By: M.L. Stein
Nigeria’s leader is dubbed the year’s No. 1 tyrant in Press Freedom Day list;
meanwhile, ceremonies are held to honor the world’s murdered journalists
The World’s worst enemy of the press is Gen. Sani Abacha, the leader of Nigeria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ worldwide ranking of the “10 Enemies of the Press.”
The CPJ report was released in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day this month. William J. Orme Jr., executive director of the New York-based organization, said of the 10: “They are collectively responsible for unabating press freedom abuse that has penalized hundreds of journalists through physical attack, imprisonment, censorship, harassment and even murder.”
Abacha, military dictator, was named the “press’ worst enemy” for his “outrageous assault on the country’s once-thriving independent press” and for “reneging on his promise to return the country to democracy.” CPJ noted that 21 Nigerian journalists are behind bars, more than in any other African nation.
No. 2 in the ranking, Senior Gen. Than Shwe of Burma, heads a junta that has created a “nightmare for free expression” by outlawing fax machines, photocopiers and computer modems. Burmese people are kept in the dark even about their own government, CPJ found.
Also listed for their media repression were Cuba’s Fidel Castro (ranked 4th), Jiang Zemin, president of China (9th), and the leaders of Burma, Belarus, Indonesia, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Jordan.
Castro, CPJ said, continues his control over all media outlets despite his promise to Pope John Paul II that freedom of expression would be eased. Independent journalists, the report stated, are routinely detained, arrested and beaten, or forced into exile.
Zemin also was cited for iron control over the media, “making independent reporting impossible.” Newspapers and periodicals that fail to toe the Communist line face harsh censure, the report continued. CPJ further asserted that China monitors and may censor Internet communications by local and foreign news organizations.
With Indonesia’s economy in deep trouble, President Suharto (5th) “continues to run roughshod over the media to prevent open, independent coverage of business and politics,” according to CPJ.
Journalists, it said, have been arrested, harassed, threatened by the military and driven into hiding. But, despite such persecution, Indonesian journalists are still attempting to provide broad coverage of the rising opposition to Suharto, the report stated.
President Alexander Lukashenko (3rd) of Belarus, President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan (6th), President Zine Abdine Ben Ali (8th) of Tunisia, Prime Minister Abd al-Salam al-Majali of Jordan (10th) and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (7th) were all charged with various assaults on the press.
Ethiopia, the report went on, imprisoned 16 journalists in 1997 while Niyazov has made Turkmenistan “the most repressive of the former Soviet states,” stifling all dissent, beating and jailing reporters. Niyazov has been feted by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore because of his country’s vast gas and oil reserves, CPJ noted.
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