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 Press Freedom World Review II

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Nombre de messages : 1737
Localisation : Montréal
Date d'inscription : 01/06/2005

MessagePress Freedom World Review II


Journalists Killed = Azerbaijan (1)

Several events in Central Asia, one of the most troubled regions for press freedom, have caught the attention of the international community in the past six months. It is too soon to tell whether the ‘Tulip Revolution’ in Kyrgyzstan in April of this year will mark a new page in history for the country and its fledgling independent media, however violence in the streets of Bishkek and in the Ferghana Valley put some local journalists at risk at the time of the uprising.

In Central Asia, the governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan remain the worst predators of press freedom in the region, as well as on a world-wide scale. In Uzbekistan, international free expression and media organisations remain shuttered, and self-censorship is endemic in what remains of the country’s independent media. Turkmenistan remains completely isolated from the outside world; very few foreign media travel to the country, and there is no independent media to speak of.

Kazakhstan, a country where the media scene is primarily characterised by its combative opposition press, suffered a blow to press freedom with the May closure of the country’s most popular opposition weekly Respublika. The investigative newspaper - whose reports have repeatedly targeted and exposed corruption in the government - has been a thorn in President Nazerbayev’s side since its founding in 2000.

As such, Respublika has been the victim of ongoing legal harassment, threats and even violence. The newspaper’s editor, Irina Petrushova, was forced to leave Kazakhstan for Moscow in 2002, from where she continues to run the newspaper.

In the Caucasus, the tenuous state of press freedom in Azerbaijan has been further destabilised in the past six months with the murder of a leading opposition journalist, Elmar Huseinov, in March. It is not known whether the murder of Huseinov, who was editor-in-chief of an opposition publication, was linked to his professional activities.

Occasional harassment and physical assaults on the opposition press, President Aliyev’s pressure on independent media, and the virtual news blackout in the region of Karabakh due to Azerbaijan’s ongoing conflict with Armenia, contributed to an overall decline in country’s press freedom record.

In Europe, Belarus continues to provide an extremely difficult environment for media under the dictatorial government of President Aleksandro Lukashenko. Closures and legal harassment of the country’s independent press continue, an example being the three-month suspension of Birzha Informatsii in December for ‘violating the media law’ after writing articles that criticised the actions of Lukashenko in the lead up to the country’s October referendum.

An unsatisfactory investigation into the murder of journalist Veronika Cherkasova, who was killed in October 2004, and the subsequent targeting of her 15-year-old son and critically ill stepfather as the key suspects in the case, is a further stain on the Lukashenko administration’s press freedom record. The Belarus Association of Journalists, despite the associated risks and ongoing harassment, continues to serve as an invaluable link for international press freedom organisations to a country with increasingly closed borders.

In Russia, the apparent unwillingness of authorities to investigate a number of murders of journalists as well as physical attacks on journalists further tarnishes the country’s already poor press freedom record. No journalists are known to have been murdered in the past six months, however. In recent months, a series of investigations against journalists covering human rights abuses on the North Caucasus have been launched.

The editor in chief of Pravo-Zashchita, a local publication run by a human rights organisation in Chechnya, has been repeatedly harassed by Russian security personnel for articles the newspaper has written, and in January, a criminal investigation was launched by regional prosecutors in response to the newspaper having printed statements by Chechen rebel leaders.

Remarkable events in Ukraine have in the past six months have given cause for significant optimism that press freedom will take grip and hold in the country. The Orange revolution not only carved out an opening for serious democratic reforms, but shone new light on the case of Georgy Gongadze, an investigative journalist whose headless corpse was found in a field near Kiev in 2000, and whose murder left a paper trail leading all the way to former president Kuchma.

Journalists killed = Iraq (10)

The press freedom situation throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa is very grim, as government control over the press remains rigid and in some countries appears to be getting worse. In those countries where journalists do enjoy a measure of freedom of expression, they must contend with harsh media laws, which often result in criminal prosecution, arrest, and censorship.

Conservative forces in Iran continue to exert measures to stifle the country’s fledgling, yet vocal, independent press, and the pressure appears to have worsened in the past six months. Cyber dissidents and ‘bloggers’ have emerged to fill the void left by the closure of traditional media outlets. Many of them are now aggressively under attack by the authorities. Mojtaba Lotfi is currently serving a prison sentence in the southern city of Qom for articles he posted on the Internet. Yosef Azizi Banitrouf, a prominent reformist journalist and author of over twenty publications, was arrested in April during a press conference hosted by a local human rights organisation.

There are currently 12 journalists and cyber-dissidents in jail in Iran, which remains the Middle East’s biggest prison for journalists. The horrifying revelations of the torture and sexual abuse endured by Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died while in custody in June of last year, have further discredited Iran’s already lamentable press freedom record.

Iraq remains a perilous location for both foreign and local journalists. Ten Iraqi journalists have been killed in the past six months. A worrying trend in recent months has been the kidnapping of foreign correspondents as hostages. Currently one hostage and her interpreter are being held in Iraq. Florence Aubenas, long-time correspondent for the French newspaper Libération was kidnapped on 5 January and is still missing, together with her interpreter, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi. Three Romanian journalists were recently released after three months in captivity.

Recent political events in Lebanon and the withdrawal of Syria from the country have opened a possibility to improvements in press freedom, although it is too soon to tell whether Syria’s actions could indicate a positive trend away from both countries’ conservative stance toward free expression.

While Tunisia’s President Ben Ali officially encourages the national press to be critical, and vociferously refutes any claims made that his government is intolerant to press freedom, the reality is far from the image the country attempts to uphold. Harassment and intimidation of journalists is a common tactic employed by the authorities to subdue criticism. As a result, many of the country’s media shy away from any form of political reporting, and self-censorship is pervasive.

An example of a typical government tactic can be seen in the recent harassment of Lotfi Hajji, President of the independent Tunisian Journalists’ Syndicate (SJT). Hajji has repeatedly been summoned and was most recently threatened with prosecution after the authorities found out that he planned to publish the syndicate’s own report on Tunisian media repression. Tunisia is the host country for the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in November 2005, which among other matters, will deal with freedom of information and expression.

In Algeria, defamation laws have been increasingly employed by the authorities to crack down on opposition over the last six months. Mohammed Benchicou, managing editor of the daily newspaper Le Matin, and his staff have all become targets of an increasingly hostile government. Benchicou, who has been detained since June 2004 on politically motivated charges of currency offences, had additional defamation charges laid against him this March, despite the fact his newspaper has been closed since July 2004. In April, four members of his newspaper staff were also handed prison sentences on charges of defamation.

In the past six months, dozens of of journalists have received judicial summonses as a result of defamation complaints by the authorities. Threats, censorship, denial of press accreditation, arrests and prison sentences have become the daily lot of many journalists in the country.

Journalists Killed = Somalia (1), Gambia (1), Ivory Coast (1)

A patchwork of complex factors including civil conflict, autocratic press laws, lack of infrastructure, and totalitarian regimes characterises the press freedom situation in much of Africa.

The spiralling decline in press freedom in the tiny West African state Gambia in the past six months is cause for serious concern. The country’s already beleaguered independent press suffered a serious blow with the 16 December murder of Deyda Hydara, founder and editor-in-chief of The Point newspaper. A press freedom advocate and instrumental figure on the Gambian media scene, Hydara’s murder remains unsolved. The introduction of two repressive press laws by President Jammah in February - one dealing with ownership, the other with defamation - was another deadly blow to independent media in the county.

The 24 April presidential elections in nearby Togo saw a breakdown or blocking of most communications systems throughout the country, making it very difficult for local and foreign media to cover the elections. Sporadic bouts of violence also put the country’s media at risk.

Thierry Tchukriel, a journalist with Rd’Autan radio station, was detained and assaulted by four soldiers as he covered the vote counting at an election office near a market in the capital city of Lome, and a day later, La Paix radio station in central Togo was ransacked and burned to the ground by rioters protesting the election results. It remains to be seen whether the incumbent president will improve the country’s press freedom record, which, in the past few years, has been among the worst on the continent.

Conditions for press freedom have stagnated in Eritrea, a country that has known virtually no media freedom since 2001, when a government clampdown closed most independent media outlets and saw many political opponents thrown in jail.

Sixteen journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, although their whereabouts are not known. Voice of America correspondent Aklilu Solomon was released from custody in March after spending a year and a half in prison.

A legal victory in neighbouring Ethiopia marked a significant step forward for press freedom when the country’s highest court ruled in favour of the Ethiopian Free Journalist’s Association (EFJA) in a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry over the legality of the association. The legal victory sets a precedent in the horn of Africa, where outdated press laws are regularly employed to insulate the government from media criticism.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, political instability and conflict have further chipped away at the country’s already weak media infrastructure. Journalists have been caught in the middle of violent clashes between government forces and rebel troops in the northeastern parts of the country. Media employees are routinely harassed and detained by the authorities. Criminal defamation is liberally applied by the courts throughout the country.

In recent months, the president and general secretary of Journaliste en Danger (JED), a feisty press freedom organisation based in Kinshasa, have been the recipients of death threats and harassment to the organisation’s exhaustive reporting on violations throughout the country.

In another rare legal victory, on 25 November 2004, parliament in the Central African Republic passed legislation to dismantle a controversial press law enacted in 1998, which criminalised defamation. Conditions remain difficult for journalists in the country as poor infrastructure, lack of training and a non-existent advertising market make survival a daily struggle for the independent media.

Conditions in Sudan have improved slightly in the past six months as the peace treaty between the government and rebels begins to take hold. Few independent media outlets exist, however, and these are mostly based in the capital of Khartoum, leaving a serious deficit of information from the rural areas of the country where the majority of clashes and violence continue to occur.

The murder of BBC correspondent Kate Payton in Somalia in February was the first murder of a journalist on the continent in 2005. Ongoing attacks on the press by the authorities in the autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland demonstrate the serious impact that a continued state of lawlessness within this fractured country has on the development and safety of its independent media

In Kenya, the occasional use of antiquated criminal defamation laws stands as the only blemish on its otherwise solid press freedom record. The April acquittal of David Makali, the managing editor of the East African Standard’s Sunday edition was another step in the right direction for this progressive East African nation. Neighbouring Uganda sets a shining example for media development and press freedom on the continent. Despite ongoing instability and conflict in the north of the country, the Ugandan newspaper market is one of the most developed on the continent, with solid infrastructures and highly professional media.

In Madagascar, the closure of three privately owned radio stations in December, and the 19 April sentencing of Rolan Rasoamaharo and James Ramarosoana of the La Gazette de la Grande Ile newspaper to one month in jail for defamation, paints a worrying trend of a diminishing tolerance for independent media on the part of the authorities.

Press freedom in Zimbabwe under President Mugabe’s regime further deteriorated in the past few months, particularly in connection to the March presidential elections, which saw the expulsion of the remaining foreign correspondents from the country and the elimination of the last independent media through licensing and security laws. Two British journalists, Toby Harnden, chief foreign correspondent for the London-based Sunday Telegraph, and photographer Julian Simmonds, were detained and later expelled from the country after being arrested at a polling station for allegedly not having accreditation from the Media and Information Commission. No privately owned radio or television stations exist in Zimbabwe, and the state-controlled newspapers and radio and television stations serve as mouthpieces of the government.


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