CPJ Impact

March 2009

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ sounds alarm for Sri Lanka
Testimony from CPJ prompted a group of U.S. senators to express alarm about Sri Lankan press conditions in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Since fighting intensified over the past year,” Sen. Robert Casey wrote, “President Rajapaksa’s government has been waging a war against the media. Journalists have been murdered and imprisoned; their cases have gone uninvestigated and their perpetrators unpunished.”

On February 24, CPJ Program Coordinator Bob Dietz testified before Casey’s Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs about three attacks in January that left one editor dead, another injured, and a TV station’s master control room destroyed. “With a failure to investigate and a realistic suspicion that government actors are complicit in the violence against journalists, the time has come for the international community to act,” Dietz told the subcommittee.

The day before the hearing, CPJ released Dietz’s special report on the escalating violence, “Failure to Investigate.”

On March 5, CPJ met with Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, and called for a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the recent attacks. Board member David Marash, who led the delegation, details the meeting on the CPJ Blog

Free Roxana Saberi
When news broke on March 3 that American journalist Roxana Saberi was being held without charge in Iran, journalists, former colleagues, classmates, and friends of the Fargo, N.D., native began calling CPJ asking what they could do to help. Saberi was picked up at the end of January and held incommunicado for more than a month before she was able to meet with a lawyer.

In response, we created a Facebook petition that urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to intervene on Saberi’s behalf and ensure that she receive due process. We initially hoped to gather 1,000 signatures; the public outpouring was so great that we reached that goal within a day. By the time we delivered the petition on March 9 to Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, CPJ had collected 10,669 signatures. Saberi is being held without charge in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. CPJ continues to work with international news organizations to keep the case in the public eye.

Liberian journalist not compelled to reveal source
In a significant ruling that sets a precedent in international law, the U.N.-sponsored Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled that a Liberian journalist cannot be compelled to reveal a confidential source.

Called as a witness in the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, reporter Hassan Bility testified about a 1997 reporting trip to Sierra Leone in which he documented alleged ties between Liberian government troops and Sierra Leonean rebels. Taylor, Liberia’s former president, is being tried on charges that he had sponsored the rebels.

Bility refused to provide the name of the person who facilitated his trip to Sierra Leone, saying only that he was a Nigerian soldier who was part of a regional peacekeeping operation. When Taylor’s defense lawyer sought the name, Bility said he needed to protect the identity of the soldier, who remains on active duty.

In a January alert, we noted that forcing Bility to reveal his source could compromise conflict reporting, particularly reporting on war crimes and human rights abuses. In its ruling, the court reached two important determinations: It found no substantive difference between a facilitator and a confidential source, and it determined that the disclosure of Bility’s helper was not essential to the defense.

CPJ has worked for many years on behalf of Bility, who because of his work faced harassment, arrest, and torture from Taylor’s government.

Ruling seeks to end Argentina’s discriminatory practices
The Argentine government has long rewarded and punished the media by manipulating the distribution of state advertising, a practice we documented in a special report, “News for Sale,” and in the new edition of Attacks on the Press. In short, the government withholds official advertising from critical media and rewards friendly outlets with a generous flow of government spots. Journalists and free press groups have urged the Argentine government to put an end to the discriminatory practice.

On February 10, a federal appeals court in Argentina ruled that withholding official advertising from several publications of Editorial Perfil-the country’s largest magazine publisher-violated free press protections. The publications are known for being critical of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration. The court found the government engaged in “discriminatory behavior with the goal of punishing publications not sympathetic with the current government.”

Best of the blog
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Honoring the fallen and the brave

Meredith Greene Megaw
Communications Director
The Committee to Protect Journalists
330 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10001
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