The Committee to Protect Journalists released the results of its investigation on Tuesday. Eritrea and North Korea claim the top spots in a list which ranks the countries which maintain the tightest control over freedom of expression and thought, writes Rick Gladstone for the New York Times.
Dubious title goes to Eritrea
Eritrea is slightly larger than Pennsylvania and situated in the Horn of Africa, and this year beat North Korea to the title of most heavily censored country in the world. Its rate of cellphone ownership is the lowest in the world, and less than 1% of people can access the internet. This is not the first time the country has been flagged up, having topped this same list as recently as 2012.
The area of most concern is perhaps the fact that journalists are so worried about offending the president that even those who work for the state-run news media are continually terrified that they might be arrested.
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North Korea a close second
The situation in North Korea has its own peculiarities. Internet access is almost entirely prohibited and the government maintains an iron-grip on what information filters into the country. One example of the extreme lengths Kim Jong-un’s regime will go to in order to control information is the airbrushing of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle from all historical photo archives. North Korea executed the uncle for treason in 2013.
“The tactics used by Eritrea and North Korea are mirrored to varying degrees in other heavily censored countries,” said the Committee. “To keep their grip on power, repressive regimes use a combination of media monopoly, harassment, spying, threats of journalist imprisonment and restriction of journalists’ entry into or movements within their countries.”
Wider human rights abuses in Eritrea
Eritreans are fleeing their country for a variety of reasons, and made up the majority of African migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean on rickety boats in 2014. It is thought that 4,000 people flee Eritrea each month, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The organization has been investigating human rights violations since 2014 as part of a Commission of Inquiry.
“We have a clear mandate from the Human Rights Council,” said Victor Dankwa, a former member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “The Council has expressed its strong condemnation of the ‘continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by the Eritrean authorities,'” he said.
It is hard to get up to date information on the situation in Eritrea due to the fact that “only state media is allowed to disseminate news,” according to the report. National journalists live in fear and “the last accredited international correspondent was expelled in 2007.”
“Eritrea is Africa’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars—none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime,” the report continues. Many journalists are thought to have died while being held in jail.
The rest of the list
Seven of the top 10 most-censored countries – Azerbaijan, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Myanmar and Vietnam – also feature among the biggest jailer’s of journalists. The data was cross-referenced with a separate annual prison census which the advocacy group also compiles. According to the group, those journalists who find themselves imprisoned are usually held for crimes against the state.
44 journalists are imprisoned in China, and around two-thirds are held on anti-state charges, making it the world’s leading jailer of journalists. China comes in at number 8 on the most-censored list.
Saudi Arabia is ranked third on the most-censored list, and has even reached an agreement with regional allies to ensure that “criticism of leadership in any member state is dealt with severely.” Saudi Arabia dominates the Gulf Cooperation Council, which also counts Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates among its members.
The group claims that Cuba has “the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas,” ranking it number 10 on the list despite the fact that the situation has improved in recent years. The internet is now available in Cuba, although service providers are told to filter controversial content. Journalists based in the country have to visit foreign embassies or hotels in order to access internet that has not had certain content blocked.
Advocacy group to release another report
Press freedoms are an issue in many countries around the world, with intimidation of journalists rife. Although extreme forms of repression such as those experienced by Eritrea and North Korea are not so common, it is important to remain conscious of the liberties that journalists possess in most of the Western world, in order to defend them in the face of any threat.
The press advocacy group will release its annual publication “Attacks on the Press” this coming Monday.