Reporters at Risk
Toward Freedom magazine, Winter 19998/99
In the first half of 1998, the Writers in Prison Committee
(WiPC) of International PEN reported 65S cases in which journalists
around the world were harassed, attacked, or murdered -a significant
increase over last year. The facts are chilling: Over 90 writers
or journalists persecuted and another 194 cases under investigation;
11 writers killed, plus 20 other questionable murders; and at
least 13 writers disappeared. Many more were the victims of kidnapping,
death threats, detention, attacks, and legal cases.
In response to such violations of press freedom, 60 French
newspapers and radio and television stations launched an appeal
in October to free journalists currently detained in Myanmar (formerly
Burma), China, Cuba, Nigeria, Syria, and Turkey. Currently, 93
journalists are detained worldwide (a slight improvement since
last year), according to Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF). The
slogan for their annual "sponsorship day," also held
in Belgium, Spain, and Switzerland, was, "When journalists
are behind bars, the whole country is in prison."
Here's a roundup of some recent developments.
Turkey: After conducting an inquiry into freedom of expression,
RFR concluded that Turkey's government hasn't fulfilled its promises
to improve press freedom. In the first eight months of 1998, two
journalists died during police operations, five were tortured,
58 were attacked, threatened, or harassed, and 45 others were
arrested. The number of seized or censured media has more than
doubled since 1997.
From January to August, state security agents were responsible
for 75 percent of violent incidents against the press. The main
targets of police action were media considered "subversive,"
pro-Kurdish, and far-Left, although the mainstream press also
was targeted. "Despite the fact that some minor reforms have
been implemented in efforts to curb security force excesses, the
legal system rarely imposes sentences against police accused of
abuses," the report concludes.
Russia: In late October, the case against Alexander Nikitin
was sent back to the security service for review, while Nikitin
remained under city arrest. Judge Sergei Golets severely criticized
the way the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) had conducted its three-year
investigation. According to Human Rights Watch, "Nikitin
was facing a twenty-year prison term on charges of espionage ancl
divulging state secrets, which stem from his work for the Norwegian
Bellona Foundation on a report exposing nuclear contamination
caused by Russia'.s Northern Fleet."
Nikitin maintains his innocence, saying that information used
in the Bellona report was taken from public sources. According
to Nikitins lawyers, Judge Golets cannot acquit Nikitin "on
grounds of an unclear indictment" under criminal law. HRW
concludes, "This frequently results in criminal cases being
sent back and forth between the courts and the prosecutor's office
for years, while defendants are often kept in pretrial detention."
Burma: Charging that press freedom is non-existent in Burma(Myanmar),
RSF has launched an appeal for the immediate, unconditional release
of seven journalists and "the establishment of an independent
press, the essential precondition for a democratic debate, and
media access for all ethnic minorities." At least 14 Burmese
journalists have been sent to jail since the State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC) took power in 1988. Hundreds of' activists
supporting the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel
peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, have also been arrested.
The seven journalists in Burma's jails are all members of the
NLD. In the past, two reporters have died in prison.
"The Burmese press operates under strict censorship which
bans the use of expressions such as democracy and human rights,"
notes RSF. The penalty for giving "false information"
to the international media is jail, and "the legal arsenal
is so wide-ranging that no free press can exist." For example,
a 1996 law requires all computer equipment to be licensed. Failure
to do so risks up to 15 years in prison.
The activities of foreign journalists are also restricted,
and the few foreign news agencies that have offices in Rangoon
may only work with Burmese staff.
Romania: Journalists here face the increasing likelihood of
going to jail on defamation charges. In August, the mother of
Cornel Sabou, editor of the privately-owned news agency Trans
Press, went on a hunger strike to protest the jailing of her son.
Sabou was sentenced to a 10-month prison term for allegedly "defaming"
Judge Mariana Iancu in an article published in Ziua (The Day).
In July, Ovidiu Scultelnicu and Dragos Stangu, journalists
with the local daily Munitorul, were sentenced to one year in
jail and fined 1.5 billion lei ($160,000). They were found guilty
of "defaming" Police Colonel Petru Susanu in an article
that criticized his methods and raised doubts about the origins
of his personal fortune. A month later, Monitorul journalists
Florentin Florescu and Radu Burlacu were convicted and fined after
reporting how Susanu pressured magistrates during his son's trial
for the destruction of an historical building.
According to RSF and other groups, "In using prison terms
against journalists for expressing their opinions, the current
government in Romania is flagrantly contravening Romania's international
commitments related to the respect of freedom of expression."
Romania is a member of the Council of Europe and a candidate for
entry into the European Union.
Serbia: Attacks against the media continue unabated in the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Newspapers have been banned and
several journalists have been reported missing in Kosovo. Meanwhile,
authorities intend to turn the decree used to ban the papers and
radio stations into law.
In October, journalist Nebojsa Radosevic and photographer
Vladimir Dobricic, of the Yugoslav state news agency Tanjug, were
reported missing on the Pristina-Magura road in Kosovo. "This
is the second abduction case since the beginning of the Kosovo
conflict," says the Association of Independent Electronic
Rights groups worldwide have condemned the threats to independent
media, as well as government warnings against journalists and
the canceling of an October media conference. The Broadcasting
for a Democratic Europe conference, organized by ANEM and sponsored
by the Council of Europe, was supposed to take place in Belgrade.
But Yugoslav authorities prevented foreign participants from obtaining
visas. "Such behavior," notes ANEM, "suggests that
they have abandoned the idea that Yugoslavia be re-integrated
in the European society of states."
Serbian officials have threatened reporters and other critics
with reprisals if NATO moves against Yugoslavia. "The Americans
found their fifth column here," charges Serbian Deputy Prime
Minister Vojislav Seselj. "It is composed of politically
irrelevant parties and independent media. We can't shoot down
every NATO plane, but we can grab those agents who are at hand."
Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic has accused the media
of spreading lies and fear, while lawmaker Zeljko Simic charges
the journalists with "high treason" for aiding Albanian
separatists by reporting on the war in Kosovo. Electronic media
have been asked to stop broadcasting foreign news in Serbian.
According to HRW, Seselj and other officials have repeatedly
attacked the foreign media and independent news outlets for "betraying
Serbian interests" and "provoking military intervention."
The government has brought charges for slander or disseminating
misinformation, and dozens of independent stations have been denied
licenses to broadcast. NATO intervention will likely lead to more
restrictions and censorship.
Vietnam: While some dissident writers and journalists here
have been released from prison, others remain incarcerated, says
Human Rights Watch (HRW). For example, journalist Doan Viet Hoat
was released as part of a mass amnesty granted in celebration
of Vietnam's National Day on September 2, along with fellow dissident
Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. Hoat, who went into exile in the US, should
be allowed to return to his country, argues the World Association
of Newspapers (WAN). His release from prison into exile, said
WAN, "does not solve the underlying problem of freedom of
expression in Vietnam." According to International PEN, other
journalists, writers, and poets released include Dang Phuc Tue
(religious name: Thich Quang Do), Le Manh That (known as Ven.
Thich Tri Sieu), Pham Van Thuong (Ven. Thich Tue Sy), and Nguyen
Van Thuan. But dozens are still detained for religious or political
reasons, and the recent amnesty didn't include those currently
under "administrative detainment" according to Directive
31/CP, which authorizes detention without trial for up to two
European Union: According to Index on Censorship, access to
information is being limited by the European Union (EU), while
information itself is censored by the European Commission (EC).
In a feature series called "Brussels spouts," Martin
Walker charged that investigative journalism is almost impossible
in Brussels, the capital city of European affairs. One barrier
is the lack of a recognized European press corps. "It is,
therefore, a city in which the customary balance of power in a
democracy between the rulers and the ruled does not hold,"
The EU also has been criticized for protecting officials and
paying lawyers representing officials under investigation to hound
journalists. Listing 4() recent cases of internal corruption,
nepotism, or mismanagement, the European Court of Auditors charged
that "EU officials enjoy legal immunity [and] the EU alone
decides whether there is sufficient evidence to mount a prosecution
against an official."
Walker noted that even his more daring colleagues "are
all too well aware of the dangers of investigative reporting of
an elite bureaucracy like the Commission, which does not see itself
as answerable to anyone and which polices itself." On the
other hand, Index has noted that things may improve with an agreement
known as the Treaty of' Amsterdam, which requires "transparency"
in the way Europe is governed.
Information for this summary was provided by the International
Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) Clearing House, a weekly
service operated by the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists.
For information: 489 College St. #403, Toronto, Ontario M6G 1A5
Canada; (416) 515 9622;fax, (416) 515 7879; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reports and alerts also can be viewed at www.ifex.org.
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