Tajik journalist Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov was convicted on insult charges in October, but was released from prison. He is banned from all journalistic work for three years. (RFE/RL Radio Ozodi)
Journalist Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov was convicted on insult charges today, but was released from prison. He is banned from all journalistic work for three years. (RFE/RL Radio Ozodi)

CPJ Impact

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, December 2011

Tajik journalist Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov was convicted on insult charges in October, but was released from prison. He is banned from all journalistic work for three years. (RFE/RL Radio Ozodi)
Tajik journalist Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov was convicted on insult charges in October, but was released from prison. He is banned from all journalistic work for three years. (RFE/RL Radio Ozodi)

The year in press freedom

This year was marked by a wave of anti-press violence as social unrest stirred millions into action. Journalists from Belarus to Egypt and Mexico to Beijing continued exposing the truth despite being attacked for their reporting.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ thorough documentation and high-level advocacy helped to ensure that you heard the stories of the journalists silenced by violence, muted by torture, cowed into self-censorship, or suppressed by exile. On the front lines and online–we persevered in the fight to preserve freedom of the press and our collective right to be informed. 

CPJ’s achievements in 2011 are highlighted below, and as we celebrate 30 years of fighting for press freedom, your support is still as vital as our mission. An excerpt of this inspiring documentary about CPJ’s three decades of impact will show you the importance of your year-end gift as, despite much success, press freedom remains under threat. 

69 journalists released

In 2011, CPJ visited imprisoned journalists and ensured their stories made headlines. Our advocacy contributed to the early release from prison of at least 69 journalists. Yet our annual census of journalists in prison shows that the task ahead is arduous: The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide reached a 15-year high in 2011, driven by repressive states seeking to choke the flow of information.

One journalist who won his liberty in 2011 is Eynulla Fatullayev from Azerbaijan, who was honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2009, while he was still in prison. CPJ and other organizations worked relentlessly for his release, and in May, he was finally freed. Fatullayev’s case is a lesson that persistent advocacy can help to secure the release of many more journalists in 2012.

CPJ identified 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, an increase of 34 from 2010. Nearly half of those held were online journalists, while about 45 percent of the imprisoned were freelancers. Iran tops the list for the second consecutive year with 42 journalists in prison, followed by Eritrea (28), China (27), Burma (12), and Vietnam (9).

CPJ investigates sexual violence

2011 was the year when journalists from all over the world broke their silence on the sexual aggression they had endured in the course of their work. Their accounts, detailed in a report by CPJ, provide the most extensive documentation gathered thus far on how sexual assault threatens press freedom worldwide.

Lauren Wolfe’s report revealed instances of sexual aggression in reprisal for reporting, mob-related sexual violence while covering events, and sexual abuse of journalists in detention or captivity. The groundbreaking report brought global press coverage to the issue of sexual violence as a means to censor journalists and also spurred public discussion. As Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya, who was raped in retaliation for her reporting, continues her legal battle for justice, CPJ will continue to work so that preventive measures can be taken.

The findings, published along with CPJ’s expanded security guidelines concerning sexual aggression, will form the basis for further CPJ research in the coming year. A new security handbook will also be published by CPJ in early 2012.

CPJ helps besieged press in Ivory Coast and beyond

In March, CPJ worked with the Ivorian Committee for the Protection of Journalists and the U.N. Mission in the Ivory Coast to evacuate 12 local journalists facing threats. Eleven of them were able to return to Abidjan, the capital, by May. In 2011, at least one journalist and two media workers were killed in the country, as a political and military standoff ensued between then-incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alassane Ouattara.

Hundreds of journalists worldwide have been forced to leave their home countries to escape violence or persecution. Nowhere is the problem more pronounced than in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, where chaos, war, and the threat of jail have forced dozens of journalists to seek refuge in neighboring countries. CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program has provided help in covering medical expenses and other needs to more than 100 journalists in the region in the past 18 months.

To find sustainable and cohesive solutions, CPJ, in conjunction with the Rory Peck Trust, hosted a conference in Nairobi in December to improve assistance to the region’s journalists in exile. Around 50 participants, including representatives of local and international human rights organizations, press freedom groups, and journalists in exile, gathered to consider better strategies for emergency assistance. In 2012, CPJ will begin to implement new strategies and continue to improve the lives of journalists fleeing for their safety.

Engaging the U.N.

Starting with the global launch of Attacks on the Press at the U.N. headquarters in February, CPJ worked to ensure that the United Nations prioritized the promotion of press freedom throughout 2011. (A video of our press conference can be viewed here.) A highlight was the joint meeting between CPJ, Reporters Without Borders, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June in which the U.N. chief pledged to make press freedom–particularly free expression online–a priority in his second term.

In an ongoing battle with a coalition of civil society organizations, UNESCO’s executive board again deferred action on the life sciences prize funded by Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. CPJ and other groups have consistently voiced their opposition to the prize, arguing that the country’s record on human rights, including press freedom, makes the prize incompatible with UNESCO’s mission. In the end, implementation of the prize was halted, for a second time, and will be revisited in 2012.

All Cuban journalists finally released

CPJ achieved a victory in 2011 by helping win the release of all journalists imprisoned in Cuba. The island nation was once tied with China for holding the largest number of journalists behind bars. CPJ’s in-depth reporting and tireless advocacy over the course of eight years resulted in the release of 32 imprisoned journalists in Cuba, with the last one freed this year on April 8. The freed journalists have recounted stories of their imprisonment, liberation, and exile in a series of first-person stories on the CPJ Blog.

We know, however, that these victories are incomplete until Cuban journalists are able to work safely in their home country. In July, CPJ published a special report, “After the Black Spring: Cuba’s New Repression,” on the significant challenges that remain. CPJ continues to work through public and diplomatic channels to keep the pressure on Havana to reform its media policies. 

The right to cover the Arab uprising

CPJ documented well over 520 press freedom violations in the Middle East and North Africa–including 18 journalists killed while reporting on the wave of conflict and political unrest. Events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and beyond dramatically underscored the crucial role played by the media.

CPJ continues to expose violations in these volatile environments and demand justice for those targeted while reporting to ensure that media in countries transitioning to democracy are able to maintain their independence. Our work has also helped journalists remain safe by alerting them to specific dangers. For example, CPJ kept a tally of violations in Libya, while in Egypt and elsewhere, we reported on media outlets that were blocked during critical times. We advised citizen journalists on how to keep their online videos from being removed, reported on the Syrian government’s tacit approval of online attacks, and shed light on what was more broadly at stake for media in the uprisings. Most recently, we intervened to ensure that journalists were able to obtain visas to report inside Libya.  

CPJ stands up for journalists in Pakistan

Pakistan is the deadliest country for journalists for the second consecutive year, with seven journalists killed in the line of duty in 2011, a toll that surpasses war-torn Libya. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, a CPJ delegation met with President Asif Ali Zardari to raise concerns over the growing number of targeted attacks on journalists in Pakistan and urge his administration to ensure that journalists are free to report on sensitive issues. President Zardari committed to reverse his country’s record of impunity, but that challenge remains. In November, CPJ presented investigative reporter Umar Cheema with an International Press Freedom Award to honor his courageous journalism and help draw wider attention to the dangers facing the Pakistani press.

As threats against Pakistani journalists continue, CPJ has kept up the pressure on Pakistani authorities to stop the targeting of the press, and provided an international platform for those journalists in peril to expose the fear being perpetrated. CPJ provided safety guidelines, and our Journalist Assistance Program also worked to help those who have gone into hiding or need urgent relocation or trauma counseling.

Russia makes halting progress in battle against impunity

CPJ has conducted a series of missions to Russia to draw attention to the high rate of impunity for journalist murders. We are finally making headway after years of official denial and indifference.

In September 2010, after meeting with our delegation, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, responsible for probing the most serious crimes, pledged to pursue all 19 cases documented by CPJ. This year, prosecutors won a landmark conviction in the 2009 murder of Anastasiya Baburova, a freelance reporter with the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. In May, authorities arrested the alleged gunman suspected of murdering journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow in 2006. The gunman’s indictment marks a renewed attempt to prosecute the Politkovskaya case.

CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator conducted a three-month extended mission to Russia this summer, where she pursued independent investigations in strategic cases and worked in close consultation with local journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders. The rate of journalist murders appears to be on the decline, though one journalist was assassinated in December, which shows the violence is not over.

Seeking justice for those killed in 2011

At CPJ, fallen journalists are not forgotten. Political conflict and unrest proved deadly for the press in 2011, and governments failed to prosecute those who targeted reporters for their work, CPJ research showed.

At least 43 journalists were killed worldwide in direct relation to their work this year. Seven deaths occurred in Pakistan, where 29 journalists have been killed in the past five years. Libya and Iraq, each with five fatalities, and Mexico, with three deaths, also ranked high worldwide for journalism-related fatalities. Regionally, most deaths occurred in the Middle East, where 18 journalists perished this year, many while covering the uprisings that swept the Arab world.

Whether in meetings with the presidents of Mexico and Pakistan–countries where impunity in cases of killed journalists prevail–or through discussions with the United Nations and regional bodies, CPJ has consistently advocated for justice and carried out preventive measures to counter the assassination of journalists.

CPJ is grateful for the generous grant and matching funds provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation which makes possible our Global Campaign Against Impunity.

Fighting online oppressors

Marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3, CPJ’s special report, “10 Tools of Online Oppressors,” revealed how censorship is evolving in the digital age. Although governments still rely on old-fashioned methods to silence dissent (about half of all imprisoned journalists were targeted for their online reporting), CPJ continues to assist journalists with countering increasingly sophisticated tactics online.

In September, CPJ convened an Online Press Freedom Summit in San Francisco to raise awareness among Silicon Valley leaders about the crucial role they play in safeguarding freedom and privacy online. The participants included technology company executives, investors, and engineers–together with journalists and activists working on the front lines of conflict and political change. Syrian activist Rami Nakhle delivered the most compelling message at the summit when he reported that dozens of people had been interrogated in Syria over their Facebook accounts, and that 17 of his colleagues were imprisoned or missing.

On global expansion

CPJ enjoys greater influence and more international reach than ever before. In keeping with the required evolution 30 years after our founding, CPJ’s international network of correspondents has grown significantly in 2011 and now includes team members in Mexico City, Bogotá, São Paulo, Moscow, Istanbul, Dakar, Nairobi, Bangkok, and Hong Kong.  We also have advocacy representatives in London and Brussels.

Upcoming events

CPJ’s comprehensive global guide to press freedom, Attacks on the Press, will be launched in February. Published annually since 1995, the book contains expert analyses of the key factors obstructing a free press. The 2011 edition includes CPJ’s thoroughly documented data on killed, imprisoned, and exiled journalists. Thematic highlights include the evolution of censorship as a transnational violation in a globalized information age; early lessons for the Arab revolutions; the trap of Internet crime laws; state media as an anti-press tool; fixers on the frontlines in Afghanistan; Europe’s lagging press freedom leadership; and the sacrifice of press freedom in the name of development. See our events page in January for more details.


CPJ’s Distress Fund provides emergency grants to journalists facing persecution for their work. Support our work and give an end-of-year gift today.

Best of the Blog in 2011

Awramba Times is latest Ethiopian paper to vanish (December)

Awardees to their colleagues: Buck the system (November)

From Karachi to New York: A tale of fear, loss, and hope (October)

Mexico murder may be social media watershed (September)

Smashing the hand that holds the pen (August)

Malaysia court gets joke, drops case against blogger (March)

China limits reporting on Egypt unrest in favor of ‘harmony’ (January)

Watching Egypt disappear from the Internet (January)