More and more journalists arrested,
press freedom on the decline in several countries
– 31 journalists killed
– 489 arrested
– 716 attacked or threatened
– 378 press media censured
– As of January 1st, 2002, 110 journalists imprisoned in the world
As compared to 2000:
– 32 journalists killed
– 329 arrested
– 510 attacked or threatened
– 295 press media censured
Trends and priorities
Except for the number of journalists killed, which remained stable, all indicators (journalists arrested, attacked, threatened or media censured) rose compared to the year 2000. The number of journalists arrested (489 in 2001) rose by nearly 50 per cent, and the number of journalists attacked or threatened (716) by more than 40 per cent. More and more journalists have been imprisoned throughout the world. At present there are 110 behind bars. The number had dropped constantly since 1995 but climbed again sharply in 2001.
Some part of the press is censured somewhere in the world every day, and nearly a third of the world’s population lives in countries where there is no press freedom. The situation deteriorated considerably in numerous countries (Bangladesh, Eritrea, Haiti, Nepal and Zimbabwe, among others), whereas very few regimes made progress in terms of press freedom. The impunity that is typical of nearly all these cases is unacceptable. Governments and intergovernmental organisations must focus their efforts on this sector. If they do not, the odds are good that murders of and attacks on journalists will continue to increase in the coming years.
31 journalists killed in 2001
Again this year, some thirty journalists were killed in the world for their opinions or in the exercise of their profession. Fifteen of them were murdered by armed groups or militias. In at least three cases, the authorities were partly responsible. Nine press professionals were killed in armed conflicts (8 in Afghanistan alone). Above and beyond these 31 journalists, ten media collaborators (technicians, administrative staff and so forth) were also killed in the year.
In 2001 Asia was the deadliest continent for journalists (14). In Afghanistan the war waged by the United States following on the September 11th attacks was especially hard on the press. Eight correspondents were killed while covering the conflict. In China, Feng Zhaoxia, a journalist on the daily, Gijie Daobao, was found dead on January 15th in Shaanxi province (to the southwest of Beijing), his throat slit. Despite protests from his family, his colleagues and local journalist associations, the police came to the rapid conclusion that he had committed suicide. Everyone else agreed that the murder was due to the articles published by the journalist. He had only just finished revealing the connivance going on between Mafia-like groups and certain local political leaders.
In the Americas there were ten journalists and ten media collaborators killed in the year. Haiti saw another journalist murdered again this year. On December 3rd, Brignol Lindor, news chief for Radio Echo 2000, was stoned and hacked to death with machetes. After inviting members of the opposition onto his radio show, he received death threats from local leaders of the party in power. The murder was like a warning shot for the rest of the profession, which now feels threatened. In the United States a journalist and eight technicians died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Another reporter was also one of the anthrax victims after receiving a contaminated anonymous letter. Three journalists were murdered in Colombia. Flavio Bedoya of the weekly, Voz, was shot to death on April 27th. He had received death threats after publishing an article about the violence committed by paramilitary groups. He criticised “the army’s and the police’s inability to capture the criminals”.
In Europe the number of press professionals killed for their opinions also rose (7). A journalist was killed in Northern Ireland for the first time since the early 1960s. Martin O’Hagan, a reporter for the weekly, Sunday World, was killed in the evening of September 28th in front of his home near Belfast. “The Defenders of the Red Hand”, a loyalist military group accused him of having committed “crimes against Loyalists”. Elsewhere, other journalists were murdered in Ukraine, Kosovo and in Spain’s Basque country.
The two bits of good news come from Africa and the Middle East where no press professionals were killed in the context of their jobs. Twenty-seven other journalist murder cases in the world are still under investigation, but as of January 1st, 2002, nothing proves that links exist with their professional activities.
Impunity is still the rule
Nearly no murders and assassinations of journalists have ever been solved. The people giving the orders are still free and have never been very worried by the judicial system in their countries.
In Burkina Faso, for example, more than three years after the assassination of Norbert Zongo, director of L’Indépendant, on December 13th, 1998, the investigation has gone nowhere. The brother of the country’s President, François Compaoré, deeply implicated in the incident, was questioned by the investigating judge for the first time in January, 2001, or more than two years after the fact.
Things are pretty much the same in Haiti, where the investigation into the murder of Jean Dominique, manager of Radio Haiti Inter, in April, 2000, has almost been quashed several times. The Senate, controlled by Fanmi Lavalas of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ruling party, has stacked up quibble upon quibble so as not to have to rule on lifting the parliamentary immunity of Dany Toussaint, the main suspect in the case. Not only that, despite their confessions for killing Brignol Lindor, his murderers, in cahoots with the party in power, have not yet been arrested.
The murder in Sri Lanka in October, 2000, of BBC collaborator, Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, has still not been solved. No one has yet been arrested, and the police are nowhere near employing the means necessary for getting at the truth.
In Ukraine the State apparatus has thrown up major barriers in the search for the truth in the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze in September of 2000. The General Prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of the Interior are against any investigation worthy of the name. In September, 2001, the Council of Europe approved a recommendation calling for “the Ukrainian authorities to undertake a new investigation into the disappearance and death of Georgy Gongadze and, to this end, set up an independent investigative commission” composed in particular of international experts.
Nearly five hundred journalists arrested in the year
As of January 1st, 2002, 110 of the world’s journalists are still in prison because of their opinions or their professional activities. We’d have to go back to January 1st, 1995, to find so many. Nearly half (50) are being held in Asia. The jails holding the most journalists in the world are in Iran (18), Burma (18) China (12), Eritrea (8) and Nepal (7).
Most imprisoned Iranian journalists are serving long sentences. In January four of them were sentenced to from three to eight years for having “infringed on national security”. On the other hand, Raza Alijani, editor-in-chief of the suspended monthly, Iran-e-Farda, and winner of the Reporters Sans Frontières-Fondation de France 2001 Prize, was freed in December after nine months of detention.
In Burma the authorities behave in a criminal way with imprisoned journalists, depriving them of the medical care their state of health calls for. Under heavy sentences for having “spread information hostile to the State” or for having informed foreign journalists, they are being held in inhuman conditions that have significant consequences on their physical and mental health. Myo Myint Nyein, in jail since September 1990, is very weak and suffering from mental problems. For eight months, he was even held in one of the dog kennels of Insein Prison in Rangoon.
In China Twenty-two cyberdissidents, arrested for having spread information considered “subversive” over the Internet, can be added to the twelve journalists in jail. One of the cyberdissidents has been sentenced to four years in prison.
In all, 489 press professionals have at one time or another been denied their freedom in 2001, often with no explanations.
In Nepal where a state of emergency was decreed at the end of November, more than fifty journalists and press professionals have been arrested by the authorities. In Cuba, Pakistan, the Congo Democratic Republic and Zimbabwe there have been more than twenty journalists arrested. In many cases no official explanations are given, and no official arrest warrant issued. Most of them are freed quickly, but some spend several weeks, even months, behind bars. On the whole, their conditions of detention are very poor, the interrogations strong-armed and beatings frequent. In Iran journalists undergo poor treatment for the purpose of extracting false confessions from them or of making them write letters of repentance. In the Congo Democratic Republic again this year a journalist was flogged by his jailers.
Over seven hundred journalists attacked or threatened
There are more and more attacks on press professionals. Whether committed by the authorities, political party activists, armed bands or criminals, these attacks are almost never investigated in serious, sustained ways. It is no surprise that the feeling of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators grows stronger. In many countries political leaders are often the instigators of these violent acts. They’d rather take direct revenge on the journalists who have criticised them than undertake court actions against them.
In Bangladesh more than 130 journalists have been attacked by political party activists or sympathisers. Most of these attacks have been committed by activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamat-e Islami (two members of the ruling coalition) or the Awami League, which was in power until July. Journalists exposing corruption, political violence or religious intolerance are their favourite targets.
In Colombia nearly thirty journalists have been the victims of attacks or threats by the different armed groups that fight one another in the country. In Zimbabwe veterans of the war for independence are often the instigators of many attacks on reporters of the independent press. In Ukraine, Russia and the former Soviet-bloc republics of central Asia, violence is always present, and there have been many recorded attacks.
In the territories occupied by Israel eight journalists have been shot and wounded. Upon investigation, Reporters Sans Frontières has ascertained the Israeli army’s responsibility for most of the cases. The Israeli authorities, however, after cursory investigations, have claimed that they had no responsibility in these cases.
Forcing journalists into exile is another kind of threat used by some governments. Numerous journalist, fearing reprisals, have thus fled Cuba, Colombia, Ethiopia and Somalia.
A new press medium censured every day
In 2001, 378 press media were censured in the world. In Turkey more than one hundred Television channels, radio stations and press agencies were temporarily suspended by the RTUK, the governmental agency for monitoring the audiovisual press, or by various State security agencies. In most cases these press media are accused of “inciting violence” or “infringing State security” after criticising the regime or reporting on certain extreme left-wing movements.
In Eritrea in September the government ordered the suspension of all independent press media, thus making it one of the rare countries in the world without a privately-owned press. On the very same day at least eight journalists were arrested and taken to a police station in the capital. Others disappeared or fled the country. The director of public-sector television went on the air to explain that “the independent media endangered the country’s unity”.
In Morocco no fewer than nine newspapers, including seven foreign ones, were censured for dealing with topics such as the Western Sahara, corruption or for having criticised the king. The Spanish and French media especially are kept under close surveillance by the Moroccan authorities.
In Tunisia there is no censure as such simply because there is no independent press. On the other hand the few journalists who try to spread news on the Internet or work for the international press are harassed. Their phone lines are systematically blocked, tapped or sometimes simply cut. Internet access is also tightly controlled.
The foreign press under tight control
Foreign press corespondents are under tight surveillance by numerous heads of State or governments. In Zimbabwe three foreign correspondents were expelled from the country. The government is using all possible means to get a law passed obliging the international press media to employ only journalists of Zimbabwean nationality. The Reuters correspondent in Cuba was forced to leave the island after attacks in the local press. The Liberian government constantly complains about the “massive negative propaganda” conveyed, according to it, by certain foreign media against President Charles Taylor. Foreign correspondents based in China must first receive authorisation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before carrying out investigative reports.
Elsewhere journalists cannot travel to certain countries without being constantly watched. Such is the case in Saudi Arabia, Burma, North Korea and Vietnam. They also encounter enormous difficulties in obtaining visas for working in Algeria, Libya and Iraq. Pakistani authorities rejected visas for Indian journalist or Indian-born journalists wishing to cover the Afghani conflict. Two correspondents of American dailies were expelled from the country for this reason.
The aftermath of September 11th for press freedom
Above and beyond the heavy price paid by correspondents who died in the field, the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington and the military operation undertaken in Afghanistan, had considerable consequences on press freedom in the world. Several laws adopted for fighting terrorism are especially worrying, and weaken the basic principle of the free circulation of information. In Canada and the United States some of the measures throw the protection of sources into question and strengthen surveillance of the Internet. The American and British governments have rapped their media on the knuckles.
This surveillance has sometimes taken a repressive turn. In Kazakhstan, for example, the armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior in November occupied the building of the independent television station, KTK, temporarily interrupting its broadcasts. The authorities explained that in the context of the Afghani conflict “all the Republic’s strategic installations had to be monitored by the Ministry of the Interior”.
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