World Press Freedom Day: Attacks against journalists around the world

News
May 2, 2012

World Press Freedom Day: Attacks against journalists around the world

Journalists working in traditional media outlets from Pakistan to Colombia, Mexico to Sudan plus most nations across Eastern Europe and the Middle East faced harassment, attacks, unfair imprisonment or even death just for doing their job.

Americas
Reporters trying to expose abuses of power, human rights violations and corruption are frequent targets of attacks and harassment across Latin America and the Caribbean.

From Mexico to Colombia, Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela the authorities or criminal gangs have targeted journalists who report on human rights issues, abuses of power and corruption.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the Americas with media workers in the north of the country particularly at risk.

On 28 April, the body of journalist Regina Martinez was found at her home in Veracruz. Regina was a reporter with political magazine Proceso and, for over three decades, had reported on issues of insecurity, drug trafikinch and corruption. Local authorities said they were going to investigate the killing.

Meanwhile the Mexican Senate approved a new law to protect journalists and human rights activists who receive threats.

But Mexico was not the only country where media workers faced incredible danger when doing their jobs.

Dina Meza, a Honduran journalist and human rights activist, received a series of threats of sexual violence against her in early 2012. On 6 April, she was walking in her neighbourhood with her children when she noticed two men taking photos of them.

Africa
Africa is home to some of the most dangerous locations for journalists. In countries, such as , Ethiopia and Gambia, newspapers, websites and TV and radio stations are closely watched by security agents ready to clamp down on dissent.

In Rwanda and Ethiopia, journalists are prosecuted and have been sentenced to long prison terms for criticizing government policies, reporting on calls for peaceful protest or alleging corruption among senior officials.

Authorities in Sudan are coming up with creative ways to tackle independent journalists – including by misusing laws to prevent reporting and fining those who are critical of them.

In Gambia and Somalia, the situation for journalists is so dangerous that many go into exile, in fear for their lives. Others face arrest preventing independent reporting in the country. Since 2007, at least 27 journalists have been killed in Somalia; three of them were killed in targeted attacks in the capital Mogadishu in the past six months.

Ali Ahmed Abdi, a journalist for a news website and Radio Galkayo was shot dead by three gunmen on 4 March in the town of Galkayo in central Somalia. On 5 April, Mahad Salad Adan, journalist for Radio Shabelle, was shot dead by three attackers in the town of Beletweyne near the border with Ethiopia. No one has ever been brought to justice for such killings.

Asia-Pacific
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world – with at least 15 killed in 2011 alone.

This year, on 17 January, Mukarram Aatif, a reporter with Dunya TV and Deewa radio, was shot dead by members of the Pakistan Taleban while performing his evening prayers in the town of Shabqada, about 30 kilometres from Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

A Taleban spokesperson later said the group had warned Aatif “a number of times to stop anti-Taleban reporting, but he didn't do so. He finally met his fate".

Just as in China, journalists and bloggers in Sri Lanka also operate in a climate of fear knowing that emails and phone calls are likely to be under surveillance.

In most countries, the authorities have failed to investigate properly abuses against journalists. In the Philippines, for example, at least 12 journalists were killed by unidentified men since the start of the Aquino administration in 2010 and no one has yet been brought to justice.

Online journalists and activists were also targets of abuse in various countries across Asia during 2011.

With 513 million internet users in China, the authorities have sought tightly to control what people can read and say online.

Bloggers who write about issues that the government deems sensitive are routinely monitored, questioned and harassed by the security forces and have, in some cases, gone missing.

However, China's online activists are adept at coming up with new and creative ways to avoid government controls. In a popular campaign for blind activist Cheng Guangcheng, supporters have posted online pictures of themselves wearing dark glasses, or put dark glasses on their social media profile pictures.

Europe
2012 saw autocratic regimes across the former Soviet Union strengthen their grip on power, choking dissent, muzzling criticism and clamping down on protest. It was not a good year for freedom of expression.

In Belarus, the clampdown that followed the presidential elections at the end of 2011 continued through 2012, with several prominent opposition activists and leaders of non-governmental organizations put behind bars.

In Azerbaijan, a fresh wave of protest inspired by the Arab Spring sparked a clampdown – anti-government protests were banned and 14 organisers sentenced to long terms in prison.  Throughout the year journalists and activists faced harassment and detention on trumped up charges for exposing abuses.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan continued to silence independent voices – closed countries keeping criticism under wraps.

In Russia the picture was mixed. Allegations of widespread vote rigging in the parliamentary elections sparked the largest protests seen since 1991. While these protests were allowed and passed off peacefully, smaller protests were routinely broken up and participants arrested.  

Middle East
While the space for media expression was transformed in some countries which saw uprisings in 2011, like Tunisia and Libya, legal and other restrictions on media freedoms continued to be pervasive in the region. In Iran, the authorities maintained extensive restrictions on the use of the internet and deployed a newly established Cyber Police throughout the country. In Saudi Arabia, new penalties were introduced for publishing material deemed offensive or contradictory to Shari’a rulings.

Attacks on journalists and bloggers have been rife in the region over the past year. Journalists have been killed or exposed to arbitrary detention, torture or harassment during the ongoing unrest in Syria, the 2011 conflict in Libya and the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. Abuses have continued since the uprisings ended. Journalists and bloggers in Egypt who have criticized the military authorities have been interrogated and detained, while media workers in Tunisia have faced charges for disrupting public order or morality.

Journalists and writers have also been arbitrarily detained or harassed elsewhere in the region, such as Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, often after expressing views critical of the authorities.