CPJ Blog

Press Freedom News and Views

February 2012 Archives


Tibetans gather on the side of a street in Nangqian county, China's Qinghai province, to protest Chinese rule. (AP)

Two months into 2012, all-too-familiar stories are emerging from China's troubled minority regions, Tibet and Xinjiang. Following riots against Chinese rule in 2008 and 2009, violence and its corollaries--increased security and censorship--have become commonplace. Independent bloggers and journalists who cover the unrest pay a high price: Over half the 27 journalists documented by CPJ in Chinese prisons on December 1, 2011, came from ethnic minorities. Now we're bracing ourselves for the next wave of arrests.

Journalists demand justice for the murder of Meherun Runi and Golam Mustofa Sarowar. The banner says, 'Stop the attack on journalists.' (AP/Pavel Rahman)

On February 11, two Bangladeshi television journalists, Meherun Runi and her husband Golam Mustofa Sarowar, were murdered in their Dhaka home. Their 5-year-old son found their bodies. No arrests have yet been made and no motive has been publicly disclosed, although police claim they know why the couple was killed. Journalists have plenty of reason to be skeptical, and they staged a nationwide strike today to call attention to the case.

Zunar with copies of banned cartoon collections. (AP/Lai Seng Sin)

Tuesday marks the next step in a legal faceoff between Malaysian authorities and the well-known political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, also known as Zunar. Hearings will resume in civil lawsuit filed by Zunar that challenges the legality of his arrest and detention in September 2010. Malaysian police arrested him hours ahead of the scheduled launch of a new book of political cartoons, Cartoon-o-phobia. He was held until the next day on the accusation that his book violated the country's repressive Sedition Act. Although he was released without being formally charged, police served a search warrant at his office and seized dozens of copies of his book. 

Rémi Ochlik (AP/Julien de Rosa)

I liked Rémi a lot.

Rémi was fragile, yet he didn't really try to conceal the fact. His fragility was his strength, a formidable one at that. Unlike so many journalists of today, Rémi was a true idealist, a rare mix of innocence and panache, compassion and bravery.

Demonstrators burn signs with images of Haitian President Michel Martelly during a protest in Port-au-Prince on February 7, 2012. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

As a former entertainer better known as "Sweet Micky," it is perhaps unsurprising that Haitian President Michel Martelly has been theatrical at times in his dealings with the press. At one media event in October, the President answered a critical question posed by a journalist by telling him, "I curse your mother," according to press reports. On another occasion in late December, Martelly was so elated by a supporter's sign that instructed the press to "give the president a chance," that he told the citizen, "You deserve US$100,000." The man received a free motorcycle instead, Radio Kiskeya reported.

In her final hours, Marie Colvin gave this damning report to CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Bravery, generosity, and commitment: These are the three characteristics of Marie Colvin that have surfaced, again and again, in the many tributes spoken and published since the veteran Sunday Times reporter was killed Wednesday in the besieged city of Homs by Syrian forces.


In a video posted to YouTube by a Syrian activist, injured Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy speaks from Homs with his local doctor, describing his injuries and asking for humanitarian assistance, cessation of the shelling, and safe passage out. In English with some Arabic.

Click here for Edith Bouvier and William Daniels' appeal video.


In this video posted to YouTube by a Syrian activist, injured Le Figaro reporter Edith Bouvier and Sunday Times photographer William Daniels speak from Homs along with the local doctor who has been treating them. They are pleading with the world to make the barrage of rockets stop and to allow Bouvier to get urgent medical care. They speak in Arabic, English, and French.

Click here for Paul Conroy's appeal video.

International journalists Marie Colvin, 55, and Rémi Ochlik, 28, were killed Wednesday during shelling of the besieged city of Homs in Syria.

  |  


Pictured are Colvin, an American reporting for the Sunday Times, in Cairo's Tahrir Square (AP/Ivor Prickett); Ochlik, a French photojournalist (AP/Julien de Rosa); Colvin with Libyan rebels in Misurata on June 4, 2011 (Reuters//Zohra Bensemr); Ochlik covering demonstrations in Cairo (AP/Julien de Rosa); Ochlik, who quit his studies at age 20 to report on Haiti and then covered many of the recent upheavals in the Arab world (AP/Lucas Dolega); both journalists (Sunday Times and AFP); and Colvin being treated by Sri Lankan army medical staff on Tuesday, April 17, 2001, at a field hospital in Vavuniya, northeast of Colombo (AP).

This screenshot from YouTube dated Wednesday is said to show the shelling of Homs as recorded by Rami al-Sayed before his death.

The world lost one of the only direct windows into the carnage in Homs, Syria, when Rami al-Sayed's video live stream went dark Tuesday. A citizen journalist, al-Sayed was live streaming the Assad regime's bombardment of Baba Amr and the brutal after-effects when he was struck by shrapnel and bled to death soon after, according to news reports. When outlets including the BBC World, SkyNews, and Al Jazeera aired his live footage, they highlighted how important this medium has become to journalism. And when the Syrian army took his life they proved how vulnerable it is.

Last night at London's Frontline Club, CPJ launched its global survey of press freedom conditions, Attacks on the Press. The topic of discussion was the safety of journalists covering conflict and the panel consisted of journalist and documentarian Jenny Kleeman, ITN safety guru Colin Pereira, and journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned in Iran following the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Last week, suspected supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed group listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, took their confrontation with the Turkish state to Western Europe, attacking the French and German offices of one of Turkey's most influential newspapers, Zaman.

Pakistani military stand guard during a protest by journalists over the death of Saleem Shahzad in June 2011. (AP/B.K.Bangash)

In Pakistan, the term "a war of words" can take on a menacing dimension beyond the metaphorical. Words--written, spoken, or reported--regularly land journalists in trouble, a very literal, physical sort of trouble. Reporters have become accustomed to being threatened, and over the years they've seen threats sometimes build to abductions, beatings, and even death. Such violence seldom comes without a string of prior warnings.

A year ago, police confront demonstrators outside the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in Cairo. (AP/Ben Curtis)

What a difference a year makes. In January 2011, we had to scrap plans for our regular Middle East launch of Attacks on the Press at the headquarters of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo. Just a few blocks away, in Tahrir Square, journalists were busy fending off their own attackers as pro-regime thugs tried to thwart young Egyptians' ultimately successful attempt to topple Hosni Mubarak. 

El Universo staff members carry a mock coffin to protest the court ruling that upheld the verdict against their colleagues. (AFP/Camilo Pareja)

The sentence against Ecuadoran newspaper El Universo, its opinion editor, Emilio Palacio Urrutia, and its three top executives, Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga, César Enrique Pérez Barriga, and Carlos Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, for supposed offenses against Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa in Palacio's article "NO to lies," is a worn-out manifestation of the perverse concept of public freedoms that certain elected governments manipulate. They pervert their legitimacy with an authoritarian self-assuredness that permeates their exercise of power.

Gasasira in exile. (Gasasira)

I must have received at least a dozen communications from worried friends and colleagues, asking the whereabouts of the chief editor of the highly critical Rwandan website, Umuvugizi. By mid-January, no one had heard from John Bosco Gasasira, nothing new had been published on Umuvugizi since January 11, and his cell phones were switched off. Last week, concerned colleagues wrote a public letter expressing concern over their missing colleague.

A poster depicts Vladimir Putin as the Grim Reaper on one of Ekho Moskvy's studio doors. (CPJ/Nina Ognianova)

The Russian blogosphere erupted with comments today following an announcement that the board of directors of the iconic radio station, Ekho Moskvy, will be changed. The timing of the development--weeks before presidential elections--and the potential consequences for Ekho's editorial policy threw listeners into a frenzy of worry and speculation.

In the last few days, messages from two journalists in Pakistan have made me realize that I can't turn away from publicizing the threats they are facing, because they just keep coming. 

Mading Ngor says his ejection from parliament is receiving unwarranted attention given the number of journalist assaults in South Sudan. (AP)

February is the hottest month in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and Mading Ngor, a reporter and presenter for the Catholic-owned Bakhita FM, trudged his way through the heat to cover parliament proceedings last week--only to be thrown unceremoniously out of the assembly. "Before I had time to argue, four security guards pinned me to the ground and dragged me across the floor, tearing up my trousers," Ngor, a hard-hitting, critical journalist, told me.

President Obama meets with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping Tuesday at the  White House. (AP/Susan Walsh)

President Obama has promised to raise issues of human rights when he and his administration meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in the next day. After that, Xi, billed as China's next leader, is expected to make some speeches, visit a few factories, stop at the Pentagon, sign some contracts that will strengthen economic ties between the two countries, and then head home.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has reportedly asked for U.N. assistance to investigate the case of a missing journalist. (AFP/Seyllou)

Good news for Gambia's beleaguered independent press has been rare during President Yahya Jammeh's 17-year rule, but last week brought three potentially positive developments. It's unclear whether they mark a real change in the status quo, but they may at least increase the resolve of advocacy groups to seek improvements.

Journalists from Al-Wasat newspaper leave a Bahraini court after being fined US$2,650 each for publishing false news. (Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed)

In the year since peaceful protests began in Bahrain on February 14, 2011, the government has targeted the press corps with assault, detention, harassment, and torture to obstruct their coverage. My organization, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, has documented a systematic campaign by authorities to silence coverage of our country's unrest. Here are just some of the many attacks on the press:

Just how free should the Internet be in India? And whose job is it to police the Web?

Two recent court cases turn on these questions and, more specifically, whether Internet companies have a responsibility to filter content. In a country where Internet usage is growing exponentially, but where the scars of communal violence, terrorism, and identity politics are fresh, the answers are likely to have deep ramifications for years to come.

Tom Heinemann with his wife and camerawoman, Lotte la Cour (Paul Gomes)

In 2005, we deliberately violated the immigration laws of India. We broke the law by producing a documentary film even though we had entered the country on a tourist visa. We broke the law because we wanted to show that Scandinavian companies were in violation of many other laws in India.

Tibetan monks lead a prayer vigil outside the Chinese Embassy in London Wednesday. (AFP/Justin Tallis)

China's investment in high-tech Internet surveillance technology is well known, and the byzantine rules of its Central Propaganda Department have inspired books and academic treatises.

But among the many tools in the box for media control, there's one that's very simple and low-tech: Keep journalists away.

Blogger Yoani Sánchez says she has been denied permission to leave Cuba 19 times. (AFP/Adalberto Roque)

The response from Cuban officials did not take anyone by surprise. Prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez had been, once again, denied permission to leave her country after she was granted a visa by the Brazilian Embassy in January to attend a film festival. "I feel like a hostage kidnapped by someone who doesn't listen nor provide explanations. A government with a ski mask and a gun in a holster," tweeted Sánchez on Friday after the Cuban government denied her request to travel to Brazil. It was, according to the blogger, the 19th time Cuban officials have turned down her request to leave the island. As in the past, officials gave no reason for the rejection.

Wang Lijun, until recently a deputy mayor and police chief, has been put on a medical "vacation." (Reuters)

The website of Xinhua News, China's state media flagship, leads today with EU's threats of sanctions against Syria. Elsewhere on their Chinese-language site, one can read about Wen Jiabao's remarks to the visiting Canadian prime minister, or look at photos of pretty white ladies lounging around, if that's your style. 

We have been posting a lot about the challenges facing the Internet in India recently--see Mannika Chopra's "India struggles to cope with growing Internet penetration." On Tuesday, Angela Saini, a guest blogger on The Guardian's Comment Is Free site, posted "Internet censorship could damage India's democracy," with the subhead "Google and Facebook have been asked to remove offensive content, but it's not just out of a fear of stoking religious hatred." Saini makes the point that the official resistance to the increasing penetration of the Internet goes beyond fears of religious or ethnic violence:

Solange Lusiku Nsimire is honored by the Université catholique de Louvain for her courage as a journalist and women's rights defender. (Anne-Marie Impe)

Seated near the fireplace in a historical home in Tournai, a medieval town 70 miles from Brussels and a stone's throw from the French border, while snow fell outside, Solange Lusiku Nsimire was enjoying not only the company of friends, but the chance to live for a few days without fearing suspicious noises in the garden or ominous knocks on the door.

Pakistani journalists protest the killing of Mukarram Khan Aatif in Peshawar. (AP/Mohammad Sajjad)

CPJ award winner Mazhar Abbas penned a strong Sunday op-ed piece, "Death is the only news--Challenges of working in conflict zones," for The News. It's about conditions for journalists working in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan. As Abbas says, "The killing of one journalist is a message for another." He goes on to describe the situation in FATA:

Blog | USA
Several journalists have been arrested for not having proper accreditation at Occupy Oakland protests like this one. (Reuters/Stephen Lam)

The issue of press accreditation continues to reverberate. In November, when the Occupy movement came into conflict with law enforcement across the country and at least 20 journalists covering the events were arrested, CPJ reported that disputes over press accreditation were at the center of many of those arrests. Last week, credentials played a role in the arrests of journalists not only at tumultuous Occupy demonstrations in Oakland but also inside the more hushed chambers of Capitol Hill.

Rebecca MacKinnon, shown here in Tunisia last year, asserts in a new book that citizens and governments must decide the power of the Internet. (AFP/Fethi Belaid)

The Internet doesn't bring freedom. Not automatically, anyway.

That's one of the main messages of Rebecca MacKinnon's new book, Consent of the Networked, which had its New York launch at the offices of the New America Foundation last night. In a conversation with CNN managing editor Mark Whitaker, MacKinnon, a CPJ board member, said it's up to concerned citizens, governments, and corporations to make decisions about how the Internet is used. She contrasted the Twitter-powered revolt in Egypt last year with the "networked authoritarianism" of China, where corporations are collaborators in a system designed to preserve Communist Party rule.

« January 2012    |    Blog Home    |    March 2012 »
Blog Authors
Full author list »

Recent Categories