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World: Women Journalists Subject To Increasing Violence

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> Ogulspar Muradova, shown here at her son's wedding in 2004, was killed why detained by Turkmen authorities (Courtesy Photo) March 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The media rights organization Reporters Without Borders is marking International Women's Day on March 8 by drawing attention to increasing violence against women journalists.

The Paris-based group says women in the media are the victims of murder, arrest, threats, and intimidation. And it says conditions are among the worst in Russia, Central Asia, Iraq, and Iran.

In Praise Of Women Journalists

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says deadly violence against female media workers has reached an all-time high in the last two years. Of the 82 journalists murdered in 2006 alone, nine were women.

"In some countries, like Iran, for instance, more and more people are using blogs to avoid censorship and to express themselves freely; a lot of women have blogs in Iran, and also in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, like Tunisia."

RSF marks International Women's Day by paying tribute to the courage of women journalists "who go beyond the call of their journalistic duties to defend their right and the right of their fellow citizens to free expression."

RSF spokesman Jean Francois Juillard explained to RFE/RL from Paris why women journalists are increasingly on the front line of danger.

"More and more women are taking risks in their jobs because there are an increasing number of exposes, and they are doing a lot of investigative reporting, which can upset a lot of people," he said.

Killed For Being A Journalist

The organization lists several recent casualties, starting with Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a renowned figure who was shot dead in Moscow last year, apparently because of her opposition to Russian policies in Chechnya.

Demonstrators in Moscow after the killing of Anna Politkovskaya (epa)

Then there is an RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan, Ogulsapar Muradova, who died in jail in September, possibly from blows to the head.

She had been arrested a few months earlier on charges of possessing ammunition, but many believe it was the help she gave to a French journalist filming a television documentary in Turkmenistan.

The head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights, Tadjigul Begmedova, spoke to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service about Muradova.

"For our sake, for the sake of the people of Turkmenistan, she overcame the barrier of fear that held back the entire Turkmen society. When she began defending human rights, when she made this courageous step under conditions of persecution of the mass media, when she decided to go into journalism, it was a conscious attempt to influence the situation and communicate to the people of Turkmenistan that they should be more active in civil life," she said.

Harassment, Repression

In Iraq, there have been a series of hostage-takings of women journalists, some of whom were murdered, including Atwar Bahjat of Al-Arabiya television, and some of whom are still missing, including Reem Zeid of Sumariya television.

In Uzbekistan, Umida Niyazova is in jail facing a possible maximum sentence of 10 years for distributing written accounts of people who died during government's 2005 security crackdown on protesters in the city of Andijon.

Iran is another country where women journalists are having a hard time. An RSF researcher on Iran, Reza Moini, spoke to Radio Farda.

"In Iran during the past year, several Iranian women journalists were summoned to court, threatened, and jailed," he said. "Among the 34 women who were arrested [at a demonstration] on March 4, there are over 20 online journalists and bloggers. Among them are also several veteran journalists who have been for years under pressure and harassment by the Iranian regime."

The reference to bloggers (web loggers) shows how a new medium, the Internet, is beginning to make an impact on the human rights scene. RSF describes the women bloggers as "new free-expression advocates."

Role Of The Internet

"In some countries, like Iran, for instance, more and more people are using blogs to avoid censorship and to express themselves freely; a lot of women have blogs in Iran, and also in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, like Tunisia," he said. "So there are more and more women who create websites to speak about their freedom and their right to be women."

RSF also praises the courage of the women who run nongovernment organizations that support media freedom. It names Bedmedova in Turkmenistan, Rozlana Taukina in Kazakhstan, Zhanna Litvina in Belarus, and others.

So what can be done to make women reporters less exposed to reprisals from the government? Juillard says governments have to take their obligation to protect the public seriously.

"In a lot of countries, women journalists ask the police or the authorities for protection, and they don't get any answer," he said.

The RSF report on violence against women media activists is part of the broader theme of International Women's Day, which this year is dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.