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 Press Freedom World Review I

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Date d'inscription : 01/06/2005

MessagePress Freedom World Review I

November 2004 - May 2005

Press Freedom World Review

Freedom of expression, the safety of journalists and media development continue to be an uphill battle in most regions of the world. Despite improvements in a limited number of countries in the past six months, the regional situations reveal very high numbers of persecuted journalists and media outlets.

The press is simply muzzled in many countries. Attacks on journalists are common. Too many killers of journalists remain free. A total of 38 journalists have been killed since November 2004. Hundreds more have been arrested, assaulted and harassed.

Iraq and the Philippines were the most deadly places to be a journalist. Ten journalists were killed in Iraq during the period and nine were killed in the Philippines. The spate of hostage taking in Iraq signals a disturbing new threat to foreign correspondents in the country.

The suffocation of independent media continues unabated in countries throughout the world. The governments of Nepal, Cuba, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, China and Zimbabwe, to name only a few of the worst offenders, have refused to surrender their monopoly on information, finding more and more audacious mechanisms to maintain their vice-like grip on the media.

Latin America is again proving a hazardous continent for practicing journalism with deaths in several countries. The most perilous region for practicing journalists remains Asia, however, where in the majority of cases, impunity reigns.

Journalists Killed = Brazil (1), Colombia (2), Haiti (2), Mexico (3)

From setbacks in media laws in Venezuela, to the murder of journalists in four countries, and 23 journalists still imprisoned in Cuba, Latin America has confronted a number of press freedom problems in the past six months. Impunity continues to reign throughout much of the region, although certain governments are taking decisive actions to address this continent-wide issue.

Home to a vibrant press, Brazil continues to be one of the most murderous countries for journalists in Latin America. On 31 March, Ricardo Gonzalves Rocha, owner of the Jornal Vicentino newspaper in the city of São Vicente, in the State of São Paulo, was killed in a drive-by shooting. His murder brings the number of journalists killed in Brazil to 47 in the last eighteen years.

On a positive note, the Chamber of Deputies voted down a proposal in December for a bill that sought to control the exercise of the profession of journalism through the establishment of federal and regional journalism councils.

The ongoing political instability and violence in Haiti has claimed the lives of two journalists in the past six months. Robenson Laraque, a reporter with the private radio station Tele Contact, died on 4 April from injuries sustained when he was hit by a bullet while covering a skirmish between UN troops and members of the disbanded Haitian military in the city of Petit-Goâve. Abdias Jean, a correspondent for the Miami radio station WKAT-AM, was reportedly killed by police during a raid on a shantytown near Port-au-Prince in January.

Occasional bouts of unrest and a politicised media have dogged press freedom in Venezuela for the past few years. However, the most worrying development in the past six months are recent amendments that have been made to the country’s Criminal Code, which will have a serious impact on the media’s role as a watchdog of the government. The amendments, which came into effect on 16 March, further extend the scope of existing provisions that make it a criminal offence to insult or show disrespect for the president and other government authorities. Anyone convicted of "disrespecting" these officials can be jailed for up to 20 months.

Press freedom in Cuba has registered little improvement in the past six months, with 23 journalists languishing in prison. Most of them were arrested during a crackdown in March 2003, which brought the total number of imprisoned journalists to a staggering 32. Six journalists have been released on medical parole, but can be brought back to prison at any moment. The majority of the remaining imprisoned journalists face sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years.

Colombia, for years one of the world’s most dangerous countries to practice journalism, has seen the murder of two journalists in the past six months. 2004 was a better year than usual for the country, with only one murdered journalist. This is down from six in 2003. However, despite President Uribe’s numerous public commitments to press freedom, the murderers of journalists continue to enjoy almost absolute impunity for their crimes, creating a climate of fear and self-censorship amongst journalists, which might also be one of the reasons behind the low number of journalists killed over the last eighteen months.

Despite measures taken by the Fox administration to investigate and prosecute the murderers of journalists, Mexico - particularly in the provinces - continues to nurture a deadly environment for investigative journalists. Three journalists have been murdered in gang-style ambushes in the past six months: Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla, a radio reporter with the Stereo 91 station, in Neuvo Laredo, Raúl Gibb Guerrero, owner and director of La Opinión, in Veracruz and Gregorio Rodriguez, a photographer with El Debate, a newspaper with editions in cities of Culiacan and Mazatlan.

In the United States, press freedom is currently facing one of its most challenging periods in recent decades. In December, Jim Taricani, an investigative reporter with WJAR-TV in Providence, Rhode Island, was sentenced to six months under house arrest for refusing to reveal his sources. According to regional press freedom organisations, there are currently an additional 30 cases where journalists have been ordered by courts to reveal their sources.

Journalists killed = Bangladesh (1), India (1), Nepal (1), Sri Lanka (1) Pakistan (2), Philippines (9), Thailand (1)

Asia, barring a few exceptions, is a region that is characterised by severe political repression, excessive restrictions on the media, and simmering ethnic and religious tension. A spate of murdered journalists and a devastating natural disaster has made the past six months very discouraging for press freedom.

In China, ongoing attacks on cyber-dissidents in the name of national security continue to land scores of journalists and human rights activists in prison with harsh sentences. In March, political essayist Zhang Lin was arrested on suspicion of inciting subversion for his online writings. Internet writer Zheng Yichun was charged in April with inciting subversion for writing articles critical of the Communist Party and Chinese government policy. China continues to be the world’s largest prison for journalists - with more than 40 known to currently be in prison.

The Philippines continues to be the deadliest country for journalists in the world. No less than nine journalists have been slaughtered in the past six months. The government, despite seemingly making efforts to address the endemic problem through the establishment of a special investigative task force, has made little progress in its investigations.

One of the last remaining witnesses in the case of murdered journalist Edgar Damalerio, who was gunned down in 2002, was himself ambushed and killed in February. He is the second witness to have been murdered. He was under witness protection at the time of his killing. The last remaining witness to the case survived an assassination attempt in February and Damalerio’s wife is in hiding. In the meantime, the trial carries on, and if a conviction is reached, this will be a historic first for the country since not a single conviction has been achieved in the case of a murdered journalist. Over 50 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1986.

Press freedom in Nepal took a severe turn for the worse with the declaration of a state of emergency made on 1 February by King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Since then, the Nepalese media have been facing an onslaught of pressure and terror. Over 1,000 radio journalists have lost their jobs. Scores of journalists have been assaulted or harassed by police. One journalist is known to have been killed. Khagendra Shrestha, editor of Dharan Today, a local newspaper based in eastern Nepal, was shot by unidentified assailants on 15 March and died two weeks later of his injuries. Although the King officially ended the state of emergency on 29 April, no improvements in restrictions on the media have been noted.

In Pakistan, various attacks on the press continue to plague the country’s somewhat battered, but highly professional independent media. In January, unidentified assailants attacked the head office of the Jang Group of Publications in Karachi, opening fire on the building, beating the security staff, ransacking parts of the building and setting fire to vehicles in the parking lot. In April, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mashriq, a newspaper in Baluchistan province, was assaulted by a gang of thugs for the newspaper’s reporting on a political party with which they identified.

The fatal February shootings of Amir Nowab, a freelance cameraman for Associated Press Television News and a reporter for the Pakistan-based Frontier Post newspaper, and Allah Noor, who was working for Peshawar-based Khyber TV, serve as a grim reminder of the ongoing instability and violence that plague much of South Asia.

The media in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka equally continue to suffer from acts of violence often stemming from simmering ethnic and religious tensions.

In February, Sheikh Belaluddin, a correspondent for the Bengali-language daily Sangram, was killed when a bomb exploded at a press club in the city of Khulna in Bangladesh. Three other journalists were injured in the attack. In March, three journalists received a series of death threats for having reported on the activities of Islamist groups and attacks on minority groups in the city of Chittagong.

In Sri Lanka, the body of Darmaratnam Sivaram, a journalist believed to have links to the Tamil Tiger rebel group, was found riddled with bullets in a field near the capital of Colombo in April. In addition to contending with ethnic tensions, Sri Lankan media have suffered from the effects of December’s tsunami. Many, particularly the rural-based media, are still in desperate need of basic equipment and supplies.

Despite a more stable political situation in Afghanistan, working conditions for local journalists remain a challenge, as previous measures taken by the Afghan authorities continue to nurture a pervasive climate of fear in which journalists are afraid to openly publish articles that criticise leaders. Infrastructure is weak, and journalists lack training and resources in rural parts of the country.

Political violence in the Aceh region of Indonesia has abated somewhat over the past six months, although sporadic clashes between separatist rebels and the state forces as well as lack of infrastructure continue to limit access to infrastructure and frustrate media development. Outdated criminal defamation laws are other factors that limit press freedom and media development in Indonesia. In May, Darwin Ruslinur and Budiono Syahputra, respectively chief editor and managing editor of the Sumatra weekly Lampung’s Koridor, were handed nine-month prisons sentences for defaming a political figure.

The Indonesian government is also currently proposing a new criminal code that will allow legal action against journalists who write articles which violate a ban on preaching communist doctrine or disclosing state secrets. Any infringement would be punishable with jail sentences of up to seven years.

The devastating effect of the December 26 tsunami had a huge impact on media on the island of Sumatra. Serambi Indonesia, a newspaper located in the coastal city of Banda Aceh, lost its newspaper offices, printing presses, and over fifty staff members in the natural disaster. A total of 70 media workers in Aceh are missing and presumed dead.

In Thailand, the landslide election of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party in the 6 February general election, have prompted some concerns due to Shinawatra’s very strong influence over media ownership in Thailand. According to local press freedom organisations, Thaksin and his associates in the business community are widely perceived in Thailand to be exerting influence on the print media, either by applying an advertising squeeze on newspapers or by directly influencing management and editorial decisions via the papers’ boards.

One journalist has been killed in the past six months. Kiat Saetang, managing editor of the bi-monthly Had Yai Post, was shot dead near a central market in the town of Had Yai, southern Thailand in February.

In Burma, one of the world’s most notorious jailers of journalists, the situation for journalists has slightly improved in the past six months following a general amnesty in early January that saw the release of Zaw Thet Htwe, Thein Tan and Aung Myint, three journalists who had been in imprisoned for several years. Nine journalists remain in prison however, including former Golden Pen Laureate U Win Tin, whose health remains in very poor condition.
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