By Hanley, Delinda C.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. 21, No. 4
The Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual report on "Attacks on the Press in 2001" on March 26 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. According to the New York-based organization's executive director, Ann Cooper, the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terrorism have created a freedom of the press crisis worldwide. In 2001 there were more than 500 cases in 140 countries of media repression--including assassination, assault, imprisonment, censorship and legal harassment.
As a direct result of their work, 37 journalists were killed around the world--up from 24 in 2000. Eight journalists died covering the war in Afghanistan, and other reporters were killed in assorted dangerous locations. At least 24 journalists were murdered in retribution or "vigilante violence" for their work to expose crime, corruption or election abuses in countries such as Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Yugoslavia. This gruesome total does not include the recent murders of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by al-Qaeda extremists or Italian free-lance reporter Rafaello Ciriello by Israeli soldiers.
The number of journalists in prison jumped from 81 in 2000 to 118 in 2001. More than half of that increase was caused by post-Sept. 11 crackdowns in Eritrea and Nepal. China, for the past three years the world's leading jailer of journalists, ended 2001 with a total of 35 imprisoned journalists.
Governments used "national security" concerns as the excuse for placing new restrictions on the press in countries like Zimbabwe, where journalists were termed terrorists, or the U.S., where the State Department tried to censor a Voice of America interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The U.S. government also pressured the Al-Jazeera satellite network to supress videotaped interviews with Osama bin Laden. Democratic press around the world looks to the U.S. for leadership, CPJ staff noted, so when this country restrains journalists it sends a chilling message for freedom of the press.
Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna said that censorship and intimidation of journalists in his region included the closure of 20 newspapers in Iran; harsh criminal laws restricting Turkish journalists from tackling the Kurdish question, political Islam or the military's role in national politics; and prison sentences for journalists in Morocco and Jordan. The Palestinian Authority, Campagna noted, had unsuccessfully censored reports of celebratory scenes in the West Bank and Gaza after the Sept. …