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Journalists in Trouble 2012: The Record

Pakistan -- Journalists protesting in Quetta against killing of Pashtun journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif by unknown militants on 17 January, 2012.
RFE/RL journalists undertook profound personal, political and security risks to investigate and report the news in 2012. Governments in Tajikistan, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan intensified efforts to intimidate unsanctioned media, and non-state actors in Afghanistan and Pakistan threatened reprisals for critical coverage.

“These are tales of our mission, as it has been and will continue to be,” remarked Steve Korn, whose presidency of RFE/RL spanned the year and concludes this week. "Standing up for these journalists was the most important part of my job. Their courage is remarkable. It has changed me and I have no doubt it will change the world," he said.

Pakistan’s struggle with militants made it the most dangerous country in the world for journalists for the second year running. Reporters working for Radio Mashaal, RFE/RL’s Pashto service, were vilified by extremists and received death threats for their reporting, particularly after covering the shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in October.

In Afghanistan, journalists for Radio Azadi, RFE/RL’s Afghan service, worked under conditions of constant danger as a result of insurgency and war. Reporters in Kunar, Khost and Baghlan provinces received threats from the Taliban and local warlords during the year. A would-be suicide bomber for the Haqqani network admitted to authorities to targeting a senior member of Radio Azadi’s Kabul bureau.

Both old and new methods figured in the ongoing efforts by Iranian authorities to thwart Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian language service. Last spring, Prague-based journalists reported over 20 incidents in which their family members in Iran were subject to interrogation, financial pressure and threats in retaliation for their reporting. Pressure resumed in the fall in advance of Iran’s 2013 presidential elections, and included targeted on-line harassment of journalists.

The Iranian government continues to jam Radio Farda broadcasts, and Iranians who associate with Radio Farda by email, telephone or text messaging face harassment.

RFE/RL journalists across Eurasia were subject to brazen attacks that were organized or abetted by authorities who remain steadfastly hostile to media freedom.
Russia -- Action against censorship in Internet near the State Duma, Moscow, 11Jule2012
Russia -- Action against censorship in Internet near the State Duma, Moscow, 11Jule2012

In Azerbaijan, Khadija Ismayilova, a free-lancer for Radio Azadliq, RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service, was the target of a graphic defamation campaign in March that is believed to have been perpetrated in response to her investigative reporting. Radio Azadliq correspondents in Naxichevan and Ganja suffered reprisals in connection with their journalism, and two reporters who were covering a confrontation at a steel factory outside Baku were attacked and had their equipment seized. There has been no credible investigation of any of these cases.

Authorities in Tajikistan took a new hard line toward the independent media, closing numerous media outlets and blocking access to the website of Radio Ozodi, RFE/RL’s Tajik service, in November. In addition, they used administrative procedures to interfere with RFE/RL staffing decisions and silence journalists, denying accreditation to RFE/RL Uzbek journalist Gulnora Rovshan in April and to Radio Ozodi veteran journalist Abduqayum Qayumov in December.
Tajikistan,Dushanbe city, a latter of Tajikistan communication service to internet providers about closing Facebook at Tajikistan,28November2012
Tajikistan,Dushanbe city, a latter of Tajikistan communication service to internet providers about closing Facebook at Tajikistan,28November2012

In Belarus, the publication of a manual for prisoners by Radio Svaboda, RFE/RL’s Belarus service, reflected the reality of a country in which prison is a routine destination for the country’s independent journalists and activists. Authorities used threats, interrogations of family members and unauthorized searches to intimidate RFE/RL journalists, and resorted to arbitrary detentions to thwart their reporting.

Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL’s Russian language service, lost its broadcasting license in November. Political pressure and newly restrictive legislation created a menacing environment for independent journalists and activists alike, and a “patriotic bill” in the Duma that would require “politically oriented media” receiving foreign funding to register with authorities as “foreign agents” would continue the year’s Kremlin-sponsored offensive against free speech.

RFE/RL's record for the year comported with the findings of Freedom House, the internationally recognized monitoring group, which documented setbacks in freedom in Eurasia in 2012 as a result of the "hardened and increasingly shrewd authoritarian response" of governments in the region.

In a comment on RFE/RL's report, Freedom House president David J. Kramer said, “Every day, RFE/RL journalists brave risks to life and limb to report the news and inform people in their countries and around the world about what’s really going on. They deserve our utmost respect and admiration and should be recognized for their years, and in some cases, decades of service.”