Nepriatelia internetu

Severná Kórea, Saudská Arábia a Čína sú označoné ako najhorší porušovatelia slobody prejavu na internete.

Severná Kórea, Saudská Arábia a Čína sú označené ako najzávažnejší porušovatelia slobody prejavu na internete. Minuly týždeň bola zverejnená štúdia organizácie Reportéri bez hraníc (Reporters Sans Frontieres).

V správe nazvanej "Nepriatelia internetu" však boli označené ako problematické aj vyspelé demokratické krajiny ako Francúzsko, Nemecko a Spojené štáty.

Podľa správy je Severná Kórea jedinou krajinou na svete, kde internet "neexistuje". Napriek tomu však severokórejskí komunisti majú viacero propagandistických stránok, ktoré sú fyzicky umiestnené na serveroch v Japonsku.

Na druhej strane Saudská Arábia vyvinula robustný systém, ktorý dokáže filtrovať adresy a obsah internetových stránok, teda užívateľ sa nedostane všade. V Číne, kde už existuje 20 miliónov užívateľov internetu, existuje špeciálne oddelenie polície, ktoré má za úlohu vysliediť antikomunistické alebo iné protivládne články a ich autorov proskribovať.

Bližšie informácie možno nájsť vo francúzštine, angličtine alebo španielčine na
Reporters Sans Frontieres

Thirty-six journalists were killed worldwide in 1999, nearly twice as many as in 1998. On 1 January 2000, 85 were in prison because of their beliefs or in connection with their work, slightly fewer than a year earlier. The number of journalists arrested can still be counted in hundreds (446), as can the number of those attacked and threatened (653). About 400 media were victims of bans, suspensions, seizures or censorship.

Why did more journalists die in the course of their work in 1999, when a significant improvement in the figures has been recorded in recent years? Fortunately, we are still a long way from the dark days of 1985-1995, when a total of 600 journalists (60 a year on average) were killed. The blackest year was 1994, when the number of dead exceeded 100, including about 50 Rwandan journalists who were victims of the genocide. That was also one of the tragic years when Algerian journalists were routinely slaughtered as they left their offices or homes.

The number of journalists killed, jailed, attacked and tortured, and the number of newspapers banned, confiscated and censored depends on the political situation in each country. In more than 20 nations that are home to two billion men and women, Press freedom simply does not exist. It can only truly be said to exist in about 30 countries with less than a billion inhabitants. Elsewhere, press freedom is random and unreliable.

Military targets
The increase in the number of journalists killed was largely due to the conflicts that have flared in many parts of the world. In most cases, journalists were deliberately taken as targets or, worse, were the focus of specific campaigns to eliminate them, as happened in Sierra Leone where about ten reporters were murdered by rebels in January 1999. As atrocities spread throughout the country, kidnappers and others who committed crimes against journalists paid no heed whatever to human suffering. Members of their families were sometimes murdered or tortured as well.

In regions at war such as Kosovo, Chechnya and East Timor, foreign correspondents were not spared either. Two reporters from the German magazine Stern, Gabriel Grüner and Volker Krämer, were killed in Kosovo. Death threats hung over the entire foreign press in East Timor. Journalists were taken hostage in Chechnya, such as French photographer Brice Fleutiaux. And those are just a few examples.

In Colombia, fighting between the army, guerrillas and paramilitary groups spiralled in 1999, leading to the deaths of six journalists. In all, 57 have died violently there since 1989. Journalists suspected of supporting paramilitaries have become "military targets" for the guerrillas, and this attitude seems to be catching on all over the world. Yet the fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that "journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians (...) and shall be protected as such".

Permanent threats
Although slightly fewer journalists began 2000 behind bars than in previous years, the sorry statistics for the most repressive countries changed little. The worst offenders are Burma, with 13 journalists in jail, Syria (ten), China (nine) and Ethiopia (nine). Even those figures cannot fully reflect the multiple cases of arrests, harassment and torture, not to mention denial of medical care to prisoners who are seriously ill. Syrian Nizar Nayyuf, who is serving a ten-year sentence for supporting a human rights group officially regarded as a "terrorist organisation", is suffering not only from the after-effects of torture, but from cancer for which the authorities have refused him treatment. Burmese journalist San San Nweh, winner of the 1999 Reporters without borders-Fondation de France prize, is suffering from a liver disease and eye problems. Members of her family have been threatened by secret agents when they tried to come to her aid. She has been in prison since 1994.

Besides countries in open conflict, there are those where "peace" only exists on paper. That sometimes seems to satisfy international public opinion, but their citizens still have to cope with tension, uncertainty and anguish, while journalists live under almost permanent threat - particularly those who carry out investigative reporting and reveal facts that the powers that be would prefer to keep hidden. The bomb attack in Banja Luka, Bosnia, on 22 October in which the editor of the independent newspaper Nezavisne Novine, Zeljko Kopanja, lost both legs and sustained stomach injuries was interpreted as a warning by all Bosnian journalists." Zlatko Dizdarevic, editor of the weekly Svijet in Sarajevo, commented: "Nowadays no journalist, whether in Sarajevo or Banja Luka, is safe from such an attack. In the absence of a state governed by the rule of law, with no proper legal and policing system, journalists are the only people who can do the job of investigating and exposing crimes committed during the war." He underscored the "atmosphere that holds sway in both parts of Bosnia: government animosity towards media criticism, lack of security for journalists, impunity for war criminals and their involvement in the political and economic life of the country".

War criminals in the Balkans are not the only ones who enjoy impunity from prosecution. The same can be said of those who murder journalists the world over. Seldom are people arrested for such killings, and it is extremely rare for anyone to be tried and sentenced. The case of Norbert Zongo, murdered in Burkina Faso on 13 December 1998, is a case in point. Widespread indignation about his death forced the government to set up a committee of inquiry which, after several months of investigation, concluded that: "The motive must be sought in the journalist's investigation of the death of the driver of François Compaoré [the president's brother]." The committee also named six "serious suspects", all of them members of the president's security regiment - yet on 1 January 2000, none of them had been charged in connection with the murder. As for François Compaoré, he has not even been interviewed by the examining magistrate in charge of the case.

Another worrying trend is the propensity of many African leaders to make verbal attacks, amounting to threats, on journalists, or even to call for violence against them. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe said that journalists were "tarnishing the image of our party, our country, our government and my running of the country" before threatening to have "all those who tell lies arrested". In the Central African Republic, President Ange-Félix Patassé maintained that the press was "sinking into a quagmire of stinking mud".

The hypocrisy of laws
While some governments make little effort to conceal their authoritarianism and lack of consideration for human rights, it is more necessary than ever to condemn the "legal" methods used by others to gag the media. In a growing number of countries, laws that purport to guarantee press freedom are actually used to do just the opposite while preserving a veneer of democracy in action. Offences such as "publishing false information", "insulting the head of state" and "libelling" officials enable the governments of some countries to nip in the bud any criticism of their policies. In many parts of the world, "libel" is still punishable by prison sentences, or exorbitant fines that stifle impertinent media financially.

The United Nations' special rapporteur on freedom of speech and freedom of information, as well as numerous organisations such as the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have spoken out in favour of the abolition of prison sentences for press offences. This is in accordance with the spirit of international treaties and with the principle that the punishment should fit the crime. Bulgaria, anxious to secure membership of the European Union, and Bosnia, at the request of the United Nations, have followed that recommendation. But over and above the legal aspect, we need to question the attitude of some western leaders who, for blatantly economic reasons, have proved apprehensive about calling for universal respect for human rights, falling back on lame pretexts such as the "cultural differences" of other nations.

The battle for control of the internet
As communist governments in central and eastern Europe collapsed, a saying arose that freedom could be found "at the end of the airwaves". Will people say one day that freedom was "at the end of the web"? Paradoxically, that is what the reactions of certain governments would seem to demonstrate. No fewer than 20 countries may be described as "enemies of the internet". In China, Burma, Cuba, Tunisia and Vietnam, governments are manoeuvring to control, filter and block access to the free flow of information, and to punish dissidents. Chinese internet users Lin Hai and Qi Yanchen were sentenced for "subversion". Repression of this kind highlights the danger that new technologies poses to authoritarian regimes. A new battlefield has emerged on which today's repression may tomorrow look like a rearguard action. We have seen it happen in Malaysia. Even in China, the number of people with internet access soared from four million to ten million in 1999.

The overview drawn up each year by Reporters without borders might give the impression that the struggle for press freedom is a neverending one, like Sisyphus eternally rolling his rock uphill. And yet there are signs of hope. They may take different forms: an easing of tension in Cambodia, new monarchs on the thrones of Morocco and Jordan, willingness to accept political change in Croatia and Slovakia. But above all, the positive signs come from journalists themselves, who are showing that they know how best to use new freedoms to win greater independence. In this respect, the growing number of journalists' organisations in Indonesia as it emerges painfully from the tragedy of East Timor and the spread of "press freedom observatories" in Africa, whatever the doubts about their effectiveness, are reasons for rejoicing.

One year's Annual Report always bears a resemblance to the previous ones with its litany of journalists killed and imprisoned, atrocities, blackspots, hotspots, grey areas and bloodstains. But despite the crises and uncertainty, today's Sisyphus has every reason to remain hopeful and determined.

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