Journalist Assistance helps record number in 2012

An increase in press freedom violations last year created a surge of need among journalists, driving a record number of assistance cases for CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program in 2012. More than three-quarters of the 195 journalists who received support during the year came from East Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, reflecting the challenges–including threats of violence and imprisonment–of working in these repressive regions. Here are some of the highlights of our work over the last year:

The majority of journalists who sought CPJ’s help faced a continuous threat of violence–particularly in Somalia. Journalists there were threatened both by the Islamist Al-Shabaab militia and local officials. The latter also systematically failed to investigate attacks on the press, placing Somalia second on CPJ’s 2012 Impunity Index, a list of countries where journalists are routinely slain and their killers go free. Terrified by harassment and violence as well as lack of justice, more than 78 journalists have fled the country in the last five years. In 2012, the bulk travelled to Nairobi, where they settled into extremely difficult lives as refugees–struggling to find work and often unable to support themselves, all while under threat from the Al-Shabaab presence in Kenya.

Exiled Somali journalist Mohamed Garane told CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes, “Somali journalists are facing the toughest time ever. These journalists have fled from their home country seeking refuge and protection [but] they are still facing insecurity in Kenya.” Garane added, “Some of them are threatened by elements claiming to belong to Al-Shabaab on a daily basis while others are beaten, extorted, or detained illegally by the police.”

CPJ responded to the needs of these journalists by providing them with small grants to help with initial living expenses and in some cases to bring family members left behind. CPJ also provides grants for medical support. In April 2012, JA provided assistance to several of the journalists who were injured when a bomb exploded in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. On occasion JA will provide non-financial assistance such as letters of support. 

Threat of imprisonment was the primary reason given by journalists for fleeing Eritrea and Ethiopia; the latter is Africa’s leading jailers of journalists. Martin Schibbye, a Swedish freelance journalist who was jailed along with colleague Johan Persson for more than 14 months in Ethiopia, described the effects of a 2009 anti-terror law passed in the country after his release, saying, “In our profession, you need to talk to both sides to get the story. They have criminalized talking to one side of the conflict. Just meeting with a member of an organization or communicating with an e-mail is conflated with terrorism.”

For those Eritreans CPJ helped in 2012, the harsh uncertainty of exile seemed a better option than the possibility of arrest and indefinite imprisonment. Eritrea is the most censored country in the world and the leading abuser of due process, according to CPJ research. JA provided Eritrean journalists in exile with financial and non-financial assistance similar to what those from Somalia received.

In 2011, CPJ responded to the continuous need for help in the area by creating an East Africa partnership with regional and international groups, with the aim of increasing awareness of journalists’ needs and allowing for more case referrals and faster response times. The project played a role in JA being able to support nearly twice the number of East African journalists assisted in 2011.

Forty-three of CPJ’s assistance cases last year came from journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa. While Western journalists flocked to the region to cover the conflicts and aftermaths of the Arab Spring, local journalists continued to bear the brunt of deadly tactics for silencing the media.

Iran, for the fourth consecutive year, was responsible for one of the highest number of requests for exile support. Since the country’s 2009 contested presidential election, authorities have continued to aggressively quash dissent, maintaining a revolving prison door for critical journalists. The increase in prosecutions prompted 21 journalists to flee into neighboring countries last year. “Our country is not in a position to allow the media to publish (any) news or analysis which is not compatible with the regime’s and national interests,” Mohammad Hossieni, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance, said in a statement posted on a government website in July. Although the exodus has slowed in the last year, many Iranian journalists remain in migratory limbo in Turkey and Iraq, burdened with financial worries and continuous fear of retaliation.

While many journalists supported by JA are in exile, some who request assistance need only temporary relocation. In 2012, with support from partner organizations, JA helped two journalists in immediate risk to reach safe houses. In both cases, the reporters were able to return home and continue working. CPJ also supported victims of physical attacks, including journalists who had been shot, burned, and tortured.  In several cases, we supported journalists requiring psychological and emotional support.

Our program also continues to provide support to families of murdered and imprisoned journalists when those families are struggling to meet basic needs. Small grants allow the families of jailed reporters and editors to make to trips to visit them in prison, often bringing provisions such as food, clothing, and medicine.

If you are interested in supporting the work of CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program, you can donate to our distress fund; or you can let us know if you have media equipment, in-kind donations, or pro-bono services to offer a journalist in need. You can also donate directly to our Speak Justice campaign to help support the families of murdered journalists. To find out more about ways to help, visit the Journalist Assistance page.