News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, February 2014

CPJ releases annual publication Attacks on the Press

CPJ launched the 2014 edition of its flagship publication, Attacks on the Press, on February 12, which was widely covered by local and international media outlets, including The Guardian, Reuters, and the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman. The annual assessment of global press freedom found that digital surveillance, the unchecked murder of journalists, and indirect commercial and political pressures on the media are three of the primary threats to free expression.

Three pieces in this year’s Attacks on the Press–including a foreword to the print edition by Jacob Weisberg, chairman of the Slate Group and member of CPJ’s board of directors–analyze the damaging effects to press freedom caused by the U.S. mass surveillance programs. The scope of the NSA’s digital spying raises doubts about the U.S. commitment to freedom of expression and strengthens the hand of China and other restrictive nations in their calls for more government control over the Internet.

Other essays in Attacks explore the inability to solve journalist murders, which feeds an atmosphere of intimidation; Beijing’s influence on the Hong Kong and Taiwanese press; Syrian journalists’ striving to report, despite the dangers; the insistence on “positive news” in sub-Saharan Africa; finding the courage to cover sexual violence; Nelson Mandela’s legacy; and much more. The edition also includes an essay on organized crime cartels in Mexico City’s metropolitan area, written by Mike O’Connor, CPJ’s Mexico correspondent who died suddenly in late December.

The latest edition of Attacks also features CPJ’s Risk List, which identifies the 10 places where the organization documented the most significant downward trends in 2013. This year, CPJ chose to include the supranational platform of cyberspace because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet, a critical sphere for journalists worldwide. Other places on the list include Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Vietnam, and Syria, where journalists faced multiple risks from all sides in the conflict.

Along with the print edition of Attacks on the Press, CPJ also published online snapshots of data for almost 60 countries. Regional sections of the edition are available online in Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, and Turkish. The print edition is published by Bloomberg Press, an imprint of Wiley, and is available for purchase.

CPJ’s chairman, Sandra Mims Rowe, and Bloomberg News’ editor-in-chief, Matthew Winkler, hosted a reception at Bloomberg’s world headquarters on February 25 to mark the release of the 2014 edition of Attacks on the Press.

CPJ will host several events throughout the spring to promote the 2014 edition. For more information on upcoming events, click here.


CPJ contacts Facebook, helps restores access to Nigerian outlet’s page

CPJ helped restore Facebook access this month to a critical Nigerian news outlet that has been harassed in the past by authorities. Internet users attempting to access the Facebook page of Premium Times received the message: “The link you’re trying to go to has been reported as abusive by others on Facebook. For your safety, we’ve blocked it.”

At the request of the Premium Times, CPJ Internet Advocacy Coordinator Geoffrey King reached out to Facebook directly to inquire about the page. “It looks as if the page may have been classified as containing spam or malware,” Facebook representatives told King. “This could have happened by mistake or it is possible that someone at some point has hijacked the publication’s website to host bad links. Either way, we’ve cleared the issue and people should once again be able to post links.”

On February 5, CPJ’s West Africa correspondent, Peter Nkanga, received a letter from lawyers of Premium Times that stated: “We wish to inform our friends and interveners that, following that letter and interventions of right to freedom of expression voices, including the CPJ, Facebook has unblocked Premium Times’ Web-link.”

In September 2013, the Nigerian government accused Premium Times of publishing reports that “incite mutiny” within the military and undermine ongoing military operations against terrorist activities in Nigeria, according to reports. The country’s information minister, Labaran Maku, who made the comments on live television, did not specify any articles.


Uzbek leader cancels Czech visit

CPJ was part of a campaign in February that urged Czech President Milos Zeman not to meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov during his February visit to Prague. After two open letters signed by a coalition of 31 organizations, including Human Rights Watch and CPJ, Karimov canceled the trip following statements by Czech government ministers who said they would not meet with him, according to reports.

In the first open letter, CPJ and others called on Zeman not to lend legitimacy to Karimov’s authoritarian rule by receiving him as a guest in a European democracy. “For nearly 25 years, Karimov has ruled over a country in which torture is systematic in police custody and in prisons, where dozens of human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful activists are held on politically motivated charges and thousands of people are locked up simply for practicing their religion–Christians as well as Muslims,” the letter stated. “The government tolerates no freedom of speech or assembly.”

The letter elicited a stunning response from Zeman, who said that Karimov’s visit was a “matter of diplomatic courtesy.” The Czech leader also said the groups had failed to protest Karimov’s previous visits to Europe and wished us “more awareness and less hypocrisy.”

The organizations rebutted the charges in another joint open letter, pointing to specific examples in the past when the groups had criticized the authoritarian leader and his policies concerning human rights and press freedom.

Then, on February 13, CPJ learned that Karimov had indefinitely postponed his visit to Prague.  A spokesman for Zeman said the Uzbek delegation had canceled the trip due to scheduling problems. No alternative date had been set.

Uzbekistan’s repressive climate of press freedom, including the decades-long harassment of government critics, has virtually wiped out the media landscape, according to CPJ research. At least four journalists were held behind bars in the country, and have been allegedly tortured and denied appropriate medical care, according to CPJ’s prison census conducted on January 1. Human rights activists, including those in exile, have also faced official harassment and prosecution after reporting on corruption and abuses in Uzbekistan.

Seeking justice for murder in Mexico

CPJ and other international and local human rights and journalist groups were granted access to the official files in the investigation of a murder of a Mexican journalist. Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, who covered crime and security for the newspapers Notisur and Liberal del Sur, was abducted on February 5 in Veracruz state. His body was found six days later, after which CPJ called on Mexican authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and apprehend the killers.

The day after Jiménez’s body was found, the Veracruz state chief of staff, Erick Lagos, told the daily Milenio that the murder was a matter of personal revenge and was not linked to Jiménez’s journalism. Local journalists told CPJ they were disturbed by how quickly the authorities had ruled out a journalism-related motive in the case. State spokeswoman Gina Domínguez then backtracked and told reporters that authorities had not ruled out any possible motive and that they continued to investigate, but that they were principally looking into the theory of a personal dispute.

On February 14, Veracruz State Attorney General, Felipe Amadeo Flores Espinosa, wrote to CPJ and said he shared CPJ’s concern about the case and that it was a priority of the state government to fully solve the crime. He told CPJ that several international and local human rights and journalist groups, including CPJ, would be granted access to the files in the investigation, which he said was ongoing and would include the journalist’s work as a possible motive. He also said that six people had been detained, including the mastermind of the killing, and that three more suspects were being sought.

CPJ found that Mexico is the seventh worst nation in combating deadly anti-press violence, according to the organization’s 2013 Impunity Index.


Joining forces to free Egyptian journalists in jail

CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program has helped raise international awareness of journalists being held behind bars in Egypt. At least nine journalists are in prison in Egypt, four of whom are affiliated with the Qatari-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Our MENA program has consistently called for the release of all journalists in Egypt. CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour also wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he reflected on his own experiences of being indicted by the Egyptian government.

CPJ’s New York staff joined the #FreeAJStaff campaign that went viral on Twitter. The staff and CPJ board members posed for photos on social media and CPJ created an infographic that was widely shared and retweeted. The Al-Jazeera staff has thanked CPJ for its support.

On February 4, CPJ’s Nairobi-based East Africa representative, Tom Rhodes, joined protesters in Nairobi to call for the release of the Al-Jazeera journalists, including the broadcaster’s East Africa correspondent, Peter Greste. “CPJ is concerned that if such a crackdown is done on an international media house, what is the situation for local journalists?” said CPJ’s Rhodes.


Thanks from a journalist’s family

CPJ received a moving letter of thanks from Lhamo Tso, wife of jailed Tibetan journalist Dhondup Wangchen. CPJ awarded Wangchen its 2012 International Press Freedom Award in absentia. CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program has provided financial support for Wangchen’s family, helping them pay for living expenses while the journalist serves a six-year jail on charges of “inciting separatism.”

“I am very grateful to CPJ for its help and support, and commend the staff for the wonderful work that they do,” Tso’s letter said. “By giving Dhondup the award, CPJ has recognized the importance of his work and the sacrifice he has made. Because of CPJ, more people in the world know Dhondup’s story.

“CPJ’s grant helped to pay for my rent and food while I was taking English classes, and some of the money went towards my children’s rent and expenses in India. I am very grateful to CPJ for its support, which helped me and my family at a difficult time,” she said.

Wangchen was one of more than 60 journalists whom CPJ assisted in 2012. Each year, CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program supports reporters, editors, and photographers from across the globe with legal, financial, medical, exile, and family support.



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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