Sharp deterioration of press freedom in the world in 2001
More and more journalists arrested, press freedom on the decline in
journalists threatened or harassed
journalists threatened or harassed
Trends and priorities
Except for the number of journalists killed, which remained
stable, all indicators (journalists arrested, attacked, threatened or media
censured) rose compared to the year 2000. The number of journalists arrested (489
in 2001) rose by nearly 50 per cent, and the number of journalists attacked or
threatened (716) by more than 40 per cent. More and more journalists have been
imprisoned throughout the world. At present there are 110 behind bars. The number
had dropped constantly since 1995 but climbed again sharply in 2001.
Some part of the press is censured somewhere in the world every day, and nearly
a third of the world's population lives in countries where there is no press
freedom. The situation deteriorated considerably in numerous countries
(Bangladesh, Eritrea, Haiti, Nepal and Zimbabwe, among others), whereas very few
regimes made progress in terms of press freedom. The impunity that is typical of
nearly all these cases is unacceptable. Governments and intergovernmental
organisations must focus their efforts on this sector. If they do not, the odds
are good that murders of and attacks on journalists will continue to increase in
the coming years.
31 journalists killed in 2001
Again this year, some thirty journalists were killed in the world for their
opinions or in the exercise of their profession. Fifteen of them were murdered by
armed groups or militias. In at least three cases, the authorities were partly
responsible. Nine press professionals were killed in armed conflicts (8 in
Afghanistan alone). Above and beyond these 31 journalists, ten media
collaborators (technicians, administrative staff and so forth) were also killed
in the year.
In 2001 Asia was the deadliest continent for journalists (14). In
Afghanistan the war waged by the United States following on the September
11th attacks was especially hard on the press. Eight correspondents were killed
while covering the conflict. In China, Feng Zhaoxia, a journalist on the
daily, Gijie Daobao, was found dead on January 15th in Shaanxi province
(to the southwest of Beijing), his throat slit. Despite protests from his family,
his colleagues and local journalist associations, the police came to the rapid
conclusion that he had committed suicide. Everyone else agreed that the murder
was due to the articles published by the journalist. He had only just finished
revealing the connivance going on between Mafia-like groups and certain local
In the Americas there were ten journalists and ten media
collaborators killed in the year. Haiti saw another journalist murdered
again this year. On December 3rd, Brignol Lindor, news chief for Radio Echo
2000, was stoned and hacked to death with machetes. After inviting members of
the opposition onto his radio show, he received death threats from local leaders
of the party in power. The murder was like a warning shot for the rest of the
profession, which now feels threatened. . . .
MORE. In the United States a journalist and
eight technicians died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in
New York. Another reporter was also one of the anthrax victims after receiving a
contaminated anonymous letter. Three journalists were murdered in
Colombia. Flavio Bedoya of the weekly, Voz, was shot to death on April 27th.
He had received death threats after publishing an article about the violence
committed by paramilitary groups. He criticised "the army's and the police's
inability to capture the criminals".
In Europe the number of press professionals killed for their opinions also rose
(7). A journalist was killed in Northern Ireland for the first time since
the early 1960s. Martin O'Hagan, a reporter for the weekly, Sunday World,
was killed in the evening of September 28th in front of his home near Belfast.
"The Defenders of the Red Hand", a loyalist military group accused him of having
committed "crimes against Loyalists". Elsewhere, other journalists were murdered
in Ukraine, Kosovo and in Spain's Basque country.
The two bits of good news come from Africa and the Middle East where no press
professionals were killed in the context of their jobs. Twenty-seven other
journalist murder cases in the world are still under investigation, but as of
January 1st, 2002, nothing proves that links exist with their professional
Impunity is still the rule
Nearly no murders and assassinations of journalists have ever been solved. The
people giving the orders are still free and have never been very worried by the
judicial system in their countries.
In Burkina Faso, for example, more than three years after the
assassination of Norbert Zongo, director of L'Indépendant, on
December 13th, 1998, the investigation has gone nowhere. The brother of the
country's President, François Compaoré, deeply implicated in the
incident, was questioned by the investigating judge for the first time in
January, 2001, or more than two years after the fact. . . . MORE
Things are pretty much the same in Haiti, where the
investigation into the murder of Jean Dominique, manager of Radio Haiti
Inter, in April, 2000, has almost been quashed several times. The Senate,
controlled by Fanmi Lavalas of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ruling party,
has stacked up quibble upon quibble so as not to have to rule on lifting the
parliamentary immunity of Dany Toussaint, the main suspect in the case. Not only
that, despite their confessions for killing Brignol Lindor, his murderers, in
cahoots with the party in power, have not yet been arrested. . . .
The murder in Sri Lanka in October, 2000, of
BBC collaborator, Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, has still not been solved. No
one has yet been arrested, and the police are nowhere near employing the means
necessary for getting at the truth. . . .
In Ukraine the State apparatus has thrown up major
barriers in the search for the truth in the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze
in September of 2000. The General Prosecutor's office and the Ministry of the
Interior are against any investigation worthy of the name. In September, 2001,
the Council of Europe approved a recommendation calling for "the Ukrainian
authorities to undertake a new investigation into the disappearance and death of
Georgy Gongadze and, to this end, set up an independent investigative commission"
composed in particular of international experts. . . . MORE
Nearly five hundred journalists arrested in the year
As of January 1st, 2002, 110 of the world's journalists are still in prison
because of their opinions or their professional activities. We'd have to go back
to January 1st, 1995, to find so many. Nearly half (50) are being held in Asia.
The jails holding the most journalists in the world are in Iran (18),
Burma (18) China (12), Eritrea (8) and Nepal (7).
Most imprisoned Iranian journalists are serving long
sentences. In January four of them were sentenced to from three to eight years
for having "infringed on national security". On the other hand, Raza Alijani,
editor-in-chief of the suspended monthly, Iran-e-Farda, and winner of the
Reporters Sans Frontières-Fondation de France 2001 Prize, was freed in
December after nine months of detention. . . .
In Burma the authorities behave in a criminal way with
imprisoned journalists, depriving them of the medical care their state of health
calls for. Under heavy sentences for having "spread information hostile to the
State" or for having informed foreign journalists, they are being held in inhuman
conditions that have significant consequences on their physical and mental
health. Myo Myint Nyein, in jail since September 1990, is very weak and suffering
from mental problems. For eight months, he was even held in one of the dog
kennels of Insein Prison in Rangoon.
In China Twenty-two cyberdissidents, arrested for having spread
information considered "subversive" over the Internet, can be added to the twelve
journalists in jail. One of the cyberdissidents has been sentenced to four years
In all, 489 press professionals have at one time or another been denied their
freedom in 2001, often with no explanations.
In Nepal where a state of emergency was decreed at the end of November,
more than fifty journalists and press professionals have been arrested by the
authorities. In Cuba, Pakistan, the Congo Democratic
Republic and Zimbabwe there have been more than twenty journalists
arrested. In many cases no official explanations are given, and no official
arrest warrant issued. Most of them are freed quickly, but some spend several
weeks, even months, behind bars. On the whole, their conditions of detention are
very poor, the interrogations strong-armed and beatings frequent. In Iran
journalists undergo poor treatment for the purpose of extracting false
confessions from them or of making them write letters of repentance. In the
Congo Democratic Republic again this year a journalist was flogged by his
Over seven hundred journalists attacked or
There are more and more attacks on press professionals. Whether committed by the
authorities, political party activists, armed bands or criminals, these attacks
are almost never investigated in serious, sustained ways. It is no surprise that
the feeling of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators grows stronger. In many
countries political leaders are often the instigators of these violent acts.
They'd rather take direct revenge on the journalists who have criticised them
than undertake court actions against them.
In Bangladesh more than 130 journalists have been attacked by political
party activists or sympathisers. Most of these attacks have been committed by
activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamat-e Islami (two members
of the ruling coalition) or the Awami League, which was in power until July.
Journalists exposing corruption, political violence or religious intolerance are
their favourite targets.
In Colombia nearly thirty journalists have been the victims of attacks or
threats by the different armed groups that fight one another in the country. In
Zimbabwe veterans of the war for independence are often the instigators of
many attacks on reporters of the independent press. In Ukraine,
Russia and the former Soviet-bloc republics of central Asia, violence is
always present, and there have been many recorded attacks.
In the territories occupied by Israel eight journalists have been shot
and wounded. Upon investigation, Reporters Sans Frontières has ascertained
the Israeli army's responsibility for most of the cases. The Israeli authorities,
however, after cursory investigations, have claimed that they had no
responsibility in these cases.
Forcing journalists into exile is another kind of threat used by some
governments. Numerous journalist, fearing reprisals, have thus fled Cuba,
Colombia, Ethiopia and Somalia.
A new press medium censured every day
In 2001, 378 press media were censured in the world. In Turkey more than
one hundred Television channels, radio stations and press agencies were
temporarily suspended by the RTUK, the governmental agency for monitoring the
audiovisual press, or by various State security agencies. In most cases these
press media are accused of "inciting violence" or "infringing State security"
after criticising the regime or reporting on certain extreme left-wing
In Eritrea in September the government ordered the suspension of all
independent press media, thus making it one of the rare countries in the world
without a privately-owned press. On the very same day at least eight journalists
were arrested and taken to a police station in the capital. Others disappeared or
fled the country. The director of public-sector television went on the air to
explain that "the independent media endangered the country's unity".
In Morocco no fewer than nine newspapers, including seven foreign ones,
were censured for dealing with topics such as the Western Sahara, corruption or
for having criticised the king. The Spanish and French media especially are kept
under close surveillance by the Moroccan authorities.
In Tunisia there is no censorship as such simply because there is no
independent press. On the other hand the few journalists who try to spread news
on the Internet or work for the international press are harassed. Their phone
lines are systematically blocked, tapped or sometimes simply cut. Internet access
is also tightly controlled.
The foreign press under tight control
Foreign press corespondents are under tight surveillance by numerous heads of
State or governments. In Zimbabwe three foreign correspondents were
expelled from the country. The government is using all possible means to get a
law passed obliging the international press media to employ only journalists of
Zimbabwean nationality. The Reuters correspondent in Cuba was forced to
leave the island after attacks in the local press. The Liberian government
constantly complains about the "massive negative propaganda" conveyed, according
to it, by certain foreign media against President Charles Taylor. Foreign
correspondents based in China must first receive authorisation from the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs before carrying out investigative reports.
Elsewhere journalists cannot travel to certain countries without being
constantly watched. Such is the case in Saudi Arabia, Burma,
North Korea and Vietnam. They also encounter enormous difficulties in
obtaining visas for working in Algeria, Libya and Iraq.
Pakistani authorities rejected visas for Indian journalist or Indian-born
journalists wishing to cover the Afghani conflict. Two correspondents of American
dailies were expelled from the country for this reason.
The aftermath of September 11th for press freedom
Above and beyond the heavy price paid by correspondents who died in the field,
the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington and the military operation
undertaken in Afghanistan, had considerable consequences on press freedom in the
world. Several laws adopted for fighting terrorism are especially worrying, and
weaken the basic principle of the free circulation of information. In
Canada and the United States some of the measures throw the protection
of sources into question and strengthen surveillance of the Internet. The
American and British governments have rapped their media on the knuckles.
This surveillance has sometimes taken a repressive turn. In Kazakhstan,
for example, the armed forces of the Ministry of the Interior in November
occupied the building of the independent television station, KTK, temporarily
interrupting its broadcasts. The authorities explained that in the context of the
Afghani conflict "all the Republic's strategic installations had to be monitored
by the Ministry of the Interior".