'Management Committee' of Special Tribunal for Lebanon Is Set Up

Ban Ki-moon sets up 'management committee' of Lebanon Tribunal

UN News

14 February 2008 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a Management Committee of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon being set up to try those responsible for political killings, particularly the February 2005 car bombing in Beirut that killed the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others.

“The Secretary-General believes that this step, along with other steps announced in December of last year – the selection of the judges, the appointment of the Prosecutor, the finalization of a headquarters agreement with the Government of the Netherlands enabling the Tribunal to be based in that country, and agreement on a building near The Hague to house the Tribunal – are decisive landmarks in the process of making the Special Tribunal a reality,” Mr. Ban's spokesperson said in a statement.

The Committee, which will among other tasks provide advice and policy direction on all non-judicial aspects of the operations of the Special Tribunal and review and approve its annual budget, is composed of the body's main donors, according to the statement.

The spokesperson also announced that expected contributions to the Special Tribunal will meet the budgetary requirements for its establishment and the first twelve months of operations.

“This will assist greatly in the effort by the Secretariat to establish the Special Tribunal in a timely manner as requested by the Security Council in resolution 1757 (2007),” the spokesperson said.

“This development, as well as the others previously set out, confirms the Secretary-General's belief in the irreversibility of the establishment of the Tribunal.”

In April 2005 the Security Council set up the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon's own inquiry into the Hariri assassination was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. Mr. Hariri died in a massive car bombing in Beirut in February 2005 that also took the lives of 22 others.


Nicolas Michel Hints at Legal Action Against Hariri Suspects

06 Feb 08

U.N. legal chief Nicolas Michel warned those who believed that a new Lebanese government would prevent the creation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and hinted that the Canadian prosecutor was moving toward taking legal action.
"Formation of the court is definite," Michel said in an interview published Wednesday by the Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

"Justice should be part of everlasting peace in the country (Lebanon)," the U.N. under-secretary-general for legal affairs said.

Michel stressed that those who thought they "got rid" of the tribunal that would try suspects in the 2005 assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes through the framework of political deals "are committing a mistake."

"Those who believe that a new Lebanon government would lead to killing the tribunal are also undoubtedly committing a mistake," Michel warned.

Addressing those who are carrying out political assassinations in Lebanon, Michel warned: "It's time they understand that this (act) would only bring them before justice … this court is going to try all those who committed these operations."

Turning to Lebanese political leaders, Michel urged them not to lose hope in the tribunal and the U.N.'s capability to end what he called "the era of impunity."

"The court will soon be a reality," Michel assured them. He also urged them to "have faith in the progress we have achieved over the past few months."

He assured countries which refuse to hand over suspects to the international tribunal that the court will "anyway sentence them in absentia."

Michel said that Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, who was appointed head of the international commission of inquiry for Lebanon, replacing Serge Brammertz, was "concerned about laying the groundwork for moving soon from the probe into taking legal action."


Related materials:

- Statute of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Gets Base, Judges

- The International Tribunal for Lebanon (Resolution 1757)

- UN Report on the Establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

- Ninth report of Hariri International Investigation Commission

- Memo for International Tribunal for Lebanon

- Special Tribunal for Lebanon Comes Into Force


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Millions Champion Lebanese Independence and Democracy as Top Leader Accuses West of Abandoning Lebanon

A moment of glory, and the struggle goes on.

Lebanon's Independence and Democracy

The Conflict over the New Middle East


Million People Show Up for Hariri Memorial in Beirut

14 Feb 08

More than one million people showed up in downtown Beirut on Thursday to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on the third anniversary of his assassination as just a few kilometers away Hizbullah prepared to bury top commander Imad Mughniyeh who was killed by a car bomb in Syria.

Amid fears of clashes between rival pro- and anti-Syrian factions, army troops and security forces were deployed in force in the capital. The factions have faced off repeatedly in recent weeks.

A sea of people gathered under pouring rain and poor visibility in Martyrs' Square in central Beirut, where Hariri is buried, waving Lebanese flags and photos of the slain leader as well as other politicians and figures killed in the past three years.

Rally organizers said about one million pro-government supporters gathered in and around Martyrs Square, while another 500,000 crowded the streets.

As the rally got underway, members of Hariri's family and the ruling coalition inaugurated St. George Square on the Beirut seafront where Hariri was killed by a massive car bomb on Feb. 14, 2005.

They also unveiled a bronze statue, a sculpture in the form of a flame and an obelisk bearing inscriptions about his accomplishments and sayings.

Politicians meanwhile gave fiery speeches demanding an end to the country's presidential deadlock and accusing Syria of meddling in Lebanese politics.

Saad Hariri saluted the crowd before delivering his speech as flag-waving partisans shouted allegiance.

"Today you have come again to say we want a president. And we say to you we will have a president," Hariri told the crowd from behind bullet-proof glass.

"The enemies of Lebanon are still trying to assassinate the Lebanese people just as the Israeli enemy tried to assassinate the Lebanese people during the 2006 July war," he added.

Hizbullah claimed victory after that 34-day war in which neither of Israel's stated aims -- to recover two captured soldiers and halt rocket attacks on northern Israel -- was achieved.

"We want a President for the republic. They tried to assassinate Beirut, the international tribunal and the presidency by installing void," Hariri said.

"Together we will continue to insist that Gen. (Michel) Suleiman is elected President in order to open a new phase of dialogue and consensus and cooperate for Lebanon's sake," he added. "This is the goal of the citizens gathered here in Martyrs Square as well as in the southern suburbs for the funeral service of resistance commander (Imad Mughniyeh)."

Druze leader Walid Jumblat, a sharp Hizbullah critic, said the government will not succumb to opposition efforts to deliver Lebanon "to the Iranian-Syrian black evil world."

He accused Syria and the "double-crossing regime" of its President Bashar al-Assad of killing Mughniyeh.

Jumblat vowed that the blood of the pro-government March 14 Forces and that of the revolutionaries "will nail down all unbelievers anywhere they were – be they in their palaces, squares or caves."

Ex-President Amin Gemayel also pledged to "liberate downtown Beirut and return the Lebanese capital to its people."

A huge crowd cheered Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as he began his speech.

"We used to say the tribunal is coming. We now say the court came," Geagea said in reference to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in Hariri's murder.

"No to your tents and threats. We won't allow the presidential seat to be your captive," he said. "You people tell them that we will resist until victory."

Sheikh Ali al-Amin, the Shiite Mufti of the southern city of Tyre said: "I say to those encouraging an escalation that Lebanon will not be transformed into another Iraq."

MP Atef Majdalani, in turn, said in his speech: "We will remain committed to electing Gen. Michel Suleiman president," stressing that March 14 "wants justice and equality, while they (opposition) want anarchy to achieve unrest and civil war."

Secretary General of al-Jamaa al-Islamiyah Ali Sheikh Ammar vowed to "live on despite the bloodshed."

"Hariri's murder anniversary should be an opportunity to restore a climate for constructive dialogue and national unity," he told the crowd.

MP Elias Atallah, addressing Free Patriotic Movement leaderGen. Michel Aoun, said: "We tell Rabiyeh resident 'Forget about the Document of Understanding (which was singed with Hizbullah ) on the expense of the country.'"

To Hizbullah, Atallah said: "There is no use for the rockets or intimidation."

National Liberation Party Secretary General Elias Abu Assi also addressed the opposition, telling it: "Come back to us when you regain your senses. We in March 14 will not rest until justice is achieved and independence is guaranteed."

Cabinet Minister Mohammed Safadi reminded the opposition that the March 14 coalition has made concessions.

"Do they want us to give up our backing to consensus candidate Gen. Suleiman?" asked Safadi. "We want a government whose war or peace decision is in its hands."

Nassib Lahoud, a former ambassador to the U.S. and a member of the ruling majority, said his side would not budge from its demands for the election of a president without outside interference, followed by the formation of a national unity government.

Cabinet Minister Jean Oghassabian vowed that March 14 will elect Suleiman President, adding that "we will not accept institutional void."

In an indirect address to Hizbullah, Cabinet Minister Michel Pharaon said: "We won't be terrorized. Gen. Suleiman will be elected president and Lebanon will emerge victorious."

MP Bassem al-Sabaa described the opposition tent city in downtown Beirut as an "occupation," saying it "is a crime against Lebanon."

Minister Nayla Mouawad lashed out at Syria, saying: "We were born free and we will die free. We won't allow Lebanon's destiny to be linked to the Syrian regime."

At the exact time of the explosion that killed Hariri, church bells tolled and mosque minarets blared Allah Akbar chants.

Lebanon has been without a president since last November when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term. A subsequent power struggle between the ruling majority anti-Syrian faction and the opposition has left a continuing vacuum.

By early afternoon cars and buses were continuing to flood to Beirut where the Hariri organizers handed out flags and umbrellas to the demonstrators.

"Open our parliament, free our government, elect a president now," read one banner, referring to the ongoing power struggle.

"Enough martyrs. Enough Blood," read another banner. "Yes for Tribunal," another sign said.

The government declared Thursday a holiday to commemorate Hariri's death and schools and universities were ordered shut.


Jumblat Accuses West of Abandoning Lebanon

29 Jan 08

Druze leader Walid Jumblat accused the West of abandoning Lebanon, saying "dictators" should be toppled.

"The two dictators ought to be overthrown," Jumblat said in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro.

Jumblat stressed that Syria and Iran as well as their Lebanese allies "want to create void so they can slowly and steadily impose control over (Lebanon)."

He said that "we might not be able to stop that," vowing, however, not to give up.

Jumblat also pointed the finger at Hizbullah for the series of car bombing attacks that have hit Lebanon recently.

"I accuse Hizbullah directly … when you are capable of possessing rockets with a 300-kilometer range, you own everything," Jumblat told Le Figaro.

He also accused Hizbullah of facilitating the job for the Syrian intelligence service.

"You cannot have the power to devastate and assassinate without having deep-rooted allies in the territory," Jumblat added.

He said Hizbullah "facilitates the work of the Syrian intelligence and desperately defends the Syrian regime as well Iran's expansion policy."

Jumblat said in a separate interview with the Russian news agency, Novosti, that it was "impossible for democratic Lebanon to coexist with Syria's dictatorship."

Jumblat, who is on a visit to Moscow, renewed charges to Syria with responsibility for differences between the majority and opposition over distribution of power in Lebanon's forthcoming cabinet.

Russia "being a superpower that has clear interests in the region has an interest in stability in Lebanon, with which it has deeply-rooted cordial relations," he noted.

Jumblat said electing Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman president would be a "major accomplishment."

The Progressive Socialist Party leader said he would discuss with officials "the help and support" Moscow could provide to settle the presidential election issue.

Electing a president, Jumblat said, is the "base for overcoming internal disputes and regaining national unity."

He explained that there are no calls for changing Syria's regime, but the discussion focuses on the ability by Russia and the West to "convince the Syrian leadership to halt its intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs and focus on its own problems."

He said the opposition performance "indicates that it aims at making partnership impossible. They often use partnership as a slogan to hide their aims."

"They want to change the whole democratic regime of Lebanon," the PSP leader said.

"How can we go into partnership with forces that control areas which are off limits for state security?" Jumblat asked in his weekly article published Tuesday by the PSP mouthpiece, al-Anbaa.

"How can partnership be achieved with a side that has an arsenal of missiles and a side that lacks such weapons? How can partnership be achieved with forces that adopt a culture of death and preach death?"


Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Lebanon

14 February 2008

On the third anniversary of the terrorist attack that took the lives of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-two others, the Secretary-General stands in solidarity with the families of the victims and with the people and Government of Lebanon. He reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to assist Lebanon in establishing the truth and in bringing to justice those who instigated, planned and executed this and other callous political assassinations and terrorist attacks in the country. He continues with determination to prepare for the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, convinced that impunity must not prevail and that the tribunal process cannot be reversed.

This solemn anniversary comes at a perilous moment for Lebanon. The Secretary-General believes there could be no greater homage paid to the memory of Rafik Hariri than for the parties in Lebanon to redouble their efforts to achieve national reconciliation and to ensure the stability, security and prosperity for which Rafik Hariri worked so hard during his lifetime.


Major Lebanon Events since Hariri Assassination


Key events and attacks in Lebanon since former premier Rafik Hariri was assassinated on Valentine's Day three years ago:


- Feb 14: Hariri and 22 others are killed in a car bombing on Beirut's seafront. Anti-Syrian politicians accuse Syria of involvement but Damascus denies.

- Feb 28: The pro-Syrian cabinet of Omar Karami resigns.

- March 8: More than 400,000 demonstrate in support of Syria, responding to calls Hizbullah and Amal.

- March 14: More than a million demonstrate against Syrian influence.

- April 26: The last Syrian soldiers leave Lebanon after three decades of presence.

- May 7: Return of Christian Gen. Michel Aoun after 15 years in exile. A year later he allies himself with Hizbullah.

- May 29-June 19: The anti-Syrian opposition gains an absolute majority in legislative elections.

- July 19: Hariri ally Fouad Saniora forms a government including Hizbullah.

- Aug 30: Four pro-Syrian officers, including the head of the Lebanese presidential guard, arrested as part of Hariri assassination probe.

- Oct 12: Syria says its former intelligence chief in Lebanon, Ghazi Kanaan, who has been questioned by U.N. investigators, has killed himself.

- Oct 20: An initial U.N. probe into Hariri's assassination implicates Syrian intelligence officials and former pro-Syrian Lebanese authorities.

- Dec 12: Assassination of anti-Syrian MP Gebran Tueni. The Saniora cabinet calls for an international tribunal to try Hariri's assassins.
Shiite ministers quit the government but return three months later.

- Dec 30: Former Syrian deputy premier, Abdel Halim Khaddam, accuses President Bashar al-Assad of having threatened Hariri.


- Jan 23: Belgian Serge Brammertz takes over as head of the U.N. probe into Hariri's assassination.

- July 12-August 14: Israel and Hizbullah go to war after the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah. Nearly 1,400 people are killed.

- Aug 11, U.N. resolution 1701 calls for the end of fighting and provides for the deployment of a strengthened peacekeeping force, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

- Oct 1: Israel withdraws its troops from southern Lebanon as UN force reaches 5,000 soldiers. The Lebanese army deploys at the border for the first time in decades.

- Nov 11: Failure of talks aimed at forming a government of national unity. First of six pro-Syrian ministers resign.

- Nov 21: Anti-Syrian industry minister Pierre Gemayel shot dead.

- Dec 1: Start of an open-ended demonstration by the opposition who set up tents in downtown Beirut near the prime minister's office.


- Jan 23-25, 2007: Seven dead in clashes between pro-government and anti-government supporters.

- May 20: Start of clashes between the army and Islamist group Fatah al-Islam the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon. The army takes the camp in early September. More than 400 are killed, including 168 soldiers.

- June 10: A controversial U.N. resolution setting up an international tribunal for the Hariri killing comes into force.

- June 13: MP Walid Eido among 10 dead in an attack.

- June 24: Six killed in an attack on Spanish U.N. peacekeepers.

- Sept 19: Antoine Ghanem becomes the fourth anti-Syrian MP assassinated since the May 2005 elections.

- Nov 23: The mandate of President Emile Lahoud expires. The post remains vacant, the majority and opposition having failed to elect his successor.

- Dec 12: A car bomb kills Gen. Francois El Hajj and a bodyguard near Beirut. Hajj had been tipped to replace army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman, the frontrunner to become president.


- Jan 16: U.S. President George Bush, visiting the Middle East, calls for an end to "Syrian interference" in Lebanon.

- Jan 25: Four killed, including top anti-terrorism officer Captain Wissam Eid, in a bomb blast targeting a security convoy in a Christian suburb of Beirut.

- Jan 27: Seven die in clashes between army and demonstrators in Beirut.

- Feb 9: Failure of Arab mediation effort. Failure at the 14th attempt to elect a president for Lebanon.

- Feb 13: Hizbullah announces the murder the previous day in Damascus of top commander Imad Mughnieh in a car bombing.

- Feb 14: Hundreds of thousands of government supporters rally in Beirut to mark the third anniversary of Hariri's death as Hizbullah holds a mass funeral ceremony for Mughniyeh.


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Freedom in the World 2008: Global Freedom in Retreat

Freedom in the World 2008: Global Freedom in Retreat

Freedom House

January 16, 2008

The year 2007 was marked by a notable setback for global freedom, Freedom House reported in a worldwide survey of freedom released today.

The decline in freedom, as reported in Freedom in the World 2008, an annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, was reflected in reversals in one-fifth of the world’s countries. Most pronounced in South Asia, it also reached significant levels in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. A substantial number of politically important countries whose declines have broad regional and global implications—including Russia, Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Venezuela—were affected.

Complete survey results reflect global events during 2007. A package of charts and graphs and an explanatory essay are available online.

“This year’s results show a profoundly disturbing deterioration of freedom worldwide,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “A number of countries that had previously shown progress toward democracy have regressed, while none of the most influential Not Free states showed signs of improvement. As the second consecutive year that the survey has registered a global decline in political rights and civil liberties, friends of freedom worldwide have real cause for concern.”

While the profile of world freedom as measured by the number of countries designated in Freedom in the World as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free changed little during the past year, there were many negative changes within these broad categories. In all, nearly four times as many countries showed declines during the year as registered improvement.

Many of the countries that moved backward were already designated Not Free by the survey. The past year saw the intensification of an effort by authoritarian regimes -- Egypt and Pakistan are two examples -- to consolidate power through the suppression of democratic opposition, civil society, and independent media in their own societies. Especially important in carrying out this assault on freedom of association was a group of market-oriented autocracies and energy-rich dictatorships, including Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and China.

Not one of the countries that registered the lowest possible scores in the Freedom House index -- the “worst of the worst” -- exhibited signs of improvement. This represents a break from a trend formerly observable even in past years when world freedom stagnated or declined, in which progress was registered in some of the world’s most tightly controlled dictatorships.

Just as concerning, countries that had made progress towards freedom in recent years took significant steps backwards. In Asia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines all saw declines in their ratings. In the Middle East, hopes for movement forward in Palestine and Lebanon were dampened by negative trends in the last year in both countries. The deterioration within Nigeria and Kenya, two of Africa’s most important countries, should be of great concern for those who had hoped that the incremental gains of recent years would continue. Two countries that had “color” revolutions in past years -- Kyrgyzstan and Georgia -- also saw disturbing declines.

Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, urged supporters of freedom to redouble their efforts to support freedom’s advocates and activists in other societies. “Right now, authoritarian regimes have been able to use their influence to slow freedom’s advance and, in some cases, reverse positive progress. Democratic governments have not worked together effectively to counter these trends. Those who support freedom -- both governments as well as nongovernmental actors -- must get serious and redouble their efforts to support the frontline defenders of democracy who are under duress,” said Ms. Windsor.

Global Findings

The number of countries judged by Freedom in the World as Free in 2007 stood at 90, representing 46 percent of the global population. The number of Free countries did not change from the previous year’s survey.

The number of countries qualifying as Partly Free stood at 60, or 18 percent of the world population. The number of Partly Free countries increased by two from the previous year, as Thailand and Togo both moved from Not Free to Partly Free.

Forty-three countries were judged Not Free, representing 36 percent of the global population. The number of Not Free countries declined by two from 2006. One territory, the Palestinian Authority, declined from Partly Free to Not Free.

The number of electoral democracies dropped by two and totals 121. One country, Mauritania, qualified to join the world’s electoral democracies in 2007. Developments in three countries—Philippines, Bangladesh and Kenya—disqualified them from the electoral democracy list.

Regional Patterns

A number of Asia’s most important countries, many on the Indian subcontinent, suffered setbacks in freedom during 2007. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka all experienced downturns due to increased restrictions on civil society and, in three of the four cases, increased military activity. Declines were also noted in the Philippines, Burma, and Malaysia. A positive development in the region was the improvement of Thailand from Not Free to Partly Free due to the holding of elections by year's end.

In the formerly communist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan—all countries with entrenched authoritarian leaderships and growing energy wealth—registered declines in 2007. Former democratic aspirants Georgia and Kyrgyzstan also moved backwards in 2007. In contrast, however, the countries of Eastern and Central Europe continued to move ahead with the process of democratic consolidation. Poland showed a modest gain, while Latvia and Bosnia and Herzegovina registered slight declines.

The period of modest gains that had marked the political landscape of the Middle East in the post-9/11 period came to an end in 2007. Backward movement was registered in three important countries of the Arab Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Major declines were also noted in both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli-Occupied Territories. Tunisia, long one of the region’s most repressive states, also experienced a further decline in political rights in 2007.

While sub-Saharan Africa has made incremental if uneven progress in the last several years, 2007 saw an overall deterioration of freedom on the continent. Fifteen countries registered reversals, while six countries marked improvements. Togo moved from Not Free to Partly Free, and Mauritania was designated an electoral democracy this year. Two countries that were conflict zones, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, showed major improvements, as did Mozambique and Rwanda. However, political manipulation of ethnic tensions and intolerance by many of the region’s leaders were important factors in the declines of a number of countries, including Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. Mali and Niger registered declines in civil liberties, while in East Africa, Somalia’s already low score declined further. Other countries that showed declines included Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Comoros, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Malawi.

Latin America today is largely governed by parties that have demonstrated a commitment to the electoral process, freedom of expression, and a broad range of civil liberties. However, Freedom in the World judged that freedom in Venezuela remained under duress, and Nicaragua also suffered a decline. On the positive side, Haiti showed signs of modest progress.

Both North America and, with a few exceptions, Western Europe received the highest ratings on the Freedom House index. However, the flawed response to an upsurge in immigration in Europe and the U.S. has revealed potentially serious imperfections in these countries’ democratic systems, especially in Western Europe. Furthermore, they continued to grapple with problems posed by the continued threat of Islamic terrorism.


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Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007

Dashed hopes in Egypt, Morocco and Jordan - countries held up as examples

Eritrea ranked last for first time while G8 members, except Russia, recover lost ground

Reporters Without Borders

Eritrea has replaced North Korea in last place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world that is published today by Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year running.

“There is nothing surprising about this,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Even if we are not aware of all the press freedom violations in North Korea and Turkmenistan, which are second and third from last, Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom. The privately-owned press has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime are thrown in prison. We know that four of them have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate.”

Outside Europe - in which the top 14 countries are located - no region of the world has been spared censorship or violence towards journalists.

Of the 20 countries at the bottom of the index, seven are Asian (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, China, Burma, and North Korea), five are African (Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Somalia and Eritrea), four are in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Palestinian Territories and Iran), three are former Soviet republics (Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) and one is in the Americas (Cuba).

“We are particularly disturbed by the situation in Burma (164th),” Reporters Without Borders said. “The military junta’s crackdown on demonstrations bodes ill for the future of basic freedoms in this country. Journalists continue to work under the yoke of harsh censorship from which nothing escapes, not even small ads. We also regret that China (163rd) stagnates near the bottom of the index. With less than a year to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the reforms and the releases of imprisoned journalists so often promised by the authorities seem to be a vain hope.”

Government repression no longer ignores bloggers

The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.

In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible. “We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said. “More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media.”

At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist control of the country’s universities.

War and peace

War is largely responsible for the low position assigned to some countries. The increase in fighting in Somalia (159th) and Sri Lanka (156th) has made it very hard for journalists to work. Several have been killed and censorship has been stepped up as clashes became frequent. The belligerents refuse to recognise journalists’ rights and accuse them of supporting the other side.

The battle raging between Hamas and Fatah is the main cause of the large number of serious press freedom violations in the Palestinian Territories (158th). Hostage-taking, arrests, physical attacks and ransacking of news organisations - the Palestinian media and the few visiting journalist are threatened from all sides.

Status quo holds in Iran, violence in Iraq

In Iran (166th), journalists are the target of very aggressive behaviour by the authorities, who tolerate no criticism or expression of political or social demands. As in the past, it is Iran that jails the largest number of journalists in the Middle East. Eight are currently held there. Many other journalists are facing serious, trumped-up charges that could result in their being imprisoned for criticising stoning or corruption, or for working for foreign news media.

In Iraq (157th), what journalists fear most are the armed groups that target them without the authorities ever finding a way to put an end to the litany of violence. More than 200 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Disappointment in the Maghreb

The performance of the countries of North Africa has been mixed, with insignificant rises by Algeria (123rd) and Tunisia (145th) and disturbing falls by Morocco (106th) and Egypt (146th) because of the large number of prosecutions brought against the press. Coverage of police abuses, use of torture during interrogation and the lack of judicial independence stang the Egyptian authorities into tightening the vice on independent journalists. Despite all the harassment, the independent media have openly displayed their lack of enthusiasm for the possibility that Gamal Mubarak could succeed his father as president.

Although better off than their Egyptian colleagues, Morocco’s journalists have in the past 12 months been the target of repeated attacks for which they were not prepared. Confiscation of newspaper issues, temporary closures of newspapers, summonses for questioning, imprisonment and severe sentences will leave lasting scars on the journalistic community, which is now very mistrustful of the government’s promises of reform.

Respite for Gulf journalists

There has been progress by some Gulf countries - Kuwait (63rd), United Arab Emirates (65th) and Qatar (79th). The authorities have displayed a tendency to be more open-minded and, in some cases, initiatives have been taken with a view to liberalising press laws. But self-censorship continues to be widespread in the press in these countries.

For the first time, Saudi Arabia (148th) has climbed out of the bottom 20. Saudi journalists enjoyed something of a respite in the past year. But the control exercised by the information ministry’s media surveillance committee prevents the Wahhabi-led kingdom from rising higher in the ranking.

G8 members, except Russia, show slight improvement

After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, the G8 members have recovered a few places. France (31st), for example, has climbed six places in the past year. French journalists were spared the violence that affected them at the end of 2005 in a labour conflict in Corsica and during the demonstrations in the city suburbs. But many concerns remain about repeated censorship, searches of news organisations, and a lack of guarantees for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.

Italy (35th) has also stopped its fall, even if journalists continue to be under threat from mafia groups that prevent them from working in complete safety. Japan (37th) has seen a letup in attacks on the press by militant nationalists, and this has allowed it to recover 14 places.

“These developments are good news,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Perhaps the repeated calls to these democracies to behave in an exemplary manner has finally borne fruit. But we must remain careful and vigilant. Nothing can be taken for granted and we hope this trend will continue or even accentuate near year. We regret all the same that only two G8 members, Canada (18th) and Germany (20th), managed to be among the top 20.”

Russia (144th) is not progressing. Anna Politkovskaya’s murder in October 2006, the failure to punish those responsible for murdering journalists, and the still glaring lack of diversity in the media, especially the broadcast media, weighed heavily in the evaluation of press freedom in Russia.

Reporters Without Borders compiled this index by sending a questionnaire to the 15 freedom of expression organisations throughout the world that are its partners, to its network of 130 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It contained 50 questions about press freedom in their countries. The index covers 169 nations. Other countries were not included because of lack of data.

Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007


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