EU observers express concerns over restrictions on media in Pakistan ahead of elections

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EU chief observer, Michael Gahler, meets Azhar Abbas, Managing Director Geo TV Network, in Karachi. (Photo courtesy: @EUEOMPak2018/Twitter)
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EU chief observer, Michael Gahler, meeting with the District Election Commissioner and his colleagues in Lahore. (Photo courtesy: @EUEOMPak2018/Twitter)
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EU chief observer, Michael Gahler, meeting PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed in Lahore as part of observation of the electoral process. (Photo courtesy: @EUEOMPak2018/Twitter)
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EU chief observer, Michael Gahler, meeting with the District Election Commissioner and his colleagues in Lahore. (Photo courtesy: @EUEOMPak2018/Twitter)
Updated 24 July 2018
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EU observers express concerns over restrictions on media in Pakistan ahead of elections

  • EUEOM has deployed 120 observers across Pakistan except Balochistan province owing to security concerns
  • EU mission will present its preliminary report based on its observations on July 27, a final report two months after end of the electoral process

ISLAMABAD: European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) has expressed concerns about restrictions on media in Pakistan ahead of July 25 general elections, saying that this will undermine democracy in the country.
“We are greatly concerned about the restrictions on the media. The media have a vital role to play in an electoral process, and attempts to stifle the media undermine democracy and disadvantage the voter,” Michael Gahler, chief observer of the Mission, told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Saturday.
About recent suicide attacks and violence against candidates contesting the election, he said the violence must not and will not undermine the elections and the democratic process.
“Parties and candidates should have maximum opportunity to campaign, voters should have their voices heard, and people should be able to cast their ballot without fear or hindrance,” he added.
The EUEOM is deploying 120 observers across Pakistan on the polling day except Balochistan province owing to the security concerns. It will have a central team of 10 analysts in Islamabad, 60 long-term observers working in teams of two in districts across the country.
In its team, the mission also has seven members of the European Parliament and 41 diplomats from EU member state embassies in Pakistan.
Gahler said their mandate is to observe all aspects of the electoral process and assess the extent to which the elections comply with international and regional commitments for elections, as well as with national legislation.
However, he highlighted that in line with the EU long-term election methodology, the mission was ready to deploy from Europe in early June. “However, due to a series of bureaucratic delays, the first group of observers arrived only on June 24, and the mission’s 60 long-term observers in July,” he said.
The chief observer of the mission said the long-term observers were deployed across Pakistan just one week before polling day. “This is very unusual and never happened in previous missions to Pakistan, nor in any other country where the EU has observed (the elections),” he said.
He said the short period of time between now and election day has “implications on the EUEOM’s ability to thoroughly assess some key aspects of the electoral process, including the candidates' nomination process, campaign environment in different parts of the country, as well as work of election administration at the local level.”
Gahler said the mission observers have met a wide range of media, civil society and political parties at both national and provincial level. “Numerous interlocutors have expressed concerns about the election environment, and we will be giving our assessment on July 27,” he said.
The EU mission will present a preliminary report based on its observations on July 27, while a final report with recommendations for consideration will be published about two months after the end of the electoral process.
Gahler, however, declined to comment on the election preparations and role of the Election Commission of Pakistan in holding free and fair elections until after polling day.
“This is because the electoral process is still ongoing and we do not want to pre-judge a process that has not yet finished,” he added.
He also dispelled the impression that EU mission simply endorses the election results and avoids mentioning incidents of rigging, mismanagement and media censorship in its final report.
The EU Election Observation Missions never ratify results of the elections as they do not have the mandate to do so, he said. “It is for the authorities of Pakistan to ratify (election) results,” he said.
“Observer missions merely accompany an electoral process and make recommendations for reform of future electoral processes,” Gahler said.


China ups pressure as tech exec's hearing goes into Tuesday

Liu Xiaozong, husband of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer arrives at a Vancouver, British Columbia courthouse following a break in the bail hearing for his wife on Monday, December 10, 2018. (AP)
Updated 9 min 10 sec ago
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China ups pressure as tech exec's hearing goes into Tuesday

  • The Canadian province of British Columbia has already canceled a trade mission to China amid fears China could detain Canadians in retaliation for Meng's detention
  • The prosecutor said her husband has no meaningful connections to Vancouver and spends only two or three weeks a year in the city

VANCOUVER, British Columbia: A jailed Chinese technology executive will have to wait at least one more day to see if she will be released on bail in a case that has raised U.S.-China tensions and complicated efforts to resolve a trade dispute that has roiled financial markets and threatened global economic growth.
Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and daughter of its founder, was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport Dec. 1 — the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed to a 90-day cease-fire in the trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.
The U.S. has accused Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also says Meng and Huawei misled banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
After a second daylong session, Justice William Ehrcke said the bail hearing would continue Tuesday.
In urging the court to reject Meng's bail request, prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley noted the Huawei executive has vast resources and a strong incentive to flee as she is facing fraud charges in the United States that could put her in prison for 30 years.
Gibb-Carsley later told the judge that if he does decide to grant bail it should include house arrest.
David Martin, Meng's lawyer, said Meng was willing to pay for a surveillance company to monitor her and wear an ankle monitor but she wanted to be able to travel around Vancouver and its suburbs. Scott Filer of Lions Gate Risk Management group said his company would make a citizen's arrest if she breached bail conditions.
Martin said Meng's husband would put up both of their Vancouver homes plus $1 million Canadian ($750,000) for a total value of $15 million Canadian ($11.2 million) as collateral.
The judge cast doubt on that proposal, saying Meng's husband isn't a resident of British Columbia — a requirement for him to act as a guarantor that his wife won't flee — and his visitor visa expires in February.
The prosecutor said her husband has no meaningful connections to Vancouver and spends only two or three weeks a year in the city. Gibb-Carsley also expressed concern about the idea of using a security company paid by Meng.
He said later that $15 million Canadian ($11.2 million) would be an appropriate amount if the judge granted bail, but he said half should be in cash.
Meng's arrest has fueled U.S.-China trade tensions at a time when the two countries are seeking to resolve a dispute over Beijing's technology and industrial strategy. Both sides have sought to keep the issues separate, at least so far, but the arrest has roiled markets, with stock markets worldwide down again Monday.
The hearing has sparked widespread interest, and the courtroom was packed again Monday with media and spectators, including some who came to support Meng. One man in the gallery brought binoculars to have a closer look at Meng, while outside court a man and woman held a sign that read "Free Ms. Meng."
Over the weekend, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador John McCallum and U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad.
Le warned both countries that Beijing would take steps based on their response. Asked Monday what those steps might be, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said only, "It totally depends on the Canadian side itself."
The Canadian province of British Columbia has already canceled a trade mission to China amid fears China could detain Canadians in retaliation for Meng's detention.
Stocks around the world fell Monday over investor concerns about the continuing U.S.-China trade dispute, as well as the cloud hanging over Brexit negotiations after Britain's prime minister postponed a vote on her deal for Britain to quit the European Union. In the U.S., stocks were volatile, tumbling in the morning and then recovering in the afternoon.
The Huawei case complicates efforts to resolve the U.S.-China trade dispute. The United States has slapped tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports, charging that China steals American technology and forces U.S. companies to turn over trade secrets.
Tariffs on $200 billion of those imports were scheduled to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1. But over dinner Dec. 1 with Xi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Trump agreed to delay the increase for 90 days, buying time for more negotiations.
Bill Perry, a trade lawyer with Harris Bricken in Seattle, said China's decelerating economy is putting pressure on Xi to make concessions before U.S. tariffs go up.
"They need a trade deal. They don't want the tariffs to go up to 25" percent, said Perry, who produces the "US China Trade War" blog. "This is Damocles' sword hanging over the Chinese government."
Huawei, the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, has become the target of U.S. security concerns because of its ties to the Chinese government. The U.S. has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.
Lu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, accused countries he didn't cite by name of hyping the "so-called" threat.
"I must tell you that not a single piece of evidence have they ever presented to back their allegation," he said. "To create obstacles for companies' normal operations based on speculation is quite absurd."
Canadian officials have declined to comment on Chinese threats of retaliation, instead emphasizing the independence of Canada's judiciary and the importance of Ottawa's relationship with Beijing.