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U.S.: Rights Group Names Annual 'Enemies Of The Press'

  • Kevin Foley

Washington, 3 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- An international press freedom monitor is calling the leaders of Kazakhstan, Iran, Yugoslavia and China "enemies of the press."

They were among ten leaders singled out for criticism by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The New York-based non-profit organization annually compiles what it calls its "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press," and publishes the list each May 3rd on World Press Freedom Day.

CPJ said that one of the objectives of the list is to call to account leaders whose actions "make them personally responsible for the abysmal press conditions of their countries."

In a statement, CPJ said Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic and Sierra Leone's Foday Sankoh head this year's list.

CPJ also placed on the list for the first time Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, along with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. President Jiang Zemin of China and President Fidel Castro of Cuba kept their places on CPJ's list, as did President Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, and President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali of Tunisia.

CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said enemies of the press use methods that range from outright torture and murder to more subtle techniques aimed at keeping uncomfortable truths from being told. Cooper said that, "In Yugoslavia and Iran, threats are so severe that independent media are in grave danger of becoming extinct in the near future."

CPJ said that Khamenei, as supreme leader of Iran, has fostered an anti-reform climate.

In an RFE/RL interview, CPJ spokeswoman Judy Blank explained the organization's view of Khamenei. She said:

"In Iran's theocracy, where Khamenei exercises tremendous influence over key institutions, particularly the judiciary, the hard-line ruler has been presiding over the relentless repression of a burgeoning pro-reform press. In the past two years, courts have tried and imprisoned outspoken journalists at a dizzying pace. This April, following an inflammatory speech by Khamenei, Iran's judiciary banned 16 publications in less than a week, decimating the reformist press."

Nazarbayev was added to the list, Blank said, because of his "stranglehold on information," that is "reminiscent of the days of Soviet rule." She said:

"Although Nazarbayev promised press freedom when his country became independent in 1991, the president's stranglehold on information is now reminiscent of the days of Soviet rule. During Nazarbayev's 1999 re-election campaign, government authorities brought criminal cases against several independent media outlets, charging them with 'freedom of speech abuses.' After the election, private newspapers were fined on defamation charges, subjected to tax audits, and shut down."

Blank said Milosevic was returned to the list for a second year because he "continues his concerted campaign to destroy his country's independent media." She said:

"Authorities intensified their crackdown on the independent Serb media with an almost daily barrage of attacks on press freedoms in the first few months of 2000. An unprecedented wave of attacks on newspapers and broadcast stations throughout the country followed vitriolic remarks against the press made his Serbian deputy prime minister (Vojislav Seselj) in February. "

The committee said it bases its choices of the worst press enemies upon the recommendations of its program coordinators, who are specialists in the geographic regions they cover.

CPJ says the list gives the program coordinators the opportunity to spotlight the worst abusers of freedom of the press. CPJ hopes the public exposure will bring international pressure to bear and lead to press freedom.