UN tribute to media warriors for Press Freedom Day

The United Nations on Friday paid tribute to those journalists who die or suffer injuries or secret detention in hostile regimes simply because they are exercising their profession. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Saturday, spokeswoman Marie Heuze said “a free and independent press is one of the foundations of liberty.”
Heuze condemned “in the strongest terms all activities designed to block the media, and in particular the number of journalists or media professionals who are killed or injured while performing their duties.”
‘Such acts are unacceptable, not only because they violate the fundamental rights of individuals, but also because they obstruct the free circulation of verifiable information given in good faith, which lie at the root of good governance and democracy. “Too often, these criminal acts are not punished as they should be,” Heuze added.
Already, since 2008 began, at least 28 journalists have died in action, in 17 different countries, according to a Geneva-based organisation which monitors journalists’ rights in conflict zones, Press Emblem Campaign (PEC). Mexico was shown to be the world’s most dangerous country for active journalists, with six reported dead in the last four months. Iraq counted five, with three perishing in Pakistan and another two killed in Russia.
The remainder were lost in India, in the Philippines, Panama, the Gaza Strip, Bolivia, Colombia, Uganda, Honduras, Brazil, Niger, Nepal, Afghanistan and in Somalia. On a brighter note, Ethiopia was removed Friday from another media rights organisation’s global blacklist, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said as it released its latest league table of the damned.
“In Ethiopia, those journalists who had been imprisoned have been freed and the prime minister Meles Zenawi has been taken off the list,” said the Paris-based outfit’s statement.
Ethiopia joined 14 other countries on the seven-year-old list in March, being named as an “enemy of the Internet” along with Zimbabwe. RSF said Internet take-up and penetration was “weak,” yet sufficient to cause “nightmares” with heavy censorship of access to individual sights the regime considered potentially offensive.
Ethiopia’s Internet access is controlled by a state offshoot, propped up by recent Chinese investment. Neighbouring Eritrea remains high on the 39-strong list of “predators” threatening freedom of information. On April 24, RSF denounced the disappearance of a public radio journalist, Tura Kubaba, arrested in 2006 and “missing throughout 2007.”
Special criticism was also reserved for Somalia, with RSF specifying that individual militia or rebel leaders as well as high-level drug dealers are also among the fiercest enemies of the press. One such reporter, Morocco’s Mustapha Hormat Allah, began a three-day hunger strike in a bid to secure his release, his boss at Arab weekly Al Watan Al An also said Friday.
“We are multiplying our efforts, we’ve already met the (government’s) human rights commission and the justice minister to (try and) end our journalist’s incarceration,” said Abderrahim Ariri.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s Journalists in Danger (JID) branch attacked the existence of secret detention centres, outwith the formal Kinshasa prosecution service, where several journalists have endured “physical and psychological” interrogation over recent months.
A statement cited the case of two journalists arrested in March and detained since without access to their own legal or medical advisers. JID asked for President Joseph Kabila to “pardon” the duo, Nsimba Embete Ponte and Davin Ntondo.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon made a strong plea Friday in support of “free, secure and independent” media around the world in a message to mark World Press Freedom Day. “A free, secure and independent media is one of the foundations of peace and democracy,” he said.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2008