Attacks on the Press 1999: Enemies of the Press

Each year on World Press Freedom Day (May 3), CPJ announces its list of the ten worst enemies of the press. Those who made the list this year, as in the past, earned the dubious distinction by exhibiting particular zeal in the ruthless suppression of press freedom. They were singled out for their unrelenting and often brutal suppression of journalists.

The list was headed in 1999 by three perennial offenders: President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, President Jiang Zemin of China, and President Fidel Castro of Cuba. They were joined by several newcomers, including President Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine.

President Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslavia

Suppression of the press through intimidation, assault, crippling fines, and license denialsÑall codified in a draconian media law imposed in October of 1998Ñis a prime weapon in Milosevic’s arsenal of control. With the onset of NATO bombing in March 1999, Milosevic’s repression of all independent media quelled opposition voices, imperiled journalists’ lives, and filled the state-controlled airwaves with hate speech.

President Jiang Zemin, China

The confluence in 1999 of the 10th anniversary of the government-ordered massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic led Jiang to renew Beijing’s hard-line attitudes toward the press. Last year he presided over worsening conditions for politically independent journalists as the Communist Party’s propaganda department shut down several newspapers, magazines, and book publishing houses and threatened many others for challenging party orthodoxy. The jailing of journalists continued, and, in an ominous development, an Internet entrepreneur was sentenced in January 1999 to two years in prison for providing e-mail addresses to a dissident online magazine.

President Fidel Castro, Cuba

President Castro’s crackdown on the independent press eroded any hope for improvement generated by Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998. Castro represses independent journalists to the point of extinction, forcing them to flee the country to avoid detention and arrest seemingly for even thinking about covering a trial of dissidents or a public demonstration that would reflect unfavorably on his complete control. Constant harassment forced at least 10 journalists into exile during 1999, bringing the total of exiled journalists to around 40. Four journalists are imprisoned for their work. A new press law criminalizes free speech and imposes harsh sentences on anyone deemed guilty of serving U.S. interests against Cuba, which precludes any contact with foreign media.

President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, Democratic Republic of Congo

Expectations that Kabila would bring greater freedom to the country formerly known as Zaire vanished once he seized power and unleashed an unremitting barrage of attacks on the press. No journalist is immune to Kabila’s intolerance for opposing views. Using the threat of a rebel takeover to justify his actions, he has created a reign of terror for scores of journalists through his penchant for blaming military failures on the independent press. Since his takeover in May 1997, more than 60 journalists have been imprisoned, many without charge.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia

Retaining his title as Africa’s leading jailer of journalistsÑ there were 13 in prison at the end of 1998, and another 16 incarcerated during the yearÑMeles repeatedly employs his technique of decimating the press by arresting and imprisoning any independent journalist, often without charge. His tactics, encoded in a press law that provides broad means for silencing the media, drive independent-minded journalists from the profession, and from the country. Those persevering in their craft suffer dire consequences.

President Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine

Using tax and libel laws as instruments of his hostility to journalists, Kuchma runs roughshod over any expression of opposition. His tacit acceptance of violence against the press has encouraged bombings of newspaper offices, assaults on reporters and editors, and a general climate of fear and self-censorship. His tax policies force print and broadcast outlets without foreign support to seek financial aid from businesses and politicians who then extort favorable publicity.

President Zine Abdine Ben Ali, Tunisia

The climate of fear created by a decade of rule by this dictator who masks his actions with a veneer of purported human rights achievement has transformed what was once a respected press into one of the most restricted in the Arab world. Tunisian journalists who dare to veer from a path of strict self-censorship face swift reprisal in the form of dismissal from jobs, severing of phone and fax lines, restrictions on travel, and intimidation by state agents. Ben Ali brooks no dissent in his self-styled police state, banning foreign publications and blocking access to websitesÑincluding CPJ’sÑthat offer information critical of the country’s dismal rights record.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia

Like a master puppeteer, Mahathir pulls the strings of the major media, mostly owned or controlled by his ruling coalition, to perpetuate his power. Strict licensing requirements are in force, self-censorship by journalists of news deemed negative or derogatory is rewarded, and foreign press are closely monitored and frequently harassed. Despite journalists’ valiant attempts at free expression through the Internet and efforts by opposition newspapers to report on public outrage over the imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim, his reform-minded former deputy, Mahathir continues to manage the flow of mainstream domestic news coverage.

President Alberto K. Fujimori, Peru

A systematic state-run campaign to discredit Peru’s independent press bears the stamp of Fujimori’s “infotatorship.” Fujimori’s intelligence arm has engaged in assassination plans, death threats, wiretapping, surveillance, and smear tactics to harass and imperil journalists, often forcing or ordering them into exile. Investigative reporters looking into government corruption and collusion between drug traffickers and the military have been hit with charges of espionage, treason, and terrorism invoked to discredit and deter their work.

President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt

A siege of jailings under the provisions of the Mubarak-approved press law and the censorship and closure of newspapers marked a sharp deterioration in the climate for press freedom in his one-man 18-year rule. In 1998 CPJ documented the first cases of journalists imprisoned in Egypt for libel, including two for reporting on profiteering by the family of a government official. Dozens more face imprisonment on pending libel charges. Government censorship of publications registered abroad elicited this endorsement from Mubarak: “Any newspaper published from outside Egypt can be banned if it does not abide by Egyptian social values and seeks to stir up sectarian rift.”