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World Cup : Red Card for Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey

image 120 x 154 (JPEG) The picture shows a football with blood dripping from it, with the names of the five countries and the words "red card" written over it. There is also a description of the press freedom defence organisation’s campaign:

"The World Cup is football’s biggest celebration. We certainly don’t want to spoil it. But we have to note that five countries which have qualified are major enemies of human rights, democracy and freedom. Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey deserve a red card for the torture, acts of violence and atrocities that go on there. In these countries, journalists and dissenters are imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed. This we must not forget. Even during a football match."

Each year, Reporters Without Borders publishes a list of "predators of press freedom. Because the enemies of freedom of expression have faces, the organisation has singled out 38 people and groups - heads of state and government, warlords and leaders of criminal gangs. As the whole world prepares to thrill to the talent of the footballers and the exploits of their teams, Reporters Without Borders wants to remind people that the authorities in these countries are "predators" who terrorise dissidents.

In Saudi Arabia, the media is tightly controlled and anyone who criticises the government, the royal family, the religious authorities or rulers of friendly foreign countries goes straight to jail. Since the Internet arrived in the country in 1999, it has been closely monitored by a department of the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology, that watches which sites are consulted and blocks access to those considered contrary to good morals or to Islam. The country’s ruler, Prince Abdullah ibn al-Saud, is one of the predators of press freedom listed by Reporters Without Borders.

In China, the authorities have begun a purge of the media as next year’s crucial congress of the ruling Communist Party approaches. At least five senior editors were sanctioned and a dozen media outlets censored last year. Reporters Without Borders regularly expresses indignation at such action against journalists and other Chinese citizens who try to challenge the monopoly that the state and the Communist Party have on information and to break the grip of censorship.

In recent weeks, the arrest of a journalist, the closure of a magazine and the prosecution of Falungong followers for distributing banned material to the media, as well as a wave of repression in the Xinjiang region, have once again shown that the Chinese government is imposing its control of the media by force. At least nine journalists and 22 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned in China. President Jiang Zemin is a designated predator of press freedom.

In Russia, where murders of journalists and physical attacks on them are increasing, legal harassment of some media has forced the country’s entire press to censor itself. The government is pushing ahead with its takeover or dismantling, through powerful state organisations, of national privately-owned media belonging to press "oligarchs."

In Chechnya, new restrictions on journalists have severely curbed freedom of information, which had already been reduced by very cumbersome accreditation procedures. In several of the autonomous Russian republics, the authorities have stifled all criticism as elections approach. President Vladimir Putin is one of the predators of press freedom condemned by Reporters Without Borders.

In Tunisia, opponents of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime are under more and more pressure, including on their families. Two journalists are currently imprisoned. In recent years, many journalists have been obliged to work for the foreign media, create news sites on the Internet or even go into exile because they cannot operate as journalists in their own country. Sihem Bensedrine, who runs the online newspaper Kalima, was jailed for several weeks last summer after being subjected to a range of pressures. Government control of the means of communication has been tightened to cut Tunisians off from the outside world. President Ben Ali is also a designated predator of press freedom.

In Turkey, despite its promise to make democratic reforms to help its application to join the European Union, expressing opinions is still just as severely and routinely punished through an arsenal of repressive laws aimed at protecting the state from the demands of Kurds, Islamic fundamentalists and far leftists. Last year more than 50 journalists of all persuasions were hauled before the courts for things they had written. Those who voice any criticism of the army are systematically targeted. Several daily papers have been prosecuted for their reporting of hunger strikes staged by detainees protesting against prison conditions and police behaviour in jails.

Last year, 20 journalists were physically attacked in the course of their work and about 30 were arrested. Five are still imprisoned, mostly for having published material considered a threat to public order or the unity of the state. Army chief Huseyin Kivrikoglu has been designated a predator of press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders invites the media and Internet sites to join its efforts by publicising this campaign (being handled free of charge by the Rampazzo advertising agency) in whatever format is convenient.

As thousands of foreign journalists arrive in Japan to cover the World Cup, Reporters Without Borders has also condemned (see the country’s system of kisha clubs as a obstacle to press freedom and called for its urgent reform. Virtually all these official press clubs, which Japan’s media has been built around for nearly 50 years, are barred to freelance journalists and foreign media correspondents.

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2005 progress Report
I. The state of press freedom worldwide in 2007
II. The year 2006
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State of accounts at 31 December 2006