CPJ Impact

September 2009 

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists

Battling the worldwide culture of impunity
Being a reporter in Russia is a dangerous business and journalists there count on CPJ to stand up for their rights. Last week, a CPJ delegation was in Moscow to release a new report highlighting the Russian’s government’s abject failure to investigate the murders of 17 journalists.

Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia exposes conflicts of interest, incompetence, political pressure, and a shortage of political will as the main impediments to justice. Its release was widely covered in the Russian and international media. The CPJ delegation, which included board member Kati Marton, Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz, and Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova, met with Russian prosecutors to discuss the cases. There have been some positive developments in recent weeks, including a decision by Russian’s Supreme Court to reopen the investigation into October 2006 murder of Anna Politkovksaya.

The report’s release and government meetings in Russia are just one part of CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity. We have also made strides in the Philippines, a major focus of the campaign, which began in November 2007.

Last month, in a special report, “Under Oath, Under Threat,” CPJ’s Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin highlighted the issue of witness intimidation in the Philippines through the case of Bob Flores, who, while in the Philippine witness protect program, has demonstrated extraordinary courage in identifying a gunman in the August 2008 slaying of radio journalist Dennis Cuesta. Shortly after the report’s release, the Philippine Supreme Court granted a change of venue in the trial of three suspects accused of murdering Cuesta. The Philippine Supreme Court has also granted a change of venue in the case against the alleged masterminds in the killing of journalist Marlene Garcia-Esperat.

According to CPJ’s research, more than 70 percent of journalists killed since 1992 were murdered in direct retaliation for the work. Yet, more than 85 percent of these murders go unsolved, creating a culture of impunity where murderers go unpunished, witnesses fear reprisal and journalists are sent a clear message that certain topics are too dangerous to be discussed.

We are extremely grateful to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which is underwriting CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity. None of these efforts are possible without their support.

Released from jail

Even as we campaign for justice in the murder of our colleagues, CPJ’s staff is working hard to win the release of journalists imprisoned around the world. We are pleased to report some recent successes.

Tunisia: Abdallah Zouari, a reporter for the now-defunct Islamist weekly Al-Fajr, was sentenced in 1992 to 11 years in prison and five years of “administrative surveillance.” He had been under virtual house arrest since his release in June 2002, forced to live in the outskirts of the southern city of Zarzis, more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from his family in Tunis.

The government’s cruel treatment of Zouari came to an end in August shortly after CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon wrote a letter to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It was the second CPJ letter in four months to protest reprisals against critical journalists and their families. In an August 21 letter, Zouari thanked CPJ for its “efforts to end the injustice inflicted” on him during those seven years of banishment. “As a token of gratitude to CPJ,” Zouari said he has committed himself “to fully perform the duty of solidarity with every journalist and every human being whose right happened to be abused anywhere in the world.”

The Gambia: Six prominent Gambian journalists were released this month after President Yahya Jammeh pardoned them. The journalists had been convicted on six counts of criminal defamation and seditious publication after publishing a press union statement that criticized Jammeh for his remarks about the unsolved 2004 murder of former veteran journalist Deyda Hydara. They had each been sentenced to two years in jail. CPJ repeatedly petitioned for their release, and our Africa program staff spoke with government officials to advocate on their behalf.

Afghanistan: Even while press conditions are quickly deteriorating in Afghanistan, we received the good news that Parwez Kambakhsh, a 24-year-old Afghan journalist and student who was unjustly convicted of blasphemy and given a 20-year term, was released from prison after receiving a presidential pardon. CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz visited Kambakhsh in the Kabul Detention Center on July 21 as part of CPJ’s efforts to provide support and to advocate for his release. CPJ also spoke with U.S. diplomats in Kabul to ensure that they were pressing for Kambakhsh’s release.

Kambakhsh was convicted of distributing anti-Islamic literature, a charge many observers saw as retaliation for the work of his brother, journalist Yaqub Ibrahimi, who thanked CPJ in an e-mail: “I really appreciate CPJ’s strong action regarding the case. I am really happy about all of this. It is a victory for freedom of speech in Afghanistan.”

Human rights award goes to CPJ
We are honored that CPJ has been awarded the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights. The $75,000 prize is given “to an individual or group who has made a significant effort to advance the cause of international justice and global human rights.”

“The ability of the press to report the news fairly and freely is a right enshrined in the United States Constitution,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Thomas J. Dodd’s son. “Around the world, however, members of the press often face intimidation or even violent retaliation simply for reporting the truth. That’s why the mission of the Committee to Protect Journalists is so vital for the advancement of human rights and democracy worldwide. The CPJ deserves this honor for their accomplishments and dedication, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their work on behalf of journalists across the globe.”

The award will be presented to CPJ at a ceremony at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus on Monday, October 5, at 11 a.m. on the plaza of the Dodd Research Center. Joel Simon and CPJ co-founder and board member Michael Massing will accept the award on behalf of the organization. Featured speakers will also include Sen. Christopher J. Dodd; Marianne Pearl, wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; and University of Connecticut President Michael Hogan. A panel discussion will follow.