16 March 1999
Volume 08 - 1999 Issue 10 (16 March 1999)
Press freedom does not exist in Syria, where no independent media are permitted and at least ten journalists remain in jail, says Reporters sans frontières (RSF). "The country is at war with Israel, and a state of emergency has been in force since 1963, giving the security forces exceptional powers and continuously restricting citizens' basic freedoms," reports RSF. The ten journalists, who have been sentenced to between eight and 15 years, often with hard labour, are believed to be held for non-violent offences. "The use of torture is systematic: interrogation is extremely violent, especially as prisoners are first kept in a solitary cell," says RSF, adding that some prisoners have died as a result of torture or lack of care. Journalist Rida Haddad was released in 1995, just before dying from leukemia.
"The Post" newspaper appeared on the streets of Lusaka as usual on the morning of 15 March following a major police operation last week when six journalists were arrested, reports the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). The crackdown provoked an international outcry. According to MISA, "The Post" reports "that the plan to cripple the paper was hatched and planned by officers from the Zambia Army Military Intelligence and Security Services (MISS)." MISA says the plan was to arrest all the reporters and staff of the paper, but it failed. Meanwhile, on 12 March police called off their two-day siege of the newspaper's editorial office and printing press after the six journalists were released. Police had surrounded the two buildings and prevented anyone from entering or leaving, successfully delaying the printing of the newspaper for several hours. Police then prevented it from being distributed, but the next day's edition was back on the streets.
African countries are finally gaining increasing access to the Internet, while authorities continue to maintain control of the medium at the same time, says a new ARTICLE 19 report entitled "The Right to Communicate: The Internet in Africa". According to the report, 51 out of Africa's 54 countries have access to the Internet, even though it is expensive and is impeded by communications barriers. ARTICLE 19 says, "E-mail and discussion groups, in particular, have been quickly embraced as powerful tools for sharing information and ideas." Authorities have used various methods to control access to the Internet, some by maintaining a monopoly on telecommunications, others by controlling new services such as the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Nonetheless, the report says, "journalists and human right organizations in Africa have been quick to embrace e-mail because of its relative speed and reliability, as well as its ability to circumvent government censorship and control."
The government crackdown on the media through the enforcement of the new Serbian Law on Public Information has assumed alarming proportions, warns the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) in a 13 March press release. ANEM points out that in the previous six days six verdicts were handed down against media outlets, each of them either fined or its journalists sentenced to prison, with two more trials still underway. First, on 8 March, Slavko Curuvija, the owner of the independent daily "Dnevni Telegraf", and journalists Srdjan Jankovic and Zoran Lukovic, were sentenced to five months in prison over an article accusing Serbian Vice Prime Minister Milovan Bojic of organizing the killing of a doctor.
Journalists have been attacked recently across Indonesia, report the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). On 11 March, journalists were hurt in Jakarta, Pontianak, West Kalimantan, and Sawahlunto Sijunjung, West Sumatra. In February, journalists were threatened in East Timor. AJI reports that three photographers and a journalist, along with numerous students, were among those injured when students at a protest rally clashed violently with security personnel in Jakarta on 11 March.
On 15 March, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announced that the 1999 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was being awarded to Mexican journalist and editor J. Jesús Blancornelas. UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor announced the Prize, which comes with US$25,000. The Prize will be presented on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, in Bogotá, Colombia, where the Guillermo Cano Foundation is located. The Prize is named after Guillermo Cano, the Colombian journalist and editor who was assassinated for reporting on the activities of drug barons.