Read the portraits of the predators of press freedom.
For the past seven years Reporters Without Borders has exposed the world’s “predators of press freedom” - men and women who directly attack journalists or order others to. Most are top-level politicians (including presidents, prime ministers and kings) but they also include militia chiefs, leaders of armed groups and drug-traffickers. They usually answer to no-one for their serious attacks on freedom of expression. Failure to punish them is one of the greatest threats to the media today.
There are 39 “predators of press freedom” this year. Five have disappeared from the previous list. Fidel Castro is one of them, as the “lider maximo” has definitively transferred power to his brother Raúl. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf lost February’s parliamentary elections and, in the process, his ability to harm press freedom. In Ethiopia, the situation seems to have stabilised and imprisoned journalists have been released, so Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been taken off the list. The same goes for Swaziland’s King Mswati III, who has not committed any serious press freedom violation for several years. Finally, Young Patriots leader Charles Blé Goudé in Côte d’Ivoire has stopped calling for violence against foreign journalists or opposition journalists.
But 10 new predators have entered the list. In the Palestinian Territories, the armed wing of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces in the West Bank were guilty of serious press freedom violations. Each faction systematically hounded journalists suspecting of siding with the other camp.
The Israel Defence Forces were added to the list after they began again to target journalists covering their incursions into the Palestinian Territories. A Palestinian cameraman working for Reuters was killed in April by a shell fired from an Israeli tank. In July 2007, a cameraman lost the use of both legs after being fired on by an Israeli soldier as he lay on the ground.
Gurbangouly Berdymukhammedov, who has been president of Turkmenistan for more than a year, did not keep his promise to carry out democratic reforms. The media continue to be under the government’s absolute control and prisoners of conscience have not been released.
Press freedom has many enemies in Somalia. The armed group Al-Shabaab, Mogadishu governor and mayor Mohamed Dhere and national security agency director Mohamed Warsame Darwish are among those who are particularly brutal in the way they treat journalists.
In Sri Lanka, the president’s brother, secretary of State for defence Gotabhaya Rajapakse, often voices virulent attacks on the press, contributing to the appalling climate that prevails there. In the north of the country, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the long-time leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels, continues to intimidate journalists who criticise his movement.
Finally, political calm has returned in Nepal, but a few radical armed groups make life hell for the press, especially in the south. At least 90 journalists were physically attacked, threatened or force to flee their town as a result of threat from armed militants.