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Attacks on the Press in 2012

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Nursultan Nazarbayev's authoritarian government cracked down on critical news coverage with a flurry of early-year legislation and newsroom raids that came just weeks after deadly clashes between police and striking oil workers in the western city of Zhanaozen. In January, in the wake of the December 2011 labor unrest, Nazarbayev's government enacted legislation barring distribution of print or electronic news that the authorities deem a threat to national security. The authorities also imposed new regulations that require Internet café managers to block access to blacklisted websites and proxy servers, monitor client activity, and share client information with government security services. A third measure requires international broadcasters airing programming in Kazakhstan to register with the state. The government also deployed KNB security agents to harass news media that covered the violent crackdown against the strikers, which left 16 civilians dead. Agents raided the independent broadcaster Stan TV, demanded its recorded material concerning Zhanaozen, and interrogated its 15 journalists about the clashes. The KNB also detained editor Igor Vinyavsky for several weeks and intimidated his family and colleagues when they denounced the arrest. In November, just weeks after Kazakhstan was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council, authorities asked the courts to shut dozens of critical news outlets on extremism and mass disorder charges in connection to their reporting on Zhanaozen clashes. Unknown assailants shot and stabbed Lukpan Akhmedyarov, an award-winning journalist who had criticized official actions in Zhanaozen. He was among five critical news reporters who were brutally attacked in separate assaults during the year. All of the attacks remained unsolved in late year.

Despite pressure from the European Commission, the Hungarian government implemented a media law that requires "balanced reporting" and imposes fines for transgressions. The government adopted only minor amendments in response to demands from the commission. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing party, Fidesz, was able to withstand the pressure thanks to the support of the European People's Party and the underlying fears of EU member states about conceding sovereignty to Brussels. The restrictive media law was a barometer of a wider pattern of deteriorating press freedom. Opposition media faced financial pressure as most public and private advertising went to pro-government outlets. The government-controlled Media Council sought to award the FM frequency of Klubrádió, a leading opposition station, to a rival broadcaster in a long-running battle that was pending in late year. While segments of private media remain critical, public broadcasting was under tight government control.

After five years of tension between the media and Élysée Palace under Nicolas Sarkozy, a new Socialist government sought to cool down the atmosphere. President François Hollande promised to review his predecessor’s policies on public broadcasting and to give up the presidential privilege of directly appointing its executives. The judiciary brought good news for the press: A judge dismissed a criminal case against Augustin Scalbert, a Rue89 journalist indicted in June 2010 on charges of “stealing and keeping” a video that showed Sarkozy scolding France 3 journalists. And prosecutor Philippe Courroye was indicted on charges of unlawfully trying to identify the sources used by Le Monde journalists investigating the Bettencourt affair, the questionable funding of Sarkozy’s party by billionaire Liliane Bettencourt. But a number of media outlets faced new lawsuits claiming defamation or insult (Mediapart, Libération), and endangerment of life or incitement to hatred (Charlie Hebdo). Several French journalists were also victims of violence: Gilles Jacquier and Rémi Ochlik were killed and Edith Bouvier was wounded in Syria, while Roméo Langlois was abducted in Colombia.

President Aleksandr Lukashenko presided over one of the world's most censored nations, continuing policies that sought to suffocate critical journalism and dissenting opinion. At least four reporters, all of them known for critical coverage, were barred from traveling outside the country in March. Another four reporters were jailed during the year, while numerous others faced threats, harassment, fines, and assaults. The government's repressive practices were illustrated by its harsh reaction to a Swedish ad agency stunt in which hundreds of teddy bears pinned with press freedom slogans were airdropped over the country. The KGB jailed one reporter who covered the stunt, and interrogated and fined two others who published photos and stories about the airdrop. The episode led to the sacking of top army generals and a foreign minister, along with the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador. The country grew increasingly isolated during the year. In February, the government expelled Polish and European Union ambassadors after the EU widened travel bans against Belarusian officials due to the country's human rights failures. Lukashenko himself was subjected to an embarrassing travel restriction: He was barred from the 2012 Olympic Games in London because of an EU travel ban imposed after Minsk harshly cracked down on election protests in December 2010. In September 2012, the country's parliamentary election was marred by reports that election officials obstructed opposition candidates seeking to register, that state-controlled media refused to grant opposition candidates equitable coverage, and that the KGB cracked down on online activists. Throughout the year, critical media--both local and international--faced domestic blocking online, denial of accreditation, and distribution hurdles.

Baku viciously cracked down on domestic dissent as it hosted two major international events, the Eurovision 2012 song contest and the Internet Governance Forum. Authorities imprisoned at least nine critical journalists on a variety of retaliatory charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, and extortion. CPJ concluded that the charges were fabricated. International human rights groups, including CPJ, criticized the Eurovision organizer, the European Broadcasting Union, for standing by passively as President Ilham Aliyev’s government jailed and intimidated detractors. The broadcasting union, while expressing concern about the abuses, said the contest was an “apolitical” event. Several independent journalists, including award-winning reporter Idrak Abbasov, were brutally assaulted on assignment, but the assailants, believed to have included police and security officers, enjoyed impunity. Investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova was subjected to a contemptible intimidation campaign after reporting on the ruling family’s extensive business interests. State media smeared her reputation, and anonymous individuals circulated intimate videos and photos. Parliament responded to Ismailova’s coverage by passing legislation giving the president broad immunity from prosecution and barring corporations from disclosing a wide range of financial information. Aliyev signed the bills into law in July.

Analyses and data track press freedom conditions. Elisabeth Witchel recounts a mother's anguished pursuit of justice in Russia. Nina Ognianova and Kristin Jones examine the implications of repressive nations hosting the Olympics. And Jean-Paul Marthoz reveals the censorship imposed by religious extremists.

Vietnam intensified its grip on old and new media through a campaign of censorship, surveillance, and imprisonments. Central Propaganda Department officials held weekly meetings with top newspaper editors, outlining news agendas and identifying banned topics. The list of prohibited topics expanded to include criticism of the government's economic management, land conflicts between the state and local communities, and the business dealings of the prime minister's daughter, CPJ sources said. Courts handed down harsh prison sentences to six journalists in 2012. Nguyen Van Khuong, a reporter with the Vietnamese daily Tuoi Tre, was sentenced to four years in prison on trumped-up bribery charges filed after he investigated police corruption. Bloggers Dinh Dang Dinh and Le Thanh Tung were sentenced to six and five years respectively for postings deemed critical of the ruling Communist Party. Three other bloggers--Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan, and Phan Thanh Hai--were sentenced to terms ranging from four to 12 years on anti-state charges related to their critical journalism. An executive decree pending in late year threatened a further clampdown on the Internet, including new prohibitions against pseudonymous or anonymous blogs. In a September directive, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for police to identify and arrest contributors to three critical, politically oriented blogs that had been operated anonymously. The directive also ordered that the sites be blocked domestically.

Sri Lanka remained a highly restrictive and dangerous nation for the press. Critical or opposition journalists continued to face a climate of intense intimidation. More than 20 journalists have gone into exile in the last five years, one of the highest rates in the world. Work-related murders have declined since 2009, but the slayings of nine journalists have gone unsolved over the last decade, one of the worst records of impunity in the world. The government moved aggressively to obstruct the flow of information. In July, the Ministry of Media and Information blocked efforts to introduce freedom of information legislation before parliament, saying national security would be threatened if citizens were given access to public documents. The government had barred previous right-to-information efforts, including one in 2011. In June, police raided the offices of two opposition news websites, arresting staff members and confiscating equipment. At least five other critical websites were blocked. And in March, the authorities told all news organizations they must obtain prior official approval before issuing any text or SMS news alerts that carried information about the military or police.

The Philippines remained one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. At least one journalist, Christopher Guarin, a broadcaster and newspaper publisher, was killed in relation to his work. Four others were killed under unclear circumstances, and at least two more were attacked by unidentified gunmen. Despite President Benigno Aquino III's vow to achieve justice in journalist murders, the Philippines ranked third-worst worldwide on CPJ's Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and killers go free. The landmark prosecution of suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre moved at a sluggish pace and was dealt a severe setback with the killing of a key witness. A new Cybercrime Prevention Act gave officials discretionary power to shut down websites and impose prison terms of up to 12 years for online defamation. Amid an outcry by press freedom and civil society groups, as well as legal challenges by petitioners, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law's implementation.

Pakistan remained one of the deadliest nations in the world for the press, a situation that appeared unlikely to change given the government's unwillingness to confront the problem. In March, Pakistan joined with Brazil and India in raising objections to a comprehensive UNESCO proposal to protect the press and combat impunity in journalist murders. Pakistan has been one of the world's worst nations in combating deadly anti-press violence, CPJ's Impunity Index shows. At least 23 journalist murders have gone unpunished since the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. A 2012 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan showed growing ties between political repression and the rising incidence of violence against news media. Threats to journalists in Pakistan were no longer confined to traditionally violent areas such as the border region, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or Baluchistan, CPJ research found. Reporters in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, and Lahore faced persistent threats. And in another troubling development, several international journalists told CPJ that militants had begun threatening them more frequently, as the groups started paying more attention to their global reputations.

2012

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