By Eileen Alt Powell/AP
New York: Eritrea leads the world in imposing censorship on the media, followed closely by North Korea, Syria and Iran, a New York-based non-profit organization said on Wednesday. Rounding out the 10 worst censors are Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Belarus.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report titled, 10 Most Censored Countries, that 10 countries stand out as censors by barring international media, putting “dictatorial controls” on domestic media and imposing other restrictions. The report was released to mark World Press Freedom Day today. Many of the countries on this year’s list also were on the committee’s last list, published in 2006.
Photo: AFP; Data: Freedom House; Graphic: Shruti Chakraborty/Mint
“In the name of stability or development, these regimes suppress independent reporting, amplify propaganda and use technology to control rather than empower their own citizens,” CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in a statement. “Journalists are seen as a threat and often pay a high price for their reporting,” he said. “But because the Internet and trade have made information global, domestic censorship affects people everywhere.” Also on Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International said in a report that Sudan has stepped up its crackdown on journalists by detaining reporters, confiscating newspapers and infiltrating social media sites. “Since May 2011, the Sudanese authorities have shut down 15 newspapers, confiscated more than 40 newspaper editions, arrested eight journalists and banned two from writing, seriously curtailing freedom of expression,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa director.
In making its list, CPJ said its staff evaluated the countries on 15 benchmarks, such as blocking of websites, restrictions on electronic recording, absence of privately owned or independent media, and restrictions on journalists’ movements. In Eritrea, which is run with an iron hand by President Isaias Afewerki, that “no foreign reporters are granted access...and all domestic media are controlled by the government,” the report said. It added that North Korea, Syria and Iran were “three nations where vast restrictions on information have enormous implications for geopolitical and nuclear stability”.
North Korea has tested nuclear weapons, Iran is believed to be working to develop them and Syria reportedly has had nuclear ambitions. North Korea, which topped the 2006 list, “remains an extraordinarily secretive place”, the report said. It noted, though, that there have been “some tiny cracks” in its censorship, including the opening of an Associated Press bureau in the capital this year. It said censorship “has intensified significantly in Syria and Iran in response to political unrest”. Syria has banned foreign reporters from the country and limited local reporters from moving freely as it uses its military and police to put down a civilian uprising.
Iran, meanwhile, has blocked websites and imprisoned journalists to limit publication and broadcast of information, the report said. The report gave these reasons for including the other nations: Equatorial Guinea, where all media are directly or indirectly controlled by the president; Uzbekistan, where “there is no independent press and journalists contributing to foreign outlets are subject to harassment and prosecution”; Burma, where reforms “have not extended” to rigid censorship laws; Saudi Arabia, which “has tightened restrictions in response to political unrest”; Cuba, where the Communist party controls all domestic media; Belarus, where recent crackdowns have sent “remnants of independent media underground”.
In 2006, the top 10 censored countries were North Korea, Burma, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria and Belarus.