Journalist killed by gunmen in Mexican state of Veracruz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen shot dead a reporter in the violent Mexican state of Veracruz on Tuesday, authorities said, bringing to at least nine the number of journalists killed in the country this year.

Reporter Candido Rios and two other men died after being shot by the unknown assailants in the municipality of Hueyapan in the south of Veracruz, local police said in a statement.

Murders have risen significantly in Mexico during the past couple of years, and 2017 is on course to be the bloodiest year on record, underlining the failure of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government to tame the violence.

Aggravating the problem for Pena Nieto have been attacks on journalists, which have prompted some world leaders to express concerns about the matter during visits to Mexico.

Rios, who worked at the newspaper Diario Acayucan, had reported threats against his life and was registered on a national program to protect journalists, said Jorge Morales, head of a local media protection group known as the CEAPP.

According to a tally kept by Article 19, a freedom of expression advocacy group, eight journalists had been killed in Mexico during 2017 before the death of Rios.

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office in Veracruz said it was investigating the killing of Rios but declined to give details over what motivated the attack.

Veracruz, a state in the Gulf of Mexico with important trafficking routes fought over by drug gangs, has become notorious for the murder of journalists in the past few years.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Tamara Corro; Editing by Michael Perry)

Parents of kidnapped U.S. journalist Tice renew plea for release

Debra Tice, the mother of American journalist Austin Tice, holds his picture with her husband Marc Tice during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The parents of a U.S. journalist kidnapped in Syria nearly five years ago issued a new plea for his release on Thursday.

Austin Tice, a freelance reporter and former U.S. Marine from Houston, Texas, was kidnapped in August 2012 aged 31 while reporting in Damascus on the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The identity of his captors is not known, and there has been no claim of responsibility for his abduction. The family believe he is alive and still being held captive.

“We are willing to engage with any government, any group, any individual who can help us in this effort to secure Austin’s safe release,” his father Marc Tice said at a news conference in Beirut.

“When any journalist is silenced, we’re all blindfolded.”

His mother Debra Tice added: “Five years is a very long time for any parent to be missing their child … we desperately want him to come home.”

Nothing has been heard publicly about Tice since a video posted online weeks after he disappeared showed him in the custody of armed men.

U.S. officials and Tice’s parents do not think he is held by Islamic State, which typically announces its Western captives in propaganda videos and executed two U.S. journalists in 2014.

The Assad government says it does not know his whereabouts.

(Reporting by John Davison, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Egyptian government bans scores of news websites in growing censorship crackdown

By Eric Knecht and Nadine Awadalla

CAIRO (Reuters) – An often fiery government critic, Egyptian journalist Khaled al-Balshi has been arrested, had his operations monitored, and staff harassed by police for years. Yet his website Al-Bedaiah, a rare dissident voice in Egypt, had never been touched.

On Sunday that changed when it suddenly went blank with no warning after being blocked, part of what Balshi called an unprecedented and far-reaching state crackdown on scores of news websites in recent weeks.

“Let’s be clear, the Egyptian websites going through this are dealing with a long-term shutdown — this is not short term,” said Balshi from his downtown Cairo office, where four work stations sat idle, because staff feared coming to work in case of arrest.

Balshi’s website was the 57th blocked since May 24, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, a non-government organization tracking the affected sites through software that monitors outages.

Journalists see the campaign against them as a step toward banning all but the most state-aligned media, effectively reversing the private media boom that flourished in the final decade of former president Hosni Mubarak’s rule and which they say helped push him from power in 2011.

Though no precise figures on readership are available, Egypt enjoys an active private media that includes widely read print and web format publications as well as popular late-night talk shows. State newspapers still maintain wide circulation.

The spike in censorship has come as a surprise, even to journalists long-accustomed to reporting within strict red lines in Egypt where direct criticism of the military, the president, and judiciary are considered taboo and punishable by jail time.

The government has offered no comment on the reason behind the blockages and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology had no immediate comment.


Makram Mohamed Ahmed, head of the newly formed Supreme Media Council, a state media regulator, told Reuters he believes “the main reason is how much [these websites] deal with the Muslim Brotherhood or express support for terrorism,” referring to the Islamist group whose president Mohamed Mursi held office for a year before being ousted in 2013 by the military after mass protests.

But the blockages have also hit Mada Masr, a self-described progressive outlet with no Islamist ties, as well as the widely read Al-Borsa, a financial newspaper favored by the largely pro-government business community.

“If they did something more grave like arresting team members or me it would make big noise, whereas blocking the website is the best way to paralyze us without paying a high price for it,” Lina Atallah, editor of Mada Masr, told Reuters.

Some journalists say a presidential election in 2018 means Egypt is doubling down on press restrictions, a move intended to ensure opposition candidates have few spaces to challenge general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is widely expected to run for a second term.

“There are people getting ready to nominate themselves for the presidency and they have to make their voices heard or else they won’t be competitive,” said Adel Sabry, the editor-in-chief of Masr al-Arabia, a website blocked last month.

“[The goal] is that it’s just one voice,” said editor-in-chief of Al-Borsa, Hussein Abd Rabo, who said his paper could be closed any day.

FILE PHOTO: Masked Egyptian security forces walk by a demonstration held by journalists and activists against the detention of journalists, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo


When Balshi’s website was wiped from Egyptian screens seven of its eight most read articles dealt with the same hot-button issue: a controversial accord transferring two Red Sea islands to Egypt’s top benefactor, Saudi Arabia. The measure is expected to be voted on within days by parliament.

Like another website blocked on Sunday, El Badil, Balshi’s has provided a platform for critics of the deal who argue that the islands are Egyptian territory, a point of view that sparked rare street protests last year calling for the accord’s cancellation.

Balshi and other journalists believe the wave of censorship is meant to neutralize debate on an issue that opposition figures say has already eroded some of Sisi’s support among voters who consider ceding sovereign territory unacceptable.

“I insist that we remain a voice, no matter what. And that we try to preserve our space. I think it should be done even as a suicide mission,” said Balshi. “What can we do?”

(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Nadine Awadalla; Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdellah, editing by Peter Millership)

Mexican journalists mourn, protest after deadly day

Journalists and photographers hold up pictures of journalist Javier Valdez during a demonstration against his killing and for other journalists who were killed in Mexico, at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City, Mexico May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican journalists covered news conferences wearing black on Tuesday, and brought pictures of slain colleagues to rallies to put pressure on authorities to act against an escalation of murderous attacks on their trade.

The mourning and protests followed a particularly deadly day for the media in Mexico, where warring drug cartels have made it one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.

On Monday, veteran organized crime writer Javier Valdez was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the northwestern state of Sinaloa while gunmen in Jalisco state killed a reporter at a small weekly magazine and critically wounded his mother, an executive at the family-run publication.

Authorities have yet to announce arrests in the two new cases, feeding fears of impunity that have become disturbingly familiar to the profession in Mexico.

“We’ve been living in a giant simulation; they say they’re investigating and that freedom of expression is protected, but clearly it’s not,” Juan Carlos Aguilar of the collective Right to Inform said at a protest in Mexico City.

Last year a record 11 journalists were killed, according to advocacy group Articulo 19.

Journalists wrote “they are killing us” in large letters at the foot of the Angel of Independence monument in central Mexico City and flashed pictures of dead reporters to passing cars. Rallies were also held in other cities, including crime-ravaged Culiacan, where Valdez was killed.

Valdez spent years documenting the violence in Mexico, and his death triggered an outpouring of grief across the country.

The killings come ahead of a key state election next month and the 2018 presidential vote – fuelling worries that it could result in a less-informed public.

“This isn’t just us being killed as people, this is a silencing of those who talk,” freelance journalist Paula Monaco said at the protest.

Mexico is struggling to contain a resurgence in violence among rival drug cartels that has pushed homicides to levels not seen since 2011.

Groups monitoring journalistic freedom say corrupt local authorities and police target journalists as well, and that the vast majority of attacks on the press go unpunished, despite a special prosecutor’s office assigned to investigating them.

A new special prosecutor was recently named amid criticism that the previous one failed to secure convictions in dozens of unsolved cases.

“This is truly a crisis. We’re tired of burying our colleagues,” said photojournalist Quetzalli Gonzalez.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj and Reuters TV; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Woken up before 5 a.m. to see North Korea’s leader, five hours later

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong attend an opening ceremony of a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By Sue-Lin Wong

PYONGYANG (Reuters) – It’s unusual being a foreign correspondent in North Korea, as a team from Reuters, among scores of journalists visiting the reclusive state, found out on Thursday.

Invited to Pyongyang for this week’s celebrations of the 105th birth anniversary of founder president Kim Il Sung, the journalists were herded together for hours, not allowed water and not given access to phones – to attend a street opening by North Korea’s current leader, his grandson Kim Jong Un.

The preparations began on Wednesday night when North Korean government minders rushed into the media center at our hotel just after 10 p.m., told us to stop working and pack up our laptops because “you won’t be coming back here tonight.”

Gathered in the lobby, we were told there would be a “big and important” event on Thursday. With tensions high because of the possibility that Pyongyang may conduct a nuclear or long-range missile test in defiance of U.S. warnings of retaliation, the words were striking.

Our minders refused to give details. Just bring your passports and cameras, nothing else. No phones, no laptops, no water.

“No water?” we ask.

One of our government minders, Ri Hyon Mu, shifted awkwardly.

“I am being very direct now. Please urinate and excrete before the event as there will be no water closets.”

No more details were given, except to be ready for a 6 a.m. start.

At 4.45 a.m., the phone rang. It was Ri. Our wake-up call had been pushed forward.

Soon, the hotel lobby was thronging with journalists from around the world, armed with video and photo cameras, all with blue armbands with white letters that read “journalist” in Korean.

We were piled into buses that weaved through the manicured streets of Pyongyang as the sun rose. Groups of men in grey suits and women in colorful dresses, many holding bunches of red and pink plastic flowers, were walking briskly, a sign we were headed to a mass rally of some sort.

We arrived at the People’s Palace of Culture for what turned into a two-hour security check, where our wallets and chocolate were taken away and tied up in black plastic bags.

The Reuters team boarded a bus after the security check, only for a minder to shout at us to get off – “This bus is for Americans only!”

“That’s the imperialist bus,” O Kum Sok, another minder, explained with a grin, as we got into another bus.


We set off again at around 7.30 a.m., passing crowds of North Koreans, some squatting, most standing. Our buses stopped just past the Chinese embassy, one of the largest foreign missions in the city.

We are at Ryomyong, a new residential street, constructed, we were told, in less than a year, lined with more than twenty buildings, each about thirty or forty-plus storeys.

Soon, tens of thousands of North Koreans had gathered in the area, some in military dress, most in traditional suits and dresses holding balloons, plastic flowers and North Korean flags. They looked curiously at us, some smiling slightly.

A brass band played as the square filled up. Then around 10 a.m. the crowd fell silent.

Suddenly, there was fervent clapping and cheering, balloons bobbing, flags flapping. Kim Jong Un and top government officials walked onto the stage to a fanfare from the brass band reserved to mark his public appearances.

It is “a very significant, great event, more powerful than the explosion of hundreds of nuclear bombs on the top of the enemies’ heads,” said North Korea’s premier Pak Pong Ju, the main speaker at the opening ceremony.

The completion of Ryomyong Street is one of the examples of “a brilliant victory based on self-reliance and self-development against maneuvers by the U.S. and vassal forces”, he said, using the state’s typical descriptions of the United States and its allies.

A translation of the speech was provided when we returned to the hotel.

Kim did not speak but clapped intermittently. After about twenty minutes of speeches, a thick, red ribbon was unfurled on stage. Kim cut the ribbon and was whisked away in a shiny black Mercedes as his sister Kim Yo Jong bowed deeply. Ryomyong Street was officially open.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Turkish prosecutors accuse newspaper of ‘asymmetric war’ on Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in the Black Sea city of Rize, Turkey, April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for journalists from a leading opposition newspaper on charges of supporting a terrorist organization and targeting President Tayyip Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods”.

An indictment seen by Reuters on Wednesday said Cumhuriyet had effectively been “taken over” by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for a failed coup last July, and used to “veil the actions of terrorist groups”.

Turkey has purged more than 113,000 people from the police, judiciary, military and elsewhere since the coup attempt, and has closed more than 130 media outlets, raising concerns among Western allies about deteriorating rights and freedoms.

The authorities say the measures are justified by the gravity of the coup attempt, in which rogue soldiers tried to overthrow the government and Erdogan, killing more than 240 people, most of them civilians.

“(Cumhuriyet) started an intense perception operation targeting the government and president of the republic … through asymmetric war methods,” said the 324-page document, parts of which were published by Turkish media on Tuesday.

Cumhuriyet, long a pillar of the secularist establishment, is accused of straying from its principles in the years leading up to the coup attempt and of writing stories that serve “separatist manipulation”.

The indictment named 19 journalists, of whom 12 have already been detained, including well-known columnist Kadri Gursel, and Ahmet Sik, who once wrote a book critical of Gulen’s movement.

Three of the 19 could face up to 43 years in prison for “aiding an armed terrorist group without being members of it.”

The newspaper called the charges “imaginary accusations and slander” and said some of the testimonies in the indictment were from individuals previously seen as close to Gulen.

“Set them free immediately,” said its Wednesday front page.


Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison for former editor Can Dundar, jailed in 2015 on charges of publishing state secrets involving Turkish support for Syrian rebels, but later released. Dundar lives in Germany.

Current editor Murat Sabuncu and other senior staff were arrested late last year over alleged support for the failed coup, sparking protests in Istanbul.

Social media posts including Tweets comprised the bulk of evidence in the indictment, along with allegations that staff had been in contact with users of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by Gulen’s followers.

Some suspects were accused of “serving the interests” of the PKK militant group, which has waged an insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast for three decades, and of the far-leftist DHKP/C, which was behind a series of armed attacks in recent years.

“There are lots of organizations in Turkey. The Gulenist organization, the PKK, DHKP-C. We are being blamed for helping them all… and it seems I am the prime suspect,” Dundar said in a video selfie on his website.

He said the fact Cumhuriyet staff had learned about the indictment in pro-government media was “another legal scandal.”

“I stand with all of them and I will continue to be their voice until the end,” he said on the website, which he set up from Germany to keep covering Turkish affairs.

(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)

Journalist Who Chronicled ISIS Atrocities Killed in Turkey

A Syrian journalist and filmmaker who chronicled the atrocities committed by Islamic State insurgents was brazenly gunned down on Sunday in Turkey, according to his organization.

Naji Jerf was “assassinated” in Gaziantep, according to a statement from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which covers how the Islamic State treats civilians in its so-called capital.

Jerf was the group’s movie director and a father of two, according to the statement.

In its own statement, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) said Jerf was also the editor-in-chief of Hentah, an independent monthly publication. The EFJ statement indicated Jerf was killed in broad daylight near a building that is home to Syrian media organizations.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the Islamic State was behind the killing, though the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that ISIS has claimed responsibility for killing two journalists, both of whom had worked for Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, in Urfa, Turkey, in October.

“Syrian journalists who have fled to Turkey for their safety are not safe at all,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said in a statement. “We call on Turkish authorities to bring the killers of Naji Jerf to justice swiftly and transparently, and to step up measures to protect all Syrian journalists on Turkish soil.”

According to the CPJ, Jerf had also recently helped create a documentary that highlighted the Islamic State’s actions against Syrian citizens when the group was occupying the city of Aleppo.