Committee to Protect Journalists lists Kuchma and nine
others as worst enemies of the press
NEW YORK - The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on May 3 named
the 10 Worst Enemies of the Press for 2001, focusing attention on individual
leaders who are responsible for the world's worst abuses against the media.
This year, repeat offenders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of
Iran and President Jiang Zemin of China are joined by Liberian president
Charles Taylor at the top of CPJ's annual accounting of press tyrants.
CPJ put Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma back on the list (he last appeared
in 1999), and once more named perennial press freedom offenders President
Fidel Castro of Cuba (a seven-year veteran of the press enemies list), President
Zine Al-Abdine Ben Ali of Tunisia (listed for four years) and Malaysian
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (listed for three years).
Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader who exercises enormous influence
over key institutions in Iran, is the instigator of a relentless campaign
that has shuttered the country's vibrant reformist press by closing dozens
of newspapers and jailing outspoken journalists. In Liberia, President Taylor
has used censorship, prison and threats of violence to silence virtually
all independent media. China's President Jiang appears on CPJ's list for
a fifth straight year, for maintaining the Communist Party's obsessive control
over information, enforced in part via harsh prison sentences that have
now made China the world's leading jailer of journalists.
Three other press offenders, each using very different methods to intimidate
media in their countries, are also new to CPJ's list this year: President
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Colombian
paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño.
"Although three of last year's worst press enemies - Sierra Leonean
rebel leader Foday Sankoh, Peru's Alberto Fujimori, and Slobodan Milosevic
of Yugoslavia - were ousted from power in the past year, there was no shortage
of candidates to replace them," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.
"Whether they are sly or blatant, the goal of each of these leaders
is to hold on to political power by controlling information and muffling
criticism," Ms. Cooper said.
"President Putin, for example, pays lip service to press freedom
in Russia, but then maneuvers in the shadows to centralize control of the
media, stifle criticism, and destroy the independent press. Others, like
Mr. Mahathir in Malaysia, don't even bother to try to hide their abuses
behind a screen of empty rhetoric," said Mr. Cooper. "We hope
that by naming these 10 press tyrants, we can focus world attention on their
deeds and, by exposing them, bring about change."
Enemies of the Press 2001
- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Ayatollah Khamenei's fiery April 2000 sermon against the press inspired
an unsparing campaign of repression against Iran's reformist media that
continues to this day. To date, the conservative courts have banned more
than 30 papers and jailed the country's best-known liberal journalists.
When Parliament debated reversing harsh provisions of Iran's notorious
press law, Ayatollah Khamenei stopped things cold, declaring that any easing
of the rules was not "in the interests of the system and the revolution."
Today, the press law remains untouched, and at least nine journalists (including
CPJ 2000 International Press Freedom Award winner Mashallah Shamsolvaezin)
languish in jail.
- Charles Taylor, president of Liberia. Since he became president of
this war-plagued nation in 1997, President Taylor has been single-minded
in clamping down on the independent press. He has jailed outspoken journalists
on trumped-up charges, censored some media outfits at will and forced others
out of business through abusive tax audits. The popular Star Radio was
effectively banned in March 2000. Since August, at least eight journalists
have been jailed in Liberia on baseless charges of espionage. In September,
Mr. Taylor, known for his erratic and bloody tactics, pledged to become
"ferocious" with local media that did not toe his line. Several
papers immediately closed down and their staffs fled the country en masse.
- Jiang Zemin, president of the People's Republic of China. Mr. Jiang
presides over the world's most elaborate system of media control. Twenty-two
journalists were jailed for their work in China at the end of last year
- more than in any other country. Wary of the Internet's potential power
to break the state's information monopoly, Jiang has poured huge resources
into policing online content. His campaign to strengthen "ideological
conformity" has led to closings or reorganizations at several media
outlets that had begun operating with unacceptable editorial independence.
- Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe's government has launched
an all-out war against independent media, using weapons that range from
lawsuits to physical violence. Since January 1999 two local journalists
have been tortured and two foreign correspondents expelled, while the secret
service screens e-mail and Internet communications to preserve "national
security." Bomb attacks twice damaged the premises of the independent
Daily News; the second bombing followed close on the heels of a call from
President Mugabe's information minister to silence that paper "once
and for all." Meanwhile, Mr. Mugabe makes liberal use of his courts
to prosecute independent journalists for criminal defamation.
- Vladimir Putin, president of Russia. Since taking office last year,
Mr. Putin has presided over an alarming assault on press freedom in Russia.
The Kremlin imposed censorship in Chechnya, orchestrated legal harassment
against private media outlets, and granted sweeping powers of surveillance
to the security services. Despite Mr. Putin's professed goal of imposing
the rule of law, numerous violent attacks on journalists have been carried
out with impunity across Russia. In an ominous and dramatic move this April,
the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom corporation took over NTV, the country's
only independent national television network. Within days, the Gazprom
coup had shut down a prominent Moscow daily and ousted the journalists
in charge of the country's most prestigious newsweekly. Despite Gazprom's
insistence that the changes were strictly business, the main beneficiary
was President Putin himself, whose primary critics have now been silenced.
- Carlos Castaño, leader of the United Self Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC). Even against the violent backdrop of Colombia's escalating
civil war, in which all sides have targeted journalists, Mr. Castaño
stands out as a ruthless enemy of the press. The leader of the United Self
Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the ultra-violent right-wing paramilitary
organization, Mr. Castaño has been formally charged with ordering
the 1999 murder of commentator and political satirist Jaime Garzón.
His AUC has been implicated in the murders of at least four other journalists
and at least one case of torture. Mr. Castaño's vicious public relations
strategy is to grant frequent interviews to journalists who defend his
actions, while using violence and threats of violence to terrorize those
whose coverage he dislikes.
- Leonid Kuchma, president of Ukraine. Mr. Kuchma's government has stepped
up its habitual censorship of opposition newspapers and increased attacks
and threats against independent journalists. The disappearance and presumed
murder of Internet editor Heorhii Gongadze late last year brought the plight
of Ukrainian journalists into sharp focus. Allegations that President Kuchma
himself may have directed the elimination of Mr. Gongadze sparked a political
crisis that threatened to bring down his government, and police security
services made numerous attempts to muzzle publications that carried coverage
critical of the Gongadze scandal.
- Fidel Castro, president of Cuba. Mr. Castro's government continues
its scorched-earth assault on independent Cuban journalists by interrogating
and detaining reporters, monitoring and interrupting their telephone calls,
restricting their travel and routinely putting them under house arrest
to prevent coverage of certain events. A new tactic of intimidation involves
arresting journalists and releasing them hundreds of miles from their homes.
Meanwhile, foreign journalists who write critically of Cuba are routinely
denied visas, and early this year Mr. Castro threatened some international
news bureaus with expulsion from Cuba for "transmitting insults and
lies." Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that currently
holds a journalist in jail for his work. Bernardo Arévalo Padrón
continues to serve a six-year sentence for reporting critical of Castro
and the Communist Party.
- Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia. For more than a decade,
Mr. Ben Ali has brought Tunisia's press to almost total submission through
censorship and crude intimidation. Newspapers were closed. Journalists
have been dismissed from their jobs, denied accreditation, put under police
surveillance and prevented from leaving the country. Some have been subjected
to physical abuse. With the exception of a few courageous journalists,
the totalitarian tactics of President Ben Ali's police state have produced
one of the most heavily self-censored presses in the region, while his
propaganda machine churns out endless paeans to the dictator's supposed
achievements in democracy and human rights. Last year, incredibly, Mr.
Ben Ali chided local journalists for self-censorship. "What are you
afraid of?" the president asked.
- Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia. Mr. Mohamad is openly
contemptuous of press freedom. He has manipulated Malaysian media to cement
his hold on power and has signaled plans to introduce even more stringent
controls on a severely constricted media. Officials are now considering
legislation to regulate the Internet, a crucial venue for independent news
and opinion in a country where traditional media outlets are overwhelmingly
controlled by Prime Minister Mahathir's political allies. Notoriously thin-skinned,
the prime minister regularly demonizes the foreign media for reporting
he considers unfair. This past year he repeatedly blocked the circulation
of international news magazines that featured articles about Malaysia.
* * *
For more information about the 10 Worst Enemies of the Press and for
detailed accounts about attacks on the press worldwide, visit CPJ's Web
site (www.cpj.org). CPJ is a New York-based,
independent, non-profit organization that works to safeguard press freedom
around the world.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May
13, 2001, No. 19, Vol. LXIX
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