.