War on… investigative Journalism

The craziest thing about this story is that Vedat has been officially recognised as a victim in a report of the US State Department for Human Rights, in a...

A Swiss based Independent Journalist Charly Pache, writes his concerns about how the world powers target independent journalists, which is a clear appearance of the direct attack over one of most sensitive core of the democratic values. THE Frontliner brings Mr Pache’s editorial, which was originally published on 27th of April at a Swiss News Magazine.

Vedat Xhymshiti [1] [2] is an independent journalist photographer from Kosovo who recently – and surprisingly – was labelled a potential terrorist threat by the US administration as a result of what seems to be a totally unnuanced military attitude: either you are with us or against us.

c09b9-freedomVedat covered the Syrian conflict zone for six months in 2012 for the prestigious German news magazine Der Spiegel. His work was then published by many other media, including the US Time Magazine, The New York Times and Paris Match. He also investigated corruption in eastern countries.

We met in 2014 at the International Whistleblowers Conference in Amsterdam [3] and I was impressed by his commitment to uncovering the truth, despite the personal risks involved. We have since developed mutual friendship and respect.

Vedat got into real trouble while investigating an alleged Jihadist training camp in Kosovo, which was believed to be supported by a very well-known western intelligence agency and the local mafia. His findings suggest that young Kosovars are indoctrinated and sent to Syria for sombre purposes. Vedat doesn’t want that happening to the youth of his country.

Recently, he was invited to be a panelist at an event in London called “Four years after the Arab Spring, Middle East in the cross roads”, organised by the International Political Science World Congress. He obtained a visa that allows him to travel through Europe without any problem. Immediately after the London event, he wanted to travel to the US to meet picture editors and foreign news desk editors in view of obtaining new assignments. The response he received from the US embassy in Skopje was baffling: they refused to issue him a visa on ‘Security and Related Grounds’. Details of this can be found in Section 212(a)(3)(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act  under the heading “Terrorist activities”!

The section concerns individuals ‘Engaged in terrorist activity’  Vedat Xhymshiti US Embassy refusal letteror ‘likely to engage in terrorist activity after entry’ or who have ‘incited terrorist activity with intent to cause serious bodily harm or death’ or ‘are representatives or current members of a terrorist organization’ or have ‘endorsed or espoused terrorist activity’ or ‘received military-type training from or on behalf of a terrorist organization’ or ‘are spouses or children of anyone who has engaged in terrorist activity within the last five years’.[4]

Why does the US administration consider Vedat a threat to their own security? My only guess is that it is because of his investigations in Kosovo. The craziest thing about this story is that Vedat has been officially recognised as a victim in a report of the US State Department for Human Rights, in a section entitled “Freedom of Speech and Press”.

« On January 14, a police officer physically assaulted and beat photojournalist Vedat Xhymshiti while he documented events at a conflict at a Kosovo-Serbia border crossing. Xhymshiti filed a lawsuit against the government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs on May 14. Xhymshiti later left the country, reportedly after receiving threats. »[5]

That kind of story is not new but it is clearly a threat to democracy when journalists are persecuted by the ruling powers because of their investigations. In 2003, New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman admitted the existence of an embarrassing confidential order that listed investigative journalists alongside spies and terrorists as potential threats to New Zealand’s military.[6] The New Zealand government later announced that the order had been updated and that references to journalists had been removed. However, Vedat’s case raises the question of whether the US still have such secret orders. In January 2015, it was reported from documents leaked by Edward Snowden that the British spy agency GCHQ listed “investigative journalists” as a threat, alongside hackers and terrorists, in an “information security assessment”.[7] Attempts by governments to control the press and put their sources at risk clearly endanger a free society.

Back in March 2015, I was able to witness how secret agencies can work against the public interest. I attended a special ‘Whistleblowers, Guilty or Heroes?’ evening during the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.[8] I listened to Jesselyn Radack, whistleblower, lawyer, former attorney at the US Department of Justice, Thomas Drake, whistleblower, former senior executive at the NSA former CIA analyst, and John Kiriakou, whistleblower, former analyst at the CIA. For me, it was particularly shocking to learn that there are people paid by US taxpayers working for I-don-t-know-which-secret-agency (and I don’t want to know), whose job is to make whistleblowers’ lives even more difficult. One example is calling potential employers and telling them that they are about to hire people who are a threat to their own country. They do that to real, confirmed and ‘publicly recognized’ whistleblowers who put themselves into difficult situations to make certain truths public.  This is not only wrong, it also shows the power of some people behind the scenes who misuse state resources to cover up their own misconduct and mistakes.

Do we want to live in a world where whistleblowers and investigative journalists are persecuted even by our so-called ‘civilized’ nations? Democracy needs good governance and secret agencies shouldn’t be allowed to act against the core values enshrined in our constitutions and in the Human Rights Charter.

[1] Vedat Xhymshiti portrait, thefrontliner.uk/about/vedatxhymshiti/
[2] Vedat Xhymshiti Youtube Channel, www.youtube.com/channel/UCTMpNt8OVCrY1PJ42hW5SlQ
[3] International Whistleblowers Conference 2014, official website, https://www.freepressunlimited.org/en/news/international-whistleblowers-conference-18-june-2014
[4] « Ineligibilities and Waivers: Laws » travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/ineligibilities.html
[5] « 2012 Human Rights Reports: Kosovo », Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Departement of State www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2012/eur/204301.htm
[6] « New Zealand Denies Report US Helped It Spy On Journalist », www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/new-zealand-spy-journalist-jon-stephenson_n_3669998.html
[7] « Along With Hackers & Terrorists, GCHQ Considers ‘Investigative Journalists’ a Threat », http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2015/01/20/along-with-hackers-terrorists-gchq-considers-investigative-journalists-a-threat/
[8] ‘Whistleblowers, Guilty or Heroes?’, International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, Geneva www.fifdh.org/site/2015-programm/films/Lanceurs-dalerte-coupables-ou-heros-178312

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