129 JOURNALISTS IN PRISON as of December 31, 1997
world prepared to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, at least 129 journalists were being held
in prison for exercising the right guaranteed to them in Article 19
to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media,
and regardless of frontiers." The Committee to Protect Journalists
is calling for their immediate release.
Still, with 29 confirmed cases of journalists in prison as of December 31, 1997, Turkey once again heads CPJ’s list, with more journalists in jail than in any other country. This compares to 78* journalists in prison at the close of 1996, 51 in 1995, and 74 in 1994. It is CPJ’s hope and expectation that these numbers will continue to decline. The statutes under which these journalists were convicted remain on the books, however. The Yilmaz government has pledged to CPJ and others that it will undertake sweeping reform of the Anti-Terror Law and articles of the Turkish Penal Code that have been used to prosecute working journalists.
The most disturbing development of 1997 was the increasing persecution of journalists in Nigeria, where at least 17 reporters and editors were in jail at the end of the year—up from eight in 1996. The Abacha government refuses in most cases to permit visitors to these prisoners, who are said to be confined under extremely primitive conditions and subjected to physical abuse by security officials. Among the prisoners is Sunday Magazine editor Christine Anyanwu, a 1997 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. More than 400 leading American journalists and news media executives have petitioned the Abacha government for her immediate release. It is CPJ's commitment to intensify our campaign on behalf of Christine Anyanwu in 1998.
In Ethiopia, 16 journalists were jailed at year-end, all of them newly inprisoned during 1997. This compares to 18 in 1996 and 31 in 1995. For more than five years now, the Meles regime has made a habit of punishing outspoken journalists with sentences ranging typically from six to 18 months for allegedly "false" reporting or inciting "anxieties" and ethnic strife. Journalists are also routinely detained for weeks or months at a time without charges.
In China, at least 15 journalists remain in jail, for publishing alleged "state secrets" or writing and distributing political leaflets critical of Communist Party rule. In one of the more recent prosecutions, Gao Yu, a correspondent for a Hong Kong monthly, was sentenced to prison for reporting government financial data. She was the recipient of UNESCO's 1997 Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. There were no new prosecutions of Chinese journalists in 1997.
The military government of Burma continues to hold eight opposition journalists in jail, while Kuwait keeps in custody seven foreign-born reporters—most of them Jordanians and Palestinians convicted of treasonous "collaboration" with Iraqi occupying forces in 1991. Vietnam has five independent journalists in prison, including Doan Viet Hoat, the recipient of CPJ's 1993 International Press Freedom Award and the 1997 Golden Pen of Freedom prize from the World Association of Newspapers.
Peru was the Western Hemisphere’s leading jailer of journalists, with four imprisoned reporters at the end of 1997. In prosecutions based exclusively on their published articles, the four were convicted by secret tribunals of alleged membership in the Tupac Amaru and Sendero Luminoso guerrilla bands. Algeria, Cuba, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, and Tunisia each held two journalists in prison. Journalists were also in jail at year's end in Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, South Korea, and Zambia. These are not simple statistics. Every name on this list represents someone whom we as fellow journalists believe to have been unjustly imprisoned because of his or her work. We have learned that with sufficient international attention and pressure, many could and would be freed.
Not everyone on this list was a career journalist prior to his or her arrest. We include political analysts, human rights activists, and others who have been prosecuted because of opinion columns or news features they have written. All working journalists in these countries are directly threatened by such prosecutions, and we believe that we have an obligation to defend such imprisoned writers as colleagues. Journalism is not the exclusive domain of a professional fraternity. Anyone who is prosecuted for writing or broadcasting political commentary or factual reportage should be defended as a colleague by journalists around the world.
In totalitarian societies where independent journalism is not permitted, CPJ often defends prosecuted writers who would be defined by their governments as political dissidents, rather than journalists. This category would embrace the samizdat publishers of the former Soviet Union, the wall-poster essayists of the pre-Tiananmen period in China, and the underground pamphleteers of today's Burma. CPJ also classifies as an imprisoned journalist anyone with a news media background in an authoritarian in or totalitarian state who, like several recent cases in Cuba, is prosecuted for campaigning on behalf of the cause of free expression. We believe that working in the defense of press freedom is as legitimate an activity for a journalist as reporting or editing.
We also object in principle to any imprisonment of a journalist on the basis of a conviction for criminal libel. Legitimate cases of defamation should be matters for civil courts to resolve. In addition to the 129 confirmed cases reported here, we have listed a further 30 "unconfirmed" cases of imprisoned journalists in eight countries (see page 75). In some of these cases, we could not confirm reports that a jailed journalist had been released from prison before the end of 1997. In others it remains uncertain whether the prosecution was directly connected to the journalist’s work. In all these cases CPJ is seeking additional information from local sources and clarification from the governments in question.
This year-end accounting offers an instructive global snapshot of patterns of repression of journalists around the world. Though it omits the many cases of journalists who have been jailed and released in the course of the year, these incidents are often noted in the country sections of this 1997 report. Such cases are simply too numerous for CPJ to document comprehensively, however. The annual year-end listing permits accurate year- to-year as well as country-to-country comparisons, and focuses attention on long-term prisoners whose cases might otherwise be forgotten.
The common denominators of the year-end case list are summary convictions and harsh sentences equating some form of journalistic activity with treason. There is little ambiguity in these cases. Governments explicitly or implicitly acknowledge that the charges were prompted by critical reporting or commentary, and that the intent of prosecution was censorship. Formal charges do not always refer to journalistic work, however. In some countries --Turkey is the main offender -- journalists are often accused of unlawful collaboration with armed insurgents, but the motivation for the prosecution and the evidence for the charge appears to stem wholly or largely from the publication of reportage or opinions deemed to be supportive of those rebel movements. In other places -- Ethiopia, Nigeria --journalists critical of the government are often jailed with no formal charges at all.
With few exceptions, the journalists held in prison at the end of December 1997 will still be in jail when this report is published at the end of March 1998. Most of them have been on CPJ's lists before. We again call on the leaders of the 23 countries holding these 128 journalists in jail to expedite their immediate release. We urge all journalists to join us in appealing for the freedom of our imprisoned colleagues.