Friday, March 31, 2017

Morocco in Run-Up to UNSC Session on W Sahara Uses UN Against Press, Wined Scribes

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 28 – Amid Western Sahara protests and repression in El Aaiún, and after the UN acceded to an abusive request by Morocco to expand the restrictions on Inner City Press which the UN's Cristina Gallach imposed 13 months ago, Inner City Press on the morning of March 27 in writing asked the UN's top three spokespeople questions, including "in El Aaiún renewed protests have been met with repression. What is MINURSO doing, and what is the Secretary General's comment?" At the day's noon briefing, held without restricted Inner City Press, UN spokesman Farhan Haq faced only two questions; on one he ironically answered about the right to protest, elsewhere. After the briefing, Haq's office sent Inner City Press this sentence, published in full: "Regarding protests in Western Sahara, the UN recognizes the right of all to peaceful assembly and protest." This came before a quiet March 28 "Any Other Business" session about the MINURSO mission, in advance of which Morocco not only filed a frivolous complaint against Inner City Press' reporting from the UN Security Council stakeout with camera and Periscope, but also invited correspondents it has not complained about to its Ambassador Omar Hilale's residence for praise, including of Italian correspondent / landlord Giampaolo Pioli who has not reported on events in Western Sahara. We'll have more on this.
  The UN's willingness to censor Press coverage of itself and its failures such as in Western Sahara, including at the behest of abusive UN member states like Morocco, shows a need for radical reform not currently being attempted much less achieved. A complaint conveyed to Inner City Press on March 22 by the UN Department of Public Information, which previously evicted and still restricts Inner City Press after it pursued the Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case in the UN Press Briefing Room and regarding DPI's Cristina Gallach is a case in point.
  The background is that when UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' schedule was updated on the afternoon of March 17 to add Brahim Ghali, Secretary-General of the Frente Polisario at 4 pm, Inner City Press remained at the UN Security Council stakeout working. When the Polisario delegation, including UN envoy Christopher Ross, was escorted to the elevators at 3:45 pm, Inner City Press took a photograph and tweeted it, along with urgingGuterres' holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric to issue a read-out. But then one of the Morocco diplomats who had been hovering around the Security Council stakeout for hours went and complained to UN Security that Inner City Press had taken a photograph - from the Security Council stakeout where it is authorized, and where at the same time tourists were taking photographs. Inner City Press was encouraged to stop so that a UN Security supervisor would be called. (Here's how UN Security ousted Inner City Press from the same stakeout, at the order of Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach, audio here.) This is the disgusting level of censorship in today's UN, that must be reversed.
  On March 22 the UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, cc-ing superiors in the Department of Public Information, has warned Inner City Pres about "recording... near the Security Council.  You were mentioned by name in this regard, and we take the opportunity of this sensitive occurrence to remind you that the Turkish Lounge is not part of the stake out area and is off limits to media unless invited by the delegation."
  One irony is that Inner City Press never entered or enters this so-called Turkish Lounge, while other insider correspondents do, including without any invitation. DPI has a double standard; Gallach's record in this regard, on this issue, has been noted for example here. This is pure targeting, and comes as Inner City Press continues to question and cover UN lack of transparencyand lack of commitment to freedom of expression, for example in Cameroon. It is the UN's ongoing lack of rules, including of due process for journalists, that allows this. Inner City Press has responded, in pertinent part:
"For your information, on Friday March 17, I was in the press area of the UNSC stakeout, after the 3 pm meeting. I took a photograph of the Polisario delegation, with Christopher Ross, going up to the 38th floor. There were diplomats I recognized to be from the Moroccan Mission sitting in the so-called Turkish Lounge. I did not record any conversation or take any photo of them (although in the past, Moroccan Ambassador Omar Hilale has invited me to photograph him and his associate there).

After I took and tweeted photograph of Polisario and UN official Ross going up, a Moroccan diplomat / associate walked the UN Security officer at the turnstile my pass no longer works on; the officer came over and told me, seemingly apologetically, that the diplomat can said I shouldn't take photographs.

 I said I was within my rights to take photographs from the stakeout, but I nevertheless - in light of DPI's / MALU's previous punitive acts with no due process, and ongoing restrictions after more than 1 year - left the UNSC stakout.

I consider this complaint by Morocco to be an attempt to limit coverage of the Western Sahara issue. Given DPI's / MALU's previous actions, if any of this is put in my / Inner City Press' history or file with MALU this must be included to.

This is a formal request to see my / Inner City Press' file. And this is, again, a request to be returned to Inner City Press' long time shared office S-303A, and a statement for the record that ... Inner City Press' office and resident correspondent status must immediately be restored.

Please confirm receipt and provided the requested information / file as well as the list of those waiting for office space, the prioritization the UN has assigned and the reasons therefor." And days later, even on the eve of the UN Security Council session that Morocco's occupation of the areas around the Council, frivolous anti-Press complaint and wining and dining of scribes took place, Gallach's DPI couldn't even get it together to confirm receipt. This corrupt DPI: mend it or end it. We'll have more on all of the above.