As world leaders take to UNGA stage, CPJ highlights countries of concern

Press freedom records of Egypt, Russia, Iran, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Ecuador

New York, September 25, 2015–Each year, the world’s leaders are invited to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, where they are given a platform to speak freely and openly. But while the leaders of many countries enjoy this privilege, their journalists back home are jailed, threatened, attacked, or even killed for reporting the news.

Here is a list of seven countries with poor press freedom records whose leaders are due to speak at the UNGA this year.

Egypt: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (@AlsisiOfficial)

  • On September 23, el-Sisi pardoned Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. But this was just one step toward addressing Egypt’s shameful press freedom record. At least 18 other journalists are behind bars in relation to their work.
  • An anti-terrorism law approved by el-Sisi criminalizes basic reporting and gives a broad definition of terrorist crimes that can be used to threaten or imprison journalists.
  • On September 24, CPJ wrote a letter to el-Sisi calling for the release of all journalists behind bars, including Shawkan, a freelance photographer whose detention since August 2013 has exceeded the two-year legal limit.

Russia: President Vladimir Putin (@KremlinRussia_E)

  • Since 1992, at least 56 journalists have been killed in relation to their work in Russia; 36 of them were murdered, including renowned investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
  • In May, Putin issued a decree that extends a ban on coverage of military casualty figures to “peacetime, during special operations,” as well as in wartime. Such coverage, deemed to be disclosure of state secrets, is punishable by prison terms up to 20 years.
  • Russian authorities in Crimea shut down broadcasts by Ukrainian TV channels and allocated the airwaves to Russian state TV. Seeing almost no prospects for doing business under a Russian government, many Ukrainian cable operators shut down their offices.

Iran: President Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani)

  • Iran has ranked among the world’s worst jailers of the press every year since 2009. In its most recent prison census, CPJ found that Iranian authorities were holding at least 30 journalists in jail, making it the second worst jailer of journalists in the world after China.
  • Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, jailed since July 2014, has been held longer than any other international reporter in Iran and is the U.S. correspondent longest held by any foreign government since CPJ began tracking imprisonments. He has been charged with espionage.
  • Iranian authorities maintain one of the toughest Internet censorship regimes in the world, blocking millions of websites. Iran is the seventh most censored country in the world, according to CPJ’s 2015 list of the 10 most censored countries.

China: President Xi Jinping

  • With at least 44 journalists in jail, China was the leading jailer of journalists in the world, according to CPJ’s December prison census. For more than a decade, China has been among the top three jailers of journalists, a distinction it is unlikely to lose any time soon.
  • In April, freelance reporter Gao Yu was given seven years in prison for leaking state secrets. In August, media support and human rights groups wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials, calling for the 71-year-old journalist’s release.
  • International journalists are often threatened with their visas not being renewed. In recent years, New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy and Reuters features writer Paul Mooney were forced to leave mainland China after their visas were denied.

Nigeria: Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari)

  • Boko Haram has threatened and attacked journalists and media outlets over coverage the groups deems unfavorable to its cause. But government security forces have used the pretext of Boko Haram and the war on terror to threaten, harass, and detain journalists.
  • At least four journalists were attacked in one week this June. Another editor told CPJ in July that he had received death threats from who he suspected was a member of Boko Haram.
  • Since 1992, at least 10 Nigerian journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work, CPJ research shows. CPJ is investigating the deaths of nine others who were killed in unclear circumstances. Nigeria was ranked 12th on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

Mexico: President Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN)

  • At least 35 journalists have been killed in relation to their work in Mexico since 1992, when CPJ began keeping records.
  • Ninety percent of journalist murders in Mexico go unresolved, which leaves journalists wide open to attacks.
  • Following the murder of photographer Rubén Espinosa in July, a photographer who fled the state of Veracruz and was killed in Mexico City, more than 700 journalists, intellectuals, and artists sent a letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, urging him to put an end to the cycle of violence and to fully investigate crimes against the press. CPJ and PEN supported the letter.

Ecuador: President Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael)

  • Ecuador has one of the worst press freedom records in Latin America, with journalists subject to legal measures, defamation suits, and public insults.
  • The independent free press organization Fundamedios may close following allegations by the government that it has become a political organization critical of Correa.
  • Authorities’ attempts to amend the constitution to categorize communications as a “public service” are seen as another attempt to censor news and control information.

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Samantha Libby
Advocacy Officer
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Ashley Parent
Communications Associate
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