Syrians take shelter at a refugee camp near the border with Turkey. (Reuters/Muhammad Najdet Qadour/Shaam News Network)
Syrians take shelter at a refugee camp near the border with Turkey. (Reuters/Muhammad Najdet Qadour/Shaam News Network)

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, June 2013

CPJ releases report on journalists in exile

Fifty-five journalists fled their homes fearing threats of violence and imprisonment in the past year, according to CPJ’s annual survey, which is based on cases the organization has supported, from which it derives global trends. The report, “Journalists in Exile,” was released on June 19, ahead of World Refugee Day.

The report found that Iran and Somalia were the top two countries driving out journalists, with nine and eight journalists fleeing, respectively, in the past 12 months. Ethiopia, Syria, Eritrea, Mexico, and Sri Lanka are also high on the list of countries from which journalists were forced to flee.

Journalists who CPJ assisted cited fear of violence as the top reason for deciding to leave their countries. Others pointed to threats of imprisonment when asked why they fled into exile. In nearly all of the cases, the journalists moved as a last resort, leaving behind their careers, livelihoods, and families to escape intimidation.

Brazilian investigative journalist Mauri König described the persecution that led him to leave his country for two months as “psychological torture.” He thanked CPJ and a partner organization, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, for helping him get to safety.

In Burma, press freedom concerns persist

Ahead of discussions regarding crucial media legislation by the Burmese parliament, CPJ issued a special report this month that described a repressive media environment in which journalists are still encountering threats and obstacles to their reporting. The report, which was based on interviews with about 30 journalists and editors inside the country, also pointed out the government’s failure to reform legislation that restricts journalists’ ability to report on local issues.

The report draws attention to a new draft publishing bill that limits freedom of expression. The bill could force newspapers to submit stories on certain topics for pre-publication scrutiny, and a new registrar would have sweeping authority to grant, renew, and revoke publishing licenses.

CPJ issued several recommendations to the Burmese government, including that the bill be withdrawn from consideration. CPJ also suggested that authorities abolish or at least amend legal restrictions, including the 2004 Electronics Act, that limit the online freedoms of Burmese citizens. CPJ is seeking to meet with the Burmese government to secure reforms that guarantee a free press in this transitioning democracy.

Coverage of Turkey garners worldwide attention

CPJ’s coverage of the ongoing demonstrations in Turkey received much attention this month by local and international news outlets and on social media. Our news alerts and blogs, as well as our October 2012 special report called “Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis,” were widely cited in publications and TV programs all over the world, and Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator, was interviewed several times in connection with journalists being harassed or attacked during the protests.

Turkey, which is also the world’s leading jailer of journalists, has revealed itself to be a complicated place for the media, especially with government officials threatening to restrict the Internet. Our documentation has highlighted how Turkish journalists are being targeted by both government officials and protesters, with multiple reports of attacks, obstruction, detention, and vandalism.

Sri Lanka scraps proposed media code

Local and international journalists and press freedom groups including CPJ reported this month on a draft media code introduced in Sri Lankan parliament that would impose harsh restrictions on journalists’ ability to cover events. A few days after CPJ joined the groups in condemning the code, saying it would “further suppress the country’s already dwindling free press,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa told the Sri Lankan Ministry of Information to scrap it.

The code, as CPJ had pointed out, used broad and vaguely worded language to ban “criticism affecting foreign relations” and warned against publishing content that offends “expectations of the public, morality of the country.” Local press said it would further the self-censorship that was already pervasive in the country.

But the threat has not yet passed. Local journalists said they believe this maneuver by the government will allow authorities to revisit the debate in the future. The country will host a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November, which will go ahead despite attempts to boycott it. CPJ will continue to monitor the case and to hold the government accountable for its actions.

CPJ discusses Pakistan at Chatham House in UK

CPJ board member and prominent author Ahmed Rashid joined Elizabeth Rubin, author of CPJ’s recent Pakistan report, “Roots of Impunity,” at Chatham House on June 14 to discuss the challenges faced by local Pakistani journalists.

Rashid said that the root of the problem was the government’s policy of allowing the Taliban and other militant groups to operate freely even as they take part in international efforts to stem terrorism. This has given the Pakistani military and intelligence services an unlimited mandate with no accountability. Rubin described a cycle of violence and impunity in which Pakistani journalists are targeted not only by militants, criminals, and warlords, but also by political, military, and intelligence operatives.

CPJ has written extensively about the state of press freedom in Pakistan. Our recent report included recommendations to the Pakistani government and requests for meetings with officials from Nawaz Sharif’s government.

Documentary filmmaker freed in Venezuela

CPJ’s coverage of U.S. journalist Timothy Hallet Tracy helped add international pressure to Venezuelan authorities to release the documentary filmmaker from jail. Tracy, who had been imprisoned in April on trumped-up charges of espionage, was freed and deported from the country in early June.

CPJ had issued a news alert in April calling on Venezuelan authorities to release Tracy or to present evidence to back up their accusations. The journalist was accused of being involved in a plot to destabilize the country on behalf of an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency. Tracy, a producer and consultant for movies and television in California, had been in Venezuela filming events since 2012, according to news reports.

A letter penned from Ethiopian prison

Early this month, CPJ sent a copy of a letter written from prison by veteran Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega to the U.K.’s Independent for its Voices in Danger campaign, which publicizes the plight of jailed or harassed reporters around the world. The Independent published a story, reprinting Eskinder’s letter and extensively detailing the blogger’s case. Eskinder has been jailed on trumped-up terrorism charges since September 2011.

Eskinder’s letter, called “I shall persevere!”, is a reaction to the Ethiopian Supreme Court’s ruling in May that rejected his appeal. He also discussed the human rights crisis in Ethiopia and described the personal toll of facing 18 years behind bars.

CPJ’s extensive coverage of Eskinder’s case has helped make the journalist the symbol of Ethiopia’s crackdown on dissent in the wake of the Arab Spring. This month, Eskinder was moved to a different section of Kality Prison, where he can now receive any visitors. The day after his move, a local journalist visited Eskinder and later told CPJ that the blogger was grateful for CPJ’s help and hoped to receive more copies of The New Yorker, his favorite magazine. In 2012, CPJ had sent to the jailed journalist several issues of The New Yorker that were autographed by David Remnick, the magazine’s editor.


CPJ’s Distress Fund provides emergency grants to journalists facing persecution for their work. Support our work and make a gift today.

Upcoming events

CPJ has scheduled its annual International Press Freedom Awards for Tuesday, November 26, 2013, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. For tickets, please call CPJ’s Development Office at +1 (212) 465-1004, ext. 113.

Best of the blog

Snowden travels trace a path of government hypocrisy

New Ecuadoran legislation seen as a gag on critics

Threats to Northern Irish journalists on the rise

Remembering Iraq, a forgotten war

Siege over, but damage to Ugandan press may last