CPJ's census of jailed journalists in 2008
December 5, 2008 12:45 PM   Subscribe

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released the 2008 prison census. China retains the lead with Tibetan issues bringing them 28 jailed journalists. Cuba claims 2nd place with 21 jailed journalists. Burma & Eritrea almost tied for 3rd with 14 & 13, respectively. But the biggest news is internet journalists are now the largest group of journalists in jail.
posted by jeffburdges (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I'm kind of surprised that the number for China is that low, actually, and that, taken on a per capita basis, Cuba would have such a higher rate of this than everywhere else.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:23 PM on December 5, 2008

What exactly constitutes an "internet journalist"? A blogger? Given the broadness of the category and the lack of editorial oversight, that this should be the biggest category of jailed journos should hardly be a surprise...
posted by Dysk at 1:26 PM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Committee to Protect Journalists isn't doing a very good job.
posted by Floydd at 1:30 PM on December 5, 2008

man, I wonder why so many of China's journalist's are criminals?
posted by shmegegge at 1:43 PM on December 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

See also the excellent organisation Reporters without Borders who have a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents .
posted by adamvasco at 1:47 PM on December 5, 2008

Only 125 in the whole world? Come on, we can do better than that.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:55 PM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

What do prisoner journalists use to report their stories?

Cell phones.
posted by netbros at 2:36 PM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Reporters without Borders has been financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization that has worked to overthrow democracy in Venezuela, Haiti, and elsewhere. You can start at Wikipedia: Reporters without Borders and National Endowment for Democracy. In too many cases, what the NED and RWB/RSF call a journalist, the rest of us would call spies. Basically, as the head of the NED has admitted, the NED does what the CIA used to do, promoting capitalism. When that means opposing democracy, they do it gladly.

They're especially egregious when it comes to Cuba. Curiously, they never mention the Cuban Five, who have at least as much right to freedom as any of the journalists in Cuba or China.
posted by shetterly at 6:18 PM on December 5, 2008

You'll need some better example than the Cuban five since they never even claimed to be journalists. A journalist writes stories in publicly accessibly media, not just reports mailed back directly to a government. I've not check all the 21 held by Cuba, but those I checked were publishing in publicly available media. Journalist can certainly be involved in propaganda, but that isn't spying. Can you single out any held by Cuba or China that were not journalists?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:58 PM on December 5, 2008

Jeff, I need to look into this more. On the one hand, here's what Spinwatch reported:

Reporters without Borders mounted a campaign in 2002 characterizing the trial and imprisonment in Cuba of more than two dozen journalists, among 75 “dissidents,” as a violation of human rights. The Cuban government insisted that the accused were mercenary agitators paid by the US to pose as “independent journalists.” As Granma reported, “none of them even passed through a journalism faculty or school of journalism and never wrote a single line of journalism.”

Now, which two dozen they're referring to, I dunno. Some of the arrested Cubans called journalists are clearly journalists by anyone's standards. But they also admitted that they met with James Cason, a US spymaster. Being journalists does not preclude them from being spies.

As for the Cuban Five, they committed no objective crimes: they gathered publicly available information about a private organization with ties to terrorism, yet they were arrested. If they can be arrested for that, so can any journalist.
posted by shetterly at 9:24 AM on December 6, 2008

A journalist is a person who gathers & publicly disseminates information about current events. A spy does it privately for a government or corporation.

Yes, the Cuban five was seeking readily available information about CIA backed anti-Castro Cuban exile groups. If they were publishing that information, they would be journalists and theoretically protected under the 1st amendment. But they were merely reporting it back to Castro, which isn't protected speech. I've no idea about the murder charge they were convicted on, but ignoring that, Cuba & the Cuban five did nothing wrong in spying on anti-Castro groups, and neither did the U.S. in jailing the spies.

The Cason affair's 75 people included people like Raúl Rivero who definitely were writers and deserve protection in civil society. It doesn't matter if they're being paid by the CIA, so was Jackson Pollock, what matters is if they were publishing openly or reporting to a foreign government.

Imagine that Micheal Moore was given access or funding in Cuba because Sicko would be critical of the U.S. government? Would anyone have done anything wrong? No. Could the U.S. charge him? No, he'd walk on freedom of speech/press.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:41 PM on December 6, 2008

I can accept the argument that all spies should be free to report what they find, but I don't see why one should get a free pass for having done some journalism. The US arrests spies like Wen Ho Lee and Jonathan Pollard. Why shouldn't Cuba or China?

Remember that if Rivero did what the Cubans believe he did, the CIA and the NED and Reporters Without Borders aren't about to admit it. Reporters Without Borders hid its finances for years until it was outed. Lying is just what spies do.
posted by shetterly at 8:18 PM on December 6, 2008

You don't understand this difference between speaking to the public and reporting to a government? Bad public speech is countered by more public speech, not jail time. It doesn't matter who's paying you're bills. I mean, there are major issues with journalists taking CIA funding, or even loons like Rupert Murdock, but you're not even touching on them.

Raúl Rivero was charged "acting against Cuban independence" for the things he publish publicly in the U.S., not for reporting information back secretly to the U.S. It'd be like charging Micheal Moore with sedition for Sicko. Btw, Amnesty International declared that all 75 people jailed were prisoners of conscience and that their methods were non-violent, and their philosophy was democratic (see Varela Project).

I've always been pretty ambivalent on the whole Castro & Cuba issue, but this imprisoning journalist issue just seems clear as day. Civilized society should never imprison people for publishing articles in news papers or making movies.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:08 PM on December 6, 2008

Jeff, you're assuming the journalists were only journalists. We agree that journalists should be free. I'm not so sure about spies. What Rivero did "against Cuban independence," I dunno. If you have links to the official Cuban records, I'll see if my limited Spanish is up to deciphering them.

But I do know that the NED has paid people as recently as 2002 to overthrow democracy, even though Venezuela's elections were more closely observed by the world than, say, ours in 2000, and if there's anyone authoritative who says those elections were rigged, I haven't found 'em. So when people with ties to the NED are charged with doing bad things, I'm not inclined to give the NED the benefit of the doubt. Their history reeks.

Amnesty International isn't quite as pure from political bias as it pretends, though I agree they're much better than the NED.
posted by shetterly at 1:22 PM on December 7, 2008

As for the Varela Project, you did notice the hand of James Cason there? Maybe it's just the cooties effect and Cuba over-reacted. Or maybe the people found guilty are guilty. The US protects Cuban terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles. The Cubans have good reason to mistrust us.
posted by shetterly at 1:28 PM on December 7, 2008

No, I'm not assuming anything, you're point is totally irrelevant. I was pointing out that the U.S. convicted the Cuban five for clearly non-journalist actions while there are people convicted for real journalism that Cuba didn't like among Cason's 75, namely Raúl Rivero. So this alone destroys Cuba's moral credibility here.

To answer your question : Yes, obviously a guy who never had credibility is fair game, but a real writer like Raúl Rivero must be protected even if they later sign up for spying (btw, the U.S. doesn't meet this second point historically). Yes, the CIA has done many many nasty thing in Central & South America, but one must focus on the real nasty ones, like the assassinations. You discredit your whole position when you claim that all investigators are morally equivalent (as you did above). Indeed, you've just justified the CIA reporting the locations of American pro-democracy activists to local dictators who will murder them.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:33 PM on December 8, 2008

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