Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Democratic nations fail to adequately defend freedom of expression

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has accused public officials around the world of “impotence, cowardice and duplicity” in defending freedom of expression in its annual report, which surveys press freedom in 98 countries.

Afghanistan’s struggle with civil war has led to increasing levels of violence against journalists. Terrorists, warlords and other unknown groups regularly attacked, kidnapped and killed those involved in the media throughout 2007. Government corruption and suppression played a major role in silencing discussion: security forces harassed journalists, and a court recently sentenced a journalist to death for blasphemy.

Journalists in Iraq face extreme danger on a day to day basis, reflecting the dire situation in the country at large. At least 56 media workers were killed in 2007. Hardly anyone ever claims responsibility for the murders, and there is a lack of any serious investigation. The authorities place severe restrictions on what can be reported, and even those working for media outlets backed by political parties, religious interests or the government – which are the only publications still operating – are in great danger from groups opposed to their employers’ affiliation.

The situation in Iran is somewhat more stable but government restriction is severe. 2007 saw more than 50 journalists prosecuted in Iran, with ten of them still in prison at the end of the year. Most of those arrested are held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where they are often subject to extremely poor conditions including solitary confinement, filthy cells, limited medical care and torture. Media outlets are subject to harassment and closure. This is despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s assertions that Iranians are “the freest people in the world.”

A dozen journalists in Egypt were prosecuted for harming “the country’s interests,” “national security” and “the reputation of the judiciary.” Constitutional reform gave some new power to authorities, including the right to arrest people suspected of terrorism, search their homes, spy on their mail and tap their phones without a court order. Yet despite repression and arrests, Egyptian journalists “have made significant headway,” particularly through the Internet.

Viet Nam’s political police continued to wage a “relentless battle against opposition movements and dissident publications.” There are significant legal barriers to freedom of expression in place, and several dissidents and activists were jailed in the past year.

Robert Ménard, RSF’s Secretary-General, said that the report highlights the inaction of Western nations and international bodies. “The lack of determination by democratic countries in defending the values they supposedly stand for is alarming,” he said.

To read the full report, click here.


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