For Christine Anyanwu, former editor of the now-defunct The Sunday Magazine, the fact that Nigeria has vaulted to the ignominious spot as Africa’s top jailer of journalists, with 17 in prison at the end of 1997, would come as no surprise. Nor is it merely an abstract statistic to the 46-year-old mother of two: She is serving a 15-year sentence in a dank prison cell, ill and in danger of losing her sight.
Anyanwu and her 16 imprisoned colleagues are among the top stories in Attacks on Press in 1997, the latest edition of CPJ’s annual worldwide survey of press freedom conditions, released March 26 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The 443-page book covers the state of the press in 117 countries and five regions-Africa, the Americas, Asia, Central Europe and the republics of the Former Soviet Union, and the Middle East and North Africa.
Compiled from the first-hand research of CPJ’s professional staff, Attacks on the Press in 1997 documents in compelling detail nearly 500 attacks carried out to silence journalists and news organizations through physical assault, imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment. And it describes CPJ’s action on behalf of hundreds of journalists through emergency response and fact-finding missions, personal appeals by CPJ staff and board members, grassroots efforts, diplomatic channels, and media campaigns.
The book went online on CPJ’s website at www/cpj.org during the Washington press conference and panel discussion, which was attended by reporters from many of the countries CPJ covers, as well as a host of U.S. reporters from newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media. CPJ executive director William A. Orme, Jr., and board member Peter Arnett of CNN introduced the book to the audience. A panel discussion on several of the book’s six special reports featured Kakuna Kerina, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator; Joel Simon, Americas program coordinator; A. Lin Neumann, Asia program coordinator; and Joel Campagna, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
The book reports that at least 129 journalists were in prison in 24 countries at the end of last year for doing their work. In addition, it identifies another 30 cases, still under investigation, of journalists whose imprisonment may also be due to their professional duties–13 in Turkey, 5 in China, and 4 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).
“The ruthless persecution of local journalists by the Abacha regime in Nigeria was the single most troubling development over the past year,” said Orme, “and we call on journalists everywhere to join us in our campaign for the release of Nigeria’s imprisoned reporters and editors.” Nigeria held eight journalists in jail at the beginning of 1997, and the alarming increase reflects the escalating brutality of Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime. One of the most encouraging developments chronicled in this year’s volume occurred in Turkey, which released 40 journalists from prison during 1997. Last July, CPJ sent a high-level delegation to meet with Turkey’s prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, to press for the release of the record 78 jailed journalists in that country and to urge the government to reform the laws used to criminalize journalism. The meetings, held in conjunction with representatives of international press freedom organizations and Turkish journalists groups, produced promises that journalists would be freed, and pledges of statutory reforms. Within a month, a limited amnesty resulted in the release of seven editors. At least 29 Turkish journalists were still imprisoned for their work at year’s end, but that number is less than half of what it was in 1996. “We will continue to urge the Turkish government to fulfill its pledge to reform laws used to prosecute journalists for reporting the news,” Orme said.
Attacks on the Press in 1997 documents the murders of 26 journalists in 14 countries during the year, including seven in India, four in Colombia, and three in Mexico. CPJ continues to investigate the murders of 10 journalists in which a causal link to the victims’ work is suspected. Attacks on the Press in 1997 also includes a 10-year chart of 474 murders of journalists by region and country.
“When journalists are murdered or brutalized,” CPJ chairman Gene Roberts writes in the book’s preface, “it is almost always by some government, some organization, some criminal cartel, some individual wanting to prevent the flow of embarrassing or incriminating information to the public. If the assassins learned that when they killed journalists the inevitable result was that they got more coverage, rather than less, the killings would subside.”
This year’s edition of Attacks on the Press features six special reports that focus attention on areas CPJ views as leading indicators for press freedom worldwide:
Turkey – Where a new government presented an opportunity for press freedom reform and the release of imprisoned journalists.
Nigeria – Where CPJ’s campaign to free Christine Anyanwu is aimed at gaining freedom for all imprisoned Nigerian journalists.
Jordan – Where the government has sought to muzzle independent reporting of sensitive political issues such as the Jordan-Israel peace treaty.
Mexico – Where an increasingly independent press boldly–and bravely–challenges the status quo and has organized to advocate for press freedom.
Hong Kong – Where independent journalism may be under threat after the transfer of rule to China.
The Caucasus – Where journalists in the hostile neighboring republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan struggle to cope with their Soviet-era legacy.
As in previous years’s volumes, Attacks on the Press in 1997 is built upon a solid foundation of scrupulous journalistic research and nuanced reporting that make it a unique and invaluable source of information about social and political conditions in the developing world.
This year’s study reveals that:
– In Africa, Ethiopia’s 16 imprisoned journalists were all newly jailed in 1997. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Laurent Kabila seized power from former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, journalists who hoped for a freer press climate suffer under his tendency to target both state and private media for reprisal.
Sub-Saharan governments ruthlessly use criminal libel suits to stifle the media, placing tremendous financial burdens on the independent press. Newspapers in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe post Internet editions that link to African communities abroad and are reversing the historical flow of information, but journalists remain vulnerable because they work in environments with repressive press laws, weak judiciaries, and exploitative officials. The influence of international radio networks remains strong in this region where newspapers and magazines reach only a fraction of the population.
– In the Americas, the growing independence and power of the media in newly consolidated democratic regimes has exposed journalists to fresh dangers; 10 were murdered for doing their jobs–reporting on crime and corruption. In Argentina, the brutal murder of a news photographer galvanized public support for the media. Four journalists were murdered in Colombia, where the weakened government of Ernesto Samper extends its influence through control of television and radio licenses. And in Peru, journalists say the country’s National Intelligence Service has launched a campaign of legal action and terror to keep them from damaging re-election prospects of President Alberto Fujimori. Yet the violence against the media has fueled the formation of press freedom organizations throughout the Americas, and journalists have begun to use the power of the press to bring attacks on their colleagues to public attention. In Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, the press has emerged as the institution that inspires the most public confidence–a testimony to the courage and perseverance of journalists struggling to work in this volatile region.
– Economic turmoil roiled Asia in 1997, largely the result of the cozy relationship between governments and financial institutions that the press did not report–either because of self-censorship or government prohibitions. In Malaysia, the prime minister tried to blame the crisis on international currency speculators and their alleged allies in the Western media. By year’s end in Indonesia, where President Suharto had long suppressed press coverage of his family’s involvement in the country’s economy, journalists were hopeful the crisis might force open the country’s timid media culture
A violent coup disrupted Cambodia’s progress toward a free press. And in Hong Kong, observers watched the press for signs of interference by China after the July 1 handover. In India, political violence claimed the lives of seven journalists, more than in any other country during the year, and the government continued its restrictions on press access to contested parts of Assam, Kashmir, and Manipur, where separatist violence continues to elicit stern military responses.
On the positive side were signs of democratic growth in the region. A new constitution in Thailand contains the most sweeping free press provisions in Asia. In South Korea, Kim Dae Jung responded to his election as president with a promise to protect press freedom. And in Taiwan, in a verdict widely seen as a victory for press freedom, the ruling Kuomintang lost a landmark criminal libel suit brought by party leaders against reporters for a Hong Kong-based magazine.
– In Central Europe and the republics of the Former Soviet Union, despite greater freedom and the proliferation of private media, news organizations across the region are still manipulated by and subjected to pressure from governments and burgeoning business interests. The most alarming trend remains the persistence of violence against journalists. While the overall number of killings, most of which occurred in war zones, has declined since the end of the conflicts in Tajikistan, Chechnya, and the former Yugoslavia, murders and beatings of journalists in nonconflict areas have become routine in such places as the Russian Federation and Ukraine. An epidemic of kidnappings of foreigners in and around Chechnya by armed bands seeking ransom makes it the most dangerous place for journalists assigned to the region.
Beatings, death threats, detentions, bombings, arson, and financial pressures have become routine means of intimidating the press across the region. Yet Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have fostered free media climates, and in some places, like Russia, new private media monoliths battle for control of the airwaves. Even the autocratic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has developed a vigorous independent press–this in a country where leader Slobodan Milosevic shut down 77 independent radio and television stations in July and August after announcing new, convoluted frequency licensing procedures.
– In The Middle East and North Africa, political violence was the backdrop for government restrictions on the press in Algeria and Turkey, where authorities continued efforts to quash independent reporting of two of the region’s bloodiest conflicts. Similarly, Turkish journalists faced ongoing state efforts to silence independent coverage of the 13-year military conflict with Kurdish insurgents. In Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, and Syria, the state controls the broadcast media and press, allowing no outlets for dissenting voices.
A particularly disturbing development took place in Jordan in May, when King Hussein put his stamp of approval on draconian press amendments that nearly eliminated the country’s feisty weekly newspapers, known for their independent reporting on government policies. Press laws in Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen enable authorities to prosecute journalists for reporting on alleged government corruption and other controversial domestic issues. In Lebanon, the government instituted prior censorship of news and political programs broadcast abroad by satellite, while the media remain subject to broadcast and press laws that restrict news content.
Throughout the region, international and Arabic satellite networks have become a popular alternative for news programming for residents of Tehran, Damascus, and Algiers, providing a means to circumvent government-imposed restrictions on the flow of information. Similarly, Internet use has begun to spread through the region, despite government efforts to limit its use.