05.06.2003

Rene — CPJ Names World's Worst Places To Be A Journalist

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CPJ Names World’s Worst
Places To Be A Journalist
New York, May 3, 2002-The Committee to Protect Journalists marks World
Press Freedom Day by naming the world’s worst places to be a journalist-10
places whose dangers and restrictions represent the full range of current
threats to press freedom.
At the top of the list is the West Bank, where Israeli prime minister Ariel
Sharon’s government has used extraordinary force to keep journalists from
covering its recent military incursion. Next is Colombia, where violent
reprisals against the press by all factions in the civil conflict have made
this the most deadly beat in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, dangers
persist in Afghanistan, where eight journalists were killed in the line of
duty in late 2001, and where U.S. government actions have hindered
independent reporting on the war. CPJ also placed Eritrea, Belarus, Burma,
Zimbabwe, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Cuba on the list of worst places to be a
journalist.
“In these countries where press freedom is under attack, journalists endure
violent assaults, crackdowns by authoritarian regimes, danger from military
operations, and harsh financial reprisals designed to bankrupt independent
voices,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Incredibly, in many of
these places, journalists still manage to report the news-even under
extremely difficult circumstances and at great personal risk,” said Cooper.
World’s Worst Places to be a Journalist
West Bank
When Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon launched a massive military
offensive in the West Bank in late March, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
used threats, intimidation, and, in some cases, potentially lethal force to
prevent journalists from covering its military operations. In one notorious
incident, IDF troops fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at reporters
waiting outside the Ramallah compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
IDF soldiers have also fired live rounds at working reporters, detained
several journalists, confiscated film or press cards from others, ransacked
the offices of private West Bank television and radio stations, and
repeatedly attacked the Palestinian National Authority’s broadcasting
facilities in violation of international humanitarian law. Meanwhile,
Israeli officials have expelled one foreign correspondent and refused to
accredit Palestinian journalists.
Palestinian militants have also harassed journalists, particularly
photographers who captured unflattering images. On April 1 in Bethlehem,
for example, militants forced reporters to hand over footage of the body of
an alleged Palestinian collaborator who had been shot in a parking lot.
Colombia
With 29 journalists murdered in the last decade, the Colombian press has
paid a terrible price for reporting the news. But in the past, journalists
at least felt that they had the support of the population and the
government while they reported on drug trafficking, corruption, and
violence committed by both leftist guerrillas and right-wing
paramilitaries. Now, at a time when Colombia’s civil conflict is
intensifying and all sides are less tolerant of criticism, some politicians
are fueling the fire by accusing the press of bias.
Leftist rebels have silenced a local radio station and allegedly tried to
attack a television news studio with a ground-fired rocket. Right-wing
forces that have acknowledged murdering several journalists have publicly
accused the press of having “poisonous spirits.” Top journalists are
fleeing into exile, and others are in hiding. Meanwhile, presidential
front-runner Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has been questioned about his alleged
ties to paramilitary forces and drug traffickers, has noted, “…a free
press is one thing, and a press at the service of straw men and shady deals
is another thing.” Presidential elections are scheduled for May 26.
Afghanistan
In November 2001, eight journalists were killed reporting on the U.S.-led
military offensive in the country, and post-Taliban Afghanistan remains
dangerous and chaotic. But U.S. government actions have also hampered
independent reporting. CPJ documented three instances where journalists
were forcibly prevented from covering U.S. military activities in
Afghanistan. In one case, U.S. soldiers threatened to shoot a Washington
Post reporter who was attempting to report on a U.S. missile strike that
may have killed a group of civilians in eastern Afghanistan. In
mid-November, U.S. bombs destroyed the Kabul bureau of the Qatar-based
Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera. To date, Pentagon officials have
provided no evidence to back their claim that the building was “a known
al-Qaeda facility.”
Eritrea
This tiny Red Sea nation is now Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists,
with at least 13 reporters behind bars and the entire private press banned
since September. President Isaias Afewerki’s government variously accuses
independent journalists of “endangering national unity,” of not having
proper licenses, and of evading the compulsory national service program.
The ruling party tightly controls the state media. Even so, authorities
arrested three state media employees in mid-February. One was charged with
treason for giving a tape of a local television program to a foreign
diplomat. The Afewerki government has been unfazed by persistent
international denunciation of its human rights record and continues to
dismiss foreign critics as enemies of Eritrea.
Belarus
A dogged group of journalists is doing its best to cover local news despite
the efforts of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who clings to power via
Soviet-style repression. In the months prior to Lukashenko’s controversial
September re-election, tax officials seized equipment from media
organizations, froze their bank accounts, and installed a senior government
official as head of the publishing house that prints most independent
newspapers in the capital, Minsk.
Meanwhile, authorities made little progress investigating the disappearance
of Dmitry Zavadsky, a television cameraman who vanished on July 7, 2000.
Although two former members of the Belarusian special forces were recently
convicted of kidnapping Zavadsky, his body has not been found and
prosecutors have not pursued credible leads implicating senior government
officials in the disappearance.
Burma
Journalists in Burma work under impossible conditions, forbidden by state
censors from publishing almost anything of substance and subject to
imprisonment for the slightest expression of dissent. The government owns
all electronic media and controls print publications through capricious
licensing requirements. Public access to the Internet is restricted to a
limited number of Web sites screened and approved by military authorities.
During the past few months, secret talks between members of the ruling
military junta and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have led many to
hope that change may be on the horizon. While these negotiations have
resulted in the release of more than 200 political prisoners, including a
few journalists, they have so far yielded no real reform.
Zimbabwe
Once known for its vigorous and largely uncensored independent press,
Zimbabwe has become a hostile environment for local reporters and foreign
correspondents alike. During the past two years alone, President Robert
Mugabe’s government has detained more than 50 journalists, tortured at
least two, and filed over three dozen lawsuits against reporters and their
news outlets. Police and pro-government vigilantes have attacked several
journalists, while the independent Daily News has suffered three bomb
attacks since 2000.
After September 11, 2001, the Mugabe government adapted White House
rhetoric to brand journalists and other critics as “terrorists.” Two recent
pieces of legislation, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy
Act and the Public Order and Security Act, effectively outlaw all criticism
of Mugabe.
Iran
While Iran boasts a relatively lively press, the country’s
conservative-controlled courts relentlessly cracked down on liberal
newspapers in the past two years. Since April 2000, when Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a fiery speech accusing the country’s
reformist press of being foreign agents, the courts have closed at least 47
publications, most of which backed President Mohammed Khatami’s reform
movement. Dozens of journalists have been detained, summoned to court, and
prosecuted for their writings. Others are appealing pending prison
sentences or have been fined and barred from practicing their profession.
Today, at least three are jailed in connection with their journalistic
work.
Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is rapidly losing its reputation as an “island of democracy” in
Central Asia. Emboldened by the growing number of U.S. troops in
Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akayev has used the threat of international
terrorism as an excuse to curb political dissent and suppress the
independent and opposition media. Compliant courts often issue exorbitant
damage awards in politically motivated libel suits, driving the country’s
most prominent newspapers to the brink of bankruptcy. The state publishing
house refused to print several newspapers that criticized Akayev.
Meanwhile, officials found legal excuses to cancel the licenses of several
independent papers.
Cuba
The Cuban government is determined to crush independent journalism on the
island but has not yet succeeded. A small but growing group of journalists
report the news as they see it and tell the world by dictating (and faxing)
their stories down static-filled phone lines to their colleagues abroad.
The stories, on human rights abuses, petty corruption, and the travails of
daily life, are posted on the Internet and at times broadcast back into
Cuba. Journalists are constantly followed, harassed, intimidated, and
sometimes jailed. While two imprisoned journalists were recently released
from prison, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, jailed since 1997, is serving a
six-year sentence for “disrespecting” President Fidel Castro Ruz. He is the
only journalist in the Americas currently behind bars for his work.