Even as trade and new systems of communication turn us into global citizens, the information we need to ensure accountability often stops at national borders. New platforms like social media are valuable tools, but the battle against censorship is hardly over. By Joel Simon
Legislation for Internet security can quickly turn into a weapon against the free press. Cybercrime laws are intended to extend existing penal codes to the online world, but they can easily be broadened to criminalize standard journalistic practices. By Danny O'Brien
Many African leaders continue to offer a false choice between stability and press freedom. Taking a cue from China, a key investor and model, they stress social stability and development over openness and reform. By Mohamed Keita
It is not too late for justice for Francis Nyaruri, who was killed in 2009 after he wrote a story on police corruption. The murder comes against a backdrop of widespread extrajudicial killing. By Tom Rhodes with reporting from Clifford Derrick
Photographers from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and other news outlets documented historic events in 2011, often at great peril. The Year in Photographs: Press Freedom in 2011 features images from the Arab uprisings, South Asia's armed conflicts, and political repression in the Americas, Africa, and Europe.
No independent press has operated in this Red Sea nation since a September 2001 government crackdown on dissent that led to the imprisonment of 11 leading journalists without charge or trial and the enforced closure of their publications. President Isaias Afewerki's administration consistently refused to account for the whereabouts, legal status, or health of the jailed journalists, or even confirm reports that some had died in custody. All of the journalists were held without access to their families or lawyers. The only media allowed to operate in the country were under the control of Information Minister Ali Abdu, who enforced rigid control of information and ideas through intimidation and imprisonment. Even state media journalists braved border guards' shoot-to-kill orders to escape the country. Government agents abroad harassed and intimidated media outlets established by exiled journalists. The government's egregious actions drew condemnation from the European Parliament in September 2011, the latest in a series of international censures.
Although official anti-press harassment continued a gradual decline from its peak after the disputed 2008 elections, a highly restrictive legal framework kept domestic, independent news sources to a mere handful. The fractious coalition between Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC failed to implement the media reforms they had pledged to undertake in their 2008 power-sharing deal, leaving in place repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act. At least six journalists faced criminal defamation charges, including two staffers from the weekly Standard who were detained after covering a politician's arrest. Assailants broke into the offices of NewsDay and Masvingo Mirror, stealing computer hard drives and storage discs. Both break-ins followed critical coverage; no suspects were arrested in either case. Fearing the influence of revolutions in North Africa, authorities detained dozens of civil society members for watching footage of the Egyptian revolution at a public gathering. The European Union named six state media journalists among 200 Zimbabweans subject to sanctions for allegedly promoting violence during the 2008 polling.
Police and security agents engaged in widespread physical attacks on local and foreign journalists during the general election campaign and its aftermath. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was elected to a fourth term in the February vote, which was marred by reports of intimidation and vote-buying. Reporters covering opposition candidates were at particular risk: Security agents shot two journalists covering opposition or protest rallies, leaving one reporter hospitalized. In April and May, authorities assaulted at least 25 journalists covering nationwide, opposition-organized protests over rising prices. Museveni publicly criticized foreign and local media for their coverage of the protests, saying the reports damaged the country's economic interests. Police raided the independent weekly Gwanga in May and briefly detained four journalists on the tenuous claim that its possession of a civil society newsletter could somehow incite public violence. Gwanga did not resume regular publication.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.