News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, November 2013

Photo credit, Barbara Nitke (CPJ)

Journalists honored at CPJ’s annual award ceremony

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef was among four journalists who received CPJ’s 2013 International Press Freedom Award on November 26. Youssef has used humor to report on and criticize government failures to improve the economy and public services, and its efforts to suppress opinion. In November, Youssef’s show was suspended.

“Freedom of expression is not a privilege; it is a universal right,” Youssef told the crowd gathered at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. “Now, you don’t have to be a journalist or a reporter. You can just be an ordinary citizen with a camera and a YouTube channel. This is how we started. I don’t know how this will end. … But at least this is how we started.”

CPJ also awarded Janet Hinostroza, a leading TV reporter in Ecuador, who has continued to work despite threats to her and her family; Nedim Şener, who faces up to 15 years in jail on terrorism charges because of his reporting; and Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who was not present at the ceremony because he is serving a 12-year prison sentence for “conducting propaganda” against the state.

Thanks to Dan Doctoroff, chief executive officer and president of Bloomberg, who chaired the ceremony, the dinner raised a record $1.65 million for CPJ’s worldwide press freedom advocacy. Many of the distinguished guests at the event also pledged support during a special appeal at the end of the night. Those funds were matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, contributing another $200,000.

Norman Pearlstine, executive vice president and chief content officer of Time Inc., presented Paul Steiger, founding editor-in-chief of ProPublica and former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, with the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for his lifetime commitment to press freedom.

Global appeal for a jailed journalist

A petition calling for the release of jailed Vietnamese blogger, Nguyen Van Hai has attracted more than 8,000 signatures online. Hundreds of guests at CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards ceremony on November 26 also signed their names to cards calling for Hai’s release.

CPJ will submit the petition to the Vietnamese government in early 2014, along with the message that journalists around the world should not be silenced or subject to reprisal. Click here to add your name to the petition.

Hai, a blogger who also goes by “Dieu Cay,” was sentenced in 2012 to 12 years in prison and five years of house arrest for “conducting propaganda” against the state. His blog posts touched on politically sensitive issues, including government corruption and protests against China, which disputes Vietnam’s claim to nearby maritime territories. He has endured solitary confinement and waged a hunger strike.

CPJ will continue to advocate for Hai’s release. We look forward to honoring him with the award in person.

Journalist released on bail in India

On November 12, Lingaram Kodopi, an Indian journalist, was released on bail after almost two years in prison. He faces charges of sedition, waging war against the state, and criminal conspiracy after being accused of being a Maoist associate, according to news reports. Kodopi has consistently denied the allegations and said he has been targeted because of his work exposing police wrongdoing.

“Jailing Lingaram Kodopi for more than two years was a travesty of justice,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “We welcome the Indian Supreme Court’s small but significant step allowing Lingaram Kodopi to be released on bail. CPJ will continue advocating on his behalf.”

CPJ makes Sri Lanka trend on Twitter

Ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that was being hosted in Colombo, CPJ launched a Thunderclap campaign to draw attention to Sri Lanka’s abysmal press freedom record, which includes the detention of two international journalists in November.

After CPJ’s campaign was launched, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron visited Sri Lankan journalists and also brought up the need for an international investigation into human rights abuses during his meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa rejected the calls.

The campaign, which was created by CPJ’s Asia program and Speak Justice campaign, also linked to a public letter issued by CPJ that called on CHOGM leaders to urge efficient investigations into journalist murders in the country.

Sri Lanka became a trending topic on Twitter in November, thanks to the campaign. CPJ’s Asia program research associate, Sumit Galhotra, said, “CPJ’s Thunderclap message was shared by more than 300 supporters with a social media reach of almost 2.5 million, and helped break the silence surrounding Sri Lanka’s abysmal press freedom record.”

CPJ’s Asia program also assembled a Storify to track the Twitter traffic as it unfolded.

CPJ spotlights Ethiopia’s press record

The African Media Leaders Forum, which took place in Addis Ababa in the first week of November, encourages economic cooperation among its member states and is billed as Africa’s largest gathering of media chiefs and news industry stakeholders. CPJ helped put press freedom on the agenda at the forum.

The forum’s speakers exclusively used CPJ data in their criticism of Ethiopia’s press freedom record. Prior to the event, CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita reached out to the forum’s participants and speakers and provided them with information on the climate of free expression in Ethiopia. CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes, who attended the forum, spoke about a number of issues affecting press freedom, including Woubshet Taye‘s arrest, the detention of Ethio-Midhar journalists right before the event, and the plight in general of exiled Ethiopian journalists.

“CPJ is the biggest thorn in the side of the Ethiopian government,” CPJ’s Rhodes said after the forum.

One grateful Burundian journalist also publicly thanked CPJ at the forum. During the question-and-answer part of the Media Legal Reform panel on regional anti-press media laws, the owner of a Burundian radio station thanked CPJ–and Rhodes, in particular–for their success in advocating for the release from jail of a radio journalist. The journalist was also present.

CPJ’s Keita compiled a Storify that showed much of the social media activity around the event.

After months of advocacy, Liberian editor freed

On November 18, a Liberian court ordered the official release of editor Rodney Sieh, who had been imprisoned in August for failing to pay damages in connection with a libel suit filed against him by a former official. Sieh’s paper, FrontPageAfrica, was also shut down, but resumed publication on November 25, Sieh told CPJ.

CPJ repeatedly advocated on Sieh’s behalf, voicing concern about his health, which reportedly deteriorated in prison. In early September, CPJ also wrote an open letter to President Sirleaf, calling on her to reform the libel laws in the country. CPJ received a response to its statement about Sieh’s health and the open letter to the president. The US ambassador to Liberia also told CPJ that President Sirleaf had mentioned CPJ’s letter in talks with the ambassador.

The court ruled in favor of Sieh after the complainant filed a three-count Bill of Information that waived all judgment, money, and claims against Sieh.

Recent events and upcoming reports

Leonard Downie, Jr., Arizona State University journalism professor and former Washington Post executive editor, and author of CPJ’s first comprehensive report on the state of the press in the United States, spoke at a November 14 event organized by CPJ and hosted by the New America’s Foundation in New York City. The event participants included CPJ Vice Chair Kathleen Carroll, New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger, and Steve Coll, the dean of Columbia’s Journalism School. Click here for a podcast of the event.

CPJ will be releasing its annual reports on journalists killed and journalists imprisoned around the world. The reports will be out in December.

In January 2014, CPJ will release a report about the press freedom climate in Russia in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.


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

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