CPJ Names World's Worst
Places to Be a Journalist


New York, May 3, 2002—
The Committee to Protect Journalists marks World Press Freedom Day by naming the world's worst places to be a journalist—10 places whose dangers and restrictions represent the full range of current threats to press freedom.

At the top of the list is the West Bank, where Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's government has used extraordinary force to keep journalists from covering its recent military incursion. Next is Colombia, where violent reprisals against the press by all factions in the civil conflict have made this the most deadly beat in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, dangers persist in Afghanistan, where eight journalists were killed in the line of duty in late 2001, and where U.S. government actions have hindered independent reporting on the war. CPJ also placed Eritrea, Belarus, Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Cuba on the list of worst places to be a journalist.

"In these countries where press freedom is under attack, journalists endure violent assaults, crackdowns by authoritarian regimes, danger from military operations, and harsh financial reprisals designed to bankrupt independent voices," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.

"Incredibly, in many of these places, journalists still manage to report the news—even under extremely difficult circumstances and at great personal risk," said Cooper.

World's Worst Places to be a Journalist


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West Bank

When Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon launched a massive military offensive in the West Bank in late March, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used threats, intimidation, and, in some cases, potentially lethal force to prevent journalists from covering its military operations. In one notorious incident, IDF troops fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at reporters waiting outside the Ramallah compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. IDF soldiers have also fired live rounds at working reporters, detained several journalists, confiscated film or press cards from others, ransacked the offices of private West Bank television and radio stations, and repeatedly attacked the Palestinian National Authority's broadcasting facilities in violation of international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, Israeli officials have expelled one foreign correspondent and refused to accredit Palestinian journalists.

Palestinian militants have also harassed journalists, particularly photographers who captured unflattering images. On April 1 in Bethlehem, for example, militants forced reporters to hand over footage of the body of an alleged Palestinian collaborator who had been shot in a parking lot.


Colombia

With 29 journalists murdered in the last decade, the Colombian press has paid a terrible price for reporting the news. But in the past, journalists at least felt that they had the support of the population and the government while they reported on drug trafficking, corruption, and violence committed by both leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. Now, at a time when Colombia's civil conflict is intensifying and all sides are less tolerant of criticism, some politicians are fueling the fire by accusing the press of bias.

Leftist rebels have silenced a local radio station and allegedly tried to attack a television news studio with a ground-fired rocket. Right-wing forces that have acknowledged murdering several journalists have publicly accused the press of having "poisonous spirits." Top journalists are fleeing into exile, and others are in hiding. Meanwhile, presidential front-runner Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has been questioned about his alleged ties to paramilitary forces and drug traffickers, has noted, "...a free press is one thing, and a press at the service of straw men and shady deals is another thing." Presidential elections are scheduled for May 26.


Afghanistan
In November 2001, eight journalists were killed reporting on the U.S.-led military offensive in the country, and post-Taliban Afghanistan remains dangerous and chaotic. But U.S. government actions have also hampered independent reporting. CPJ documented three instances where journalists were forcibly prevented from covering U.S. military activities in Afghanistan. In one case, U.S. soldiers threatened to shoot a Washington Post reporter who was attempting to report on a U.S. missile strike that may have killed a group of civilians in eastern Afghanistan. In mid-November, U.S. bombs destroyed the Kabul bureau of the Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera. To date, Pentagon officials have provided no evidence to back their claim that the building was "a known al-Qaeda facility."


Eritrea

This tiny Red Sea nation is now Africa's foremost jailer of journalists, with at least 13 reporters behind bars and the entire private press banned since September. President Isaias Afewerki's government variously accuses independent journalists of "endangering national unity," of not having proper licenses, and of evading the compulsory national service program. The ruling party tightly controls the state media. Even so, authorities arrested three state media employees in mid-February. One was charged with treason for giving a tape of a local television program to a foreign diplomat. The Afewerki government has been unfazed by persistent international denunciation of its human rights record and continues to dismiss foreign critics as enemies of Eritrea.


Belarus
A dogged group of journalists is doing its best to cover local news despite the efforts of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who clings to power via Soviet-style repression. In the months prior to Lukashenko's controversial September re-election, tax officials seized equipment from media organizations, froze their bank accounts, and installed a senior government official as head of the publishing house that prints most independent newspapers in the capital, Minsk.

Meanwhile, authorities made little progress investigating the disappearance of Dmitry Zavadsky, a television cameraman who vanished on July 7, 2000. Although two former members of the Belarusian special forces were recently convicted of kidnapping Zavadsky, his body has not been found and prosecutors have not pursued credible leads implicating senior government officials in the disappearance.


Burma

Journalists in Burma work under impossible conditions, forbidden by state censors from publishing almost anything of substance and subject to imprisonment for the slightest expression of dissent. The government owns all electronic media and controls print publications through capricious licensing requirements. Public access to the Internet is restricted to a limited number of Web sites screened and approved by military authorities. During the past few months, secret talks between members of the ruling military junta and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have led many to hope that change may be on the horizon. While these negotiations have resulted in the release of more than 200 political prisoners, including a few journalists, they have so far yielded no real reform.


Zimbabwe
Once known for its vigorous and largely uncensored independent press, Zimbabwe has become a hostile environment for local reporters and foreign correspondents alike. During the past two years alone, President Robert Mugabe's government has detained more than 50 journalists, tortured at least two, and filed over three dozen lawsuits against reporters and their news outlets. Police and pro-government vigilantes have attacked several journalists, while the independent Daily News has suffered three bomb attacks since 2000.

After September 11, 2001, the Mugabe government adapted White House rhetoric to brand journalists and other critics as "terrorists." Two recent pieces of legislation, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act, effectively outlaw all criticism of Mugabe.


Iran

While Iran boasts a relatively lively press, the country's conservative-controlled courts relentlessly cracked down on liberal newspapers in the past two years. Since April 2000, when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a fiery speech accusing the country's reformist press of being foreign agents, the courts have closed at least 47 publications, most of which backed President Mohammed Khatami's reform movement. Dozens of journalists have been detained, summoned to court, and prosecuted for their writings. Others are appealing pending prison sentences or have been fined and barred from practicing their profession. Today, at least three are jailed in connection with their journalistic work.



Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is rapidly losing its reputation as an "island of democracy" in Central Asia. Emboldened by the growing number of U.S. troops in Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akayev has used the threat of international terrorism as an excuse to curb political dissent and suppress the independent and opposition media. Compliant courts often issue exorbitant damage awards in politically motivated libel suits, driving the country's most prominent newspapers to the brink of bankruptcy. The state publishing house refused to print several newspapers that criticized Akayev. Meanwhile, officials found legal excuses to cancel the licenses of several independent papers.


Cuba

The Cuban government is determined to crush independent journalism on the island but has not yet succeeded. A small but growing group of journalists report the news as they see it and tell the world by dictating (and faxing) their stories down static-filled phone lines to their colleagues abroad. The stories, on human rights abuses, petty corruption, and the travails of daily life, are posted on the Internet and at times broadcast back into Cuba. Journalists are constantly followed, harassed, intimidated, and sometimes jailed. While two imprisoned journalists were recently released from prison, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, jailed since 1997, is serving a six-year sentence for "disrespecting" President Fidel Castro Ruz. He is the only journalist in the Americas currently behind bars for his work.

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All Photos: Associated Press