For journalists, Iraq is a continuing danger

By Liz Halloran

U.S. News & World Report
June 12, 2006

It’s been more than 16 months since CNN’s former chief news executive Eason Jordan made what even he now regards as inarticulate comments about the U.S. military’s role in the deaths of journalists working in Iraq.

Inarticulate–and incendiary: Under fire from conservative bloggers and others for his suggestion at a forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the military may have targeted and killed a dozen journalists, Jordan resigned, saying he wanted to spare the network from being tarnished by "conflicting accounts" of his statements about the "alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq."

Today, with the Iraq war securing the morbid title of the most deadly conflict for reporters in modern times, Jordan remains passionate about the plight of journalists in Iraq. He prefaced our conversation last week by saying he does not believe that the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists, though "it certainly has happened."

"All have been mistaken identity, but that doesn’t excuse them," Jordan said. "And that was the key issue I was trying to raise, not very eloquently, in Davos. Journalists are being killed. Journalists are being detained."

And most of them are Iraqis.

The Committee to Protect Journalists last week reported that 73 journalists – including 52 Iraqis–have died in Iraq, surpassing the rolls for both the Vietnam War and World War II. And though many Iraqi journalists have routinely been imprisoned, a man believed to be the last documented detainee held by the U.S. military, Ali Mashandani from Reuters, was released last week, said Joel Campagna, the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

But keeping track of detained journalists–most held on suspicion of "insurgent activity"–is a murky business, and Campagna said that on the day of Mashandani’s release, Reuters reported that an unnamed Iraqi journalist working for an international news organization was still in U.S. custody. In 2005, CPJ documented seven cases in which Iraqi journalists working for news organizations including CBS, the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse were held, some for periods exceeding 100 days, before being cleared and released.

"Iraq’s an extremely complicated and dangerous assignment, but to us it’s unacceptable that journalists can be taken off the streets while doing their jobs and then held for weeks or months without charge," Campagna said. Or even a year: Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a cameraman working for CBS, was shot in the leg by U.S. troops and detained last spring after he’d been cleared to film the aftermath of a car bombing. He was held in Abu Ghraib for a year until a panel of Iraqi judges in April said the military had insufficient evidence of "insurgent activity" against the 25-year-old Iraqi.

The military claimed in leaks to the media that Hussein’s confiscated videotape contained footage of four separate incidents, proving he was a member of an insurgent group sent to document the aftermath of its dirty work. "The charges were exposed as a complete, conscious lie," said New York lawyer Scott Horton, who helped represent Hussein. "There was never anything else on the video but the 18 seconds taken before he was shot."

Other news organizations have reported that their Iraqi employees have been beaten, held in solitary confinement, and detained on obscure charges. But there have been two recent developments that both Jordan and Campagna say hold promise of protecting journalists–particularly Iraqis–working in Iraq: The Pentagon has for the first time recognized the status of nonembedded journalists reporting from the scene of attacks. That’s a significant softening of the military’s earlier position that only journalists embedded with U.S. forces will be recognized and guaranteed some expectation of safety and ability to work freely.

The military has also adopted a fast-track policy for arrested Iraqis and others who identify themselves as journalists. The military says it will review claims within days, and the detainee released quickly if his or her journalism credentials are established. (Mashandani, the Reuters employee, was among the first to be released under the new program, though marines had held him for a week before military commanders were alerted, Campagna said.)

Jordan says the fast-track program under Maj. Gen. John Gardner "is the first really encouraging news on this front for some time. If it can be maintained, this is a great leap forward."

These days, Jordan is still focused on Iraq professionally. He’s months away from launching a new venture called Praedict–an Iraq-based, 24-hour online subscription service that will provide breaking Iraq news, locations and trends of recent attacks, tips for finding the safest travel routes, and intelligence reports from a team of 50 Iraqis dispatched across the country.

The new business seems, in part, a labor of love: Ten CNN employees were killed under Jordan’s watch–seven in Somalia and three in Iraq. Jordan, who has invested a bundle of his own money, says he believes at least two of his employees in Iraq could have been spared by a similar service.

Story from U.S. News & World Report:

Back to top

Iraq journalist deaths match number killed during Vietnam War

By Richard Pyle

Associated Press
May 31, 2006

With the deaths of two CBS television crew members from a car bomb in Baghdad, the casualty toll among journalists in Iraq has risen to 71 — the same number that were killed or presumed dead during the Vietnam War, the deadliest ever for the media until now.

Both counts are unofficial, but based on careful compilations. The Vietnam list, maintained by The Associated Press Saigon bureau during the war, covers the years 1965-75, and includes 34 lost in Cambodia, 33 in Vietnam and four in Laos.

The Iraqi list regarded as the most reliable, from April 2003 to the present, is kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It shows that CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42, killed in Baghdad by a suicide car bomb on Monday, were the 70th and 71st journalists to die in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has no Vietnam press casualty list of its own but relies on the AP’s version, said Abi Wright, spokeswoman for the committee.

Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director, said that while foreign media deaths get a lot of attention, three-fourths of those killed have been Iraqis, who are encountering the same dangers whether they work for local media or western media. And the organization says another 26 people have died while working in non-newsgathering roles as office assistants, drivers, interpreters and the like.

"It is a reflection of how dangerous this situation is and also that in some cases, journalists are being targeted by the insurgents because of the work they do," Cooper said.

Other media-related organizations also keep journalist casualty lists, which vary from one to another. The Freedom Forum, a Washington-based journalism advocacy group, lists 63 journalists killed in Vietnam, and 77 killed in Iraq.

For both the AP and CPJ lists, the basic criterion is that the individuals died as a direct result of hostile action, not accidents or illness. Beyond that, comparisons are difficult, due to the differing nature of the wars.
In Vietnam, most of the journalists were killed in combat or military air crashes, or vanished in embattled areas and were never found, thus presumed dead. CPJ’s Iraqi list includes at least 23 journalists who were murdered, presumably because of their editorial activities.

Many of the Iraqi journalists killed were working for local newspapers or television outlets, as well as foreign news organizations.

Among journalists from 15 countries who died during the Vietnam War, 20 were Americans, the most of any nationality. France and Japan followed with 14 each. At least a dozen nationalities have been among Iraq’s victims.

In Iraq, only two of the media casualties to date were Americans—Atlantic magazine editor and Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly, who died in 2003 when his Army Humvee came under fire and rolled into a canal, and Steve Vincent, a New York-based freelance writer who was murdered near the port city of Basra in 2005.

The Vietnam casualties range from the first combat death, an American freelancer in 1965, to the last, a French photographer killed the day before Saigon fell to communist forces in April, 1975. The list is conservative in that it does not include a dozen or more Cambodian freelancers _ as many as 20 by one estimate _ who vanished during the communist Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975, after hostilities ended. Some are assumed to have perished in the "killing fields" afterward.

Despite their high-profile exposure to danger in combat, only two TV cameramen were killed in Vietnam _ both ABC employees, at the same place on the same day in 1972. Three others were among nine media victims of a Cambodian ambush two years earlier.

With the latest deaths, the Iraq toll includes 10 cameramen and at least three sound technicians.
The death tolls for Vietnam and Iraq each exceed the 67 correspondents killed covering Allied forces in World War II and 18 killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. Comparable figures for other sides in these wars either do not exist, or are unclear as to the civilian or military status of those killed.

Back to top

Pressures build on Saudi media

By Sebastian Usher

BBC News
June 9, 2006

The media in Saudi Arabia has begun to broach topics such as religious extremism, women’s rights and unemployment that were once strictly off limits.

The changes have provided new insight into what has long been one of the most closed and conservative societies in the world.

In speeches broadcast on Saudi television, King Abdullah has repeated what is now the dominant message of his reign - Saudi Arabia must stamp out the threat of home-grown Islamic extremism.
It is a complete switch after decades of denial that Saudi Arabia had any such problem. It was the involvement of Saudi citizens in 9/11 that forced the reversal. The Saudi media changed, too - as for the first time it began to examine issues that had once been hidden.

"Journalists and newspapers have begun to tackle taboo subjects - like unemployment, crime, the issues of women’s rights and security forces’ battles with Islamic extremists," says Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists who has spent months assessing these changes.

"This type of coverage was not in evidence over the last decade - after all, remember Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s was a country where after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the press didn’t report the invasion for the first 48 hours."

Prescient warning

On May 12, 2003, Saudi TV flashed the news that the capital Riyadh was itself the latest target of Islamist suicide bombers. The attacks provoked unprecedented criticism in the Saudi press of religious extremism.
There was an interesting example involving a Saudi columnist Adel al-Toraifi who wrote for al-Watan at the time," says Joel Campagna.

"He had submitted a column a few days before the suicide bombing in Riyadh. It was critical of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia and warned of potential violence on the scale of 11 September in the Kingdom if the government didn’t act.

"That column was spiked by his editor and a few days after the suicide bombings he resubmitted the piece and it ran."

But the caution of the Saudi authorities had not been swept aside - it soon became clear that the conservative religious establishment would not take the unprecedented media criticism without hitting back.
"It got to the point where one Saudi writer even challenged the writings of Ibn Taymiyya who was a mediaeval religious philosopher whose teachings are the underpinning of the Wahhabi doctrine that prevails inside Saudi Arabia - and this was an extremely explosive piece which set off rancorous protests and eventually led to the dismissal of Jamal Kashoggi who was then editor in chief of al-Watan," Joel Campagna says.

Opening the door

Now based in Washington as media advisor to the Saudi ambassador to the US, Jamal Kashoggi says he has no regrets.

"I feel good about the price that was paid because it opened up the door for more openness in the Saudi media," he said."It’s now very common for Saudi intellectuals to argue even with the Grand Mufti, and this is very healthy. We will always maintain our respect for our scholars and clergy and muftis - but at the same time one of the good things about our Wahhabi background is we see no-one as holy except God himself."

There are these pressures, with journalists who continue to be in the crosshairs of the government and of religious conservatives.

Joel Campagna
Committee to Protect Journalists

But self-censorship is still strong in Saudi Arabia. The recent detention of a young journalist, Rabah al-Quwai, was covered by only one newspaper.

He had written articles suggesting some Islamic teaching in Saudi Arabia was encouraging violence.

Joel Campagna says what happened to Rabah Al-Quwai shows the obstacles still blocking real freedom of speech.

"I think what his case goes to illustrate is there are these pressures - with journalists who continue to be in the crosshairs of the government, of religious conservatives.

"They face behind-the-scenes pressures and are impeded in their ability to operate freely and to publish news and views about sensitive topics."

Afraid of reform

These are confusing times for Saudi journalists, with unclear signals over what they can and can’t write.

The inconsistency is largely down to the conflict between those pursuing limited reform in the government and the conservative religious establishment that sees such changes as a threat.

"Sometimes a writer feels that the government is encouraging let’s say women’s reform, women’s empowerment and then he goes and writes furiously and aggressively about this and then he will receive a telephone call from an official advising him to be patient, to refrain from using certain words," says Jamal Kashoggi.

"He must have received a complaint from one of the sceptics - one of the paranoid conservative circles who is afraid of this approaching reform."

King Abdullah is trying to create a national dialogue to reconcile these differences and the Saudi media is seen as key to this effort.

Some say the changes are a way for Saudi society to begin to see itself and understand itself more clearly as it faces the prospect of social, cultural and political upheaval.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/06/09 08:42:37 GMT


Back to top

A Difficult Journey From Repression to Democracy

By Ann Cooper

Nieman Reports
Summer 2006 Issue

Brave journalists who challenge authoritarian regimes often ’enter a postauthoritarian era full of compromises and new repressions.

In August 1991 I witnessed some of the more courageous and world-shaking journalistic acts of the 20th century. On a mild summer morning, the masterminds of a hard-line Communist coup put Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev under house arrest. To ensure control over information, they shut down all but the most loyal newspapers and deployed tanks and soldiers to surround Moscow’s state broadcasting facilities. Then they ordered radio and television announcers to report that they took action in order to combat the "mortal danger" to the motherland posed by Gorbachev’s failed policies.

For a few hours, events played out like a theatrical revival of the heartbreaking Soviet crackdowns in Hungary and Czechoslovakia decades earlier. But soon a few journalists -- some veterans of Soviet rule, others weaned on Gorbachev’s glasnost -- stood up to fight. Editors of banned newspapers combined efforts to put out a daily called the "Common Newspaper" in defiance of the coup. A brash young reporter confronted the putsch leaders at a press conference, dismissing their phony propaganda and informing the nation, via live television, that a coup was underway. Hours later, television officials, their studios still encircled by tanks, snuck another electrifying report onto the air: the image of Boris Yeltsin, atop an armored vehicle, in dramatic defiance of the Communist takeover.

In the rejoicing that followed the coup’s collapse a few days later, journalists were among the heroes thanked by a deliriously grateful public. Their bold reporting had emboldened others; the Yeltsin image in particular telegraphed a message of hope in a time of despair.

I reported on these events for National Public Radio (NPR), having been NPR’s Moscow bureau chief for five years. When I left Moscow one month after the failed coup, it was clear the Soviet Union was dead. Less clear was what would follow, though had I been asked at the time, I am sure I would have predicted that a vibrant, independent media would grow and thrive, and its existence would help shape some form of post-Communist democracy.

Roadblocks Along the Way

Now, 15 years later, both Russian democracy and Russia’s independent media are in tatters. And as director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), where I work in defense of courageous colleagues every day, I have come to believe that many of the difficulties encountered by media in post-Communist Russia were quite predictable. CPJ’s files are full of tales of brave journalists challenging dictatorship, helping push countries toward democratic reform, only to enter a postauthoritarian era full of compromises and new repressions.

Shortly after I arrived at CPJ in 1998, the Nigerian military strongman Sani Abacha died suddenly. Heroic editors who had gone to jail or been forced underground for challenging Abacha’s corrupt rule were now free -- and more than ready to build a national forum for vibrant debate. Instead, they watched newsstand sales plummet as a politics-weary public demanded more sports and entertainment. And they soon learned that even under an elected government some Nigerian police and security agents were eager to beat or harass journalists for their critical reporting.

CPJ has documented similar stories about the independent press corps that survived such dictatorships as Suharto’s in Indonesia and Slobodan Milosevic’s in Yugoslavia. These journalists, often at the forefront in demanding change under authoritarian rule, could be just as tough on new rulers at the first sign of corruption or human rights abuses. Like the Nigerians, they learned that just because elected leaders say they respect press freedom doesn’t mean they really do.

In 1991, I had not yet learned this lesson. Nor did I imagine that the press corps hailed for heroism in August of that year would be derided for corruption just a few years later. When Communist rule collapsed, many of the Soviet Union’s thousands of media outlets were privatized. Without the party’s financial subsidies, though, economic survival was difficult. Some media companies were rescued by rich oligarchs, but the exchange was that these new bosses often turned them into mouthpieces for their own political ends. Other news media made serious ethical compromises in order to survive: Selling news space to those willing to pay for favorable coverage became a routine business practice.

By 2000, when a new president, Vladimir Putin, launched fresh restrictions on the press, the audience for Russian news media saw journalists as so comprised that they were not deemed worthy of defending. That made it easy for Putin to bring all national news broadcasting under Kremlin control and to effectively bar independent reporting on the country’s most sensitive issues -- in particular, the war in Chechnya.

Increasingly, opposition voices cry into a wilderness in Russia. A handful of newspapers with limited circulation might carry their messages. But under Kremlin pressure, few other media outlets dare run even basic campaign platform debates, rendering elections in Russia no longer free and fair. "We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum," warns Anna Politkovskaya, perhaps the scrappiest journalist now working in Russia.

Russia today is not a dictatorship, but neither is it a democracy. Its media are not Soviet, but neither are they free. What both need desperately is a new generation of courageous journalists -- reporters like Politkovskaya, who has been arrested, poisoned and targeted with death threats for her dogged coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Brave voices like hers must survive to tell the truth, just as her predecessors did back in August of 1991.

— Ann Cooper served as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists from 1998 until June 2006. She left to head the broadcast department at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Back to top

Iraq most dangerous place for journalists: study

By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Journalists are being killed at a pace of more than three a month worldwide, with Iraq the deadliest place for media to work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday.

A new CPJ study showed that 580 journalists have been killed over the last 15 years primarily because of their work, with government and military officials believed to be responsible for many of those deaths.

The deadliest countries for journalists over the past 15 years have been Iraq, which tallied 78 deaths, Algeria with 60 killed, Russia with 42 dead and Colombia with 37 dead, according to CPJ, a New York-based non-profit organization that promotes press freedom.

So far in 2006, 31 journalists have been killed -- a rate of better than three a month through mid-September -- with 20 of those deaths occurring in Iraq, CPJ said on its Web site.

In 2005, there were 47 confirmed deaths, 22 of which were Iraqi journalists covering the current war. According to the CPJ, 60 Iraqi journalists have been killed since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003.

"Journalism has become quite a dangerous profession," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in an interview.

"There has been greater awareness of how dangerous it is, especially with the Iraq war. Iraqi journalists have become increasingly vulnerable," he added.

About 85 percent of deaths recorded since 1992, the first year CPJ began keeping records, involved local journalists as opposed to foreign correspondents.

CPJ’s data also revealed that the seven out of 10 of those deaths were of journalists specifically targeted because their reporting was critical of the government.

"Time and again, the very governments that journalists sought to check with their reporting are believed to be behind the slayings," the report said.

Government and military officials were believed to be responsible for some 27 percent of journalist murders over the past 15 years, CPJ’s analysis shows.

Paramilitary groups, aligned with government security forces in nations such as Colombia and Rwanda, meanwhile, were suspected to be behind 8 percent of the killings.

The death of Norbert Zongo, editor of the weekly L’Independent in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in December 1998 was a case in point. Gunmen sprayed automatic rifle fire at a vehicle carrying Zongo, his brother and two companions, the report said.

Many in Burkina Faso believe officials in President Blaise Compaore’s government were responsible for Zongo’s death, who had investigated relentlessly on alleged torture and murder.

CPJ’s findings also showed that print reporters faced greater danger than most other media jobs, making up nearly 60 percent of recorded deaths. However, in countries that are reliant on broadcast news such as the Philippines and India, radio commentators and television journalists were most vulnerable.

© 2006 Reuters
Back to top

Murder in Moscow

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Chicago Tribune

Friday, October 13, 2006

If freedom of the press is the backbone of a democracy, then Russia is growing crippled.

The country is the third most dangerous place in the world —behind Iraq and Algeria — to practice journalism, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. A stark fact: 43 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Many have been executed, contract-style. Many of the murders have gone unsolved.

Last week, about 1,000 mourners stood in a cold rain to attend funeral services for the country’s latest victim, slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. It was a tremendous testament to her work. An incisive critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Politkovskaya, 48, received international acclaim for coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Politkovskaya was found dead Oct. 7 inside an elevator at her downtown Moscow apartment building. The Committee to Protect Journalists said she’s the 13th journalist killed since Putin took office in 2000.

"We have a clear indication that the Russian government has either been indifferent or impotent in solving these crimes," said Nina Ognianova, program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia with the committee. "In none of the 13 cases do we have the masterminds who have been identified or brought to justice. This sends a chilling message to the Russian press that whoever wants to murder journalists in Russia can do it with complete impunity."

Putin has not responded admirably to Politkovskaya’s murder. He called the assassination "a crime of loathsome brutality" and vowed to bring the killers to justice _ but he also sought to downplay Politkovskaya’s influence on the country’s political life. He suggested that her articles had tarnished Russia and that her murder might have been carried out by people seeking to darken the country’s reputation.

Russia has three state-controlled national television stations. Only a few news media outlets cover Chechnya and write stories that are independent and sometimes critical of the Kremlin. Politkovskaya worked for one such publication, Novaya Gazeta, a weekly newspaper with a circulation of about 200,000.

According to the committee, Politkovskaya was threatened, jailed, forced into exile and poisoned during her career. She wrote about subjects that don’t appear in the mainstream media there _ torture, prison abductions, forced confessions and interrogations. Her last story was about alleged torture by Chechnyan forces under the command of the Kremlin-appointed prime minister. The unfinished story was published Thursday in Novaya Gazeta.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform policies of "perestroika" and "glasnost," a free and unfettered press has struggled to survive. Politkovskaya’s murder is the latest example that Russian democracy is in deep trouble. A stark fact: 43 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992.

© 2006 Chicago Tribune

Back to top

Photographer Detained

By Robert Tanner

AP National Writer
October 17, 2006

The Pentagon has brushed off a request from a journalist organization seeking more information and a decision on Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press photographer held for six months in Iraq without formal charges.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, in a letter to the Committee to Protect Journalists, did not provide details about why Iraqi photographer Bilal Hussein continues to be held without charges at a U.S.-run prison camp. He instead repeated the military’s longstanding assertion that it detained Hussein under authority of U.N. resolutions and in accord with the Geneva Conventions.

Hussein was arrested in Ramadi on April 12. The military has said he was in the company of two alleged insurgents, in an apartment where there were bomb-making materials, and that his detention was for "imperative reasons of security" under U.N. resolutions. His "strong ties" to insurgents go beyond the role of a journalist, the military has said.

The Associated Press last month made a public call for the military to either charge Hussein with a crime or release him.

After the AP request, Paul Steiger, chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists, sought information about Hussein’s detention, and asked for the Pentagon to say whether it would charge him with a crime. He noted that in several cases where journalists have been detained by U.S. forces for lengthy periods, they ultimately were released without charges or convictions.

"If U.S. military officials do not intend to charge Hussein with a crime, we believe he should be released at once," Steiger wrote.

Whitman, in his response, said Hussein has been notified and given an opportunity to provide information for consideration in at least two of three military reviews of his detention.

But an AP executive said that was true only for one of the three hearings _ and the notice came after the hearing took place.

"Bilal Hussein was not aware that any of these took place," said Dave Tomlin, AP’s associate general counsel. "So he obviously wasn’t present for any of them, nor was he represented at any of them."

"We regard all these so-called due process events as legally meaningless, and in fact consider it laughable that the term ’due process’ would even be applied to them," Tomlin said.

AP executives went public with news about Hussein’s detention Sept. 10 after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations. They said the news cooperative’s review of Hussein’s work did not find inappropriate contact with insurgents and that U.N. resolutions do not allow for indefinite detention. Any evidence against him, they said, should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system or else he should be released.

Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained as suspected security threats by the U.S. military worldwide; some 13,000 of them are in Iraq. Few are charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom.

Back to top

Sami’s Shame, and Ours

By Nicholas D. Kristof
Op-Ed Columnist

The New York Times

October 17, 2006

There is no public evidence that Sami al-Hajj committed any crime other than journalism for a television network the Bush administration doesn’t like.

But the U.S. has been holding Mr. Hajj, a cameraman for Al Jazeera, for nearly five years without trial, mostly at Guantánamo Bay. With the jailing of Mr. Hajj and of four journalists in Iraq, the U.S. ranked No. 6 in the world in the number of journalists it imprisoned last year, just behind Uzbekistan and tied with Burma, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This week, President Bush is expected to sign the Military Commissions Act concerning prisoners at Guantánamo, and he has hailed the law as “a strong signal to the terrorists.” But the closer you look at Guantánamo the more you feel that it will be remembered mostly as a national disgrace.

Mr. Hajj is the only journalist known to be there, and, of course, it’s possible that he is guilty of terrorist-related crimes. If so, he should be tried, convicted and sentenced.

But so far, the evidence turned up by his lawyers and by the Committee to Protect Journalists — which published an excellent report on Mr. Hajj’s case this month — suggests that the U.S. military may be keeping him in hopes of forcing him to become a spy.

Mr. Hajj, 37, who attended university and speaks English, joined Al Jazeera as a cameraman in April 2000 and covered the war in Afghanistan. He was detained on Dec. 15, 2001, and taken to the American military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan.

“They were the longest days of my life,” Mr. Hajj’s lawyers quoted him as saying. He told them he was repeatedly beaten, kicked, starved, left out in the freezing cold and subjected to anal cavity searches in public “just to humiliate me.”

In June 2002, Mr. Hajj was flown to Guantánamo, where he says the beatings initially were brutal but have since subsided somewhat.

At first, interrogators said Mr. Hajj had shot video of Osama bin Laden during an Al Jazeera interview, but it turned out that they may have mixed him up with another cameraman of a similar name. When that assertion fell apart, the authorities offered accusations that he had ferried a large sum of money to a suspicious Islamic charity, that he had supported Chechen rebels, and that he had once given a car ride and other assistance to an official of Al Qaeda.

One indication that even our government may not take those accusations so seriously is that the interrogations barely touched on them, Mr. Hajj’s lawyers say.

“About 95 percent of the interrogations he went through were about Al Jazeera,” said one of the lawyers, Zachary Katznelson of London. “Sami would say, ’What about me? Will you ask about me?’ ”

He added, “It really does seem that the focus of the inquiry is about his employer, Al Jazeera, and not about him or any actions he may have taken.”

Mr. Katznelson also says that interrogators told Mr. Hajj they would free him immediately if he would agree to go back to Al Jazeera and spy on it. He once asked what would happen if he backed out of the deal after he was free.

“You would not do that,” Mr. Hajj quoted his interrogator as saying, “because it would endanger your child.”

The Defense Department declined to comment on Mr. Hajj’s case, saying that in general, it does not comment on specific detainees at Guantánamo.

While Mr. Hajj is unknown in the U.S., his case has received wide attention in the Arab world. The Bush administration is thus doing long-term damage to American interests.

Mr. Hajj’s lawyers say he has two torn ligaments in his knee from abuse in his first weeks in custody, making it exceptionally painful for him to use the squat toilet in his cell. The lawyers say he has been offered treatment for his knee and a sitting toilet that would be less painful to use — but only if he spills dirt on Al Jazeera. And he says he has none to spill.

And while Defense Department documents indicate that he has been a model inmate at Guantánamo, he protests that he has been called racial epithets (he is black) and that he has seen guards desecrate the Koran.

When Sudan detained an American journalist, Paul Salopek, in August in Darfur, journalists and human rights groups reacted with outrage until he was freed a month later. We should be just as offended when it is our own government that is sinking to Sudanese standards of justice.

This doesn’t look like a war on terrorism, but a war on our own values.

Back to top

Who will be Russia’s conscience?
Murder of crusading journalist spotlights dangers of the profession

By Joel Simon

Newark Star-Ledger
Sunday, October 22, 2006

Russian journalist Anna Polit kovskaya, who was murdered in her apartment building in Moscow on Oct. 7, was a fearless crusader, and, like many of her ilk, she was not always easy company. She received numerous international awards and accolades, and she gamely gave speeches and col lected plaques. But Politkovskaya did not enjoy the spotlight. She didn’t want to talk about herself; she wanted to talk about what was happening in Chechnya and the brutal war that she would let no one forget. Talking to Politkov skaya, a colleague said, was "like talking to your own conscience."

Has Russia’s conscience been murdered? There might be no one left -- no one of Politkovskaya’s caliber -- to tell the Russian people about the brutality being committed in their name.

President Vladimir Putin, for one, is not shedding any tears. He has refused so far to address the Russian people about her murder. He begrudgingly made his only public comments at a news conference in Germany, duly promising an investigation, but also noting that Politkovskaya’s "influence on the country’s political life ... was minimal."

Politkovskaya was the 13th journalist murdered in Russia in a contract-style killing since Putin came to office in 2000. Among those murdered with impunity was Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes Russia, who was executed outside his Moscow office in July 2004. Two suspects, tried in secret, were acquitted in May amid allegations of procedural violations, including jury and witness intimidation. The master minds are still at large, and prosecutors seem in no rush to find them.

Politkovskaya is also the 43rd journalist killed for her work in Russia in the last 15 years, mak ing Russia the third most deadly country for journalists during this period, behind only conflict-rid den Iraq and Algeria. While most Americans recognize that journalism can be a dangerous profession, they tend to think of international war correspondents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists study released last month, Polit kovskaya is typical of the vast majority of the journalists killed around the world.

Nearly 70 percent of the 580 journalists killed since 1992 were murdered in retaliation for their reporting. Most were victims of gangland-style assassinations, and most were cut down not on assignment but where they could be most easily found -- near their offices or homes. Politkovskaya, who survived extended reporting stints in war-ravaged Chechnya, was executed in her own elevator in Moscow while returning from a trip to the grocery store. The gunman, shown in an eerie secu rity video, shot her in the heart and head and then tossed the murder weapon on the ground by Politkovskaya’s lifeless body.

While Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for the press, even there journalists are more likely to be murdered than to be killed in combat. The same is true in other countries that are among the world’s most dangerous: the Philippines, Colombia, Bangladesh and Russia.

Insurgents like those in Iraq and Colombia are responsible for one in five journalists murdered over the past 15 years, according to CPJ research. But government forces, including civilian and military officials, are responsible for even more slayings -- more than one out of every four. Paramilita ries allied with governments are linked to another 8 percent of journalist murders, meaning that government officials or their allies are responsible for more than one-third of journalist murders worldwide.

These kinds of unsolved murders have a ripple effect. As the former Colombian prosecutor Pedro Diaz Romero recently noted, "To take the life of a journalist is to shut down a channel of information for the community. And after one journalist is killed, a threat or act of physical intimidation may be enough to send the message to the community at large."

Russia is a uniquely dangerous place for journalists because it is both violent and repressive. Putin seems not only indifferent to the plight of murdered journalists, he has brought much of the once thriving post-Soviet media under indirect government control through the use of punitive tax audits and hostile takeovers. All three major television networks are now in the hands of Kremlin loyalists. The media itself is ordinarily a key ally in the fight against impunity; with most of the Russian press allied with Pu tin’s government, achieving justice in the Politkovskaya murder will be an uphill battle.

Putin seems unmoved by international criticism of his coun try’s human rights record. His remarks about Politkovskaya’s murder seemed calculated to play the nationalist card, the no tion that her death matters only to meddling foreigners.

But Russians do care. They turned out by the thousands for Politkovskaya’s funeral and have demanded an investigation. But without sympathetic coverage in the domestic media their demands have no echo in Russian public opinion, and without that echo there is little pressure on Putin’s government.

Anna Politkovskaya was one of Russia’s greatest investigative reporters and one of the world’s leading experts on the conflict in Chechnya. At the time of her death, she was preparing to publish a story alleging that Chech nya’s Kremlin-backed prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, had been involved in torture.

Four days after the murder, Kadyrov denied any involvement. Speaking on the state-controlled NTV, he said: "I don’t kill women. Women should be loved. For us Chechens, a woman is sacred." But Kadyrov certainly has reasons to hold a grudge. Two days prior to her assassination, Polit kovskaya gave an interview to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She spoke of the human rights abuses committed by Ka dyrov’s militia in Chechnya and called him "a Stalin of our times."

She said she "dreamed of him someday sitting in the dock, in a trial that meets the strictest legal standards, with all of his crimes listed and investigated." Polit kovskaya added that she was a witness in a criminal case against Kadyrov, one launched as a result of articles published by her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.
If, as many suspect, there turns out to be a Chechen connection to her murder, the irony is that the only journalist in the world who might have been able to uncover the truth is Politkovk saya herself. Now that she has been brutally gunned down, who will tell the story of her murder? Who will serve as Russia’s conscience?

— Joel Simon is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

© 2006 The Star Ledger
© 2006 All Rights Reserved.
Back to top

Seven Questions: Journalists Under Fire

From Foreign
November 2006

Every day, journalists around the world risk their lives in the pursuit of truth. Three of them are Colombian photojournalist Jésus Abad Colorado, Yemeni journalist Jamal Amer, and Gambian editor Madi Ceesay. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently honored the trio with its International Press Freedom Award for working in the face of harassment, imprisonment, and violence. FP caught up with the awardees to discuss freedom of the press in unfree societies.

FOREIGN POLICY: Why did you become a journalist?

éJésus Abad Colorado: I wanted to capture [on film] events in Colombia that are difficult to express in words. I decided to use the camera to document what was going on with the [guerilla] war. I wanted to tell what had happened to my parents and grandparents, who were displaced by violence. My two uncles were killed. Many millions in Colombia are affected by this war.

Jamal Amer: Growing attacks on press freedom and the extensive corruption are what led me to become a journalist. I felt that it was my duty to expose [these things]. The event that really inspired me was the arrest of three people by Yemeni police. The men were accused of child molestation and [they were] tied up in the center of a market, where people threw stones at them. These three persons were not brought to trial. I investigated the case and the evidence showed that they were innocent, which led to [their] release.

Madi Ceesay: I am by nature a human rights activist. I feel that certain things that need to be reported go unreported. [Journalism] is one way of fighting for the rights of people who cannot speak for themselves.

FP: What challenges do you face working in a less-than-free society?

JC: The Colombian government often censors the work of journalists. If the government learned how to respect the voice of journalists, democracy would benefit. It is important that journalists in the region are able to travel to remote areas in Colombia and tell the stories of the people who are suffering. A press that forgets about [rural areas] perpetrates indifference.

JA: The main challenge is the absence of law. The press law in Yemen carries 12 articles forbidding journalists from doing their job properly. These articles can be used by the government to stifle press freedom or to bring journalists to trial. A journalist can be jailed for one year under this law, or a newspaper can be closed down.

MC: The [political] environment is really hostile. This is a country where a lot of journalists are under detention without trial. There have been a series of arson attacks on media houses and journalists, many of whom have fled the country. As I speak to you, I have a colleague who has been missing for more than three months. This is the kind of situation and environment in which we operate.

FP: There must be times when the risks outweigh the rewards. How do you stay motivated?

JC: I have a lot of fears. I think a lot about my family. But my family is more than my wife, my children, my brothers, and sisters. I know that there are risks when I go to isolated regions to document what’s going on with the people. There are risks to telling people in Colombia what’s going on with the war. But in journalism, we are not only spectators, we are defenders of life.

JA: I have had two scary experiences. The first one occurred in 2002, when I wrote an article about Saudi-Yemeni relations. The police took me from my home and I was jailed for one week. I was called to appear before a prosecutor in court, which decided to prevent me from writing. The case was appealed and, after four years, they reinstated my rights. The most dangerous experience occurred in August 2005, when armed people came to my house, driving a truck belonging to the Yemeni army. They kidnapped me in front of my home, took me to the top of a mountain blindfolded, handcuffed me, and beat me. People were firing [guns] in the air. They threatened to throw me from the top of the mountain and to sexually assault my children if I didn’t keep my mouth shut. It was a very harsh experience for me. And since then, threats haven’t stopped. But if journalists kept silent, one day we would find ourselves without a country.

MC: I was held for 22 days, incommunicado, and without trial. None of my family members could speak to me, nor my colleagues or lawyers. The conditions were terrible. It was a very traumatic experience for me and my family. But I’m in this business because I want to speak for people who cannot speak for themselves. No matter the amount of intimidation, I still want to stay.

FP: What social and political developments in your countries stand out?

JC: In the past 15 years, 3 million people have been displaced because of the conflict, and 4 million hectares [9.9 million acres] have been robbed from the farmers. I have documented the resiliency of people toward war, especially minority groups. But the problem in Colombia is that those people have no voice, even though they are tired of war.

JA: There is no accountability in Yemen and those who are involved in corruption are not held accountable at all, even though there are lots of reports about the involvement of government officials. It will take a strong political will for there to be change because it means that many high-ranking officials enmeshed in corruption should just be evicted.

MC: The civil society in my country is not really organized. We have civil society organizations all over the country, but each organization is working on its own. There is a need for more coordination.

FP: How would you characterize your government’s view of personal liberty?

JC: The government is only interested in journalists giving a voice to officials.

JA: Yemen has a poor human rights record and basic rights are not respected. Many prisoners are held arbitrarily after the end of their terms. Women in jail are attacked. We have laws, but they are not implemented.

MC: The government of Gambia does not see the press as anything other than its opponent. Independent media tries to have a dialogue, but the government frustrates our efforts.

FP: What are some of the biggest misperceptions that foreign reporters perpetuate about your country?

JC: Colombia’s conflict is one where the stories of the victims are not told. Most of the stories are told through the lens of drug-trafficking. Many observers see the paramilitary as a solution to the war with the guerillas, and interview [its] top commanders. But they are not looking for the stories of those who have been displaced because of the war, or those who live in miserable conditions. But I do want to recognize some of the things that [my] foreign colleagues do. Some European and American journalists know more about the situation in the provinces than some Colombian journalists do.

JA: Unfortunately, the international media focus on Yemen only when talking about fighting terrorism. And they often turn a blind eye to corruption. They also don’t pay attention to people living in poverty. Societies where people are swimming in poverty are breeding grounds for terrorism. My newspaper, Al-Wasat, tries to shed light on the problem of radical Islamists, but then [those groups] accuse us of not being believers. Unfortunately, they find a kind of protection under the government.

MC: Gambia is simply under-reported. The [international] media, especially the American media, do not really report on us. Though small, we’re unique in some cases. There is a lot of press harassment, so if other media focuses on the journalists in Gambia, it would do us good. If oppressive laws and harassment in the media are regularly reported in international media, obviously that can help us.

FP: Do you think the International Press Freedom Award will help you pursue stories that you would not otherwise?

JC: This award confirms respect for the work of a photo-journalist who looks to the people for inspiration. I very much wish that I can find people and organizations that will be able to support my work in the future.

JA: This is an honor for me, naturally, but it is also a kind of promotion for journalism in Yemen. It is going to encourage Yemeni journalists to cross lines in the future. Even before this award, the pressure exerted by the CPJ made the Yemeni government think twice before attacking journalists. I hope that the American media pays more attention to attacks on basic rights and press freedom not only in Yemen, but also in the rest of the region.

MC: This award will definitely allow me to have access to more information. It is also a sort of motivation. I was so happy when I was nominated because it is such a prestigious award. For a country as small as Gambia, it serves as motivation to my colleagues back home to be given such a big award.

— Jésus Abad Colorado is a freelance photojournalist in Colombia. Jamal Amer is the editor of Yemen’s ’Al-Wasat newspaper. Madi Ceesay is general manager of The Independent in Gambia and president of the Gambia Press Union.

Reproduced with permission from FOREIGN POLICY; November Web Exclusive © 2006. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Back to top

Jailed Internet journalists on the rise?

By Rukmini Callimachi

Associated Press Newswires
December, 8 2006

© 2006. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

NEW YORK (AP) - When Iranian journalist Mojtaba Saminejad was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country’s Supreme Leader, it was not for an article that appeared in a newspaper. His offending story was posted on his personal Web blog.

Nearly one-third of journalists now serving time in prisons around the world published their work on the Internet, the second-largest category behind print journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in an analysis released Thursday.

The bulk of Internet journalists in jail -- 49 in total -- shows that "authoritarian states are becoming more determined to control the Internet," said Joel Simon, the New York-based group’s executive director.

"It wasn’t so long ago that people were talking about the Internet as a new medium that could never be controlled," he said. "The reality is that governments are now recognizing they need to control the Internet to control information."

Other noteworthy imprisoned Internet journalists include U.S. video blogger Joshua Wolf, who refused to give a grand jury his footage of a 2005 protest against a G-8 economic summit, and China’s Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for posting online instructions by the government on how to cover the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

For the second year in a row, CPJ’s annual survey found the total number of journalists in jail worldwide has increased. There were 134 reporters, editors and photographers incarcerated as of Dec. 1, nine more than a year ago.

In addition to the Internet writers, the total includes 67 print journalists, eight TV reporters, eight radio reporters and two documentary filmmakers.

Among the 24 nations that have imprisoned reporters, China topped the list for the eighth consecutive year with 31 journalists behind bars -- 19 of them Internet journalists.

Cuba was second with 24 reporters in prison. Nearly all of them had filed their reports to overseas-based Web sites.

The U.S. government and military has detained three journalists, including Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who was taken into custody in Iraq nine months ago and has yet to be charged with a crime.

CPJ recorded the first jailing of an Internet reporter in its 1997 census. Since then, the number has steadily grown and now includes reporters, editors and photographers whose work appeared primarily on the Internet, in e-mails or in other electronic forms.

The increase is a testament to the increasing attention of government censors to the Internet, media experts say.

"I refer to the freedom of the press as the canary in the coal mine," said Joshua Friedman, director of international programs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. "It’s a barometer of the insecurity of the people running these governments. One of the things that makes them insecure these days is the power of the Internet."

The rise in jailings of Internet journalists is also an indication that reporters in authoritarian countries are increasingly using the Web to circumvent state controls.

Shi, the jailed Chinese journalist, could have published his notes on state propaganda in the Chinese magazine in Hunan province where he worked as an editorial director. He chose instead to send an e-mail from his Yahoo account to the U.S.-based editor of a Chinese language Web forum.

Cuban journalist Manuel Vasquez-Portal said he posted his articles on a Miami-based Web site for a similar reason.

"Without a doubt, the Internet provided me an avenue. It was the only way to get the truth out of Cuba," he said through an interpreter.

Vasquez-Portal, who was jailed for 15 months in 2003, said he had to call his stories in to the operator of the Web site, though, because Cubans are not allowed access to the Internet. 

Back to top

Elected autocrats a danger to press- rights group

By Michelle Nichols

Reuters News

February 5, 2007

NEW YORK, Feb 4 (Reuters) - The rise of popularly elected "democratators" in Venezuela and Russia is an alarming new model for government control of the press, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists warned on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez embody a generation of sophisticated, elected leaders who use laws to control, intimidate and censor the media, said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

He said in November Chavez accused news broadcasters of attempting to "divide, weaken and destroy the nation" and threatened to pull their licenses, while in Russia in July Putin signed a measure that "equates journalism with terrorism."

"The democratators tolerate the facade of democracy -- a free press, opposition political parties, an independent judiciary — while gutting it from within," Simon said in CPJ’s "Attacks on the Press in 2006" report, will be published on Monday.

The report details the committee’s previously released statistics that show 55 journalists were killed around the world as a direct result of their work in 2006, while a record 134 journalists were in jail on Dec. 1 in 24 countries.

Simon said that while press freedom and human rights had been somewhat advanced by repressive governments being compelled to present themselves as democracies to gain international legitimacy, the techniques of democratators could not be underestimated.

"Leaders who jail journalists sometimes argue that they are complying with international law and are respectful of due process," Simon said. "Other nations take a revolving door approach, imprisoning journalists and releasing them before an international outcry."

He said some countries use government advertising to reward supportive news outlets and punish critical ones, such as in Argentina, where an independent research group told CPJ that advertising practices had damaged press freedom.

"Certainly there are countries that still rely on brute force; Cuba and Eritrea, where dozens of journalists are imprisoned, are among them," Simon said.

He said that since Putin took power in Russia in 2000, 13 journalists had been killed and none of their killers brought to justice -- a record that "causes reporters to ask fewer questions, to probe less deeply, to pass up risky stories."

© 2007. Reuters Limited

Back to top

Time for Journalists to Defend Press Freedom

By Samar Fatany

Arab News

February 21, 2007

I WAS reading an online discussion between early board members and former directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) regarding the challenges facing the press today. One of the best comments I read was an extract by Ann Cooper, executive director of the committee, in which she gives an accurate description of how threatening it is to be a professional journalist and how the principles of journalism are being undermined.

“The vague, ongoing ’War on Terror’ continues to take a sorry toll on press freedom,” she said. “Leaders around the world have seized on terrorism as an excuse to muzzle reporting in the name of preserving national security. They have succeeded in creating a chilly new climate for journalists, where public officials and the public itself engage in rhetorical attacks and legal threats to intimidate or punish media that dare report on sensitive topics, such as human rights abuses and the erosion of civil liberties. Journalists must understand this threat is a global one and unite as never before to protect independent reporting.”

Ann Cooper is an award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent with more than 25 years of radio and print reporting experience. Her courageous words underscore her well-deserved position as executive director of CPJ, one of the world’s leading press freedom advocacy groups.

The CPJ also includes prominent and active journalists on its board of directors, such as Christiane Amanpour, Tom Brokaw and others. It is the only American organization with a full-time staff dedicated to monitoring and exposing attacks on the media and freedom of the press.

The outspoken members of CPJ play an important global role defending journalists in emergency situations and acting on behalf of jailed journalists — lobbying for their release. Journalism is under constant criticism, and the task of journalists covering the news in war zones is becoming a much more dangerous business. More and more, journalists are being killed or subjected to violence, illegal detention, threats or intimidation.

As part of a journalistic study mission, organized by the National Democratic Institute, our group met with Frank Smyth, Washington CPJ representative. Naturally, as an Arab group, we asked him about Taysir Allouni, the Al-Jazeera reporter jailed in Spain in 2003 on charges of terrorism; and Sami Al-Hajj, the Al-Jazeera photographer held at Guantanamo for five years without charge or trial. Their cases have been widely publicized in the Arab and Muslim world, and many protests and petitions continue to demand their release. Both maintain their innocence, and they are known among their colleagues and friends as dedicated journalists who would not be involved in any terrorist act as claimed by the US government. Al-Hajj is held at Guantanamo as a so-called “enemy combatant” on the basis of “secret evidence.” He neither has been convicted nor charged with a crime.

Moreover, Taysir and Sami are not the only innocent individuals held at Guantanamo. According to a January 2005 report in The Wall Street Journal, US commanders acknowledged that many Guantanamo detainees are not a threat and likely have no valuable intelligence about Al-Qaeda or the Taleban.

Al-Hajj’s lawyer is Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve, a London-based human rights group that took up Al-Hajj’s case in 2005. He called the judicial system at Guantanamo a shame, and he contends that continued detention of Al-Hajj is political and the main focus of US interrogators has not been alleged terrorist activities but obtaining intelligence on Al-Jazeera and its staff.

When our group discussed the case with Smyth, he expressed his support and explained that CPJ in September 2002 wrote to then Secretary of Defense Ronald Rumsfeld, calling on the Pentagon to detail the basis of Al-Hajj’s detention. Smyth talked about the role of CPJ, which maintains programs to help journalists in dire situations and monitors and exposes violations of press freedom. It also organizes public protests and works through diplomatic channels.

One can only hope that the continued efforts of CPJ and other human rights organizations can gain the release of these two prominent media personalities.

Meanwhile, there are many others who have died carrying out their journalistic mission around the globe. Statistics note that 79 journalists were killed in Iraq alone between 2003 and August 2006. Among them is Mazen Dana, the brave Palestinian cameraman of Reuters for more than a decade. He was killed in Iraq in 2006 at the age of 41 while filming American armor outside Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Dana’s career began in Hebron, his West Bank hometown. He weathered bullets and violent attacks from Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers, and rocks from Palestinian demonstrators to report the conflict in Hebron. He received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2001 before being dispatched to Iraq to record the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The war in Iraq seems to have no end, and the Palestinian-Israeli peace seems to be beyond any reach. The situation in the Middle East continues to be very dangerous. Unrest in Lebanon, struggles in Sudan and Somalia and the threat of a pending US attack against Syria or Iran is every Arab’s nightmare and the concern of every veteran journalist who has covered wars and reported on its brutalities and the deaths of innocents.

Roy Gutman, winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on human rights violations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, wrote in the magazine “Dangerous Assignments,” a CPJ publication, that war is a school for journalists. He recommends the need to set up a standard curriculum to train the next generation on how to survive in hazardous environments, to recognize weapon types and to administer first aid. He recommends training in force and foreign policy, laws of war strategy and tactics to help restore purpose to the profession at a time of growing self-doubt.

The wars and conflicts of the Middle East and other parts of the world continue to threaten global peace. I think it would be wise for our professionals to heed Gutman’s warning and chart a new course for journalism in this dangerous world. It also is equally important, as Cooper points out, for journalists to understand the global threat and unite in the name of independent reporting and a free press.

Samar Fatany is a Jeddah-based radio journalist. She can be reached at [email protected]  

Back to top

Dying to tell

By Robert Mahoney

The Guardian online

May 3, 2007

The appalling reality of journalism today in many countries is that a notebook or a camera can be a death sentence. In the past 15 years more than 600 reporters, editors, columnists, photojournalists and media support staff have been killed for their work, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Hollywood image of the intrepid foreign reporter is that of James Woods in the thick of a civil war in the film, Salvador, or Jennifer Connolly unearthing the truth in Blood Diamond. War correspondents do sometimes get caught in crossfire or executed by despots for being "spies", but a little-known journalism statistic is that few of the correspondents who die are killed on the battlefield: seven out of 10 are murdered after being deliberately targeted for what they have written or aired. They are hunted down and shot by professional hit men, beaten to death by hired thugs, or simply "disappeared".

Political journalists uncovering corruption in Africa, crime reporters exposing drug traffickers in Mexico, defence correspondents probing the movements of al-Qaida on the porous Afghan-Pakistani border, have all paid with their lives.

Not surprisingly, Iraq tops the list of the deadliest places to be a journalist over the past 25 years of CPJ's existence.

More than 100 journalists have been killed there since the US-led invasion in 2003. Of those 80% were Iraqis, the eyes and ears of the foreign press and the backbone of the new post-Saddam media. Most of them were murdered for their profession. They were not hit by a suicide bomber or a stray bullet because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although in the thick of the conflict, television correspondent Atwar Bahjat, a household name to millions of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya viewers, was not an unintended victim. She was hunted down and brutally killed with her two-man camera crew covering the aftermath of the Askariya shrine bombing in Samarra last year. Bahjat, 30, was regarded as a true independent journalist threading her way through Iraq's sectarian minefield. Her killers drove around asking for the whereabouts of "the presenter."

Only the Algerian civil war of the 1990s comes close to Iraq as a killing field for the press, according to CPJ's research, with 60 deaths. The third deadliest country for reporters is Russia, with more than 40 deaths.

Russia is a case study in the threats faced by investigative journalists who touch a political or financial nerve in a country with a centralised, ruling elite. In the seven years that President Vladimir Putin has been in the Kremlin 13 journalists have been killed, execution style.

The most recent was Anna Politkovskaya, a thorn in Putin's flesh with her relentless reporting on the brutal fighting in Chechnya. Politkovskaya was shot while carrying groceries outside her Moscow apartment building last October. The slaying, which was condemned worldwide, bore the hallmarks of a professional hit. It was also typical of most other journalist murders in Russia and the former Soviet states in that those responsible have never been found.

Of the 13 murder cases since 2000, which include the killing of US journalist Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, only three have gone to trial and nobody has yet been convicted.

That record of impunity is echoed around the world. When it comes to killing journalists, the assassins and those who hire them are rarely prosecuted. CPJ research shows that more than 85% of journalists' murders are unsolved.

Such a climate of impunity encourages more murders and has a chilling effect on press freedom generally. Nowhere is this truer than in Latin America where the CPJ has found rampant self-censorship among reporters and editors in countries such as Colombia and Mexico where challenging organised crime or paramilitary interests spells a certain bullet.

In Africa, although the overall number of journalist deaths is relatively low (in part due to self-censorship), reporters who do push the limits of investigative reporting are ruthlessly silenced and their killers rarely prosecuted.

Newspaper editor Deyda Hydara was killed in the Gambia in December 2004 and his assassins are still at large. French-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer was killed in April 2004 while reporting on corruption in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast , and his killers were not brought to book. Perhaps the longest wait for justice on the continent is in Burkina Faso where Norbert Zongo was riddled with bullets in a December 1998 ambush after doggedly investigating President Blaise Compaoré's government over allegations of torture and murder.

The killings of journalists like these in Africa or of the many radio presenters, who have died in the Philippines, rarely make international headlines. But for every Daniel Pearl or Anna Politkovskaya there are scores of writers and photographers who perish in pursuit of truth. World Press Freedom Day is a time to remember them.  

Story from The Guardian online:

Back to top

Held without charges; 2 cases of journalists in U.S. military custody raise questions

By Clarence Page

Chicago Tribune
May 13, 2007

WASHINGTON - Has journalism become a crime in the Bush administration’s "war on terror"? We Americans are left to wonder. Our military is holding two journalists without charges or any public evidence that they broke any laws.

One of them, Iraqi photographer Bilal Hussein, was part of The Associated Press’ 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage in Iraq. He has been held by U.S. forces in Iraq since April 12, 2006, with no indication as to whether he ever will be charged or released.

The other journalist, Sami al-Hajj, is worse off. He’s a Sudanese national, a cameraman for Al Jazeera and has been held for more than five years. Currently, he is the only known journalist being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As with Hussein, there are no publicly known charges against al-Hajj.

Various allegations have been leveled by the military, but the AP has rebutted each one. At one point, for example, U.S. officials alleged that Hussein was involved in the kidnapping of two other Arab journalists by insurgents. This was refuted by none other than the two journalists, who praised Hussein for helping them to be released.

Of course, there have been many cases in this war and others in which local reporters, photographers or stringers hired by American news organizations have turned out to be double agents. With its own reputation and the lives of its reporters and photographers at stake, the AP has thoroughly investigated Hussein, his photos and the allegations against him. The AP examined 900 photos for evidence that he might have been on the scene when explosions or other attacks took place, as the Pentagon has speculated. Last week, at a forum held by the Committee to Protect Journalists, of which I am a board member, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, said he’s come up clean.

"We’re not new to this job," Carroll said. "The AP has been covering wars since Little Big Horn."
Last month, at a New York forum sponsored by the Museum of Television & Radio, Tom Curley, AP president and chief executive officer, drew applause by declaring, "We have reviewed everything about [Hussein], we stand by him and his work speaks for itself."

So why is the U.S. government still holding Hussein? Curley suspected a government effort to chill coverage of the unruly Anbar province, where Hussein was arrested. "He is an innocent victim," said Curley. "This ... is about The Associated Press. We are the target. Freedom of the press is the target."

With that, Hussein’s case holds ominous similarities to that of al-Hajj. U.S. military authorities said at first that he was being held as a suspected courier for Al Qaeda and other extremists. But there’s also evidence he might be the victim of mistaken identity, confused with another suspect with a similar name.

Mostly his lawyers say interrogations of al-Hajj have focused on his employer, Al Jazeera, and the rest of its staff. He has even been offered a chance to be released if he agrees to inform U.S. intelligence about the satellite network’s activities, his lawyers say. Journalism shouldn’t be a crime, even for a network this administration doesn’t like.

"If there is any evidence of a crime, then let’s see it," Zachary Katznelson, al-Hajj’s lawyer, said. That sounds fair to me.

I don’t know whether either man is guilty of any crimes. Since they have not been charged, it appears that the government doesn’t know either. What’s outrageous is the lack of due process in both cases. If the government has a case, it should press charges. Otherwise let these men go. That’s the American way. Or, at least, it used to be.

But, of course, Hussein and al-Hajj are not Americans. Americans are taking pains to hold them outside of America under the legally vague status of "enemy combatants." The Bush administration is hardly the first or only regime to grab as much authority over people’s lives as it can. The next one probably will too. That’s why the framers wrote the Bill of Rights. The life of democracy is in the protection of individual freedoms.

If we Americans still believe in such niceties, our alleged "combatants" should either be charged with a crime in a court of law and given a fair trial or they should be released. At once.

Reprinted with Permission of Tribune Media Services, 2007

Back to top

Killing the Russian Media


The New York Times

May 24, 2007

Journalists from around the world who will gather in Moscow next week are poised to stand up for their colleagues in a country where journalism and journalists are increasingly under attack. The 1,000 media representatives plan to establish a commission to finally investigate the growing number of unsolved murders of journalists in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Russia is now the third deadliest country for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since the year 2000, when President Putin was first elected, at least 14 journalists have been murdered because of their work. None of these murders have been solved.

A journalists’ commission is no substitute for what Mr. Putin’s government has denied — justice. But it should draw attention to their murders and what they were investigating. It also may help focus attention on the methodical destruction of the fledgling free press that sprouted in Russia after the fall of Communism.

After Mr. Putin took over, national television stations were the first to lose their independence. Major newspapers are increasingly controlled by those who do the state’s bidding. The radio correspondents for the Russian News Service, the main source of news for radio stations, resigned earlier this month to protest censorship by new owners. And the Russian Union of Journalists, a strong voice against the march to silence any independent reporting, was ordered to leave its Moscow headquarters just days before the international conference.

The few remaining critics increasingly write or speak out at their peril, as new laws tighten the government’s grip. Most recently, the definition of extremism has been expanded to include media criticism of state officials. That can mean jail time for the reporter and the shutting down of the news outlet. Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists puts it chillingly: “The process of squeezing critical journalism out of the public space is now near complete.”

In the meantime, polls show President Putin’s popularity has soared. No wonder. Fewer and fewer Russians can see or hear from anyone who opposes him, his policies or his government.

Back to top

The world can’t sit idle as journalists are murdered

By Terry Anderson

USA Today
June 25, 2007

A Mighty Heart is the story of the deliberate, horrifying execution of Daniel Pearl, a top Wall Street Journal reporter, by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002. Starkly and dramatically filmed in the chaotic streets where Pearl worked and was kidnapped, the film -- which opened nationwide over the weekend -- gives a taste of the difficulty and danger reporters encounter trying to find and tell the truth.

Pearl was a well-respected, cautious foreign correspondent. But like his colleagues, he had to take calculated risks to do his job. His murderers exploited those risks without mercy. You don’t have to see his beheading (which is not portrayed in the film) to feel its horror.

He was one of more than 460 journalists murdered in the course of doing their jobs in the past 15 years. But his case was unusual, not just in its deliberate cruelty, but because most of those responsible have been caught and tried or detained. More than 85% of the others on this list were murdered with impunity. No one was ever caught, let alone tried and convicted. In at least a third of the killings, there are clear indications that the perpetrators weren’t caught because they were members of or associated with the victim’s government.

The issue of impunity in journalist murders goes far beyond Pakistan: to the Philippines, where 22 journalists have been killed in the past five years. To Russia, where contract-style killings have become the method of choice to silence critics of corruption in the state and big business. And to our neighbor, Mexico, where journalists, particularly those investigating drug trafficking and organized crime, have been killed in alarming numbers, making it one of the most dangerous countries besides Colombia in which to report in the Americas.

Like Pearl, these reporters took calculated risks -- the possibility of being arrested, kidnapped, beaten or killed -- in telling truths that others did not want revealed. Why take such risks? They believed it was important, as do those who continue to investigate and report.

The more important question is: Why do their persecutors, their kidnappers and their murderers do it? Because they know it’s important. They know they cannot continue to oppress others, deprive them of human rights, steal their wealth, in the face of a free and active press. They must silence those who would hold them to account.

I am among hundreds of foreign correspondents who defend our colleagues not because of any belief that reporters have any more rights or deserve protection more than others. We do it because we know that reporters are the first to be attacked by anyone -- government or criminal -- who needs silence to commit crimes. Those who kill reporters must be tracked and caught and convicted, not just as a matter of simple justice, but to help stem and reverse the tide of eroding freedoms around the world.

This may sound like a hopeless task, but it’s not. Without intense pressure from the media, from Daniel Pearl’s strong wife, Mariane, and from our government, his murderers might have escaped without punishment, as have those behind the seven journalist murders in Pakistan that have followed his.

You cannot have a free society without a free press. Whenever a journalist is killed with impunity, we all lose.

— Terry Anderson, a former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press and the author of Den of Lions, about his seven years as a hostage of Shiite Muslim radicals in Lebanon, is honorary co- chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The non-profit organization, created in 1981, is launching a campaign against impunity in the killing of journalists.

Back to top

The Toxic Toll of Press Repression

By Kristin Jones

The Wall Street Journal Asia
July 9, 2007

The discovery of toxic ingredients in toothpaste, seafood, cough syrup and toys has raised questions about the safety of China’s exports. These threats -- and the risk they pose to consumers -- could have been uncovered much earlier had the Chinese government used its best weapon: its own domestic press.

Over the last 30 years, the press in China has developed from a turgid official mouthpiece to a thriving industry, with hundreds of thousands of journalists working across the country. Commercialization, the Internet and increased contact with the outside world have built a sophisticated and dogged press corps with eyes and ears all over the country.

But the media’s increasing capacity for ferreting out information is no guarantee that news will make it into print or onto the airwaves. The Party’s Central Propaganda Department and local propaganda departments all over the country issue daily do-not-report orders to the press. Journalists who disobey are demoted, fired or even jailed. Crucial news about corruption, public health and safety, and many other contentious issues is often buried.

In the wake of the recent crisis, Chinese officials have accused Americans of exaggerating import risks to bolster their position in a trade dispute. But they know well that improperly regulated products have taken their biggest toll on their own people. For example, journalists in Fuyang in 2004 first revealed the horrific deaths of malnourished infants who had been fed counterfeit milk formula that was devoid of nutritional value. Many other, similar cases have fallen victim to propaganda department orders that silence in-depth investigations, often with the collusion of local officials or powerful businessmen.

When Chinese reporter Zhou Kai discovered in April that patients in the city of Laiyang in Shandong province were receiving intravenous injections of counterfeit medicine, he managed to get inside a hospital to talk to the family and doctors of a comatose patient. Then he interviewed the deputy director of an apparently indifferent local Food and Drug Administration. But before his article could be published, the local Communist Party’s propaganda department got word of Mr. Zhou’s investigation.

In a move perfectly attuned to the current mix of Party power and capitalist sensibilities in China, officials from Laiyang offered an advertising package to Mr. Zhou’s employer at the major national newspaper China Youth Daily. The newspaper’s officially appointed management blocked the story from publication.

That would have been the end of it had Mr. Zhou not taken the significant personal and professional risk of posting his chilling account of censorship on an internal office network, where it eventually found its way online. His story remains posted on a Web forum for journalists in China, and the Hong Kong-based blog EastSouthWestNorth translated it:

"I do not produce counterfeit medicine, I do not sell counterfeit medicine, I am not a doctor at the hospital, I am not the Food and Drug Administration, I am not the Publicity Department but I still have a pained conscience," wrote Mr. Zhou. "That is because I have learned the truth but I am unable to inform others. I cannot inform the patients."

With at least 29 journalists imprisoned in China, the wonder is that journalists like Mr. Zhou have the courage to tell their stories at all. If investigative journalism like Mr. Zhou’s were rewarded instead of penalized in China, we might be hearing much less from U.S. regulators about the hazards of Chinese imports. A free press has a way of getting to the ugly truth sooner than bureaucrats, whether foreign or national.

— Kristin Jones is the senior Asia researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

Back to top

Mexico needs legislation to ensure press freedom

By Joel Simon and Carlos Lauria

San Antonio Express-News
July 20, 2007

The recent decision by the San Antonio Express-News to temporarily remove its border correspondent from its Laredo bureau was a judicious move. The paper temporarily withdrew reporter Mariano Castillo after a U.S. law enforcement source warned that an unspecified American journalist was on the hit list of a Mexican criminal group.

In the current context of rampant violence, the threat must be taken seriously.

Mexico’s powerful drug cartels have repeatedly targeted Mexican journalists, fueling a culture of self-censorship particularly along the border. Despite a constitutional mandate to safeguard freedom of the press, Mexico’s federal government has done little either to protect journalists or ensure the free circulation of information.

The recent threat shows that U.S. journalists are not immune to the dangers of reporting on drug trafficking, but Mexican journalists have borne the brunt of the violence. The number of killings has spiraled as cartels battle it out over lucrative smuggling routes. Mexico now rivals Colombia as the most dangerous place to practice journalism in Latin America.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists research, 18 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, six of them in direct reprisal for their work. Meanwhile, five journalists have gone missing since 2005. Three of them were covering crime stories.

Though the drug wars are particularly acute along the U.S.-Mexico border, violence has spread to almost every Mexican state in the past year. Organized crime-related executions have increased 10 percent since President Felipe Calderón took office seven months ago, said Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora. This year has been devastating: More than 1,300 people have been killed in drug-related crimes.

One of the most damaging consequences of this climate of terror is the fear it creates among different sectors of Mexican society. Scores of reporters and numerous outlets are engaging in self-censorship for fear of retaliation.

In late May, the Hermosillo-based daily Cambio de Sonora suspended publication after two bomb attacks and repeated threats in a one-month period. In the central state of Michoacán, five dailies abstain from any reporting on crime, the news magazine Proceso reported this week. In the lawless border city of Nuevo Laredo, identifying drug traffickers by name is off-limits.

Sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, crime, corruption, human rights abuses and other problems that affect the daily lives of ordinary people are not being covered. The absence of a profound debate over issues of public interest is seriously affecting the health of Mexico’s democracy.

Although the right to free expression is guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution, thousands of citizens are not able to exercise this right for fear of physical retribution. This unprecedented wave of violence goes beyond the press: It is actually inhibiting the ability of Mexicans to communicate with each other.

The federal government recognized violence against the press as a national problem when it created a special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against the media in early 2006. But there have been no successful prosecutions partly because murder and assault are state crimes and the federal government has no jurisdiction to intervene. And recent statements by the prosecutor’s office downplaying the threat to press freedom are deeply discouraging.

President Calderón can help fulfill his constitutional responsibility by proposing legislation making it a federal crime to conspire to deprive Mexicans of their right to freedom of expression. Such legislation would give the federal government the legal tools it needs to protect the work of the press.

Joel Simon is executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Carlos Lauría is senior program director.

Story from San Antonio Express-News:

Back to top

Chávez's goal: Media hegemony

By Carlos Lauria

Miami Herald
August 3, 2007

Venezuelan officials' increasing intolerance of free speech and press criticism reached a new low this week. A group of cable-television channels narrowly escaped being taken off the air, and President Hugo Chávez declared during his six-hour long weekly television and radio address that foreigners who criticize him or his administration while visiting the country will be expelled from Venezuela. Though analysts believe this is just another example of the president's inflamed rhetoric that won't result in any concrete actions, Chávez has ordered high-ranking officials to scrutinize statements made by foreign dignitaries and deport any outspoken critics while carrying out a deliberate strategy to control Venezuela's media.

The president's order came at a time when Venezuelan authorities are studying a proposal by Minister of Communication and Information William Lara to amend the 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television and force all cable and satellite television stations operating in the country to carry Chávez's simultaneous radio and television broadcasts live.

Though Minister of Telecommunications Jesse Chacón seemed reluctant to support such a bizarre idea, Lara's initiative will be evaluated by administration officials, the minister said. Meanwhile, the government's decision to ask cable and satellite providers to remove RCTV's new signal from their programming is widely perceived as a further attempt to silence the main critical media outlet. RCTV, Venezuela's oldest private television station, was taken off the public airwaves on May 27 after the government decided not to renew its broadcast concession.

Authorities waited only a few days after RCTV International, RCTV's new signal, began broadcasting on paid-subscription television on July 16 to go after them. In what has become a pattern of continuous retaliation, the government said RCTV must register as a national channel before the National Telecommunications Commission to comply with the social-responsibility law.

As it did when it first took RCTV off the air, the Chávez administration is once again acting arbitrarily, and with political intent. The plan to force cable and satellite stations to carry the president's speeches is a clear attempt to control the flow of information and follows a premeditated strategy to build a state communication hegemony.

The plan was activated soon after the 2002 coup against Chávez, when the Venezuelan government realized that the state communication apparatus was powerless to influence the supremacy of private-media monopolies. Since then, the administration has invested heavily in public funds to boost the size of the government's media portfolio. It has also filled positions with activists and supporters in order to manipulate content and guarantee uncritical coverage.

Since 2003, the Venezuelan administration has launched several television stations:

• ViVe TV, a cultural and educational television network with coverage throughout the country.

• ANTV, which broadcasts sessions of the National Assembly on the airwaves and on cable.

• Avila TV, a regional television station run by the city of Caracas.

Telesur, the 24-hour news channel launched in July 2005, is certainly Chávez's most ambitious media project. In a move intended to expand the network's reach beyond cable and satellite subscribers, Telesur purchased a Caracas-based broadcast television channel CMT, in December 2006.

The administration's investment in state media was not only limited to national broadcast and cable outlets but also included the creation of a network of alternative and community media, including TV and radio stations. At the same time, the government has opened newspapers and websites to disseminate the official line and discredit critical journalists and media owners.

Though the media landscape has changed substantially since 2002, Chávez and officials in his administration still point out the concentration of media ownership in private hands. Most of them refuse to acknowledge that the government has been able to thwart private media's control over the flow of information with significant spending in public funds. As expressed by Telesur President Andrés Izarra, one of the few officials who has spoken plainly on the official media policy, the goal of the Venezuelan government ``is aimed at achieving the state's communication and information hegemony.''

Carlos Lauría is Americas senior program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

© 2007 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top

Harassing Germany's Media


The New York Times
August 10, 2007

Germany would seem to be one of the last places to find the government trying to intimidate its journalists these days. News of secret C.I.A. flights that whisked prisoners through the Continent to places where torture is allowed has horrified many Europeans in recent years. The German courts have been in the forefront of condemning ''extraordinary rendition'' -- the practice of loading terrorism suspects onto planes and secretly flying them to Afghanistan or Syria or other particularly dangerous spots for anyone behind bars.

A German court even issued a warrant in January for the arrest of 13 people said to be part of a Central Intelligence Agency ''abduction team'' involved in the kidnapping and jailing of a German citizen in 2003. Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese descent, was seized in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan where he was brutally interrogated for five months before being released without charges ever being filed.

Yet despite such widespread concern, the government is investigating at least 17 German journalists from top publications, like Der Spiegel and Die Welt, for their articles about a parliamentary committee investigating these renditions. World news media organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, have rightly demanded an end to what amounts to political intimidation by the German authorities in these cases.

Such attempts to stop the reporting on this important subject not only work against the public interest, in Germany they appear to be illegal. The German high court earlier this year approved a shield law that should protect journalists from this kind of harassment -- a protection that so far Congress has withheld from the American press. On the most basic level, if a government prosecutes journalists to find the names of their sources, those sources disappear, and journalists can be intimidated into giving up hard-hitting investigations. What goes on inside a government becomes more and more secret, which is bad news for democracy, and what's left for the public are official press releases.

Miklos Haraszti, the representative focusing on media freedom for the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe, had it right in his letter earlier this week to Germany's Minister of Justice. ''Initiating proceedings against the media merely in retaliation for their publishing, with the aim of deterring them from similar editorial decisions, is inadmissible in a society proud of its press freedoms.'' Germany's prosecutors should drop their attempts to intimidate their nation's journalists.

© 2007 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top

Killing the Messenger

Dozens of journalists are murdered every year to silence reports of human rights abuses, criminal enterprise and government corruption

By Joe Piasecki

Pasadena Weekly, Cover Story
August 10, 2007

What would you be willing to die for?

Anna Politskovskaya was slain simply for telling the truth.

In October, the special correspondent for the independent Moscow twice-weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta (New Newspaper) was gunned down execution-style in her Moscow apartment days before she was to publish an investigative report — complete with photographic evidence — linking torture of civilians in Chechnya with soldiers loyal to the acting president of that war-torn land.

The search for her assassins took center stage in June during the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards ceremony at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA. During the ceremony, Politskovskaya was posthumously honored with the Daniel Pearl Award, named for the Wall Street Journal reporter who in 2002 was murdered in Pakistan and presented to her by Pearl's father, Judea.

Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Sergei Sokolov spoke at the gathering. “She was not impervious to the fear of death,” he said of Politiskovskaya with the help of a translator, but, “she felt she had no choice but to tell the truth because nearly every day desperate people came and asked her for help.”

Stories like Politskovskaya's are tragically common — not only in the former Soviet Union but all over the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Here in California just last week, Oakland Post Editor and former Oakland Tribune reporter Chauncey Bailey was reportedly ambushed and gunned down allegedly by an employee of a business whose management and associates Bailey had covered in critical articles. Bailey, according to reports, had been working on another story about the business and its finances; investigators say this played a role in his death.

In the first seven months of this year, 31 journalists including Bailey have been either murdered in direct retaliation for stories they were working on or killed in combat situations, according to CPJ.

This year's grim statistic brings the total number of journalists killed since Jan. 1, 1992 — not counting those who went missing or whose deaths the group could not link with certainty to their profession — to 642.

Of the 636 journalists killed as of June 28 (before the deaths in the line of duty of Bailey and five reporters in Iraq and Pakistan), 72.7 percent were murdered outright, and 17.6 percent died during combat-related situations. A 58.2 percent majority worked in print journalism.

Most often suspected of planning or perpetrating murders of journalists, CPJ reports, are political groups (29 percent), government officials (19.3 percent) and criminal groups (11.5 percent).

Perhaps just as disturbing as the killings themselves, though, is the fact that most perpetrators — a mind-boggling 85.7 percent of those involved in journalist murders — have done so with complete impunity. CPJ believes only 6.7 percent of journalist murder cases have resulted in full justice for the victims and their families.

Among the 15 worst countries in terms of safety for journalists is Mexico, where since 1992 six have been killed in direct retaliation for their work along with 11 others in more mysterious circumstances.

Just a few hours' drive from Pasadena, Tijuana has been the scene of three attacks against journalists associated with Zeta, a crusading weekly newspaper known for fearless investigative coverage of local drug cartels and government corruption.

In the summer of 2004, co-Editor Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco was gunned down as he sat in his car with his two youngest children in what is believed to be an act of retaliation for stories exposing drug trafficking operations. Armed men killed Zeta co-founder Hector Felix Miranda in April 1988, and in 1997 co-founder Jesus Blancomelas was seriously wounded by machine-gun fire during an assassination attempt.

Here at home, this newspaper has not been free from attempts to intimidate its staff.

In 2002, one subject of an investigative report involving crime in an Alhambra neighborhood threatened violence against both this reporter and Weekly Editor Kevin Uhrich, and following that incident a former publisher told staff he had received threatening telephone messages condemning the paper's outspoken coverage of local anti-war activity.

In 2003, following a series of stories about sexual harassment and corruption at an area police agency, all but one lug nut was removed from the front passenger-side wheel of a car owned by Uhrich, resulting in damage to the vehicle that Uhrich and this reporter were riding in. And in 2004 reporter André Coleman received an anonymous threatening phone call in relation to his investigation into the officer-involved shooting of Maurice Clark.

Politskovskaya's murder is the third killing of a staff member of Novaya Gazeta, which was founded with help from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize award toward an initial purchase of computers.

In July 2000, an editor died from head wounds suffered two months earlier in an attack following the publication of articles that were critical of a regional official.

In July 2003, then-Deputy Editor Yuri Shchekochikhin died of what government officials have described as a rare allergy, an illness so strange that all records surrounding the facts of his death have been declared state secrets. He had been covering an intricate scheme involving money laundering, weapons trafficking and illegal oil smuggling that implicated members of the prosecutor general's office, according to CPJ.

Most recently in Russia, a former space program colonel working as a military correspondent for another newspaper was killed before he could file a report about a planned Russian sale of fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and Iran by channeling the weapons through Belarus to conceal their origin.

Nina Ognianova, CPJ's program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, testified last Tuesday before the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that lack of interest on the part of many governments when it comes to probing journalist deaths should be addressed emphatically by American foreign policy.

“These issues are often eclipsed by strategic energy of military interests, so human rights violations like murders of journalists take a back seat. In doing so, democratic governments like the United States are sending a message that this is acceptable and will be tolerated in their continuing partnerships with authoritarian governments,” Ognianova told the Weekly.

Also known as the Helsinki Commission, the agency was established to monitor compliance with the Cold War-era Helsinki Accords, which demand the recognition and protection of human rights. It is led by nine members of the US House of Representatives, including El Monte Democrat Hilda Solis and nine senators — among them Sen. John Kerry and presidential candidates Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

“Freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy that keeps governments accountable in challenging times. I am particularly concerned about developments in Russia, where threats to journalists are real and dangerous,” said Solis in a statement emailed Monday to the Weekly. “The high murder rate of journalists in Russia is simply unacceptable. We must continue to strongly urge Russia to respect basic freedoms such as freedom of the press and end any intimidation of journalists, especially threats of violence.”

However, there is no news yet on progress with investigations into Politskovskaya's death, said documentary filmmaker and UCLA journalism Professor Marina Goldovskaya. Goldovskaya was one of Politskovskaya's journalism instructors at Moscow University, and the two maintained a friendship that prompted Goldovskaya to begin filming a documentary about her life and death.

“She received threats all the time from all kinds of crooks and people who she criticized. They were afraid of her. They wanted her to stop talking. The film is about her as a brave woman … and how the country and the people miss her because they lost the conscience of the nation,” said Goldovskaya, who was reached via telephone while filming in Moscow.

But what does that mean for us?

“I think that Americans tend to be more involved and interested in their personal life, which is absolutely understandable, but few people really care about the world — which is going to hell little by little,” said Goldovskaya. “It's not only a Russian problem. It's  also an American problem, a global problem.”

As CPJ sees it, “An attack against any journalist in a country like Russia is an attack on the press corps of the United States,” said Ognianova.

“With every journalist slain, a story is being buried along with them,” she said. “After 9/11, we all saw how connected we are. So we should care about what happens next door — especially to the messengers, because they are the eyes and ears of society.”

Back to top

In Myanmar, dissent is high-tech

Cutting-edge evaders get around government controls to tell the world about unrest

By Laurie Goering

Chicago Tribune, Feature
October 2, 2007

Neerav Modi has never been an activist. But the American student and computer whiz, who is studying medicine in India, has played a crucial role in the political uprisings in Myanmar.

Read the rest of this story at the Chicago Tribune website.

Back to top

Ex-'Nightly News' anchor campaigns for Committee to Protect Journalists

Cause Celeb: Tom Brokaw

NBC News
October 23, 2007

Each month, we highlight a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific charity. This month we speak with Tom Brokaw, who was anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” for 21 years. Brokaw who continues to report and produce long-form documentaries and provide expertise during breaking news events for NBC News, discusses his involvement with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

: What is the Committee to Protect Journalists?

It’s an organization that a group of us formed in the early 1980’s because we felt that we should extend the privilege that we have in this country to our colleagues around the world. Most of us have worked overseas and we had seen the variable oppressive environment that exists in too many countries for people to practice the craft of journalism. So we got together one night at a little cocktail party over at 21 and out of that grew this now internationally acclaimed, highly esteemed organization. It’s essentially a journalist advocacy organization in which we get people out of trouble or counsel governments or lecture them in some cases or write to them and try to get them to see the importance of sunshine as a disinfectant in their countries.

  Why did you get involved in this cause?

Well, it was easy for those of us who started because when you travel the world as a journalist you suddenly quit beefing about the minor inconveniences back home. We have the First Amendment here and very strong laws protecting what we do and a great tradition of journalism. So I thought, I’m at a stage in my life where the least I can do is try to extend these benefits to people around the world that I meet, who look to America as the pinnacle of journalism. And they help me a lot when I’m there, so this is one small way of paying them back.

Read the rest of the interview at the MSNBC website.

Back to top

Notebook: Brave Journalist

Video News Story

CBS News
November 19, 2007

Anthony Mason pays tribute to a Chinese journalist who was targeted and imprisoned for reporting on a phony irrigation project.

Watch the video at the CBS News website.

Back to top

Reporting Against the Odds; Honoring journalists who risk death to write the truth


The Washington Post
November 20, 2007

Reprinted with permission from Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Company and The Washington Post

It was no surprise when authorities shut another independent newspaper in Vladimir Putin's Russia this month, but the pretext was particularly illustrative of the cynicism of Mr. Putin's regime. The Samara edition of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper had offended those in power by fairly covering the political opposition, so police swooped in on Nov. 8, confiscated the newspaper's lone remaining computer (having seized the others last spring) and indicted its editor for allegedly using a counterfeit version of some Microsoft software. For one of the world's leaders in intellectual piracy, this was indeed rich.

On the other hand, it was nothing new for Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the national edition of Novaya Gazeta, which continues to publish against great odds. A government-backed monopoly makes it increasingly difficult for him to secure advertising, and another makes it harder and harder to sell his newspaper in Russia's ubiquitous kiosks. Meanwhile, three of his bravest reporters -- Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin and Anna Politkovskaya -- have been murdered while investigating government corruption and human rights abuses. "I would prefer them to shut the newspaper altogether rather than kill us one by one," Mr. Muratov said last week.

Yet Mr. Muratov -- gruff, bearish and apparently beyond intimidation -- continues to publish, to expose, even to investigate the unsolved murders of his own journalists. Tonight in New York City he will receive an International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. So will Mazhar Abbas, who has led protests in Pakistan against Gen. Pervez Musharraf's constriction of the free media; Gao Qinrong of China, who spent eight years in prison for accurate reporting that embarrassed local officials; and Adela Navarro Bello, whose weekly magazine Zeta in Tijuana, Mexico, reports on drug barons and their corrupt ties to officials. Two Zeta editors have been murdered, and Ms. Bello, general director of the magazine, regularly receives death threats.

In an interview last week, Ms. Bello was matter-of-fact about the risks she runs. "We are not suicidal," she said. "We do our professional work, in a country where there are not enough guarantees for our security." She, like Mr. Muratov and the other honorees, reminds us of the almost unimaginable bravery of thousands of others who stand up to bullies like Mr. Putin, simply because they believe it is the right thing to do.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and The Washington Post. All rights Reserved.

Back to top

Journalists being jailed without charges worldwide

By Saadia Qamar

The Nation (Pakistan)
December 11, 2007

A new analysis by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has found that one in six journalists imprisoned around the world are being held without charges.

As of December 1, 127 journalists were being held in jails and prisons around the world. The study also found that Internet journalists-including bloggers-make up 39 percent of journalists in jail. In China, 18 of 29 journalists in jail worked for online media outlets.

The study, however, has totally overlooked the recent arrests and manhandling of journalists in Pakistan.

One in six journalists jailed worldwide are being held without any publicly disclosed charge, many for months or years at a time and some in secret locations, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found in a new analysis.

CPJs annual worldwide census of imprisoned journalists found 127 behind bars on December 1. China, which has failed to meet its promises to improve press freedom before the 2008 Olympics, continued to be the worlds leading jailer of journalists, a dishonour it has held for nine consecutive years. Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, and Azerbaijan round out the top five jailers among the 24 nations that imprison journalists.

Anti-state allegations such as subversion, divulging state secrets, and acting against national interests remain the most common charge used to imprison journalists worldwide, CPJ found. About 57 percent of journalists in the census are jailed under these charges, many of them by the Chinese and Cuban governments.

The proportion of journalists held without any charge at all increased for the third consecutive year. Eritrea and Iran account for many of these cases, but the United States has used this tactic as well. U.S. authorities have not filed charges or presented evidence against Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, who has been held for more than five years at Guantanamo Bay, or Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, held in Iraq for more than 19 months. The U.S. military said in November that Husseins case would be referred to Iraqi courts for prosecution but continued to withhold details explaining the basis for the detention.

Imprisoning journalists on the basis of assertions alone should not be confused with a legal process. This is nothing less than state-sponsored abduction, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. While we believe every one of these 127 journalists should be released, we are especially concerned for those detained without charge because theyre often held in abysmal conditions, cut off from their lawyers and their families.

The practice of holding journalists without charge has eroded basic standards of fairness and accountability. Iranian authorities, for example, jailed Mohammad Seddigh Kaboudvand in July, but they have yet to file formal charges or bring the editor before a judge. Kaboudvands lawyer has not been allowed to see him or review the governments case. Eritrean authorities will not even confirm whether the journalists in its custody are alive or dead. At least 19 journalists worldwide are being held in secret locations, CPJ found, with Eritrea the worst offender in this regard.

Continuing a decade-long trend, Internet journalists make up an increasing proportion of CPJs census. Bloggers, online editors, and Web-based reporters constitute about 39 percent of journalists jailed worldwide. Print journalists make up the largest professional category, accounting for about half of those in jail.

The rise of Internet journalism and its risks are evident in China, where 18 of the 29 jailed journalists worked online. Chinas list includes Shi Tao, an award-winning journalist serving a 10-year sentence for e-mailing details of a government propaganda directive to an overseas Web site. The Internet giant Yahoo supplied account information to Chinese authorities that led to Shis 2004 arrest and triggered an ongoing debate over corporate responsibility.

China continues to rely heavily on the use of vague antistate charges, imprisoning 22 journalists on accusations such as inciting subversion of state power. Despite Chinas 2001 promises to the International Olympic Committee that it would ensure complete media freedom, its leaders continue to jail reporters and operate a vast system of censorship. CPJ has urged the IOC and the Games corporate sponsors to hold Beijing accountable to its word.

China has remained the worlds worst jailer of journalists from the day the Games were awarded through today, just months before the Olympics are scheduled to begin, said CPJs Simon. China and the IOC have an obligation to make good on the broad promises made when Beijing was selected. For the torch to be lit in Beijing next August as 29 journalists languish in jail would mock the ideals of the Olympic movement.

Here are other trends and details that emerged in CPJs analysis:

In about 12 percent of cases, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to retaliate against critical writers, editors, and photojournalists. Such charges range from regulatory violations to drug possession. In the cases included in this census, CPJ has determined that the charges were most likely lodged in reprisal for the journalists work.

Criminal defamation, the next most common charge, was lodged in about 7 percent of cases. Charges of ethnic or religious insult were filed in about 5 percent of cases, while violations of censorship rules account for another 2 percent.

Print and Internet journalists make up the bulk of the census. Television journalists compose the next largest professional category, accounting for 6 percent of cases. Radio journalists account for 4 percent, documentary filmmakers 2 percent.

CPJ believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs. The organisation has sent letters expressing its serious concerns to each country that has imprisoned a journalist. In addition, CPJ sent requests during the year to Eritrean and U.S. officials seeking details in cases in which journalists were held without publicly disclosed charges.

Journalists, who either disappear or are abducted by non-state entities, including criminal gangs, rebels, or militant groups, are not included on the imprisoned list. Their cases are classified as missing or abducted.

Back to top

Case Lays Bare the Media's Reliance on Iraqi Journalists

By Tim Arango

The New York Times
December 17, 2007

Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer who had a hand in The Associated Press's 2005 Pulitzer Prize for photography before being jailed without charges by the United States military, finally had a day in court last week. But his story, which highlights the unprecedented role that Iraqis are playing in news coverage of the war, is really just beginning.

He was held for around 20 months by the military -- in Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, with no right to contest his detention -- before being turned over to an Iraqi magistrate, who will act as a one-man grand jury and decide if there is enough evidence to link him to the insurgency. He has not been formally charged with a crime.

The Associated Press has staunchly defended Mr. Hussein, pointing out that his role as a journalist involved getting close to the insurgency. Over the last three years, the American military has held at least eight other Iraqi journalists for periods of weeks or month without charges and released them all, apparently unable to find ties to the insurgency, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit organization.

As for Mr. Hussein and his lawyers, ''they were not given a copy of the materials that were presented and which they need to prepare a defense,'' The Associated Press said in a statement last week, noting that Mr. Hussein was still being detained without formal charges. ''The Associated Press continues to believe that claims Bilal is involved with insurgent activities are false.''

A spokesman for the military said that Mr. Hussein had been detained as ''an imperative security threat'' and that he has persistently been ''treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with all applicable law.''

In a lengthy e-mail message, the spokesman said that Mr. Hussein had been named by ''sources'' as having ''possessed foreknowledge of an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) attack'' on American and Iraqi forces, ''that he was standing next to the I.E.D. triggerman at the time of the attempted attack, and that he conspired with the I.E.D. triggerman to synchronize his photograph with the explosion.''

The e-mail message did not say whether the photograph in question is the one that Mr. Hussein took in Falluja on Nov. 8, 2004, of Iraqi insurgents firing a mortar and small arms, which was among the 20 from The Associated Press that collectively won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

The military spokesman said further: ''The Associated Press was informed that the sources had reported Mr. Hussein's knowing and willing offer to provide a false Iraqi national identification card to an alleged sniper, whom Mr. Hussein knew was wanted'' by the military, ''in order to assist the sniper in eluding capture.''

For its part, The Associated Press hired a New York lawyer and former prosecutor, Paul Gardephe, to investigate the situation. He published a 46-page report that concluded ''there is no evidence -- in nearly a thousand photographs taken over the 20-month period -- that his activities ever strayed from those of a legitimate journalist.'' Mr. Gardephe was in Iraq last week defending Mr. Hussein.

The role of Iraqis as front-line reporters, and the dangers they face working for Western news organizations, is well known. In a few recent examples, in October a journalist for The Washington Post, Salih Saif Aldin, was shot dead in a Baghdad neighborhood rife with sectarian violence. That death occurred three months after a local journalist working for The New York Times was killed in the same area. Of the 124 journalists killed in Iraq since the war began, 102 have been Iraqi, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And while Western journalists do depend on Iraqi freelancers, several news organizations, including The New York Times, continue to have resident correspondents who leave their compounds to report in Baghdad and beyond.

Several editors and reporters overseeing Iraqi coverage for Western news organizations said they worked hard to vet their local hires for sectarian and political ties that could slant their coverage, and offered extensive training in the rules of Western journalism. But there are no official background checks that can be conducted, as American and European companies routinely do when making domestic hires. Rather, news organizations try to get to know their prospective Iraqi hires in person and then judge them by the work they produce.

''A person is usually recommended by another journalist and brought in for an interview, and you sit down and have a long discussion with that person,'' said John Daniszewski, The Associated Press's international editor. ''Like any job applicant in the states, people go through a probationary period. They are given lessons, it's like an apprenticeship relationship.''

Mr. Daniszewski added, ''When you are working side by side, you get to know the person, and if the person seems unreliable, or if you ever see someone not completely honest with you, he is out the door.''

The reporters and editors said that they often had to filter out obvious sectarian biases from news copy, and, as a matter of policy, would not run statistics like death counts from the field without official confirmation from the military. But, these journalists emphasized, there is a big difference between bias seeping into news copy and insurgents infiltrating news organizations.

According to The Associated Press, Mr. Hussein, a 36-year-old member of a prominent Falluja farming family, had a modest job history before the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq: he worked in a grocery store, an auto parts joint and handed out goods as part of a United Nations assistance program. Photography was his hobby, and an uncle had set up a darkroom for him.

When soldiers and journalists flooded into Falluja in April 2004, Mr. Hussein began working as a driver and helper for The Associated Press. ''He said he always wanted to be a professional photographer,'' Mr. Daniszewski said. ''And we had a need there. We gave him training, equipment and he just did good work.'' In April 2006, Mr. Hussein was detained in Ramadi by the United States military, which said it had evidence linking him to the insurgency, but did not press charges.

The situation has not dissuaded foreign news organizations from continuing to lean heavily on local stringers. ''They're essential,'' said Marjorie Miller, the foreign editor of The Los Angeles Times. ''We couldn't do our job without them, more so than in any other war we've covered.''

David Schlesinger, the editor in chief of Reuters, said, ''using local staff is something we do everywhere in the world. But it's become so dangerous in Iraq, we're even more dependent on local staff there than in other places.''

In any foreign outpost, Western news organizations rely on locals to get the job done, often as drivers or translators. ''The reliance on local staff is nothing new, whether it be in the West Bank, or Gaza or other places,'' said Joel Campagna, Middle East program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. ''News organizations know how to vet and scrutinize information.''

However, he said, Iraq ''is the most dangerous conflict we've seen at C.P.J. in our 26 years. In Iraq, the ubiquity and scale of danger has really hampered the ability of journalists to gather news.''

Mr. Hussein is one of more than 24,000 individuals held by the American military worldwide, most in Iraq, according to statistics cited by The Associated Press. But not even the nudging of a giant Western news organization was enough keep him from spending 20 months behind bars without being formally charged with a crime.

''The Iraqi courts seem to be completely overwhelmed,'' said Linda A. Malone, a law professor at the College of William and Mary who advised the Justice Department during the trial of Saddam Hussein. ''There's a tremendous backlog. That's not to say this one might not be a priority. Hopefully that would be the case given the issue of journalistic freedom versus national security.''

© 2007 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top

Killings of Journalists Hit a High In 2007

Nearly Half Died In Iraq, Group Says

By Glenn Kessler

The Washington Post
December 18, 2007

Reprinted with permission from Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Company and The Washington Post

The number of journalists killed worldwide spiked to the highest number in more than a decade, with nearly half killed in Iraq, according to an analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based independent organization that compiles information on the deaths of journalists.

After examining reports of journalists killed in direct connection to their work, the committee found that 64 journalists were killed in 2007, up from 56 last year. The death toll was higher only in 1994, when 66 were killed. The committee is still investigating 22 other deaths to determine whether they were work-related.

Iraq was the deadliest place to work, accounting for 31 deaths, with Somalia (seven deaths) the second-most-dangerous country. Twelve media support workers, such as bodyguards and drivers, also died in Iraq, the committee said, noting that since the war began in March 2003, 124 journalists and 49 media workers have been killed.

In all, 24 journalists in Iraq were murdered and seven deaths occurred in combat-related crossfire.

"Working as a journalist in Iraq remains one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet," the committee's executive director, Joel Simon, said in a statement. "Members of the press are being hunted down and murdered with alarming regularity. They are abducted at gunpoint and found dead later or shot dead on the spot. Those who die are nearly always Iraqi and many work for international news agencies."

One of the dead listed by the committee is Washington Post reporter Salih Saif Aldin, 32, who died in Baghdad from a single gunshot wound to the head as he was photographing fire-damaged houses on a street in Baghdad's southern neighborhood of Sadiyah. He was interviewing residents about violence in the neighborhood between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents.

Most of the journalists killed in Iraq worked for local media, but nine, including Saif Aldin, worked for international news organizations such as the New York Times, ABC News, Reuters and the Associated Press.

In what the committee called "positive developments," it said no journalist was murdered in Colombia for the first time in more than 15 years and no Philippine journalist had died a work-related death for the first time in eight years. The committee is still investigating one unconfirmed death in each country.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and The Washington Post. All rights Reserved.

Back to top

The Year of Reporting Dangerously - Death Toll for Journalists Rises in 2007

By Joel Simon

The Huffington Post
December 18, 2007

Do you know the names Salih Said Aldin, Khalid W. Hassan, or Namir Noor-Eldeen?

All three were reporters for international media outlets who were killed in Iraq in the last year.

Aldin, a reporter for The Washington Post, and Hassan, who worked for The New York Times, were murdered in the streets of Baghdad. Noor-Eldeen, a photographer with Reuters, died when U.S. forces blew up his minivan while he was covering street clashes with insurgents.

They are just three of the 64 journalists killed around the world last year, according to a study by the Committee to Protect Journalists released today. That's the highest number in a decade and the second highest we've ever recorded, topped only by 1994 when conflicts in the Balkans, Rwanda and Algeria swelled the total to 66.

The numbers are startling; 31 journalists were killed last year in Iraq, bringing the cumulative total since 2003 to 124 journalists and 49 media workers killed. Iraq is by the far the deadliest conflict CPJ has recorded in its 26-year history and perhaps the deadliest war for the press ever.

But the death toll has not gotten the attention it deserves, partly because the public has become inured to the overwhelming violence and partly because nearly all the journalists killed in Iraq are Iraqis. Many worked for Iraqi media outlets but more than one third worked for international news agencies.

While the U.S. military surge has unquestionably improved the security situation in Baghdad, it's still far too dangerous for Western journalists to walk the streets of the capital. One experienced international journalist recently estimated a Western reporter would last about an hour before being kidnapped.

Because of the security situation, international news agencies rely on Iraqi reporters to do most of the street reporting. If you look at the bylines and credit lines in most U.S. newspapers you will realize that they are doing a remarkable job. But they are also dying at an alarming rate.

Insurgents and criminals who target reporters are the main threat, but the U.S forces' fire is responsible for the deaths of 16 journalists, including that of Noor-Eldeen, who was killed in combat operations. None of these killings have been adequately investigated.

The U.S. military has also detained journalists for extended periods without charge, including A.P. photographer Bilal Hussein who was recently turned over to Iraqi criminal justice system after 19 months in U.S. custody.

International media outlets depend on local journalists not only in Iraq, but in places like Gaza, Pakistan, and Afghanistan where a Western journalist would be a highly visible target. As in Iraq, these journalists often face violent retribution. In April, Taliban fighters in Afghanistan beheaded reporter Ajmal Nakshbandi after the Afghan government refused demands to free jailed Taliban leaders in exchange for the journalist's release. Nakshbandi was abducted along with La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo who was released in exchange for five Taliban prisoners.

It in no way diminishes the risks that international war correspondents confront to point out that the local journalists working in their own countries are bearing the brunt of the violence. When Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai was gunned down by a soldier while covering clashes in Burma it made international headlines. Meanwhile, seven local journalists have been murdered in Somalia and there has been little media attention.

Local journalists were also killed in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Russia, and Peru. Three journalists disappeared in Mexico. Most of the journalists who died this year were murdered, not killed in crossfire. In the vast majority of cases, no one has been held accountable. CPJ started a global campaign to fight impunity last month.

These unsolved killings are clearly terrible for the people of the country in which they occur because they breed fear and self-censorship.

But because so much of our news begins with local journalists, the killings are also a tragedy for those of us in this country who care about what is happening around the world. If we want to know that's going on, we have to rely on local journalists to hit the streets on our behalf.

Today is a day to remember those who gave their lives for the news. We need to not only remember them, but to demand that justice be done. Even though we might not know their names, many of these journalists, killed while doing their jobs, were after all working for us.

Story from The Huffington Post:

Arab Bloggers Under Pressure as Bush Visits the Middle East

By Joel Campagna

The Huffington Post
January 11, 2008

Much of the Arab blogosphere is abuzz this week. Not about President Bush's current Mideast tour which began in Israel on Wednesday, but about a thirty-two year old IT executive-turned-blogger currently in prison in Saudi Arabia.

Few Americans may have heard of Fouad al-Farhan, the young Saudi who runs a popular website, but in Arab cyberspace bloggers from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia have rallied to his defense calling for his release, and in the process have captured international media attention. Last week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick added the U.S government's voice to these calls by expressing concern over the case. But whether President Bush, whose trip is being cast as an attempt to highlight the US's "work in the region to combat terrorism and extremism, promote freedom, and seek peace and prosperity," forces the issue in his meeting on Monday with King Abdullah in Riyadh is another question.

Al-Farhan, one of Saudi Arabia's first bloggers and one of the few to use his real name, was detained by Saudi security agents on December 10 at his office in Jeddah and has been held ever since without charge. The only public statement from the Saudi government came last week from an Interior Ministry spokesman who said al-Farhan was being questioned "about violating non-security regulations."

In an e-mail to friends prior to his arrest, al-Farhan explained that he had received a phone call from the Saudi Interior Ministry instructing him to prepare himself "to be picked up in the coming two weeks" for questioning by a high-ranking official. He also stated in the e-mail that he believed he was being summoned "because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia and they think I'm running an online campaign promoting their issue."

Al-Farhan's posts are a mix of mild social and political commentary. In one of his last posts before his detention, he listed an entry titled "Ten Saudi personalities I don't like and hope I never to meet." They included influential Saudi religious, media, and business figures, among them billionaire prince Alwaleed Bin Talal.

Al-Farhan's detention is the latest indication of how Arab bloggers, who have taken to the Internet to circumvent rigid state media controls, are increasingly being targeted by governments fearful of their rising profile and influence. Saudi Arabia's media is among the most restricted in the region, a country where newspaper editors are appointed by the government, and publications devoid of controversial political content, especially concerning the Royal family. Despite heavy Internet censorship, a small but growing number of blogs have emerged as forums for debate and discussion not found in the discredited local media. And governments have taken notice.

In addition to al-Farhan, online Saudi writer Rabah al-Quwai' was held for 13 days last year in retaliation for his writings about religious extremism. The trend is region-wide. Since CPJ documented its first case of an Arab Internet journalist to be imprisoned for his work -- the jailing of Tunisian blogger Zouhair Yahyaoui in 2002 -- at least five others have been sent to prison for long periods while several more have been detained, threatened, harassed, or even abducted. The attacks have taken place in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and even Iraq. At least one other blogger is currently in prison: Abdel Karim Suleiman, an Egyptian writer who was jailed for four years on charges of insulting President Hosni Mubarak and Islam in his online writings.

Despite the risks of speaking out, Arab bloggers remain outspoken about the jailings of Farhan and Suleiman. President Bush can do the same by forcefully urging their release in his expected meetings with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Egypt's Mubarak early next week. In a letter CPJ sent to Bush today, we appealed to him to do the right thing and work for the freedom of al-Farhan and Suleiman. Such a stand would prove to the world that the Bush administration's floundering democracy promotion policy is more than just rhetoric.

Joel Campagna is the Middle East and North Africa Senior Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Story from The Huffington Post:

Back to top

Report says 2007 deadly for journalists;
Iraq sees most victims for 5th straight year

By Hannah Allam

McClatchy Newspapers

February 7, 2008

CAIRO, Egypt
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has released its 2007 annual report, "Attacks on the Press." At least 65 journalists were killed in the past year, the highest death toll in more than a decade.

Iraq, with 32 victims, was the deadliest place to be a journalist for the fifth straight year. Somalia was the second-deadliest country, with seven journalists killed in 2007. (One of the slain Somali reporters was McClatchy's freelance correspondent, 30-year-old Mahad Ahmed Elmi.)

The CPJ report rebukes several Middle Eastern governments for detaining and harassing journalists, but plenty of other states came under fire this year as well: Putin's Russia, Chavez's Venezuela, pre-Olympics China and a smattering of African and Asian countries.

The report, at , is fascinating and well written. There are regional summaries, along with country summaries and analysis. The CPJ's Middle East expert Joel Campagna, for example, uncovered how authoritarian regimes in the Arab world are painting themselves as reformers but secretly are working to sidestep Western pressure or scrutiny and maintain the status quo, often through heavy-handed tactics.

Here's an excerpt from Campagna's summary of Middle Eastern attacks on the press:

"In today's interconnected world, where information on rights abuses can travel the globe in minutes, governments can no longer afford to run roughshod over human rights as they did as recently as the 1990s. Aware that blunt repression could cost them international standing, foreign aid, and outside investment, they have fashioned themselves as democratic reformers while resorting to stealthy forms of media control. Manipulating the media, they have found, is more politically palatable to the international community than outright domination.

"'In recent years, a new model of authoritarian governance has emerged in a number of key Arab states," American political scientist Steven Heydemann wrote in an October 2007 Brookings Institution report. "A product of trial and error more than intentional design, Arab regimes have adapted to pressures for political change by developing strategies to contain and manage demands to democratize."

© 2008 Belleville News-Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top

Press rights group calls for release of jailed Cuban journalists

By Ciaran Giles

Associated Press
March 18, 2008

MADRID, Spain (AP) —A press advocacy group called Tuesday for the immediate release of some 20 journalists serving jail terms in Cuba, five years after they were rounded up as part of a crackdown against dissidents.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said there are 22 journalists in Cuban jails including the 20 detained in 2003.

The committee's coordinator for the Americas, Carlos Lauria, said: "This makes Cuba the country with most journalists jailed after China."

Twenty-nine journalists were among 75 people arrested over three days in March 2003.

The 75 were accused of working to undermine Fidel Castro's government and sentenced to long prison terms. Only a handful have been released.

"The journalists in jail have suffered serious deterioration in their health," said Lauria. "They are subjected to inhuman conditions and their families are submitted to very strong psychological pressure."

Lauria said the campaign was backed by a large number of writers and intellectuals including South African Nobel-winning author J.M. Coetzee and U.S. political activist and author Noam Chomsky.

Spanish novelist Antonio Munoz Molina, who attended the campaign presentation in Madrid, said it was scandalous that so many writer and intellectuals were unwilling to criticize Cuba on such a basic issue as freedom of expression.

The committee said the imprisonment of the journalists violated basic norms of international law including the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cuba signed last month.

The Cuban government says it holds no prisoners of conscience, only common criminals, and typically characterizes political opponents as U.S.-backed mercenaries and traitors.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top

Getting away with murder

By Robert Mahoney

The Guardian’s Comment is Free
May 2, 2008

In Britain, to silence a bothersome journalist you hire a lawyer. In much of the developing world, you hire an assassin. Killing a reporter in Russia or Mexico costs just a few thousand dollars. And on current police performance you'll never get caught.

Around the world, politicians, corrupt officials and crime bosses are literally getting away with murder. Journalists are dying in unprecedented numbers for doing their job. Probing an arms deal in Russia is a death sentence. Questioning the authority of the security services in Pakistan's tribal areas is a passport to oblivion.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been painstakingly recording journalists' deaths for 17 years and built up a unique database. An analysis compiled ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 has revealed many horrifying trends. But none is more shocking than the number of killings of journalists where no one is prosecuted for the crime.

Such impunity is the scourge of the independent press in a broad swathe of countries from Colombia to the Philippines. It sends a signal to anyone keen to avoid public scrutiny that it's open season on reporters. Shoot a journalist, let the public see that the crime will never come before a court, and sit back and watch the rest of the press censor itself out of mortal fear.

The tactic works with sickening efficiency for the drug kingpins and their puppet policemen in northern Mexico where most journalists have scaled back coverage of organised crime to virtually zero. The climate of fear in Russia has reduced investigative journalism to a handful of small-scale newspapers whose staff know that stepping out of line could earn them the same fate as the 14 reporters who have already been permanently silenced since Vladimir Putin became president.

CPJ has compiled the first-ever Impunity Index to track the lack of justice for journalists worldwide. Countries with five or more unsolved journalist killings qualify for inclusion. Heading the list are Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia - countries that for years have been mired in conflict. It is hardly surprising that journalists, along with human rights activists and lawyers can be murdered with complete impunity in states with a weak central government and judicial system. Even in these circumstances the journalists are targeted for death, not caught in crossfire on the battlefield.

But the bulk of the 13 countries on the Impunity Index are not failed states but functioning peacetime democracies such as Mexico, the Philippines and Russia.

What also jumps out of the figures is the dire state of impunity in South Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan all make it on to this roll of dishonour.

India, the world's largest democracy with a relatively free press, is a deadly place for reporters covering local politics and organised crime, with five unsolved killings still on the books. Among them is newspaper reporter Prahlad Goala, who was run down by a truck and then stabbed in 2006 after writing about timber smuggling in Assam.

Pakistan has an even worse record, with eight journalists murdered with impunity in the last 10 years. In most cases the authorities make little effort to investigate let alone bring the killers and those who pay them to justice. It seems that only if the killing causes uproar abroad will the authorities be moved to act. Of all the murders of journalists in Pakistan only the case of US reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and then beheaded in Karachi, has been investigated to any result or degree of competence.

The same lack of prosecutorial vigour is evident in Russia. It has been more than a year and a half since Anna Politkovskaya, arguably the country's most prominent investigative reporter, was shot dead outside her home. No one has been convicted for the crime. As in Pakistan, it took the slaying of a foreigner for the prosecution service to bestir itself. Two men were actually charged in the Moscow murder of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of the magazine Forbes Russia. They were acquitted in a closed-door trial in 2006 and no other convictions have been secured.

By highlighting this appalling blight on press freedom CPJ hopes to pressure and shame law enforcement into action, especially in those countries with a working if weakened media. One ray of hope is the Philippines despite its record of 24 unsolved journalists' murders. By publicising the killings, which often occur in remote provinces, and hiring lawyers to push for investigations, press freedom groups are putting impunity in front of the government in Manila. The case of reporter Marlene Garcia-Esperat, who was shot dead in front of her children, could prove a turning point. After a blaze of publicity the two triggermen were convicted in 2006. Now the two masterminds of the murder are to stand trial.

A strategy that appears to work in a pluralistic society like the Philippines may not bring convictions in tightly-controlled Russia or lawless Afghanistan but it's a start.

For more articles about World Press Freedom Day click here.

© 2008 Newsweek, Inc.  Reprinted with permission.

Back to top

Media murder
Survey documents a high number of unprosecuted killings of journalists in some unexpected places.

Houston Chronicle

May 5, 2008, 9:56PM

TThe Committee to Protect Journalists is waging a campaign against what Executive Director Joel Simon calls "the ultimate form of censorship," the murder of those who work for the world's news media. The group has issued an "impunity index" measuring which countries have the highest rates of unsolved killings of news gatherers.

Some of the offenders are predictable. Leading the dishonor role is Iraq, where 79 journalists, mostly Iraqi, have been murdered since the 2003 U.S. invasion without apprehension of the perpetrators. Other nations destabilized by internal conflicts such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Nepal also rank in the top 13 on the list of unsolved killings of journalists per 1 million inhabitants.

More disturbing is the presence on the Impunity Index of relatively well-governed democracies such as India, the Philippines and Mexico, where numerous slayings of media members have gone unpunished, despite functioning law enforcement agencies and court systems.

In Mexico, a major cause of the violence is official corruption and the drug trade, linked to the murders of seven journalists, most local reporters. Despite its reputation for tolerating a free press, India has yet to solve the murders of five investigative reporters.

Russia, a fledgling democracy that has moved back toward authoritarianism under President Vladimir Putin, remains one of the most dangerous countries in which to work in the media. Since 1998, 14 journalists have been killed, and no charges have been brought against their assailants. The most prominent case is that of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in Moscow two years ago. Her penetrating coverage of the Chechen conflict had earned the enmity of government officials.

According to CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, the bullets that felled Politkovskaya were aimed at a bigger target. "Her murder was designed to send a message to all those who dared challenge the system," wrote Amanpour in the preface to the committee's report on violence against the media last year. She described impunity for the killers of journalists as the most serious threat facing the press today.

A free press is essential to a functioning democratic system. A government that allows journalists to be murdered and the killers to go unpunished is a democracy in name only.

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Back to top