Mar 15, 2016, American Herald Tribune
“You guys are operating like thugs. Was I causing any disturbance? Maybe you can throw me in the street—that’s what the guy did, he threw me in the street and threw the computer on the ground.”
From a March 10 Soundcloud clip, these were some of the words of journalist Matthew R. Lee, of Inner City Press (ICP), for the second time in a month singled out for eviction from UN premises.
Lee had covered proceedings inside the UN eight years, with Resident Correspondent Accreditation, until his sudden expulsion on February 19, 2016, when he was indeed thrown on the street, laptop thrown on the ground, by UN security.
He/ICP is one of the only media with integrity asking the needed questions at the UN, and his voice is being silenced. This latest incident follows a series of harassments starting in January 2016, when Lee was forcibly evicted from UN premises on trumped up pretexts.
According to Lee, the events transpired as follows:
“UNCA leadership including Giampaoli Pioli, two scribes for the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, one from Reuters and others demanded that Inner City Press not cover a meeting in the UN Press Briefing Room.
Suspending their meeting in which they discussed among other tawdry topics selling UN space to those who pay them money, UNCA called in UN Spokesman Dujarric and his deputy and then UN Security…”
After Dujarric insisted the meeting in the Press Briefing room was “private” Lee complied and left.
-February 19: Lee was delivered a letter giving him 2 hours notice that he was ordered to vacate his office and UN premises. When later evicted by eight security guards, Lee’s UN pass was torn off his neck, his laptop and camera thrown on the street.
-February 22: After another correspondent tried to sign Lee in for the day as a guest, Lee was told by UN Security, “You are Banned from the UN.” Following his Feb 19 expulsion, Lee had however been informed he could enter, but under reduced access. His office and the 8 years of files and investigative reports remain off-limits to Lee.
Recently, Lee updated on the latest UN shenanigans against him/ICP.
“On March 9 it (ICP) was Banned from covering a meeting on UN Security Council reform; on March 10 it was unable to stakeout a meeting including Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Justice.”
In a March 10 email to me, Lee explained:
“This evening as I tried to finish work, editing a video of (false) answers I got at the day’s noon briefing, two UN Security officers came over to the table in the UN Lobby cafe area where I was sitting and ordered me to leave, immediately.
I told them my understanding is that the restricted “non resident correspondent” pass that Under Secretary General Cristina Gallach reduced me to (without once speaking to me) meant I couldn’t enter the UN after 7 pm, but I could keep working if I was inside. (This week I’ve seen other non-resident correspondents staying in the UN well past 9 pm).
Earlier today I raised my case to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as he left the Security Council meeting about the UN rapes in the Central African Republic; I told him to check with his chief of staff Edmond Mulet, to whom I’ve sent all the information.
This evening around 7 in the lobby I spoke with Ban’s Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, calmly. Less than an hour later I was ordered out by UN guards.
After being ordered out of UN at 8 pm on Thursday, on Friday I asked UN Spox Dujarric about it and he entirely defended it, saying not his job to find the Press a comfortable place to work. (Video)”
Audio from his Soundcloud clip of March 10 includes Lee asking:
“Do you search the building for journalists who are still working? Because there are many of them that are still working. So why did you target me? Why did you come to me sitting there working on my computer and tell me to leave the UN?”
His email to me ended with an important point:
“It’s not about comfort – when they throw you out, you can’t speak to sources and report, like about Yemen—I’m working on a new story, more on UN being captured by Saudi Arabia, marginalized, in corrupt decay.”
“Closed” Meeting, No Appeal Process, Hyena Journalists
In his footage from the January 29 incident, Lee can be heard clearly pointing out that the room is a UN press briefing room and that this (unmarked “private”) meeting is using UN technology and resources.
“It’s a press briefing room for journalists. They’re talking about giving out UN space, they’re talking about all things that affect journalists. I have every right to be here.”
His footage ends by posing the valid questions:
“Why would a group of journalists want to call security to have a closed meeting, and why would the UN give them a public briefing room and sound equipment and UN staff and money to do it?”
The February 19 expulsion letter fails to specify Lee’s alleged wrong-doing.
Lee’s February 20 account of his expulsion noted:
“The ejection letter was signed by the Under Secretary General for Public Information Cristina Galach of Spain but ultimately Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in charge. Ban and his chief of staff Edmond Mulet and Deputy SG Jan Eliasson were all written to with details as this took place. USG Gallach’s office, Darrin Farrant in charge, merely “took note” of questions about and criticism of the lack of due process. Gallach did not respond to email, even from Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, here.”
Lee told me by phone and then email:
“I filed a complaint with The Office of Internal Oversight Services, which is the UN’s own investigative body. The other thing I’ve done is to formally petition the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, to look into the case. He and his team are “seized of the matter,” I understand they are requesting info from UN Department of Public Information.”
Some journalists at the UN seemed to take pleasure in Lee’s expulsion. In his account of the day, he wrote:
“When Inner City Press was thrown out onto First Avenue, standing waiting, laughing and filming, was Voice of America’s Margaret Besheer and another board member of the UN Correspondents Association, whose president Giampaoli Pioli told Inner City Press if it didn’t remove a (truthful) article about his screening of a war crimes denial film for a tenant of his, Sri Lanka’s then ambassador Palitha Kohona, he would get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN.”
In our phone conversation, Lee mentioned prior cases of harassment.
“In 2012, Voice of America’s Margaret Besheer moved to get me thrown out. Somebody leaked to me within the UN a letter she’d written to her boss that my accreditation should be reviewed. So I did a F.O.I.A.(Freedom of Information Act) request. Ultimately, I got thousands of pages of documents, because all of her emails were FOIA-ed. She said things like, “I’m working with my colleagues at Reuters to get him thrown out,” “he doesn’t know what hit him,” …”
On UNCA, which Lee resigned from years ago due to what he called its corruption, he told me:
“I quit UNCA because I found it to be basically a club for Reuters and AP. I concluded that they are part of this corruption scandal throughout the UN. Three people have been indicted for paying bribes. Two of the three bribe-payers gave money to this UN correspondent’s association.”
According to Lee, some of the journalists in UNCA have waged dirty campaigns against him.
“These guys are nasty. Ever since this happened, an anonymous troll twitter account has tweeted over 200 times entirely around ICP, saying I should be thrown out, that I’m lying. A Spanish journalist contacted me on Twitter about what the UN official did. I gave him an audio file. His account went crazy, with tweets like “this is all a lie, nobody likes him, he’s terrible…”
I had the same experience with these people in 2013, when they set up fake twitter accounts: one was impersonating Inner City Press. I proved by looking at timestamps and the material in it that it was Reuters and AP correspondents here. Someone who knew me, a newspaper here in NY, said it was them.”
An article covering the 2013 trolls noted:
“The journalist’s official Twitter account is @InnerCityPress. The fake ones that have recently sprung up are @InnerCity_Press and @Inner_CityPress.
“It’s the way they’re using these accounts that bothers me most,” Lee tells FishbowlNY via email. “I co-founded a new press freedom group (the Free UN Coalition for Access/@FUNCA_info) and they’ve pitched the imposter accounts to each FUNCA Twitter follower, as well as each @InnerCityPress follower, creating confusion.”
“They’ve also followed many UN Ambassadors, so that these people won’t know which account they’re answering anymore. Devious.””
Shady Dealings in the UN
A March 6 article at 21st Century Wire reported the events and outlined Lee’s important investigative work regarding the UN:
“Independent journalist Matthew Russell Lee founded Bronx-based Inner City Press in 2005 and received official press accreditation to cover the United Nations in New York City. He was the first-ever independent, non-affiliated blogger to be given access to the UN’s inner sanctum. Since then Inner City Press has broken stories on a number of controversial stories: peacekeeper rapes in Africa, UN cholera in Haiti, war crimes in Sri Lanka and Burundi, the Sudans, SEMG and Yemen (see a leaked letter here), as well as corruption within UN Headquarters (cocaine shipments through its mail room and the current bribery scandals).” [listen to Sunday Wire’s interview with Lee]
In his March 10 Soundcloud clip, Lee posits:
“Do you know what the whole underlying thing here was? I tried to cover a meeting in the UN press briefing room, concerned with the John Ashe case of UN corruption. Because somebody doesn’t like the questions, they decided to change my pass.”
Lee’s own accounts of the events give more insight into the shady doings of UNCA and the UN itself. His post regarding the January 29 event mentioned:
“With the UN embroiled in scandals including the indictments of the former President of the General Assembly John Ashe and Macau businessman Ng Lap Seng and the founder of South South News, on December 14 the UN Correspondents Association sold seats with Ban Ki-moon for $6000. UN corruption, never reformed, rises from the Ashes, courtesy of UNCA, now the UN Corruption Association.”
Later in the post, he addressed more insidious incidents of UN peacekeepers’ rapes:
“Inner City Press now learns that Ban’s twice delayed report on the cover up of peacekeepers’ rapes in the Central African Republic will be pushed further back, after the sell-out, buried.”
In subsequent posts on ICP, Lee has continued to bring up issues of bribery, indictments and corruption in the UN, following the stories as his UNCA counterparts will not.
While he has long not been a favourite at the UN, the sudden expulsion on February 19 and subsequent incidents of what Lee believes is harassment and retaliation come at a time when independent and critical voices like Lee’s are direly needed in the UN, which aside from bribery and rape scandals is known to silence or limit voices of Representatives of countries being targeted by the NATO/Gulf alliance. Like Syria.
In a February 2015 op-ed on Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari being repeatedly silenced by the UN, I wrote:
“Matthew Lee, a journalist with Inner City Press (ICP), reported on an April 5, 2012 feed cut, noting that the speeches of the then “Special Envoy for Syria,” Kofi Annan, as well as the (Qatari) President of the General Assembly (GA) and Ban Ki-moon were all broadcast on UN television. However, ‘just as Syria’s Permanent Representative Bashar Ja’afari took the floor to respond, UN TV went dark. When the session was over several Permanent Representatives were critical of what they called ‘the PGA’s use of the UN for Qatar’s foreign policy.’’
On June 7, 2012, UN TV again cut as Ambassador Ja’afari spoke in the GA, following a request he had attempted to make in April, ‘to observe a minute of silence, in order to mourn the death of victims in my country.’
The Syrian Ambassador was again cut out of the feed on June 18, 2014. ICP’s Lee reported that on June 20 he was told by the same Dujarric regarding the June 7 cut that (in Lee’s words), ‘in fact the error in 2012 was been (sic) to allow Ja’afari to speak AT ALL on UN TV. He said the arrangement was that Ban and the Qatari PGA could speak, then the UN TV was supposed to go off.’”
There are few credible and critical journalists covering the UN. With the incessant lies and obfuscations by talking heads there, and particularly now with the critical focus on Syria and Yemen, journalists like Lee, who ask the questions which need to be ask and who document the lies told, need to be inside the UN.
A petition demanding the restoration of Lee’s Resident Correspondent accreditation provides updates on his case.