by Ann Cooper
Twenty journalists were killed because of their work in 2002, the
lowest number since the Committee to Protect Journalists began recording
the annual death toll in 1985.
One factor that set 2002 apart was an easing of conflict in some
key regions. A year earlier, for example, 37 journalists were killed—eight
of them while covering the war in Afghanistan. The relative quiet
there, and the movement in 2002 toward peace in Sri Lanka, Angola,
and elsewhere, reduced some of the risk faced by local journalists
and foreign correspondents who cover violent conflicts. The West
Bank was a dramatic exception; three journalists there were killed
by gunfire from Israel Defense Forces, and several more were wounded.
But war is only one threat to journalists. Most of the 20 who died
in 2002 were targeted in direct reprisal for their work, by Colombia’s
paramilitaries, by corrupt local officials in the Philippines, and
by others who would silence journalists through intimidation and
murder. At year’s end, most of the killers in these 20 cases
had not been brought to justice—a record of impunity that
threatens press freedom worldwide.
For the second year in a row, the number of journalists in prison
rose sharply. There were 139 journalists in jail at the end of 2002,
a 15 percent increase from 2001 and a shocking 68 percent increase
since the end of 2000, when only 81 journalists were imprisoned.
For the fourth year in row, the world’s leading jailer of
journalists was China, which held 39 in prison; five of them were
jailed in 2002. In Eritrea, where the government shut down the private
press a week after the September 11, 2001, attacks, 18 journalists
were in jail. In Nepal, where 16 journalists were incarcerated,
the government justified its repressive actions as a necessary response
to threats posed by “terrorist” Maoist rebels.
Until September 11, 2001, the number of journalists in prison had
been on a downward trend—from 129 in 1997, to 118 in 1998,
to 87 in 1999, and to a low of 81 at the end of 2000. Strong pressure
from international organizations, the media, and governments worldwide,
including the United States, was probably responsible for the decline.
Countries that routinely jailed journalists were ostracized and
often isolated. However, Nepal and Eritrea, both of which began
their crackdowns on the press in late 2001, have largely escaped
international criticism. Certainly, the stigma associated with jailing
a journalist has faded.
International pressure, however, may have played a role in securing
the early release of one of these imprisoned journalists at the
beginning of 2003. Russian journalist Grigory Pasko was paroled
for good behavior on January 23, after serving two-thirds of his
four-year treason sentence. Pasko, who had been reporting for the
Russian military newspaper Boyevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch) on environmental
damage caused by the Russian navy, had been convicted of “treason
in the form of espionage” for “intending” to give
classified documents to Japanese news outlets. CPJ had campaigned
intensely for Pasko’s release.
Imprisonment is the most severe tactic routinely used by governments
to suppress critical reporting. In hundreds of other cases, all
documented in this book, journalists were assaulted, censored, harassed,
or threatened, just for doing their jobs.
They were targeted for writing about government malfeasance: Irina
Petrushova, editor of a business newspaper in Kazakhstan, was sent
a funeral wreath and then a decapitated dog to discourage her from
investigating financial corruption in the president’s administration.
They were targeted for exposing the crime webs of ruthless drug
lords: Television investigative reporter Tim Lopes of Brazil used
a hidden camera to film the sexual exploitation of minors in a Rio
de Janeiro slum but was caught by the slum’s drug gang, beaten,
executed with a sword, and burned.
They were targeted while working to expose the many threads of
international terrorism: Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl,
expecting to meet with the leader of a radical Islamic group in
Pakistan, instead was kidnapped, accused of spying, killed, and
his dismembered corpse was dumped in a shallow grave. His captors
circulated the videotape of the beheading widely through the Internet
to recruit others to take up arms against the United States and
Subsequent arrests and trials may lead to justice in the killings
of Lopes and Pearl. Another murder trial, this one involving the
grisly 2000 assassination of Mozambique’s top investigative
reporter, Carlos Cardoso, caused a sensation in 2002 with accusations
of high-level plotting that even pointed a finger at the president’s
son. On January 31, 2003, a judge sentenced six men to lengthy prison
terms for murdering Cardoso and vowed to push for a more thorough investigation
into the crime.
But in most other cases, official investigations of journalists’
murders are halfhearted or nonexistent. Two witnesses to the May
2002 murder of Edgar Damalerio, an editor and radio commentator
in the Philippines, identified a local police officer as the killer,
but officials have not yet charged him. (As this book was going
to press, a judge in the Philippines ordered the officer’s
arrest.) Impunity is so standard in the Philippines, Colombia, and
Russia that journalists there are resigned to losing several of
their colleagues each year. Two died in the Philippines in 2002,
while three Colombian journalists were murdered because of their
work, and another three were killed in Russia.
And that’s in addition to the three who were killed by Israeli
gunfire in the West Bank, where foreign and local correspondents
who covered that conflict—in particular Israel’s March
military offensive in the West Bank—reported that Israel Defense
Forces fired at them despite the fact that they were clearly identified
as journalists. Israel also detained several Palestinian journalists,
holding three of them for several months before releasing them without
charge. The attacks and arrests by Israel, along with pressures
from the Palestinian National Authority, put the West Bank at the
top of CPJ’s list of the "10 Worst Places to Be a Journalist."
Israeli officials frequently justified their actions as necessary
for national security. So did Russian authorities when they cracked
down on the media during and after the October hostage crisis in
which Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater where some 700 people
were attending a musical. The Russian government threatened or took
action against the press for interviewing hostage-takers, publishing
a photograph of a woman killed by the Chechens, and posting on the
Web an interview with anguished relatives of some of the hostages.
After security forces used a narcotic gas and stormed the theater—killing
all the rebels and more than 120 civilians—the government
became impatient with media outlets that questioned whether the
death toll could have been kept lower. In November, protests by
Russian journalists and international press freedom advocates managed
to head off a set of amendments that would have fixed draconian
new limits on media coverage of terrorism and terrorist activities,
but journalists expect the government to continue debating restrictions
The clear message, from both Israeli and Russian officials, was
that in certain conflicts the media have little right to information,
to the access they need to cover events, and little justification
for questioning government actions. Such arguments have grown increasingly
common, with political leaders in many parts of the world adopting
the rhetoric of fighting terrorism to stifle independent reporting
and opposition voices.
U.S. president George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,”
launched in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the
United States, gave impetus to the argument. Though the Bush administration
has moved away from its strong warnings against the perils of dissent,
other leaders wrap their repression in the anti-terrorism argument,
even sometimes describing critical journalists as “terrorists.”
The war on terrorism encourages repression of the media in another
way. The United States, for example, has muted its criticism of
human rights and press freedom abuses in countries that are strategically
important to its military efforts, such as the states of Central
Eritrea has also gone largely uncriticized, despite a harsh crackdown
in late 2001 that closed all independent media outlets and imprisoned
18 journalists. Several U.S. officials visited the country in 2002,
in search of a possible site for an American Army base to be used
for military action against Iraq. On one such visit in December,
U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about Eritrea’s
abysmal press freedom record. Eritrea, he answered, “is a
sovereign nation, and they arrange themselves and deal with their
problems in ways that they feel are appropriate to them.”
That message left little hope that international pressure might
push Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki to ease his ban on the private
media—or even acknowledge where he has imprisoned journalists
and opposition figures who are being held incommunicado.
No journalist’s case drew as much international attention
in 2002 as the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl. In the wake
of Pearl’s death, journalist safety became a renewed priority
for news organizations, particularly those in Europe and the United
States that have substantial foreign reporting staffs and budgets
to deploy them to conflicts all over the world. Many purchased bulletproof
vests and sent their correspondents to hostile-environment training,
usually week-long courses run by former military personnel to sensitize
journalists to the risks they could face in a conflict zone.
The prospect of U.S. military action against Iraq prompted a new
round of training, this time to prepare journalists for possible
biological or chemical warfare. And the U.S. military offered “boot
camp” courses to dozens of correspondents who could be “embedded”
with American troops in the event of an invasion of Iraq.
As news organizations budgeted millions of dollars and negotiated
with the U.S. military for access to the battlefield in the possible
new conflict, a host of questions arose, among them: Would the Pentagon
censor reports from the field, and how would U.S. troops regard
free-lance journalists who were not accredited to travel with them?
Along with journalist safety, press freedom in the potential new
conflict zone was certain to be a top priority for journalists in
Ann Cooper is the executive director of the Committee to Protect
Journalists. Before joining CPJ in 1998, she was a foreign correspondent
for National Public Radio for nine years, serving as bureau chief
in Moscow and Johannesburg.