Threats to Press Freedom 2010-2012

Threats to Press Freedom 2012


In March 2012, Khadija Ismailova, a freelancer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was targeted in a blackmail effort. Ismailova received an envelope in the mail containing photos of a personal nature and a note saying, “Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed.” Click here to view the press release.


Violence aimed at journalists continued into this year with the murder in January of Mukarram Khan Aatif, a reporter for VOA’s Deewa Radio. Aatif was taking part in evening prayers at a local mosque near his home in the town of Shabqadar when he was shot by unidentified gunmen. Mr. Aatif, who along with other Deewa journalists faced repeated threats from militants in the region, died of his wounds at a hospital in the city of Peshawar. A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.

Threats to Press Freedom 2011

The number of journalists killed worldwide remained steady at just over 40 last year, but more journalists were jailed than at any time since the mid-1990s, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In all, at least 179 writers, editors and photojournalists were jailed, an increase of 34 percent over 2010 that was fueled largely by increases in the Middle East and North Africa.

Even as the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring brought new hope for democracy to oppressed regions, a free press remained an elusive goal in many parts of the world. Here are a few examples of the challenges faced by BBG journalists in 2011:


VOA reporter Alexandre Neto was assaulted as he covered a pro-democracy rally in the capital city Luanda in September, 2011. Previously, in March 2011, VOA, the CPJ and others expressed concern about a one-year jail term imposed on VOA stringer Armando Chicoca, which stemmed from his reporting on alleged improper conduct by a provincial court judge. Chicoca appealed his conviction.


In August 2011, Yafez Hasanov, a freelance correspondent for RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq, was abducted and expelled to Iran after investigating the death of  Turac Zeynalov, who was found dead one day after being summoned to the National Security Ministry.


RFE/RL’s Belarus Service correspondents were harassed, beaten, detained and, in two cases, tried and convicted on spurious charges for trying to report on a series of “silent protests” in June and July 2011 in Minsk and other cities.


In August 2011, Cambodian court officials cited VOA’s use of confidential court documents in threatening prosecution of journalists who use such resources in their reporting. VOA was covering the U.N.-backed tribunal in Cambodia that has been investigating atrocities committed by the former Khmer Rouge regime.


VOA Beijing Bureau Chief Stephanie Ho was detained and roughed up by Chinese police as she tried to cover so-called Jasmine Revolution protests in February 2011. A Chinese reporter with RFA was grilled about her work by officials from the Chinese propaganda department.


In February 2011, Alhurra journalists Akram Khuzam and Tarek El Shamy received death threats from unidentified individuals warning them to leave Alhurra’s office in Cairo. Then, in October 2011, Egyptian security forces stormed into the Cairo studios and cut Alhurra’s live feeds as the program Al Youm (Today) was reporting on clashes between Coptic Christians and Egyptian security forces.


In February 2011, Radio Sawa’s correspondent Ahmed Al-Hayyali was harassed by security forces while covering demonstrations in Mosel. Less than a week later, Iraqi security forces arrested, beat and tortured  Alhurra cameraman Imad Hamed and his assistant Musafa Kathem. Then, in June 2011, Radio Sawa correspondent Omar Hammadi was attacked while interviewing people in the street.


Alima Abdirova, a Kazakh human rights activist and a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyq, was charged with libel, tried and finally acquitted by a court in northwestern Aqtobe district.  Abdirova, who was denied a lawyer at her trial, was sued over the findings of a report on child abuse published by an organization she heads.


In February 2011, Libyan authorities started jamming Alhurra transmissions in that country. The jamming continued for nearly a month, but did not prevent Alhurra from providing coverage for as many as 20 hours a day.


The Syrian regime has denied Alhurra’s request to have a correspondent report from inside the country.  Furthermore, the Syrian authorities won’t allow Alhurra to uplink satellite connections with interviewees from within Syria.  On August 28, Syrian authorities banned three prominent opposition figures from leaving the country on their way to Lebanon to take part in a televised panel discussion on Alhurra.


RFE/RL Turkmen service freelancer Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was imprisoned in October 2011 following a sham trial on charges widely believed to have been brought in retaliation for his reporting. He was released three weeks later.

Threats to Press Freedom 2010

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2010 44 journalists were killed worldwide while doing their job, with Pakistan ranking as the most dangerous country for journalists.CPJ is also investigating the deaths of another 31 journalists who died in unclear circumstances in 2010.


Reporting from the world’s hotspots, BBG journalists face increasing threats to their safety. In 2010, Radio Sawa’s correspondent in Hilla was attacked and beaten by the bodyguards of Karim Wahid, the former Iraqi Minister of Electricity. Also in Iraq, an Alhurra TV crew was assaulted and beaten by the Iraqi police in Baghdad. Another Alhurra crew was detained and assaulted by Iraqi police in the Zeytoun area of Baghdad.


Three VOA Deewa stringers, Naimatullah, Kamal Sadat and Mukarram Khan Atif received threats in June 2010 from the Taliban, They were warned that they would be punished or killed for their reporting. But threats were not confined to war zones as detailed in these illustrative incidents. In July 2010, VOA Deewa stringer Mukarram Khan Aatif was just 30 yards away from a bomb explosion in the Mohmand tribal region of Pakistan.  He escaped the blast, but was beaten by local police trying to disperse the locals from site of the explosion.


In September 2010, VOA Creole Service reporter Sainlus Augustin was granted asylum in the U.S. following death threats directed toward him and his family. At one point, unidentified gunmen fired several shots at Mr. Augustin’s home while he and his wife were sleeping.


Teofil Pancic, a Serbian journalist who is a columnist for RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, was beaten late in July 2010 by unknown assailants while riding a bus.  Pancic was hospitalized and later released for a concussion and injury to his arm.


In October 2010, VOA Uzbek Service reporter Abdulmalik Boboev was fined more than $10,000 by an Uzbek court that convicted him of slander, insult and publishing information harmful to the public peace.  Boboev had faced eight years in jail on the charges for simply reporting the news. Two ethnic-Uzbek correspondents for RFE/RL based in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh were targeted for attacks during the inter-ethnic violence that erupted in the city beginning in June.


Ernest Vardanean, an independent journalist who contributes to RFE/RL’s Moldovan service, was arrested by Transdniester security agents in Tiraspol in April 2010 and charged with high treason.  He was sentenced to 15 years for espionage.