Remembering Tony Lewis
CPJ mourns the death this month of Anthony Lewis, one of the organization’s founding board members and a recipient of its 2009 Burton Benjamin Award for lifetime achievement. Lewis passed away on March 25.
“Back in 1981, when CPJ was being formed and its board of directors assembled, Tony Lewis … was one of the first people we approached,” Michael Massing, CPJ’s co-founder and board member, wrote in the CPJ Blog. “At the time, CPJ was an idea without money, office, or staff, but Tony at once saw the value of such an organization and signed on. His presence on CPJ’s board and masthead helped give the organization immediate credibility; his devoted participation was invaluable as we expanded in size and mission over the next 30 years.”
Lewis was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former New York Times columnist, and one of the foremost thinkers on freedom of speech and First Amendment rights.
Cautious victory for Inter-American human rights
In a tentative win for human rights and press freedom in the Americas, the Organization of American States (OAS) reaffirmed the autonomy and independence of the regional human rights system and rejected attempts aimed at neutralizing the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the OAS extraordinary assembly on March 22. CPJ played an important role in framing the debate and publicizing the threats.
The 35-member states ratified the ability of the commission to continue receiving voluntary contributions. Analysts and human rights advocates believe the decision was a blow to the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, known as ALBA, that have been pushing to block the human rights system from getting outside funding.
The ALBA efforts were countered by sustained support of international human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, which campaigned toward preserving the independence and autonomy of the IACHR and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression. On March 18, CPJ sent a letter to all OAS Foreign ministers urging them to oppose any attempts to debilitate the regional human rights system.
But the battle is not over. A paragraph in the resolution instructing the OAS Permanent Council “to continue the dialogue on the core aspects for strengthening” the system means that Ecuador and its ALBA allies will most likely continue to push for restrictive reforms. CPJ will continue to fight any proposals that could make citizens throughout the hemisphere more vulnerable to press freedom violations.
CPJ issues new report on China
China’s new leaders will face unprecedented challenges to controlling the media, even as press efforts to test the system continue to carry great risk, according to a new report released by CPJ on March 11. The report, “Challenged in China: The shifting dynamics of censorship and control,” finds that cracks in Beijing’s Great Firewall are countered by legal risks for journalists and Internet users.
The CPJ report was released at a press briefing at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong by CPJ board member David Schlesinger and CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. CPJ called for China’s leaders to recognize that the Communist Party’s crisis of accountability will persist as long as Beijing keeps up its policy of censorship, propaganda, and retaliation for reporting on matters of public interest.
The report includes a preface by Schlesinger, a video profiling Chinese investigative journalist Liu Jianfeng, and cartoons from the Hexie Farm series by Crazy Crab. The report garnered international coverage and attracted significant interest on social networking sites. The Chinese-language PDF of the report was downloaded more than 3,000 times in the first week.
Charges dropped against Somali journalist
After sustained advocacy efforts by CPJ and other local and international human rights and press freedom groups, the Somali Supreme Court threw out the charges against a 25-year-old journalist who had been imprisoned for conducting an interview with a woman who alleged she was raped. Abdiaziz Abdinuur was arrested on January 10 and sentenced to a year in prison for “offending state institutions” and “false reporting,” although he had not published anything related to the interview. An appeals court later reduced his sentence to six months.
International news coverage followed the conviction. CPJ worked hard to publicize the case and wrote a letter to Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud as well as a series of blogs commenting on the case. The organization also sent a public letter to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of his meeting with President Hassan. In a reply to the letter, Cameron told CPJ that he had personally raised the issue during his February 5 meeting with Hassan.
Prominent Cuban blogger visits CPJ
“It seemed like an impossible dream, but here I am,” Yoani Sánchez, the pioneering figure in Cuba’s independent blogosphere, told a gathering this month at CPJ’s New York offices. After being denied travel authorization at least 20 times in the past, Sánchez stopped by CPJ as part of her first trip abroad in a decade.
CPJ has consistently supported Sánchez’s brave fight to report freely on developments in Cuba. We have called for her release when she was detained, and raised awareness when she was denied permission to travel abroad and when she suffered other forms of official harassment in reprisal for her work.
Sánchez told CPJ that she plans to launch a new publication upon her return to the island nation. If she succeeds, it will be another landmark for the writer behind Generation Y. That blog, which revolutionized the information landscape when it debuted in 2007 by offering critical analysis and coverage, is still mostly inaccessible for the average Cuban citizen. In February, Sánchez wrote a CPJ blog on how Internet access is still elusive in Cuba.
Journalists released in Azerbaijan and India
CPJ advocated widely in recent months for three jailed journalists who were freed in March. Vugar Gonagov, director of the regional TV channel Khayal, and Zaur Guliyev, Khayal TV’s chief editor, were released from Azerbaijani jails where they had been held in pretrial detention for more than a year. Indian TV journalist Naveen Soorinje was also released on bail after being jailed for more than four months for documenting an assault on young women in Karnataka state.
CPJ had covered the journalists’ cases extensively. In the organization’s prison census, conducted on December 1, 2012, Azerbaijan held nine journalists in jail, making the country the seventh worst jailer of journalists in the world. Indian journalist Soorinje was one of the three journalists jailed in India at the time of the census.
CPJ Award winner released in Zimbabwe
Tenacious human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was released on March 25 after being jailed for a week and charged with “obstructing justice.” International outrage followed her arrest, including demonstrations, protest letters, and use of the Twitter hashtag #BeatriceMtetwa. CPJ also helped advocate on Mtetwa’s behalf and appealed in a public letter to the Zimbabwean justice minister to ensure her release.
In 2005, CPJ awarded Mtetwa its International Press Freedom Award, the first time a non-journalist has received the honor. In 2008, Mtetwa returned to New York to receive CPJ’s Burton Benjamin Award for lifetime achievement.
May 2: In the lead-up to World Press Freedom Day, CPJ will launch its annual Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.
May 3: On World Press Freedom Day, CPJ will be represented at several events around the world including UNESCO’s main event in Costa Rica.
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