CPJ Update

CPJ Update
June 21, 2004
News from the Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ Journalist Assistance Program evacuates journalists from danger in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Bukavu–On June 2, when rebels from pro-Rwanda groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) joined forces to take control of the town of Bukavu, among their prime targets were the city’s three main independent radio stations, Sauti ya Rehema, Radio Maria, and Radio Maendeleo. The rebels sought to silence these stations because they viewed them as supportive of the central government and the U.N. mission in the DRC. Directors of the stations–Joseph Nkinzo, Ben Kabamba, and Kizito Mushizi–all received death threats by telephone, and rebel forces killed Nkinzo’s younger brother and looted the journalist’s home.

The three radio directors initially took refuge inside the U.N. compound in Bukavu but then sought help in leaving the city. Journaliste en Danger, a Congolese press freedom organization based in the capital of Kinshasa, worked with Julia Crawford, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, to help raise funds and coordinate the successful evacuation of the three journalists.

Crawford, who was in the DRC on a press freedom mission for CPJ, met with the three directors when they arrived safely in Kinshasa on June 9. The journalists will remain in the capital until it is safe for them to return to Bukavu. Meanwhile, all three radio stations resumed broadcasting on June 9.

CPJ mission to the DRC

Crawford’s mission to the DRC on June 1 to 15 took place against a backdrop of unrest. In addition to the rebel action in Bukavu, on 11, a member of the presidential guard attempted a coup against the government. Although both the rebel action and the coup attempt were eventually thwarted by the government, they underscored the political instability that is often used by the DRC government as a justification for restricting the work of journalists.

During her two-week mission, Crawford met with five journalists imprisoned in Kinshasa who are being held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Two of the five journalists have since been released. In addition, she held meetings with government officials to express serious concerns about the country’s press freedom record. In her meetings, Crawford argued that national security concerns should not be used as a justification for restricting the media, whose journalists face frequent harassment, legal action, and imprisonment.

Crawford was accompanied by Dr. Philippe Dahinden, a lawyer and news editor for the Hirondelle Foundation, a Switzerland-based nongovernmental organization that works to promote independent media in conflict and post-conflict zones.

On June 14, Crawford and Dahinden held a press conference in which they presented recommendations to the government of the DRC. The full press release is available here: www.cpj.org/news/2004/DRC14june04na.html.

CPJ at Press Freedom Conference in Azerbaijan

Ann Cooper, CPJ executive director; Alex Lupis, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator; and Amanda Watson-Boles, senior editor, attended the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) general meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, from June 13 to 18.

Cooper was the convener of the meeting, which was hosted by Baku-based Journalists’ Trade Union. IFEX is a consortium of 65 local, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations that work to strengthen freedom of expression throughout the world. In Baku, IFEX members discussed joint actions to improve press freedom conditions and heard from members on a broad range of issues, including Internet censorship, state use of anti-terrorism laws to restrict the media, and journalists’ safety in conflict zones.

On June 18, CPJ held a press conference in Baku focusing on press freedom problems facing independent and opposition media in Azerbaijan. CPJ called in Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to end repressive practices, such as criminal prosecution of journalists in retaliation for criticizing government officials. The full news release from the press conference is available here:

Mission to China

Sophie Beach, Asia senior researcher, spent two weeks in China in May on a fact-finding mission. She met with local journalists from various provinces and will publish a report on the growing number of physical attacks on reporters in China. China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists, and this year the country was named as one of CPJ’s “Worst Places to be a Journalist.” The report will be available on the CPJ Web site in the next several months.

Journalists’ safety in Iraq

In May, Ann Cooper, executive director; Frank Smyth, journalist security coordinator; and Joel Campagna, senior program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, participated in a Washington, D.C., meeting of journalists and Pentagon officials on journalists’ safety in Iraq.

CPJ is a member of a working group formed after the meeting to pursue with the Pentagon a series of recommendations aimed at increasing journalists’ security in Iraq.

Thirty journalists have been killed in Iraq since the conflict began, seven by U.S. forces. In May, Reuters revealed that three of its Iraqi employees were subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation in January by U.S. troops near Fallujah while covering the aftermath of the downing of a U.S. helicopter.

CPJ board member receives an award

Alberto Ibarg¸en, publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald and longtime member of CPJ’s board, received a Special Citation award from the jurors of the 2004 Maria Moors Cabot Prize, which honors reporters and editors for their coverage of Latin America. Ibarg¸en will be honored in October at Columbia University, along with the four other Cabot Award winners.