(Washington, DC--February 12, 2007) Two researchers for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told an RFE/RL audience last week that the organization's latest annual "Attacks on the Press" report documents an increase of such attacks, despite economic growth across the surveyed countries of Asia and Europe.
Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator for CPJ, described the "culture of impunity" that has taken hold in Russia and many of the other countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU), where journalists are being prosecuted, imprisoned and even killed in "contract-style" murders. Ognianova said this attitude of impunity "is the leading threat to freedom of the press" in Russia, because it has already created a "chilling effect" among journalists trying to report on government corruption and human rights abuses.
An "institutional secrecy" surrounds the 13 murders of journalists that have been documented in Russia since President Vladimir Putin was elected, said Ognianova, whose organization met last year with many family members of the murdered journalists. According to Ognianova, the relatives complained that lawyers "can't get routine information" about the police investigations.
Speaking about the other FSU countries, Ognianova said that Russia, as the dominant political force in the region, has created a "domino effect" regarding the press and media--wherein other former Soviet states follow the lead of Russia in how they deal with journalists and media outlets. One of the examples cited by Ognianova was the case of RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova, who died in September of "unexplained causes" in prison. Muradova had been convicted a few months earlier in what Ognianova referred to as a "sham trial in Turkmenistan" on charges of being a "traitor to the Motherland."
CPJ Asia Program Research Associate Kristin Jones said that "media freedom had failed to keep pace with economic growth." Jones cited China as an example, where "the media is booming," but where 31 journalists are imprisoned by the state on "charges of leaking national security".
security." Often "local authorities work with local business to punish local reporters" who may be reporting on violations or corruption, Jones said.
As hosts of the upcoming Olympic Games in 2008, "the Chinese know they have an image problem," Jones said, so they have eased restrictions on foreign journalists as of January 1, 2007. She said there is an effort underway, by a "few bold editors" in Beijing, to try to broaden this policy to the indigenous media as well.
In the rest of Asia, Jones said, "there has been a step back" for the media, with the military junta in Thailand suspending press freedom, more defamation lawsuits filed in Philippine as well as "an upsurge in state-sanctioned attacks," and continued instability in South Asia posing threats to journalists.
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