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Journalists Around The World Faced Intimidation and Prison in 2018: Report

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year.

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Khashoggi, U.S., Jail
A man holds a poster showing images of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (L), dubbed "assassin," and of journalist writer Jamal Khashoggi, dubbed "martyr," during a prayer service for Khashoggi, in Istanbul, Turkey. VOA

A multipronged crackdown on the press continued throughout 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists concludes in a report published Thursday.

Imprisonment, intimidation and allegations that journalists produce “fake news” surged in 2016, when U.S. President Donald Trump won the election, CPJ found.

Trump has been a vocal critic of the press, often chastising journalists as “very dishonest people.”

The number of journalists in jail dipped 8 percent, from 272 in 2017 to 251 this year. But that doesn’t mean the situation has improved, Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, told VOA.

The numbers fluctuate and may not reflect every imprisoned journalist. They also remain markedly higher than just a half decade ago.

ethiopian PM, Jail
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct. 29, 2018. VOA+

More importantly, targeting a single journalist can have far-reaching repercussions.

“The effects are not only, obviously, [on] the journalists themselves and their families and their colleagues, but we really are talking about the effect on citizens as a whole,” Quintal said.

CPJ’s report highlighted several bright spots.

In Ethiopia, which has experienced dramatic reforms under new leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, for the first time in 14 years.

Improvements in some countries, however, don’t necessarily rub off on others.

“Unfortunately, neighboring Eritrea remains the highest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists in jail as we speak,” Quintal said.

Worldwide, report author Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, singled out China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as troublespots, highlighting how wide-ranging efforts to silence journalists have become.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Quintal’s region of focus, Cameroon, where seven journalists are in jail, is a new country of concern. At least four of those journalists faced false news charges in what Quintal called “a huge, huge setback.”

Times, Jail
Jamal Khashoggi on the cover of Times as the ‘Person of they Year”

Overall, more than two dozen journalists have been charged with publishing false news, mainly in Africa.

Accusations and imprisonments can propel self-censorship, with profound effects on citizens’ right to information.

“When you see your colleagues being put in jail, when you see them accused of so-called fake news, when they’re being arrested on false news charges,” Quintal said, “it does, obviously, have a chilling effect.”

Quintal herself was targeted, along with colleague Muthoki Mumo, in Tanzania last month.

Despite having an invitation letter from the Media Council of Tanzania, the two, both former journalists, were detained and interrogated.

Quintal, from South Africa, and Mumo, from Kenya, were kept in custody for five hours.

“We were lucky because we were able to leave Tanzania,” Quintal said, contrasting her experience to journalists in the country who have gone missing or continue to face intimidation.

jamal Khashoggi, trump, jail
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

“The abusive nature of what happened to us showed the world the true nature of what is going on in Tanzania at the moment,” she added.

Quintal and Mumo’s case was unusual. Governments tend to target their own citizens, and journalists imprisoned by their governments make up 98 percent of cases, CPJ concluded. They also found that 13 percent of journalists in jail are women, an 8 percent increase from 2017.

Despite worrying signs, there is room for optimism, Quintal said.

When new leaders come to power, she said, human rights and press freedoms can improve very quickly.

Also Read: Facebook Rolls Out New Tool that Lets Journalists Examine Political Ads

Quintal pointed to The Gambia as one example, where the new president, Adama Barrow, has created space for journalists to work without fear of reprisal.

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year. (VOA)

Next Story

Global Judicial Executions Fell By One-Third In 2018, Reaching Lowest in A Decade

One case it highlighted was the execution of Zeinab Sekaanvand, who reported being a victim of domestic and sexual violence at the age of 17 in West Azerbaijan Province during her "grossly unfair trial" in West Azerbaijan Province.

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Hanging
Nooses are prepared ahead of a public hanging in Mashhad, Iran. RFERL

The number of known judicial executions around the world declined by nearly one-third in 2018 compared to 2017, reaching the lowest level in at least a decade, Amnesty International says in its annual report on death sentences and executions.

Belarus was among a handful of countries that defied the trend, the human rights group said in the report released on April 10: The only European state that carries out executions put at least four people to death in 2018, it said, twice as many as in 2017.

Although Iran remains “a country where the use of the death penalty is rife,” a change in Iran’s drug laws led to a reduction of executions by “a staggering 50 percent,” Amnesty International said.

Still, the rights group said, executions in Iran often “were carried out after unfair trials.”

It said Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia also showed “a significant reduction in the number they carried out,” helping to push down the number of global state executions from at least 993 in 2017 to at least 690 in 2018.

“The dramatic global fall in executions proves that even the most unlikely countries are starting to change their ways and realize the death penalty is not the answer,””Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo said.

Arrest
The trend does not include figures from China,”the world’s leading executioner” where “figures thought to be in their thousands remain classified as a state secret,” Amnesty International said. RFERL

‘World’s Leading Executioner’

The trend does not include figures from China,”the world’s leading executioner” where “figures thought to be in their thousands remain classified as a state secret,” Amnesty International said.

The rights group said it recorded 253 court-ordered executions in Iran, the lowest number there since 2010.

It said 160 of the people executed in Iran — 155 men and five women — were convicted of murder.

Eighteen people executed by authorities in Iran in 2018 were convicted on charges of moharebeh, or “enmity against God,” including six cases related to “political activities.”

Among the “enmity” cases were the executions of ethnic Kurdish prisoners who received “grossly unfair trials” and were “denied access to their lawyers after being arrested” and claiming they had been tortured into making false confessions.

Another 14 people executed in Iran were convicted of “spreading corruption on earth,” the rights group said, noting that some of those cases involved “consensual same-sex sexual conduct.”

It said 28 executions in Iran involved rape cases, 25 were for drug trafficking, and one was for robbery. Five people were executed in Iran on charges that Amnesty could not confirm.

‘Public Hangings’

Unlike previous years, none of the executions in Iran were carried out in public by stoning. But at least 13 executions were public hangings, the report says.

One case it highlighted was the execution of Zeinab Sekaanvand, who reported being a victim of domestic and sexual violence at the age of 17 in West Azerbaijan Province during her “grossly unfair trial” in West Azerbaijan Province.

Amnesty said Sekaanvand was 17 when she was arrested for murdering her husband and had been “tortured by male police officers through beatings all over her body” for 20 days when she “confessed” to stabbing him in 2014.

Zeinab Sekaanvand
Zeinab Sekaanvand. RFERL

She later retracted her confession in court, saying that her husband’s brother had killed him and raped her. But Amnesty said the court failed to investigate her statements and relied, instead, on the “confessions” she had been forced to make under torture.

In Pakistan, Amnesty said, 14 men were known to have been executed by authorities in 2018, including one who was convicted by an antiterrorism court.

That represents a decline of 77 percent compared to 2017 and 86 percent compared to 2016, the report said.

At least four executions were recorded in Belarus in 2018, according to Amnesty International. It said that before two executions in Belarus in 2017, the last time another European country carried out executions was in 2005.

Two people executed in Belarus in 2018 were convicted murderers Alyaksey Mikhalenya and Viktar Liotau, who a fellow death-row inmate said were taken from their cells one night in May “and never returned,” according to the report.

The other two were Ihar Hershaskou and Syamyon Berazhnoy, who it said were executed “without prior notification” in November after being sentenced to death in July 2017 following convictions for murder, kidnapping, and other charges.

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Another 14 people executed in Iran were convicted of “spreading corruption on earth,” the rights group said, noting that some of those cases involved “consensual same-sex sexual conduct.” Pixabay

Amnesty said their cases were unique because the Belarusian Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of reviewing their trials following an appeal that cited alleged procedural violations, but upheld their death sentences in July 2018.

Also Read: Central Asia Sees Feminism Coming Back

Amnesty International also noted that the number of judicial executions in the United States increased from 23 in 2017 to 25 in 2018.

It said 13 of the executions carried out in the United States in 2018 were in the state of Texas. (RFERL)