Paris — "Most of these press freedom predators have been preying on the media for years, some for decades," Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), Paris-based international media watchdog, said in a statement issued Wednesday, November 2, 2016. It said that "China continues to be the world's leading country for censorship, self-censorship and the suppression of freely-reported news and information."
To mark International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, RSF has published a grim portrait gallery of 35 presidents, politicians, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that censor, imprison, torture or murder journalists.
To draw attention to the impunity they enjoy, RSF said it has completed a form for each of these predators. It identifies their favourite attack techniques, their enforcers, their favourite targets, their official discourse ¬– blatant threats by some, complete denial by others – and their kill tally, in some cases only too real.
The statement stated: Each form also gives the – usually very low – ranking of the predator's country in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.
Their predatory techniques vary. Some use enforcers to torture and murder. Some use mass arrests and arbitrary imprisonment. Others employ more sophisticated methods such as terrorism laws, lèse-majesté charges or financial asphyxiation. The list is not exhaustive, naming only those who distinguished themselves the most in the past year.
"These predators are the ones who most trample on media freedom and commit the worst atrocities against journalists without being held to account," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "The way to break the vicious cycle of impunity is to appoint a United Nations special representative for protecting journalists."
As in the past, most of the predators are presidents or prime ministers of such countries as Singapore, Thailand, Cuba, Eritrea, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
The list's new entrants include Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who now controls most of his country's media groups. The state of emergency introduced in July after a failed coup d'état gave him the opportunity to arrest more than 200 journalists and shut down more than 100 newspapers, magazines, TV channels and radio stations.
The fans of mass round-ups and arbitrary detention include Egypt's Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who was elected president in 2014 after leading the military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government in July 2013. His regime hounds journalists with any kind of link to the Muslim Brotherhood. Similarly, Prayut Chan-O-Cha, Thailand's junta chief and prime minister, has been gagging not only journalists, media outlets and bloggers, but also performers, intellectuals, academics and his political opponents ever since he introduced martial law in May 2014.
In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza began cracking down on the media in 2015, starting with those that covered a coup attempt by opponents of his plan to run for an unconstitutional third term. The persecution has taken many forms, including judicial harassment, arbitrary imprisonment, broadcasting and publication bans, beatings, torture and disappearances.
Since succeeding his brother Abdullah as Saudi Arabia's king, Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud has embodied the heritage of a dynasty that has always been hostile to media freedom. Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has his own methods for silencing media outlets. He got friends to buy El Universal and Globovisión, triggering a wave of dismissals and resignations. He orchestrates newsprint shortages to silence newspapers and he uses a law that criminalizes any content that may "call into question legitimately constituted authority."
In the religious extremist section, Islamic State stops at nothing to impose terror, kidnapping and murdering journalists who do not swear allegiance, while Bangladesh's Ansarullah Bangla Team posts lists of alleged blasphemers (secularist bloggers and freethinkers) on Facebook and calls for them to be murdered.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban continue their barbaric and deadly practices, turning the areas they control into information black holes where journalism is impossible. In Yemen, there have been countless abductions and disappearances of journalists and accounts of detainees being tortured under the Houthis, a Shia political movement that took control of the capital and most of the country in 2014, storming the studios of Al-Jazeera, Al-Yamane-Shabab and Yemen-Digital Media.
The Mexican crime cartel known as Los Zetas has seen several of its leaders arrested but it continues a campaign of terror based on the use of murder, abduction and the most barbaric forms of violence.
A few predators have disappeared from the list since 2013, either because they are no longer in power, like Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa, because they died (Mullah Mohammad Omar and Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov) or because they are no longer so predatory, like the rebel and paramilitary groups in Colombia, where the September peace agreement, although rejected in a referendum, bodes well for the country's journalists.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is also listed as one of the predators by RSF, citing that Xi himself heads the Central Leading Group for Internet Security and Informatization, which sets Internet censorship and control policies. The Chinese social networks Weibo and QQ are closely monitored and all embarrassing content is quickly deleted. Independent journalists who dare to criticize the authorities are harassed, detained and often convicted on the basis of forced confessions.
Xi's attack technique as decentralized totalitarianism and the Chinese Communist Party’s master tolerates no dissent. The Media watchdog said that China continues to be the world’s leading country for censorship, self-censorship and the suppression of freely-reported news and information. The print and broadcast media are forbidden to use unauthorized information from foreign media outlets or websites. The regime’s big obsession is controlling the Internet.
China currently ranks 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, China is one of the world’s worst enemies of media freedom.