Newly freed political prisoners at a press conference in Madrid. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)
Newly freed political prisoners at a press conference in Madrid. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

CPJ Impact

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, July 2010

Cuba begins releasing journalists

For weeks, CPJ staff had been getting hints that Cuba, under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and Spanish government, would release imprisoned journalists and political dissidents. Some families had been told to buy suits for their jailed loved ones, a sure sign that something was up. After years of painstaking reporting, contact-building and campaigning on Cuba, we were in a great position to move quickly when at last on July 13 the Cuban authorities put six journalists on a plane for Madrid. CPJ Europe Consultant Borja Bergareche was there to welcome the new exiles, the first in what is expected to be a series of releases by the Castro regime. Three more journalists have since been freed. Prior to the releases, CPJ research had identified 21 journalists in Cuban prisons for their independent reporting and commentary. All but one of the journalists had been detained in March 2003, in the massive government crackdown on political dissent and independent journalism that came to be known as the Black Spring.

Imprisoned awardee Tissa free at last

Our 2009 International Press Freedom Awardee from Sri Lanka is a free man. J.S. Tissainayagam, who is known as Tissa, slipped quietly out of Colombo last month. His departure capped nearly two years of intensive advocacy by CPJ and others for the Tamil editor’s release. We raised the case with the government during a mission to the island in March. Tissa was met at Dulles Airport by CPJ representative Kamel Labidi, who described him as all smiles and gratitude. Tissa has kept a low profile since arriving in the United States. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the government announced that it would grant Tissainayagam a presidential pardon, but six weeks passed before he was handed back his passport. He had been released on bail in January and had lived in seclusion in Sri Lanka until his departure. He was first jailed in March 2008 and eventually indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in August 2008. We hope he will attend our annual benefit in New York in November to receive his award.

Nieman Fellow denied U.S. visa

Hollman Morris, a well known Colombian journalist and TV news producer, has been denied a visa to enter the United States to take up a Nieman Fellowship. CPJ wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to reverse the decision, made under a provision of the Patriot Act, and ensure that Morris can take up his fellowship.

Appeal for help from hospital bed

Ailing Tunisian journalist Fahem Boukadous appealed to the public for help through CPJ from a hospital bed in the Tunisian city of Sousse. Boukadous, who has been sentenced to four years in prison, suffers from acute asthma. Shortly after leaving the hospital, he was arrested. CPJ continues work on the case.

Making the Web safer for journalists

Journalists are increasingly turning to social media to gather and spread news. But useful as these services are, there can often be unfortunate consequences when the intent of the companies involved doesn’t match the needs of reporters in the field. The designers of these and many free Internet services are often supportive to the innovative uses, but can be unaware of the consequences of even simple changes to their products or policies.

CPJ’s Internet advocacy coordinator, Danny O’Brien, is based in Silicon Valley, and has been speaking to developers big and small about better defending free speech in the early stages of product design. “A lot of individual programmers here want to create code that protects privacy and free speech,” O’Brien says, “and with headlines about YouTube removing vital video footage, or Twitter helping in Iran, the companies understand the public impact of getting the balance right before launch, instead of after an incident occurs.”

Some of this advocacy takes place behind the scenes, but for the last few months, O’Brien has also been touring the “geek lecture circuit,” keynoting at the popular Open Source Bridge conference, and informally answering questions at “hacker spaces” like San Francisco’s Noisebridge. It’s not just dotcom startups that can help journalists and their readers: media companies can adapt their current websites, too. At the U.K. Guardian’s Activate 2010 conference earlier this month, O’Brien spelled out one simple step that any site can take.

“One of my strongest recommendations to both tech and media companies is to offer protected, encrypted versions of all their Web pages (the kind whose address starts with “https”, not “http”). It’s easier than many developers think, and it has real advantages for journalists and their sources. It makes private communications harder to monitor by government or criminal elements, and makes websites more difficult to censor by state blocks like the Great Firewall of China.”

Google has already offered an “https” version of its search engine at, and now turns on encryption by default for Gmail users. The New York Times and Washington Post also offer encrypted versions of their websites.

If you’re interested in having O’Brien speak at your tech or media event, contact CPJ  at [email protected]. CPJ supporters in the Netherlands can hear his keynote at the open source GUADEC conference on 29th July in The Hague.

Moving into Africa

We’re revamping our Africa program in an effort to respond more quickly and effectively to events in a continent where communications are still a challenge. As part of the first phase, our Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes has changed roles. He arrived in Nairobi this month where he will work as our consultant for East Africa. Research associate Mohamed Keita takes on the new role of Africa advocacy coordinator based in New York.

Other highlights from CPJ’s advocacy and blog: