Attacks on the Press in 2008

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Attacks on the Press

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Preface

By Carl Bernstein

When the Committee to Protect Journalists was founded in 1981, the prevailing threats to freedom of the press around the world were still from juntas, dictators, authoritarian regimes, and social systems determined to dominate the media as a means of maintaining control over citizens, usually within the boundaries of the nation-state. Toward that end, newspapers and television were nationalized or controlled by party organs, strict censorship prevailed, and officially sanctioned news was delivered expeditiously.

February 10, 2009 12:59 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Introduction

By Joel Simon

In 2008, the numbers of journalists killed and jailed both dropped for the first time since the war on terror was launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This is welcome news, but it is tempered by harsh realities. The war on terror had a devastating effect on journalists, and the trends will be difficult to reverse. Over seven years, journalists were targeted for murder in record numbers, while deterioration in the international legal environment led to a surge in journalist imprisonments.

Attacks on the Press   |   Afghanistan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Afghanistan

The security situation deteriorated as reporters came under increasing threats, both political and criminal in nature. At least three foreign correspondents and two local reporters were kidnapped across the country, not only in the provincial areas that became exceedingly dangerous after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, but in the area surrounding the capital, Kabul, that had once been considered safer.

February 10, 2009 12:54 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Argentina

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Argentina

Adding to a mounting body of international legal opinion, two landmark rulings held that public officials may not be shielded from public scrutiny. In May, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights voided a criminal defamation sentence against a local journalist and urged Argentina to reform its defamation laws in line with regional standards. Two months later, the country’s Supreme Court of Justice affirmed the “actual malice” standard in determining liability in defamation cases involving public officials.

February 10, 2009 12:51 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Armenia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Armenia

Harassment of journalists and self-censorship among the news media intensified before and after a flawed February 2008 presidential election. The countryís authoritarian president, Robert Kocharian, imposed a state of emergency after the balloting to suppress demonstrations and block independent news reporting, a move that allowed him to deliver the presidency to a hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan.

February 10, 2009 12:50 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Azerbaijan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Azerbaijan

The Georgia-Russia crisis in August diverted international attention from another strategically important Caucasus country--oil-rich Azerbaijan. The authoritarian president, Ilham Aliyev, gained a new term in a flawed October 15 vote. Aliyev, who effectively inherited the presidency from his father, Heydar, in 2003, defeated six virtual unknowns after top opposition parties boycotted the October vote to protest restrictive new amendments to the election law.

February 10, 2009 12:47 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Bolivia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Bolivia

The news media were caught in the middle of a deepening power struggle between the leftist government of President Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, and the conservative opposition governors of the eastern lowlands. The battle was fueled by rising ethnic tensions between Bolivia’s indigenous majority, centered in the capital, La Paz, and the European-descended opposition based in the lowlands.

February 10, 2009 12:46 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Brazil

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Brazil

The kidnapping and torture of two journalists and a driver working undercover in Rio de Janeiro exposed the risks to Brazilian journalists, especially those reporting on organized crime in urban areas. Throughout the country, journalists covering mayoral and legislative campaigns faced legal and physical harassment.

February 10, 2009 12:45 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Burma

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Burma

Burma’s already beleaguered journalists came under heavy attack after massive Cyclone Nargis pounded the country’s southern coastal region in May, killing an estimated 84,500 people and severely affecting another 2.4 million, according to U.N. estimates. As local and international criticism grew over a slow and inadequate response to the natural disaster, the military junta intensified censorship, working to suppress news that graphically portrayed the extraordinary scale of the storm’s devastation. The silence was lethal.

Attacks on the Press   |   Cameroon

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Cameroon

Cameroon’s diverse news media, among the most vibrant in Africa, operated under significant pressure. Influential political leaders used threats, regulatory action, and judicial harassment to censor critical coverage of national affairs, including a controversial constitutional amendment allowing President Paul Biya to seek re-election in 2011, public protests over inflation, and a series of high-profile corruption cases.

February 10, 2009 12:43 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   China

Attacks on the Press in 2008: China

In the year of the “One World, One Dream” Olympics, China’s punitive and highly restrictive press policies became a global issue. International reporters who arrived early to prepare for the Games flocked to cover antigovernment riots in Tibet and western provinces in March and the Sichuan earthquake in May. They encountered the sweeping official interference that resident journalists have long faced every day. Domestic news media, which by law must be sponsored by official government bodies, generally followed the government line on Tibetan and Olympic issues, although some newspapers and magazines distinguished themselves with breaking coverage of the earthquake and investigative reporting on local government corruption. Online writers who published more outspoken pieces were jailed on antistate charges.

Attacks on the Press   |   Colombia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Colombia

Deadly violence in Colombia eased for the second consecutive year as no journalists were killed in direct relation to their work. Colombian authorities cited increased security throughout the country as the cause for the recent decline in news media deaths, but journalists said widespread self-censorship had made the press less of a target. Even so, intimidation and threats remained a serious problem. Repeated death threats against four provincial journalists forced them to flee their homes. Prominent journalists in the capital denounced government harassment that followed their criticism of the administration of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

February 10, 2009 12:41 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Cuba

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Cuba

Five years after the government’s massive crackdown on the independent press, 21 journalists remained behind bars in inhumane conditions as Cuba retained its notorious distinction as the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists. Only China jailed more. Two Cuban reporters were released from prison and went into exile during the year, but harassment of independent journalists and their families continued unabated. Despite the continued repression, a new generation of bloggers openly criticized authorities, offering some promise that free expression may have found a home.

February 10, 2009 12:40 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Democratic Republic of the Congo

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Two years after transitioning to democracy in historic U.N.-backed elections, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the most perilous countries in Africa for journalists. For the fourth consecutive year, a journalist was murdered in unclear circumstances, this time in the unstable, strife-torn east of the country.

February 10, 2009 12:39 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Ecuador

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Ecuador

A July government takeover of almost 200 businesses, including two private television stations that drew nearly 40 percent of the country’s news audience, enabled leftist President Rafael Correa to further his political agenda and gain greater control of the media. After the move, Correa won a decisive victory in a referendum on a new constitution that will broaden executive powers and potentially weaken press freedom.

February 10, 2009 12:38 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Egypt

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Egypt

Egypt took a lead role in developing a regional charter designed to restrict satellite broadcasting throughout the Arab world. At the behest of President Hosni Mubarak, parliament extended the 27-year-old Emergency Law, keeping intact for two additional years a key tool for stifling free expression. In this environment, journalists continued to fend off a rash of politically motivated court cases filed by members of the ruling National Democratic Party and other government surrogates.

February 10, 2009 12:37 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Ethiopia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Ethiopia

The small vanguard of independent media that emerged from a brutal 2005 crackdown struggled in the face of continuing government harassment. Although authorities issued licenses allowing a handful of independent political newspapers to operate, they continued to use imprisonment, threats, and legal and administrative restrictions to suppress coverage of sensitive issues.

February 10, 2009 12:36 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Georgia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Georgia

Three journalists were killed and at least 10 were wounded during a brief but bloody conflict in the disputed region of South Ossetia that pitted Georgian troops against local and Russian forces. South Ossetian separatists strengthened their position after the conflict--gaining full recognition from Moscow and the active support of Russian troops--although Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili reaped at least a short-term spike in popularity.

February 10, 2009 12:34 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Guatemala

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Guatemala

Violence associated with organized crime fueled widespread self-censorship, especially in the provinces. Journalists sometimes wrote without bylines when covering dangerous subjects, but many were still attacked and threatened. Ongoing violence led to the slayings of two journalists and the kidnapping of a third.

February 10, 2009 12:33 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   India

Attacks on the Press in 2008: India

A series of coordinated terrorist attacks that struck more than a dozen locations in the commercial capital, Mumbai, killing more than 170 and wounding hundreds, shocked the world and punctuated a year of growing tension and risk. Witnesses became journalists as they Twittered up to 100 messages a minute, posted photos to Flickr, and transmitted cell-phone video to television networks, all of which provided a hectic yet compelling real-time account of the horrific three-day siege in late November. The instantaneous spread of information on the assault—which hit two lavish hotels, a top restaurant, a rail station, a Jewish center, and a hospital, among other sites—illustrated as much as any recent event the extraordinary revolution in media and communication.

Attacks on the Press   |   Iran

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic policies and human rights record drew widespread criticism from academics, activists, and journalists. In response, Ahmadinejad sought to suppress independent media by manipulating government subsidies, exerting censorship, and using the punitive tools of detention and harassment.

February 10, 2009 12:31 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Iraq

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Iraq

Eleven journalists were killed because of their work, making Iraq the most dangerous nation for the press for the sixth consecutive year. Nevertheless, the figure was the lowest yearly toll since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003--and two-thirds lower than the annual figures for 2007 or 2006.

Attacks on the Press   |   Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

With a shaky six-month truce coming to an end in late year, Hamas rocket attacks on Israel were met with the largest bombardment of the Gaza Strip since 1967. The headquarters of Hamas-controlled Al-Aqsa TV was destroyed and at least two journalists were injured amid massive airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). As 2008 gave way to a new year, hundreds had been killed and Israel had undertaken a ground offensive into Gaza.

February 10, 2009 12:29 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Kazakhstan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Kazakhstan

The administration drafted a bill that would take limited steps in loosening criminal defamation and weeding out some of the bureaucratic thicket that regulators have used to obstruct news media. Parliament was due to consider the measure in early 2009. The bill was intended to fulfill government promises to liberalize media laws in return for gaining the 2010 chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the human rights monitoring agency.

February 10, 2009 12:28 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Kenya

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Kenya

Bracketed by profound attacks on the press, a tumultuous 2008 threatened the country’s standing as a regional leader in free expression. A repressive media bill sailed through parliament in December and was signed into law by President Mwai Kibaki as 2009 began. Enacted over the protests of local and international media groups, the measure provides the government with sweeping censorship powers. The information minister and a newly established communication commission were given broad authority to regulate broadcast content and scheduling. The law retains provisions allowing the internal security minister to raid media houses and confiscate equipment in the name of national security.

February 10, 2009 12:27 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Kyrgyzstan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Kyrgyzstan

Three years after a popular uprising inspired hope for reform, press conditions stagnated and, in many respects, deteriorated. A high-profile murder remained unsolved, with no evident progress in the investigation. Two editors faced criminal prosecution, and their newspapers were shuttered in the wake of a defamation case. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed into law a restrictive broadcast measure that reversed efforts to transform the state broadcaster Kyrgyz National Television and Radio Corporation (KTR) into an independent, publicly funded outlet. Conditions reverted in many ways to those that existed under former leader Askar Akayev, whose corrupt regime was brought down by the 2005 revolt known as the Tulip Revolution.

February 10, 2009 12:26 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Lebanon

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Lebanon

This deeply divided country reached the brink of full-scale conflict in mid-year after political and religious leaders used the news media to inflame sectarian divisions and failed to abide by the consensual style of government agreed upon at the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. A battle of words that began in December 2006 with the resignation of Shiite Hezbollah ministers and allies from the coalition government headed by Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora erupted in deadly street clashes in May.

February 10, 2009 12:25 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Malaysia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Malaysia

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s government maintained leverage over print media through a renewable licensing system that enabled authorities to suspend or revoke publications when coverage was deemed controversial. Officials charged journalists under national security laws such as the Internal Security Act and Sedition Act, which carried significant prison penalties. These threats of imprisonment and license revocation have long engendered a culture of self-censorship in the traditional media, but the government expanded its legal attacks in 2008 to encompass the thriving online community.

February 10, 2009 12:24 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Mexico

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Mexico

Powerful drug cartels and escalating violence made journalists in Mexico more vulnerable to attack than ever before. The dangerous climate was compounded by a pervasive culture of impunity. Most crimes against the press remained unsolved as Mexican law enforcement agencies, awash in corruption, did not aggressively investigate attacks. With no guarantee of safety, reporters increasingly turned to self-censorship to protect themselves. CPJ research showed that 24 journalists had been killed since 2000, at least eight in direct reprisal for their work. In addition, seven journalists had disappeared since 2005.

February 10, 2009 12:23 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Morocco

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Morocco

Morocco continued to backslide on press freedom as independent journalists and news outlets were targeted in a series of politicized court cases. In May, the National Syndicate for Moroccan Press noted a "dangerous trend" in which authorities were "imposing exaggerated fines in defamation cases, resorting to preventive arrest of journalists ... banning newspapers and instructing printers to keep an eye on the content of what they print."

February 10, 2009 12:22 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Nepal

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Nepal

Nepal made a historic shift in 2008 from a monarchy to a coalition-ruled democratic republic under the leadership of a former Maoist guerrilla. Journalists’ uncertainty about the ex-rebel leader’s newfound legitimacy was apparent as they struggled to find a way to refer to him in print. Most hedged their bets and used his given name, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which identified him as a Brahmin at the top of the Hindu caste system, alongside his ethnically neutral but aggressive-sounding nom de guerre, Prachanda, or “fierce one.”

February 10, 2009 12:21 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Niger

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Niger

With a simmering insurgency in the north, a split within the ruling government, and talk of a constitutional amendment to allow President Mamadou Tandja to run for a third term in 2009, authorities increasingly tightened restrictions on the press. The high-profile imprisonment of Moussa Kaka, a reporter well known for his coverage of the insurgency, illustrated tensions between the government and the press.

February 10, 2009 12:20 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Pakistan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Pakistan

Military leader Pervez Musharraf resigned as president in August under threat of impeachment, leaving a decidedly mixed legacy on press freedom. As his power waned in late 2007, Musharraf shut down all independent broadcasters for a time and then tried to impose a rigid “code of conduct” on the stations.

Attacks on the Press   |   Philippines

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Philippines

Four years after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo moved to create a police task force dedicated to investigating journalist murders, CPJ research showed the impunity rate in these cases remained about 90 percent, one of the highest in the world. A CPJ study into slain journalists worldwide found that the absence of justice tended to promote a higher incidence of murder, including in the Philippines.

Attacks on the Press   |   Russia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Russia

When Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, won 68 percent of the vote in Russia's presidential election March 2, many saw in the new leader a moderate technocrat who might liberalize the country's press policies. In his May 7 inauguration speech, Medvedev declared that the protection of human rights and freedom would drive "the sense and the substance of all state policy" under his presidency. A month later, speaking at a gathering of business and political leaders in Berlin, Medvedev pledged that "all instances related to attempts on the life and health of journalists will be investigated and prosecuted to the end, regardless of when they occurred."

February 10, 2009 12:17 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Rwanda

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Rwanda

On paper, Rwanda had more private newspapers and radio stations than at any point in its history. In practice, independent news coverage was minimal due to business woes and government intimidation. One critical editor was forced to flee the country, and a second was deported. Legislation pending in late year would stiffen accreditation requirements and force journalists to reveal sources in court.

February 10, 2009 12:16 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Senegal

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Senegal

Conditions deteriorated in Senegal, once considered a haven for press freedom. With contemptuous rhetoric, threats, physical violence, and criminal prosecutions, supporters of President Abdoulaye Wade and members of his government retaliated against critical journalists. The June 21 beating of two sports journalists covering a World Cup qualifying match in Dakar symbolized the tensions and ignited a contentious national debate over press freedom.

February 10, 2009 12:15 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Serbia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Serbia

Nationalists suffered a series of political defeats in 2008 and responded by lashing out against independent journalists and liberal reformers with threats and physical attacks. A reformist-nationalist coalition government led by the conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica during the first half of the year and by liberal President Boris Tadic during the second half failed to adequately protect journalists from these abuses. The nationalists targeted independent journalists, rights activists, and reformist politicians for "betraying" Serbia, while police and prosecutors regularly turned a blind eye.

February 10, 2009 12:14 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Somalia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Somalia

Anarchic violence gripped a nation sadly accustomed to chaos and suffering as a weak federal government sought to fend off insurgencies in the south and central parts of the country. Two reporters were killed in the southern port city of Kismayo in 2008, continuing a national pattern of violence against the press that has claimed the lives of nine journalists in two years. At least 21 Somali reporters have gone into exile, according to CPJ data, although the National Union of Somali Journalists estimates that dozens more have fled their homes in fear of reprisals. The risks grew deeper still in 2008 with two kidnappings involving five journalists, three of whom were still being held for ransom in late year.

Attacks on the Press   |   Sri Lanka

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Sri Lanka

A 2002 cease-fire between the predominantly Sinhalese government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which claims territory for an ethnic Tamil homeland, was abandoned in January. Ethnic Tamil journalists perceived as supporting independence have long been under murderous attack, but 2008 brought an escalation in physical and verbal attacks on mainstream journalists who dared to be critical of the government’s military operations.

Attacks on the Press   |   Sudan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Sudan

Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which formally ended a decades-long civil war between north and south, officially protects press freedom. However, Sudanese officials ignored these guarantees in practice. In February, the government reinstated formal censorship of the print news media, instructing local editors to submit each issue for pre-approval. Throughout the year, authorities confiscated newspapers and harassed journalists for attempting to report on sensitive topics, such as the conflict in Darfur, the Sudanese security forces, and official censorship itself. The government also used more subtle methods to control content, such as withholding government advertisements and imposing strict licensing that allows for the suspension of critical publications on administrative technicalities.

February 10, 2009 12:11 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Thailand

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Thailand

A coalition government led by the People Power Party crumbled in December in the face of intense months-long street protests. As demonstrations reached a crescendo in late November, violence spread across the capital, Bangkok, and protesters laid siege to domestic and international airports. Media outlets were targeted by both pro- and antigovernment protesters.

February 10, 2009 12:10 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Tunisia

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Tunisia

The September abduction of writer Slim Boukhdhir was a chilling reminder of the insecurity that critical journalists face in this North African nation. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in power since 1987, continued to operate a virtual police state, despite the moderate image his government vigorously promoted to the rest of the world.
February 10, 2009 12:09 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Turkmenistan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Turkmenistan

In the second year of his presidency, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov relaxed some cultural restrictions but took no significant steps to improve press conditions. The strange and repressive legacy of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in late 2006, continued to dominate this gas-rich Central Asian nation. Despite Berdymukhammedov's promises to open his long-isolated country to the world, access to critical news Web sites was blocked by the dominant, state-owned Internet service provider, and authorities dismantled residential satellite dishes in the capital, Ashgabat, on presidential orders. The government waged an aggressive campaign of harassment against journalists working for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, even as it continued to stonewall questions about the 2006 death of an RFE/RL correspondent in state custody.

February 10, 2009 12:08 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Uganda

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Uganda

Government security forces intimidated and harassed critical journalists, particularly political commentators on the country’s many popular radio talk shows. Criminal defamation and sedition laws were the main weapons in the government’s legal attacks on the press, although a case pending before the Supreme Court held some promise that the laws might be declared unconstitutional.

February 10, 2009 12:07 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   USA

Attacks on the Press in 2008: United States

U.S. government actions against journalists abroad continued to sully the nation’s image. Authorities finally freed two long-detained journalists, one in Iraq and the other at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, without ever charging them with a crime or producing any evidence to support the imprisonments. But the military continued its alarming practice of holding journalists in open-ended detention without due process. At least one journalist was being held without charge when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists.

February 10, 2009 12:06 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Uzbekistan

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Uzbekistan

Throughout the year, President Islam Karimov's administration sought to persuade the European Union and Western nations that it was on a path of reform. It urged the EU to lift sanctions imposed in 2005 after Uzbek troops killed hundreds of citizens during antigovernment protests in the eastern city of Andijan. Lobbying efforts notwithstanding, the government maintained a deplorable press freedom record. With six reporters in prison in late year, Uzbekistan was the region's leading  jailer of journalists. International broadcast media remained blocked, and government security agents enforced censorship rules on domestic news media.

February 10, 2009 12:05 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Venezuela

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Venezuela

Official intolerance of criticism and unfounded government accusations promoted a climate of fear among Venezuelan journalists. Tensions reached new heights in September when, without providing evidence, President Hugo Chávez Frías and high-ranking administration officials accused private media outlets of plotting to overthrow the government and murder the president. With violent crime rates escalating, the murder of a newspaper executive and the shooting of a critical columnist raised concern about journalists’ safety.

February 10, 2009 12:04 AM ET

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Attacks on the Press   |   Yemen

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Yemen

Journalists worked in precarious conditions in which they were subjected to politicized criminal charges and censorship from government officials. A harsh press law set restrictions on coverage of the presidency, state security, and religion. Authorities kept particularly tight control on coverage of an insurgency led by tribal and religious figures in the northwestern Saada region.

February 10, 2009 12:02 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Zimbabwe

Attacks on the Press in 2008: Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, startled by balloting that threatened their 28-year rule, unleashed a brutal crackdown on opposition supporters and the press. Veteran journalist Geoff Hill described the weeks between the first round of voting in March and a runoff in June as “the worst time for journalists in Zimbabwe’s history,” a view expressed by numerous foreign and local reporters.

February 10, 2009 12:01 AM ET

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