118 Journalists Imprisoned in 25 Countries

Washington, D.C., March 25 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported today in its annual worldwide study of press freedom that at least 118 journalists were in prison in 25 countries at the end of 1998, and 24 journalists in 17 countries were murdered during the year in reprisal for their reporting.

CPJ released the 400-page Attacks on the Press in 1998, the 12th in the series, at a 10:30 a.m. news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The book contains analyses of press freedom issues in 118 countries, four special reports, and compelling accounts of 500 attacks aimed to intimidate and silence journalists and news organizations through assault, wrongful imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment.

Among ominous trends of 1998 noted in CPJ’s report card on press freedom around the world were the explosion of violence against journalists in war-torn Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and onerous new press laws in Jordan and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Colombia, where 43 journalists were murdered in the past 10 years, was the most lethal country for journalists. CPJ confirmed the assassinations of four journalists, targets of ongoing civil war and pervasive criminal violence, and continues to investigate murders of five other Colombian journalists.

For the fifth consecutive year, Turkey held more journalists in prison than any other country, 27, down from 29 in 1997. Most are victims of the government’s continued criminalization of reporting on the 14-year-old conflict with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey’s southeast. China and Ethiopia each held 12 journalists in prison at year’s end. One of the newly imprisoned in China was jailed for sharing e-mail addresses with a dissident online magazine. Ethiopia persisted in flouting the rule of law by jailing journalists on unspecified charges.

Increasingly, laws banning critical reporting are becoming the favored weapons against independent journalism. “With more countries wielding insult laws and criminal libel statutes to muzzle expression, more journalists than ever face a stark choice: Exercise self-censorship or risk going to jail for hard-hitting reporting,” said Ann K. Cooper, CPJ’s executive director, in the book’s introduction.

Three journalists freed from prison in 1998 were subjects of CPJ campaigns and recipients of CPJ International Press Freedom Awards — Chris Anyanwu of Nigeria, Doan Viet Hoat of Vietnam, and Ruth Simon of Eritrea.

At least 24 journalists were killed as a direct result of their professional work in 17 countries during the year. In addition to the Colombia murders, two journalists were murdered for their work in each of four countries — Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and Russia. Assassination claimed the life of a journalist in each of 12 other countries — Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Canada, Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Thailand. CPJ continues to investigate the deaths of 12 other journalists where there is reason to suspect the killings were in retribution for the journalists’ work. The book includes a chart of the more than 470 murders of journalists in the past 10 years by region and country.

In Nigeria, where the June death of military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha brought long-awaited freedom in 1998 to all but one of 17 imprisoned journalists, unease persists that press freedom cannot be achieved without the repeal of laws used to punish journalists who criticize government officials. In Algeria, embroiled since 1992 in brutal civil conflict with Islamic extremists, the assassination campaign that claimed the lives of at least 58 journalists between 1993 and 1996 has left a press diminished in number and dependent on state protection. In Peru, a scare campaign against a reporter who revealed that the army was wiretapping phones of journalists and government opponents led to a united effort by international journalist groups to confront President Alberto K. Fujimori and an improvement of conditions for Peruvian journalists. In Indonesia, the fall of President Suharto, triggered by Asia’s economic downturn, nationwide protests, and international pressure, led to a lifting of almost all restrictions on the press by B.J. Habibie, his hand-picked successor.

Of the 25 countries at year’s end holding journalists in prison, the third highest in number was Sierra Leone with 11. Burma and Syria each held 8, Peru, 5, Cuba, 4, and Gabon, 3. Countries with two imprisoned each were Algeria, Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Russia, South Korea, Togo and Tunisia. CPJ documented one imprisoned in each of Cameroon, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Sylvia Poggioli, senior correspondent in Europe for National Public Radio, wrote the book’s preface. She deplores “the incredibly high price the press has paid in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia,” where state-run media fomented ethnic hatred that led to the Croatian and Bosnian wars and then to Kosovo. “What makes ill-treatment of the media in the former Yugoslavia particularly disturbing,” she writes, “is that this region has been the object of intense diplomatic involvement and scrutiny by the international community, yet Western diplomacy has focused mainly on regional stability at the expense of freedom of information and free speech.”

Four reports by CPJ’s regional specialists focus attention on leading indicators for press freedom worldwide:

Nigeria — “Outliving Abacha, Six Nigerian Journalists’ Prison Stories” points out that systemic change is needed to restore press freedom in Nigeria and presents the vivid personal accounts of six journalists who endured brutal imprisonment under the Abacha regime.

Latin America — “Banding Together” recounts how, with the help of CPJ and other international press organizations, newly empowered journalists in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, and Mexico are uniting to protest abuses against the press.

Asia — “Freedom Takes Hold: ASEAN Journalism in Transition” pinpoints how journalists in Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia allied to monitor press freedom conditions in the region.

Algeria — “Siege Mentality: Press Freedom and the Algerian Conflict” reports on CPJ’s fact-finding mission to the country where journalists have long feared for their lives.

Compiled from the first-hand research of CPJ’s professional staff, Attacks on the Press in 1998 is the single most authoritative and comprehensive source of information on the status of press freedom around the world. The book describes CPJ’s actions 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 Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. To order copies of Attacks on the Press in 1998, call 212/465-1004 or write to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 330 Seventh Ave., 12th Floor, New York, NY 10001. Or click here.