Washington, D.C., March 26—At least 129 journalists were in prison in 24 countries at the end of 1997, and 26 journalists were murdered in the past year, including ten in Latin America, because of their profession, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported in a worldwide survey of press freedom conditions.
The 443-page Attacks on the Press in 1997, released at a 10 a.m. news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., includes detailed analyses of press freedom issues in 117 countries and six special reports. The book is the annual report of the New York-based CPJ, an independent, nonprofit organization that works on behalf of journalists around the world.
Among the findings in the Americas are:
· Mexico’s increasingly independent press is uniting to defend itself against violence and legal threats, according to a special report.
· In Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, the press has emerged as the institution that inspires the most public confidence.
· Growing independence and power of the media in this region of newly consolidated democratic regimes has exposed journalists to new dangers; 10 were murdered for doing their jobs—reporting on crime and corruption.
· In Argentina, the brutal murder of a news photographer galvanized public support for the media.
· In Mexico, although three journalists were murdered for reporting on the drug trade, threat of prosecution under Mexico’s arcane 1917 libel law remains a more immediate concern than the possibility of violent attack.
· In Colombia, where four journalists were murdered, the weakened government of Ernesto Samper extends its influence through control of television and radio licenses.
· Journalists in Peru say the country’s National Intelligence Service has launched a campaign of legal action and terror to keep them from damaging re-election prospects of President Alberto Fujimori.
· Violence has fueled the formation of press freedom organizations throughout the region, and journalists have begun to use the power of the press to bring attacks on their colleagues to public attention.
· In Cuba, where CPJ recorded more attacks on journalists than any other country in the Americas, the fledgling independent press movement faced systematic government persecution, including jail sentences, beatings, and forced exile.
The most disturbing trend in the rest of the world was the brutal suppression of Nigeria’s struggling independent media by Gen. Sani Abacha, who is now holding 17 journalists in prison, including Christine Anyanwu, recipient of CPJ’s 1997 International Press Freedom Award and the 1998 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
Turkey released 40 journalists from prison during the year but still holds at least 29 journalists in jail, more than any other country. Ethiopia was holding 16 journalists in prison at the end of 1997, breaking its public pledge to stop the suppression of independent media outlets.
At least 26 journalists were killed in 14 countries during the year, according to the report released today, including 7 in India and 4 in Colombia and 3 in Mexico. CPJ continues to investigate 10 other journalists’ deaths where a causal link to the victims’ work is suspected. A 10-year chart details the 474 murders of journalists by region and country.
Compiled from the first-hand research of CPJ’s professional staff, Attacks on the Press in 1997 is the single most authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date source of information on the status of press freedom around the world. The book documents in compelling detail nearly 500 attacks carried out to silence journalists and news organizations through physical assault, imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment. And it describes CPJ’s action on behalf of hundreds of journalists through emergency response and fact-finding missions, personal appeals by CPJ board members and staff, grassroots efforts, diplomatic channels, and media campaigns.