News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, October 2011
CPJ announces 2011 press freedom awards
Four courageous journalists from Bahrain, Belarus, Mexico, and Pakistan will be honored with CPJ’s 2011 International Press Freedom Awards at an annual awards dinner in New York on November 22. Following his release after four years in prison, Azerbaijani editor Eynulla Fatullayev will at last join CPJ as a special guest to receive his 2009 award. CPJ and others helped win Fatullayev’s freedom in May. CPJ will also honor veteran U.S. journalist Dan Rather with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award. Click here for more information about attending the dinner.
Burma: Seeking action behind the gestures
CPJ welcomed the release from prison of Burmese blogger and comedian Maung Thura, popularly known as Zarganar. Maung Thura, who originally was sentenced to 59 years behind bars, was set free in the first phase of a promised amnesty of over 6,300 prisoners in Burma.
Also in October, the country’s head of censorship publicly called for more press freedom. The developments followed publication of CPJ’s report last month on dismal media conditions in Burma under the new civilian government and the continued imprisonment of journalists there. CPJ found that the Burmese leadership’s internationally lauded reform rhetoric was contradicted by heavy censorship tactics that continue to make the country’s media among the most restricted in the world.
CPJ continues to demand the immediate and unconditional release of at least 13 other journalists on CPJ’s imprisoned list. CPJ will also pursue commitments and actions related to our recommendations to the Burmese government, the European Union, the United Nations, the United States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and to Norway, which funds many exile media groups.
A tragic first social media killing
CPJ’s Sara Rafsky documented the first case in which someone was murdered in direct retaliation for journalism posted on social media. “María Elizabeth Macías Castro’s killers made sure their actions were understood. In a macabre, carefully orchestrated mise-en-scene, they placed her body in front of a poster with an ominous note. Nearby they left a computer keyboard, with a pair of headphones on her decapitated head,” Rafsky wrote.
The murder of the Mexican journalist in the city of Nuevo Laredo on September 24 garnered additional attention in journalistic communities because of its relation to social media. Macías is the third journalist killed for her work in Mexico this year alone. CPJ has documented one killing of a media worker and is still investigating whether four other killings of Mexican journalists in 2011 were work-related.
Focus on Internet freedom in Silicon Valley
Four online media pioneers recently joined CPJ for talks with technology leaders in Silicon Valley. Alexey Tikhonov, Moscow correspondent and Internet security consultant for Kazakhstan’s beleaguered independent newspaper Respublika; Esra’a al-Shafei, founder and executive director of the pan-Arab forum MidEastYouth; cyber-activist Rami Nakhle from Syria; and Isaac Mao, an Internet entrepreneur and one of China’s earliest bloggers, are all at the forefront of the fight for Internet freedom.
Silicon Valley’s most influential innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers took time to meet with CPJ and listen to the threats faced by those carrying out independent reporting online, including denial-of-service attacks and online intimidation. The technology experts were engaged by the challenges the journalists and activists face, wrote CPJ’s Internet advocacy coordinator, Danny O’Brien. “It was clear that the rise of criminal, and tacitly state-supported, online attacks isn’t just a problem for journalists — it’s increasingly a concern to those who maintain the Internet itself,” O’Brien wrote. CPJ will continue to facilitate a connection between courageous online journalists and Silicon Valley leaders in our effort to promote press freedom online.
Obiang prize postponed… again
On October 4, UNESCO’s executive board again deferred action on the life sciences prize named after and funded by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. CPJ and other groups have consistently voiced their opposition to the prize, making the point that Equatorial Guinea’s record on human rights, including press freedom, makes the prize incompatible with UNESCO’s mission. CPJ board member Charlayne Hunter-Gault contributed her own analysis of this development and its larger meaning.
In the end, implementation of the prize was halted, for a second time, to be revisited in 2012. To overcome the 2010 suspension of the prize, Obiang launched a charm offensive from his platform as rotating president of the African Union, and debate went down to the wire. Instead of a divisive vote that would have pit African and Western delegations against each other, a commission at UNESCO’s executive board agreed unanimously to set up a working group to continue consultations on the prize.
AU forces responsible for journalist’s death
Four African Union soldiers deployed in Somalia have been suspended and returned to their home country of Burundi for potential trial after an internal investigation found them responsible for the shooting death of a Malaysian journalist in early September.
The troops opened fire on a Malaysian humanitarian aid convoy, killing Noramfaizul Mohd, a cameraman for Malaysia’s national Bernama TV. The suspension of the four AU soldiers followed a news alert from CPJ which called for a swift and transparent investigation of the killing and for the AU to hold those responsible to account. CPJ’s Africa program is monitoring the proceedings.
Senior Adviser to the Journalist Security program
After 11 years as CPJ’s Washington representative and Journalist Security Coordinator, Frank Smyth assumed a new role on October 15 as Senior Adviser to CPJ’s Journalist Security program. “I’m enormously grateful for Frank’s contribution to CPJ, and to our cause,” wrote CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon in a note to CPJ staff. “And I’m delighted that Frank will continue to be a part of CPJ even as he shifts into this new role.” Smyth, an experienced conflict reporter, is starting his own journalist security company. A new Washington representative will be recruited in the first quarter of 2012.
You may have noticed that the email version of CPJ Impact looks a little different from past issues. The new design is part of a broader initiative, as CPJ seeks to optimize its public image and outreach. We hope this sleeker, more dynamic edition of CPJ Impact is appealing and that you help us to spread the word on the challenges facing journalists worldwide. Your comments are welcome at [email protected].
Exhibition: CPJ is supporting the Bronx Documentary Center‘s inaugural exhibition featuring work by the acclaimed photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed in an explosion in Libya in April. “Visions: Tim Hetherington” will run until Dec. 2. For more information, contact the center at [email protected].
Awards: Join us November 22 for the 2011 International Press Freedom Awards. Click here for more information and to attend the dinner.
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