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FCC statement on detention of photojournalists covering Rohingya crisis

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong and the Editorial Committee of The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) are deeply concerned about the detention of photojournalist Minzayar Oo and his assistant Hkun Lat, Myanmar citizens who were on assignment in Bangladesh for GEO magazine to cover the Rohingya crisis. We call on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release both of them.

Minzayar Oo and Hkun Lat were assigned by GEO magazine because of their professionalism and their journalistic integrity. Minzayar Oo is an internationally renowned, award winning photojournalist, whose work is published widely and has been recognised by some of the world’s most important journalism awards.

The pair were detained more than a week ago in Cox’s Bazar, where around 400,000 Rohingya have sought refuge since August from the fresh violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Their lawyer told AFP that they were charged with “false impersonation” and providing “false information” after police accused them of using the cover of tourist visas to enter the country, instead of journalist visas.

Cox’s Bazar police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Ranjit Kumar Barua said the pair were also “primarily accused of espionage.”

“They were collecting information on the Rohingya for Myanmar,” he said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was unable to get comments regarding the matter from the Cox’s Bazar police immediately. Calls to Ranjit Barua were unanswered, and police did not respond to email promptly.

China vs the U.S.: When it comes to caring about the environment, they’re both hit and miss

Who really cares about the environment – China or the U.S.? That was the question posed to two experts in the field of environment – and the answer was a little more complicated.

Professor Robert Gottlieb, founder and former Director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told guests at the September 12 club lunch that both countries displayed positive and negative attitudes towards the environment.

He said that the Barack Obama administration had eventually paid more attention to environmental policy creation following years of rolling back of environmental policies under previous presidents. A robust social movement in America had done much to pressure the government on the issue of the environment. However, Obama’s work that was largely undone after Donald Trump was elected president, he added.

Left to right: Simon Ng, Professor Robert Gottlieb, FCC hosts Enda Curran and Victor Mallet. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Left to right: Simon Ng, Professor Robert Gottlieb, FCC hosts Enda Curran and Victor Mallet. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

“By the time President Obama was elected, the notion of environment as a priority issue really receded despite Obama’s own statements and the interest of those in congress who thought that environment was still a critical issue. In the 2012 election for example climate did not come up in the course of the election between Romney and Obama, but that changed partly because resistance in congress and in the last two years of the Obama administration there was a reconnection in the importance and significance of environment in areas such as air and climate and food thanks to Michelle Obama, the president’s wife, who made the idea of changes around food central to her agenda and subsequently her husband’s. But that didn’t last.”

Professor Gottlieb said that the election of Trump “and some critical appointments made that were significantly hostile to environmental issues” had seen a rolling back of policies: “Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency Administrator in the U.S.) came into office with an agenda to essentially dismantle both the agency and a wide range of environmental policies with the support of the president which culminated in the decision to begin a process of pulling out of the Paris Accord.”

He concluded: “Does the US care about environment? Yes and no. It does care when you think about citizen movements, it does care when you think about the level of resistance among certain policy makers particularly at the local and state level. And ultimately it does care in terms of wanting to sustain the changes that have been made since the 1970s and move it to the next level. But the answer is no when you come to the President and his head of EPA, the head of the energy department, head of the transportation departments who are actively hostile to this kind of environmental policy system that has been created since 1970 and doing their best to at least resist any further development if not pull it back.”

On China, Professor Gottlieb said it was almost in a reverse process to the United States: “In 2009 at the Copenhagen meeting China’s role was not hostile to but not willing to step up to the plate and in issues such as dealing with air quality, dealing with water quality, you had not necessarily resistance to the idea of the environment being important and crucial but it was not high on the agenda. High on the agenda was development, urbanisation, marketisation – this was the strategic direction of the government.”

He added that this situation has begun to change as China realised that environmental issues have a powerful economic impact and undercut some of the development strategies that have developed. “…there is a recognition that China, particularly now, as of 2016, can champion itself as an environmental leader whether it’s climate or any number of issues, particularly transportation shifting towards being the leading manufacturer of electric vehicles.

“But you haven’t seen a full transition. Take the issue of coal – China is committed tons with its new climate perspective to start reducing the level of coal …. used or particularly produced which has all the env impacts that are deeply felt in certain regions of the country. So in the last three years there’s been a very modest reduction in the production of coal for the first time but not a reduction at that same level in terms of the use of coal because you have an increase in the imports of coal.”

In conclusion, he said: “Does China care about the environment? Yes and no. China does care – it’s called the priority of priorities for example around air quality by government officials – but the implementation is uneven and you don’t necessarily have that robust social movement that you did have in the last 60 years in the United States that has created that ability to increase both awareness and the idea that we do care about the environment.”

Simon Ng of the Civic Society in Hong Kong discussed the government’s attitude towards environmental policy making. He said that two months into Carrie Lam’s administration he hoped she would honour the environmental pledges in her manifesto. He said though that other issues affecting the city – housing, education – were likely to take priority over environmental issues.

Mr Ng praised Hongkongers for their awareness of environmental issues and the fact that they were collecting air pollution information that was empowering them to take action and pressure leaders into doing so. He added that Hong Kong was the first city in Asia to tighten vehicle emissions standards. “When it comes to ship emissions Hong Kong is the first city in Asia to regulate ship emissions at city level.”

And he said that although Hong Kong universities are playing a big part in the development of sensors that measure air quality that are lighter, smaller, more sensitive and accurate, the city could do more. “Hong Kong can be a real leader – how come we have to wait until Beijing says ‘OK you should do this’ and we say ‘OK’ and in the next few days we follow?” He said this was bad for the city.

Professor Gottlieb and Mr Ng have written a book together, Global Cities: Urban Environments in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and China, examining environmental issues in those locations.

Cambodia Daily closure: FCC Hong Kong calls on government to drop charges against proprietors

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong expresses deep regret over the closure of The Cambodia Daily, which ceased operations on September 4 under government threats of legal action over a tax dispute. The independent newspaper, established in 1993 to provide a foundation of press freedom in an emerging democracy, trained dozens of local journalists and boasts an alumni spread across media outlets around the region and the world. Its demise is a blow to press freedom and diversity.

As the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia has noted, the government calculated a huge tax bill without referring to The Cambodia Daily’s books, and gave no opportunity for the newspaper to appeal or negotiate. Moreover, the Tax Department has reportedly filed criminal charges against its founder and two directors that could see them jailed for six years.

The episode shows how quickly a government can use its powers to silence the press, particularly smaller local independent publications lacking in financial means and international reach.

The FCCHK calls on the Cambodian government to drop any criminal charges against the publishers and seek a fair resolution of the tax dispute with The Cambodia Daily. It also urges the government to refrain from any other actions that undermine press freedom in the country, bearing in mind the benefits that a robust media environment serves in fostering democracy and promoting transparency.

The Cambodia Daily, whose motto was “All the News Without Fear or Favor”, sought to be a voice for the voiceless. Its abrupt closure after a quarter of a century shows that press freedom cannot be taken for granted.

Democracy across Southeast Asia is in danger – but all is not lost, says armed conflict mediator

Michael Vatikiotis discussed Southeast Asia's political and economic issues at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Michael Vatikiotis discussed Southeast Asia’s political and economic issues at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

A “democracy deficit” fuelled by conflict, religious division and widespread corruption has led to instability in Southeast Asia – and things will improve but at a cost, according to a mediator in armed conflict.

Michael Vatikiotis, whose new book Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia examines the region’s dynamics of power, said that in the next 30 years Southeast Asia will look like it did before it was colonised by European powers.

But currently, he warned: “Across Southeast Asia, democracy is in peril.

“Myanmar’s democratic transition is faltering; Thailand is enduring fourth year of military rule; Cambodia has launched an aggressive campaign against the opposition and threatens to wage war if it loses elections in 2018. Malaysia’s angry electorate is unlikely to be able to vote out of power a ruling party that has governed the country since independence; whilst in the Philippines, the number of people killed without due process this past year has already exceeded the total number killed by Marcos the dictator in the 1970s and 80s.

“Even in Indonesia, where democracy seems secure, there are indications that popular demand for equality and security are starting to outweigh respect for one-man one-vote.”

Factors contributing towards this “democracy deficit” in a region of 600 million people include enduring impunity and lack of accountability of governments; unresolved violent conflict; chronic levels of corruption; and alarmingly high levels of economic inequality, said Vatikiotis, who is Mediator in Armed Conflict, Asia Regional Director at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

Scroll to the bottom to watch Michael Vatikiotis at the FCC

“Despite the gloomy perspectives elaborated above, I am reasonably confident that the region will continue to prosper; its people will achieve significant levels of wealth and security. But there will be costs.”

He said the democracy deficit would deepen; sectarian and ethnic strife would intensify; and China would dominate the geo-political domain. He added that there would be less tolerance of the region’s traditional balancing of powers impulse; less economic and financial autonomy; and the threat of China’s particular form of extra-territoriality with regard to the overseas Chinese.

Why such a pessimistic outlook?, asked host and board member Victor Mallet (read his Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia review here). Vatikiotis cited Cambodia as an example: economic growth of over 7% which has been a huge benefit to workers who have been pulled out of poverty. “Yet you have a PM that doesn’t believe anyone has the right to turf him out of power,” he said, adding: “He’s decided if the opposition wins the election he’ll go to war.” Vatikiotis said this undermines stability in society and sets up inevitable conflict.

On China, Vatikiotis said that President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had stirred suspicion in Southeast Asia that the chief beneficiaries would be further away – South Asia and beyond. He added: “For the time being it’s mainly seen as a metaphor for China’s strategic ambitions.”

He said there was a great fear in the region that if China’s economy “went pair-shaped” there would be mass migration that would affect its neighbours.

Despite the gloomy outlook for the region in the interim, Vatikiotis believes that ultimately stability will return.

He said: “Fortunately, both access to technology and a sufficient degree of what I call ‘demi-democracy’ will enable civil society to address to a degree the need for some capacity to represent people, and push back on the state. This is ‘democracy you can eat’; it bypasses the political parties that have failed to deliver to communities at the grass roots, it ignores increasingly onerous security restrictions, and asserts popular will.”

Club notice: Absent and temporary members

Contact the FCC before you plan to visit. Photo: carstenschael.com Contact the FCC before you plan to visit. Photo: carstenschael.com

Visitors to Hong Kong who wish to use the club on the basis of being (i) absent members, (ii) visiting journalists, (iii) temporary members, or (iv) reciprocal club members are strongly encouraged to contact the club’s membership office before they visit Hong Kong. They may register at the club’s front office on their arrival, although processing may be delayed depending on the workload of the day.

For more information about this registration process and the documents required, please visit the website’s FAQ’s “May overseas visitors use the FCC?” section at www.fcchk.org/faq. For more details about visiting member policies, as stipulated in the Club’s by-laws no.18, please visit www.fcchk.org/club-rules/#18
 
For registration, please bear in mind that the Front Office is open on weekdays from 9am to 9pm and on Saturdays from 9am to 12.30pm.
 

Contact the Club before you plan to visit at [email protected]; provide the Club at least three days advance notice of your arrival.

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