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Threats Persist for RFE/RL on World Press Freedom Day

The World Association of Newspapers is dedicating its 2009 World Press Freedom Day campaign to "Journalists in the Firing Line”
The World Association of Newspapers is dedicating its 2009 World Press Freedom Day campaign to "Journalists in the Firing Line”
(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) As the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, RFE/RL journalists - who broadcast in 28 languages to 20 countries - continue to risk their lives every day to bring uncensored news and information to many of the most closed societies on earth.

"This is a day to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend independent media, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty," said RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin. "On this occasion, RFE/RL is taking stock of the threats we face - from the consolidation of dictatorships and the persistence of insurgencies, to the ongoing assaults against free and independent media by repressive governments."

Journalists at Risk

In the past year, many RFE/RL reporters not only faced threats to their own lives, but to those of their families. In Uzbekistan, state owned television accused RFE/RL journalists of "anti state activities" and broadcast personal information about them, including the names of their children and the schools they attended. Uzbek authorities also sentenced a former RFE/RL correspondent, who helped break the story of the government's brutal 2005 massacre of 700 protestors in Andijon, to ten years in prison.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban kidnapped an RFE/RL reporter and threatened to execute another unless he agreed to quit his job. An Iranian RFE/RL reporter living in exile in Prague was convicted and sentenced to a prison term for "spreading anti state propaganda."

An RFE/RL contributor was detained by authorities in Turkmenistan and severely beaten for refusing to sign a letter agreeing to stop working for RFE/RL. And local police in Azerbaijan incited a mob that attacked two Azeri RFE/RL journalists as they were reporting from a local market in the Nakhichevan province. [RFE/RL Journalists in Trouble home page]

Hostile Governments

RFE/RL's commitment to uncensored news and information draws the ire of repressive governments which, in some cases, have escalated their campaigns against free media. Last spring, RFE/RL's Belarus Service suffered a cyber attack as it was preparing live coverage of a rally commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

In Azerbaijan, RFE/RL has been off the national airwaves for more than four months due to a government ban on foreign broadcasters. RFE/RL's popular radio and television programs in Kyrgyzstan have also lost their national audience and are allowed to broadcast only on small, local affiliates. And RFE/RL's Kazakh-language website was shut down by the government last year for seven weeks.

One of the biggest challenges confronting RFE/RL is Russia's increasing suppression of independent media. In the last few years, RFE/RL and other international broadcasters have been the targets of Kremlin-orchestrated intimidation campaigns. Since 2005, more than 20 RFE/RL affiliates have been closed in Russia, the majority due to political pressure. As attacks on Russian journalists go unpunished and uninvestigated, violence and impunity continue.

Related: World Press Freedom Day Official Site