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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sat Mar 25 06:11:00 2000
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2000 22:18:47 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: MEDIA: Violence Against Journalists on the Rise Worldwide
Article: 91973
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: 320ac4f846128d9ae8cef073b8ece4d9

Violence Against Journalists on the Rise Worldwide

By Thalif Deen, IPS, 22 March 2000

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 (IPS)—Violence against journalists is on the rise worldwide, says the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), pointing out that 34 reporters were killed in the line of duty last year.

This marks a disturbing increase from the previous year when 24 journalists were killed in action worldwide.

In its annual report released here, the CPJ said that journalists were killed in every region of the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

The largest number, 10, were killed in Sierra Leone, where most of the victims were hunted down by rebels who sought to silence journalists writing about atrocities against civilians. Six more journalists lost their lives in Yugoslavia and five were murdered in Colombia.

The rest of the journalists killed included one from Argentina, two from Indonesia, one from Lebanon, three each from Nigeria and Russia, two from Sri Lanka and one from Turkey.

The 435-page annual report, titled Attacks on the Press in 1999, provides details of more than 500 cases of journalists who were either fined, assaulted, imprisoned or killed because of their work.

In its overview of Asia, the report said that much of the continent remained hostile to a free, independent media, despite the growing consensus that Asian political and economic stability depends in great measure on governments’ willingness to improve transparency and lift restrictions on the press.

On the other hand, governments in several Latin American countries took steps to bring their media laws up to international standards. But as the Latin American press continued to expose wrongdoing, its very strength rendered it vulnerable to a new kind of harassment: defamation campaigns.

In Africa, however, conflict continued to be the single biggest threat to journalists and to press freedom itself. Both civil and cross-border wars were effectively used as an excuse by governments and rebel forces to harass, intimidate and censor the press—often in the name of national security—and in some cases to kill journalists with impunity.

Sophisticated despots are adopting more subtle methods to muzzle the press, CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. Some wily leaders understand that regimes can pay an international price for routinely jailing journalists, she said.

So instead, they drive independent media out of business by harassing them with tax laws, levying crippling fines, or cutting off access to state-controlled newsprint and printing presses.

According to the CPJ, such tactics are employed by governments in many countries, including Algeria and Pakistan. But their use grew at a particularly alarming rate last year in the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries of central and Eastern Europe.

Of the journalists who were killed, some were caught in crossfires covering local and regional conflicts that have proliferated since the end of the Cold War in 1989. But most were targeted for assassinations by factions eager to suppress reporting on their misdeeds.

While the deaths of journalists make up the most dramatic barometer of the state of press freedom, imprisonment is another powerful tool used by enemies of the press, the report said.

China has been described as the world’s leading jailer of journalists, with 19 in prison at year’s end, nearly a quarter of the total.

Eighteen journalists were imprisoned in Turkey at year’s end, a significant drop from the 27 held a year earlier and a welcome improvement in a country that had topped the imprisoned list for several years.

By the end of last year, 87 journalists were held behind bars for their work—a decrease from the 118 imprisoned in 1998.

The drop is a welcome improvement, the Committee said, pointing out that dozens more were detained during 1999, but released before year’s end.

These short term warnings, the CPJ said, have a deeply chilling effect on independent journalism.

For example, in the two and a half years since President Laurent Kabila came to power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at least 60 journalists have been detained in the country.

Though many were never charged or convicted, CPJ said, Kabila’s devastating use of incarceration to silence critical journalists earned him the dubious distinction of being one of the Ten Worst Enemies of the Press in 1999.

The report also documents a wide range of other abuses, from the torture of journalists in Zimbabwe and the kidnapping of reporters in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, to the increasing use of bureaucratic harassment to shut down newspapers and broadcast outlets that offend presidents and dictators worldwide.

Cooper said that in Zimbabwe, where independent newspapers have been granted a certain latitude under President Robert Mugabe’s 20 years of one- party rule, the military arrested and tortured two journalists in January. Mugabe denied the torture, but said he couldn’t condemn his army if journalists provoked it.

Though a variety of laws are used against journalists, Cooper said, criminal libel statutes remain the most worrisome threat to independent journalism.

All over the world, she said, dozens of countries maintain criminal penalties for libel. CPJ opposes such laws. We believe that civil penalties provide adequate remedy in cases of genuine libel, and that the threat of jail has a chilling effect on independent, investigative journalism, she noted.

This is particularly true in countries where the judiciary has little or no independence from public officials who are most likely to bring a libel suit—generally because they want to suppress uncomfortable news about themselves, Cooper added.