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Report to the Board of Governors March 29, 2011
The tumult in the Arab world has obviously been the focus of action for the world’s foreign correspondents this year. The journalists who went to cover the popular revolts took many risks, suffered many hardships, sometimes were detained, beaten, manhandled and in at least one instance, killed. Local journalists suffered even more. However, such is the chaos in most places that it is impossible to pinpoint responsibility for the mistreatment of the press, except in the case of Qaddafi, and your committee deemed it unlikely that he would be moved by a protest from the OPC. However, there were two cases of popular uprisings where the press suffered abuse from a government still in power – Syria and Yemen. The FOP wrote letters of protest to both of them.
The FOP sent these letters in the past month:
- Our protest to Syrian President Assad focused on the five-year sentence handed to a 19-year-old high school blogger after she was held incommunicado for more than a year. Hers was one of four cases we brought to the attention of Assad. We received a reply from the Syrian government saying that the blogger was a spy and that we were mis-informed. He professed to be astonished that an organization of journalists would send such a letter without investigating the facts. However, the trial was closed and no evidence was presented in court, so these assertions remain dubious at best.
- We wrote to the president of Yemen to protest the expulsion of a total of five correspondents and one photographer from American publications. They were summarily expelled from the country, although they held press visas. Presumably, their offense was to report on the violence against peaceful protestors.
- We protested to Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey the mass arrests of journalists on specious grounds such as “denigrating the Turkish states” and “violating the personal rights” of public officials. The government has jailed 61 journalists recently and reportedly is investigating thousands more.
- We wrote to the president and prime minister of China denouncing the extraordinary crackdown on foreign correspondents who attempted to cover demonstrations by the relatively small numbers of Chinese brave enough to confront the much larger number of police sent out to suppress them. Foreign correspondents were ordered to stay away from demonstrations and from certain parts of Peking. Those who attempted to cover the events were turned back and some had their equipment taken and destroyed. One videographer for Bloomberg was severely beaten and held for several hours.
The FOP is also watching developments in many other countries where follow-up letters may be necessary. The government of Ecuador continues to muzzle the press with takeovers and new laws. The Czech government is applying its new and repressive press law. Journalists in Turkey can expect continued persecution. The brutal treatment of journalists in Sri Lanka with the approval of the government continues. We also need to keep pressing the Chinese and Russian authorities.
Submitted by: Jeremy Main, Larry Martz, Kevin McDermott
Freedom of the Press Committee