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12.12.2001

Ten leaders

   

On the International Day of Freedom of the Press the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) made public the list of ten most bitter enemies of the press in 2001, thus focusing the attention on leaders responsible for the most serious violations of freedom of the press in the world. This year Liberian President Charles Taylor joined Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatola Ali Homeini and Chinese President Tsian Zhemin, who occupy the first positions in this list for several years.

Homeini, the Iran religious leader, who has the unlimited influence on all main institutions of his country, is an initiator of the merciless campaign against the progressive press, as a result of which scores of newspapers were closed, and the most oppositional-minded journalist were thrown to prisons. In Liberia President Taylor used censorship, arrests, imprisonment and threats in order to make silent independent mass media. Tsian Zhemin appeared in the CPJ list for five times on end for his role in the attempts, permanently carried out by the Communist party, to establish the absolute monopoly on spreading information; among the methods they use imprisonment of disobedient journalists for unusually long terms. At present China is the world leader as to the number of incarcerated journalists.

This year, along with Liberal leader, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Columbian chieftain Carlos Castaco appeared in the CPJ list for the fist time. The CPJ did not forget Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who already figured in the list in 1999. Besides, the list is decorated with the names of permanent abusers of freedom of the press: President of Cuba Fidel Castro (for the last seven years), President of Tunisia Zin al-Abdin Ben Ali (four years) and Prime Minister of Malaysia Magatir Mohammed (for the third time).

‘Although three most bitter enemies of the free press of the last year, rebel leader Fodey Sanko from Sierra-Leone, President of Peru Alberto Fuhimori and President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Miloshevich, lost their positions, there is no shortage of candidates to replace them in our list’, Ann Cooper, the executing manager of the CPJ, declared. – ‘Independently of their methods, secret or public, they all have one goal: to preserve their political power in their countries by means of establishing stern control over information and suppressing every dissent action’.

‘President Putin, for example, publicly declares that he supports freedom of the press in Russia, but actually he stealthily centralizes the control over mass media and destroys the independent press. Others, like Magatir in Malayzia even do not attempt to conceal their intentions with lip service’, Cooper said. – ‘We hope that by naming publicly these ten tyrants of the press, we shall be able to focus the attention of the world public on their activities and, due to it, to improve the situation in their countries’.

ENEMIES OF THE PRESS IN 2001

•  Ayatola Ali Homeini, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hot sermon against the press by Homeini in April 2000 inspired the campaign of merciless repressions against Irani progressive press, which lasts up to now. Lately conservative courts of Iran have prohibited more than 30 newspapers and convicted to incarceration the most popular liberal journalist. When the Irani parliament was discussing the question of canceling the repressive articles of the notorious law on the press, Homeini stopped the process that any softening of the law would harm ‘the interests of the system and the revolution’. Thus, the law on the press remained unchanged, and at least nine journalists (including Mashall Shamsolvaezin, the laureate of the CPJ prize ‘For a Contribution to the Development to Freedom of the Press’ of 2000) stay in prisons.

  • Charles Taylor, the President of Liberia. Since Taylor became the president of this African country in 1997, he steadily conducted the policy of suppressing the independent press. He framed and incarcerated disobedient journalists, censored many mass media and closed some of them by using illegal financial inspections. In March 2000 he closed the popular ‘Star Radio’. On 3 August at least eight journalists were condemned to incarceration allegedly for espionage. In September Taylor, known by his stern policy, promised to ‘punish cruelly’ those mass media, which would not support his policy. Several newspapers had to stop to exist after journalists began to escape from the country in masses.

    •  Tsian Zhemin, the President of People’s Republic of China. Tsian Zhemin is the leader of the country with the most elaborated system of controlling mass media in the world. In the end of the last year 22 Chinese journalists stayed in prisons for their professional activities, more than in any country. Being afraid that the Internet will undermine the monopoly for information of the Communist party, Zhemin spent enormous resources to control the on-line information. His campaign of the increase of ‘ideological responsibility’ resulted in closure or reorganization of many mass media, which tried to be somewhat independent.

    •  Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe’s government conducted a total war against the independent press, using various methods: from court trials to the application of brutal force to independent journalists. On 3 January 1999 two local journalists were tortured, and two foreign journalists were extradited. Besides, the security services regularly control e-mail and on-line publications with the aim to defend the ‘national security’. Bomb explosions twice ruined the building of the independent newspaper ‘Daily News’. The second explosion happened soon after the appeal of the Minister of information to force ‘News’ to ‘be silent forever’. At the same time Mugabe actively uses the court system for the punishment of independent journalists for the alleged damage of honor and dignity.

    •  Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.Since his coming to power in 2000 Vladimir Putin has headed the campaign for exterminating the free press in Russia. The Kremlin introduced censorship in Chechnya, started the court persecution of owners of private mass media and passed to the security services prominent rights in controlling information. Contrary to Putin’s declarations about his intentions to establish superiority of the right, numerous attacks at journalist throughout the country remain unpunished. This April, after a dramatic and ill-promising opposition the Kremlin-controlled company ‘Gazprom’ seized ‘НТВ’, the only nation-wide independent TV company. Recently a successful stratagem of ‘Gazprom’ resulted in the closure of the well-known Moscow daily ‘Segodnia’. In spite of insistent declarations of ‘Gazprom’ that the reasons of the changes were pure business, Putin appeared to be the main victor: his critics have become silent at last.

    •  Carlos Castaco, the leader of the United Armed Forces of Columbia (AUC). Even on the background of the civil war in Columbia, in which every side of the conflict regards journalists as targets, Carlos Castaco distinguishes himself as the most merciless enemy of the press. As the leader of the AUC, a right military organization that applies very cruel methods, Castaco was officially accused of giving the order to murder political commentator and satirist Haime Garzon in 1999. The AUC is also suspected in killing at least four other journalists and at least one case of torture.Besides, Castaco uses a sly practice of public relations: he often gives interviews to the journalists, who support his violent activities, and, at the same time, he persecutes and threatens to those journalists, who oppose him.

    •  Leonid Kuchma, the President of Ukraine. Leonid Kuchma increased his usual attempts to censor oppositional newspapers, as well as threats and attacks at independent journalists. The disappearance and the suspected murder of Georgiy Gongadze, the editor of an independent Internet-newspaper, turned the attention of the world public to the difficult existence of Ukrainian journalists. The facts that testify that Kuchma may personally order the killing of Gongadze initiated the political crisis in Ukraine, which may finally lead to the retirement of the President and his government. Besides, Kuchma’s administration repeatedly attempted to constrain the number of publications, which that critically treated Gongadze’s case and the political crisis that followed.

    •  Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba. Fidel Castro’s government continues the active campaign against Cuban independent journalists, arresting and interrogating them, tapping their telephones and interrupting their phone calls, restricting their movements and periodically punishment them with home arrests, thus preventing their work. They apply a new tactic of intimidation: they arrest a journalist and release him many kilometers from his home. As to the journalists, who live abroad and write critical articles about Cuba, they are regularly refused entrance vises. In the beginning of the current year Castro promised several representations of international information agencies on Cuba that they would be driven from Cuba for ‘spreading lies and insults’. Cuba is the only country in the Western hemisphere, where journalists are put to prisons for their professional activities. For example, Bernardo Arevalo Padrin continues to do his six-year term for the publication of his critical reports about Fidel Castro and the Communist party of Cuba.

    •  Zin al-Abdin Ben Ali , the President of Tunisia. Zin al-Abdin Ben Ali practically subordinated Tunisian mass media by using strict censorship and intimidation during last ten years. Newspapers are closed, journalists are sacked or not accredited, they are tailed and forbidden to leave the country. Some of them underwent bodily violence. If not to say about several desperados, the rest of the journalists were intimidated. The totalitarian policy of the police regime headed by Ben Ali gave birth to a reptile press, which sings endless hymns to his imagined achievements in the development of human rights and democracy. Last year Ben Ali hypocritically reproached Tunisian journalists for their self-censorship. ‘What are you afraid of?’ – the President queried.

    •  Magatir Mohammed, the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Magatir Mohammed never conceals his contempt to freedom of the press. He capably manipulates with Malaysian mass media in order to strengthen his own position in power. Recently he has hinted about his plans to settle a sterner control over the press, already more than sufficiently controlled. His new target is the Internet, the most important means to convey independent news and ideas in the country, where conventional mass media are permanently controlled by Magatir administration. Now Malaysian politicians are considering the laws on controlling on-line information. Well-known by his sensitivity, the Prime Minister regularly maltreats the foreign press for its allegedly biased description of events in the country. Last year he several times prohibited distribution of foreign mass media that published critical articles about Malaysia.

    Additional information about the ten bitterest enemies of the press and the detailed analysis of the violations of journalists’ and mass media rights in various countries of the world may be found on the CPJ Internet-site (www.cpj.org).
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