Washington, D.C., March 26--At least 36 journalists were in prison in 5 sub-Saharan countries at the end of 1997, and 2 journalists were murdered in the past year because of their profession, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported in a worldwide survey of press freedom conditions. The 443-page Attacks on the Press in 1997, released at a 10 a.m. news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., includes detailed analyses of press freedom issues in 117 countries and six special reports. The book is the annual report of the New York-based CPJ, an independent, nonprofit organization that works on behalf of journalists around the world.
The most disturbing trend of 1997 was the brutal suppression of Nigeria’s struggling independent media by Gen. Sani Abacha, who is now holding 17 journalists in prison, including Christine Anyanwu, recipient of CPJ’s 1997 International Press Freedom Award and the 1998 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. "We ask journalists everywhere to join CPJ’s campaign to free imprisoned journalists in Nigeria, and other countries that criminalize independent reporting," said CPJ board member Peter Arnett of CNN at today’s Washington press conference.
Ethiopia was holding 16 journalists in prison at the end of 1997, breaking its public pledge to stop the suppression of independent media outlets.
At least 2 journalists were killed in Sierra Leone and Rwanda during the year. CPJ continues to investigate 12 other journalists’ detention where a causal link to the imprisoned journalist’s work is suspected--4 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). A 10-year chart details the 474 murders of journalists by region and country.
Compiled from the first-hand research of CPJ’s professional staff, Attacks on the Press in 1997 is the single most authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date source of information on the status of press freedom around the world. The book documents in compelling detail nearly 500 attacks carried out to silence journalists and news organizations through physical assault, imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment. And it describes CPJ’s action on behalf of hundreds of journalists through emergency response and fact-finding missions, personal appeals by CPJ board members and staff, grassroots efforts, diplomatic channels, and media campaigns.
"The ruthless persecution of local journalists in Nigeria was the single most troubling development over the past year," said CPJ Executive Director William A. Orme, Jr. A special reports focuses attention on how CPJ’s campaign to gain freedom for jailed editor Christine Anyanwu aids all imprisoned Nigerian journalists.
Attacks on the Press in 1997 details these regional trends:
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Laurent Kabila seized power from former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, journalists who hoped for a freer press climate suffer under his tendency to target both state and private media for reprisals…Nigeria took the regional lead for imprisoned journalists, with 17 as compared to last year’s eight, reflecting the escalating brutality of Gen. Sani Abacha’s rule…Ethiopia’s 16 imprisoned journalists were all newly jailed in 1997…In sub-Saharan Africa, governments ruthlessly use criminal libel suits to stifle the media, placing tremendous financial burdens on the independent press…The influence of international radio networks remains strong in this region where newspapers and magazines reach only a fraction of the population…Newspapers in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe post Internet editions that link to African communities abroad and are reversing the historical flow of information, but journalists remain vulnerable because they work in environments with repressive press laws, weak judiciaries, and exploitative officials.