WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
WHEN GOVERNMENTS TAKE JOURNALISTS HOSTAGE
In the run-up to World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Reporters Without Borders is campaigning for the release of three women journalists who have been “taken hostage” by governments.
Four members of Reporters Without Borders have been on hunger strike since 28 April in support of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on a charge of spying for the United States.
Saberi has herself been on hunger strike since 21 April in protest against her conviction on a trumped-up charge. Her life is in danger. Reporters Without Borders is taking over her hunger strike so that she does not have to continue it herself. Beginning on 3 May, similar protests are going to be staged in Canada, the United States, Britain, Belgium and Spain.
There is also an urgent need to obtain the release of two American journalists employed by California-based Current TV, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who have been held in Pyongyang since 17 March.
During a special evening event dedicated to the subject of North Korea which Reporters Without Borders organised in Paris on 27 April, the French secretary of state for foreign affairs and human rights, Rama Yade, offered her support for human rights organisations campaigning for their release.
The detention of Saberi, Lee and Ling on arbitrary charges demonstrates more than ever the importance of World Press Freedom Day, which we will be celebrating on 3 May. We appeal to the Iranian and North Korean authorities to free these three women without delay.
Saberi, Lee and Ling are professional journalists who are neither spies nor criminals. Through them, press freedom and the right to report the news freely are being taken hostage by Iran and North Korea.
More information about the Reporters Without Borders protests on behalf of Roxana Saberi:
ERITREA - PRESS FREEDOM
Eritrea, which has been led since independence by the highly authoritarian Issaias Afeworki, figures in last place on Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom index. The country has been cut off from the outside world since the terrible roundups of September 2001 and at least four journalists have died in prison, unknown and forgotten, while the situation goes from bad to worse.
Life may appear sweet in the floral streets of the capital Asmara, but is in fact nightmarish, particularly in the dark corridors of the all-powerful ministry of information. From the heights of this fortress atop a hill overlooking the capital, the minister, Ali Abdu, takes his orders directly from Issaias Afeworki. The one-time rebel leader, now a pitiless dictator, has gradually destroyed the hopes Eritreans had for their country before independence. The head of state set the political police at the heels of the reformist wing of the ruling party on 18 September 2001. Former companions in arms, ministers and influential generals were thrown into prison. The handful of independent newspapers appearing in Asmara was banned. Editors and publishers were arrested. Any criticism of the regime is condemned as “damaging national security”. Hundreds of political or military figures and 13 journalists failed to escape the round-ups or gave themselves up to the authorities. All were imprisoned, some of them in underground cells.
One of them, co-founder of the weekly Setit, Fessehaye Yohannes, known as “Joshua”, died on 11 January 2007 as a result of atrocious prison conditions in the remote Eiraeiro jail in the north-east of the country, where the most high profile prisoners are held. He was one of the country’s leading intellectuals, as well as poet, dramatist and director of a theatre company.
The public media in Eritrea do nothing but relay the regime’s belligerent and ultra-nationalist discourse. Closely watched by Ali Abdu, staff on public Eri-TV, radio Dimtsi Hafash (The Voice of the Masses) and the government daily Hadas Eritrea have been turned into enthusiastic official purveyors of government propaganda. No divergence is tolerated. Like scores of their fellow citizens who flee the country each month, many journalists working in the public media can no longer bear the gagging imposed on them by the government and go into exile. Most leave on foot at risk of being shot dead by border patrols who have received the order to shoot on sight. The very few foreign correspondents in the country have slowly been driven out as a result of harassment or intimidation, or simply through expulsion. Not a single one now lives in Asmara.
Reporters Without Borders has reacted to the scandalous situation within the country by campaigning for the Eritrean president and his ministers to be declared personae non grata in Europe.