Lawyer: German journalist detained in Venezuela set free

In this file photo taken on March 5, 2013 German independent journalist Billy Six, whose employers said had been out of contact for almost four months, is pictured during a press conference in Damascus were he was handed over to the Russian embassy by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad. (AFP)
Updated 16 March 2019
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Lawyer: German journalist detained in Venezuela set free

  • Resident of a Berlin suburb, Six has traveled the globe as an independent journalist for 12 years, publishing his reports in right-wing outlets

CARACAS, Venezuela: A German freelance journalist jailed in Venezuela since November on espionage charges was released Friday within weeks of two other reporters being expelled from the tumultuous South American nation, his parents and a human rights attorney confirmed.
A court in the capital of Caracas ordered journalist Billy Six to be let go under the conditions that he report back every 15 days and not speak to media, attorney Carlos Correa of Public Space told The Associated Press.
Six, 31, won’t be deported from Venezuela, but Correa also said that the journalist isn’t prevented from leaving if he chooses.
“We are overjoyed!” his parents Ute and Edward Six posted on a Facebook, also railing against Germany’s foreign ministry for not doing enough to help their son who spent 119 days in solitary confinement.
“Viva Venezuela!” they wrote. “Free Billy Six!“
Resident of a Berlin suburb, Six has traveled the globe as an independent journalist for 12 years, publishing his reports in right-wing outlets. His arrest has generated little interest in mainstream German media, which relatives blame on his conservative affiliation.
In Venezuela, he documented the economic collapse and mass migration from the socialist country, landing in jail on espionage charges that his family rejected as false.
This wasn’t Six’s first arrest amid turmoil. In 2013, he was jailed by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for three months after illegally entering that country to report on its bloody civil war. He was eventually handed over unharmed to Russian diplomats in Damascus who had helped secure his release.
A photo posted on Six’s Facebook page in May 2011 shows him holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher on his shoulder, with a caption indicating it was taken on the front line of fighting in Syria.
Six turned his attention to Venezuela over a year ago. His father previously told The AP that his son entered the country legally but was unable to secure journalist credentials required by Venezuela to work as a reporter.
While reporting on Venezuela, Six posted two crudely edited German-language videos online showing him walking the streets, interviewing people and at times narrating his conclusions, critical of Maduro’s socialist government.
“Hola amigos, I’m still in Venezuela, South American socialism of the 21st century,” Six says, opening one video. “Here on the street there’s dust, dirt, garbage, street dogs.”
While the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro has little tolerance for critical coverage by local press, foreign journalists who cross officials are usually spared the same harsh treatment. In the past, foreign reporters, like Six, who weren’t accredited would stay in custody for just a few days before being ejected from the country.
The release of Six follows the recent deportation of other two journalists.
Venezuelan security forces seized US freelance journalist Cody Weddle earlier this month at his apartment in Caracas where he had worked for over five years. Most recently, Weddle sent dispatches to a Miami TV station.
Univision’s Jorge Ramos was also deported in late February with his team after Maduro, who cut short and interview after 17 minutes when he was shown video on an iPad shot a day earlier of young Venezuelans eating food scraps out of the back of a garbage truck.


Iran BBC reprisals trigger media ouctry

BBC Persian presenter Rana Rahimpour says journalists are unable to visit Iran for family funerals. (Facebook)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Iran BBC reprisals trigger media ouctry

  • Iran this week faced a media industry outcry over its alleged systematic targeting of BBC Persian Service
  • Britain’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that it would continue to campaign to stop the harassment of the BBC Persian journalists

LONDON: Iran this week faced a media industry outcry over its alleged systematic targeting of BBC Persian Service journalists including the “sexual defamation” of female staff.
It follows a move by the European Parliament to back a resolution criticizing the treatment of BBC Persian service journalists by Iranian authorities.
Writing in The Guardian, veteran UK media commentator Roy Greenslade said that “too little attention has been paid to an insidious long-run campaign of persecution by the Iranian authorities against the staff of the BBC Persian service.”
“As they stand, the facts are shocking,” said Greenslade. “Unable to get their hands on BBC Persian’s London-based staff, Iran’s police intimidate their relatives inside Iran. They freeze their assets, which has the effect of preventing them buying and selling property. They arrest them arbitrarily, interrogating them for hours at a time and often detaining them for days in prison.”
Britain’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that it would continue to campaign to stop the harassment of the BBC Persian journalists. “We are pleased the European Parliament and the UN Human Rights Council have supported our calls for Iran to stop targeting BBC journalists in London and their families in Iran,” Sarah Kavanagh, NUJ senior campaigns and communications officer, told Arab News.
“We will continue campaigning until the authorities stop the harassment and persecution.”
Press Gazette, the UK media industry trade publication, also reported on the story on Monday and quoted MEP Jude Kirton-Darling who drew attention to smear campaigns aimed at some female Persian Service staff who have had their faces superimposed on pornographic images. “I would particularly like to raise awareness about the sexualized defamation campaigns being waged against brave female journalists at BBC Persian and I would call on the EU to no longer be silent about this attack on European women, European journalists.
“We have a duty and a responsibility to defend free journalism.”
Last week the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman, presented his first report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
He told the Council that he “deplores” the harassment of BBC Persian staff. He also raised concerns about attacks on BBC Persian journalists in Iranian state media, with fake and defamatory news being published to undermine their reputations.
The BBC took the unprecedented step of directly appealing to the UN in 2017, in what was the first time the broadcaster has ever engaged with the body about the treatment of its journalists.
BBC Persian presenter Rana Rahimpour told the council about her own experience and how her father was subjected to a travel ban to prevent him from visiting her after her first child was born.
International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, have filed a further complaint to the UN over the reprisals BBC Persian journalists have faced.
They said, “Reprisals against BBC Persian journalists and their families for engaging with the UN is not just an attack on freedom of expression, but an attack on the integrity of the UN system. Such reprisals must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”
Simon Spanswick, CEO of Association for International Broadcasting, said his organization “deplores any and all attempts to interfere with the work” of legitimate media companies.
“The case of BBC Persian staff and their families is one of a growing number of cases where broadcasting organizations and those that work for them are being intimidated,” he said.
“The case has been raised by the BBC at the UN through a complaint — the first it has ever made to the UN. The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran has included the case in his report to the UN Human Rights Council. We look forward to seeing the response of the Iranian government on this case which is, in effect, a jurisprudence dragnet.”
Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said there was a “wider story” of intimidation of journalists by Tehran, especially dual-national Iranian media workers.
Many Iranian journalists had been “portrayed as tools of foreign intervention and included in conspiracy theories,” Mansour said.