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Marking World Press Freedom Day, RSF releases new "press freedom predators" list

(RSF/IFEX) - 3 May 2011 - The kingpins of repressive machinery, political leaders of regimes hostile to civil liberties and direct organizers of campaigns of violence against journalists - they are the predators of press freedom. They prey on the media.

See all the predators,37213.html

Middle East: predators of press freedom start to topple

There are 38 predators this year. Pride of place goes to North Africa and the Middle East, where dramatic and sometimes tragic events have taken place in recent months. It is the Arab world that has seen the most important changes in the 2011 Predators list. Heads have fallen. The first to go was Tunisia's President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was forced to step down on 14 January, thereby giving his people the chance to explore the entire range of democratic possibilities.

Other predators such as Yemen's Ali Abdallah Saleh, who has been overwhelmed by the wave of protests sweeping his country, or Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who is responding with terror to his people's democratic aspirations, could also fall. And what of Muammar Gaddafi, the Guide of the Revolution, now the guide of violence against his people, a violence that is deaf to reason? And Bahrain's King Ben Aissa Al-Khalifa, who should one day have to answer for the deaths of four activists in detention, including the only opposition newspaper's founder, and the vast repressive operation against pro-democracy protesters?

Freedom of expression has been one of the first demands of the region's peoples, one of the first concessions from transitional regimes, and one of the first achievements, albeit a very fragile one, of its revolutions.

Attempts to manipulate foreign reporters, arbitrary arrests and detention, deportation, denial of access, intimidation and threats - the list of abuses against the media during the Arab Spring is staggering. Those determined to obstruct the media did not stop at murder in four countries – Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. The fatalities included Mohamed Al-Nabous, shot by snipers on the government's payroll in the Libyan city of Benghazi on 19 March, and two journalists directly targeted by the security forces in Yemen on 18 March.

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Rest of the world

In Asia, some leaders have been replaced by others without any change to the repressive systems they control. Thein Sein has replaced Than Shwe at the head of the regime in Burma (where 14 journalists are in prison). The Communist Party chose Nguyen Phu Trong to succeed Nong Duc Manh in Vietnam (where 18 netizens are currently jailed). In both countries, one predator has taken over from another. They are the figureheads of regimes that use imprisonment as a way to censor and allow no hope of a political opening. One-party system attitudes, clan interests and a national unity ideology characterize these impenetrable dictatorships, now jittery about the pro-democracy movements sweeping the world.

The shockwaves from the Arab Spring have affected the policies pursued by China's predator, President Hu Jintao, and Azerbaijan's predator, President Ilham Aliyev. They fear that this is a virus that could spread. More than 30 dissidents, lawyers and human rights activists are being held incommunicado in China. There is no way of finding out what has happened to them. One of the latest victims is the internationally famous artist Ai Wei Wei. No one knows where he is being held. The Azerbaijani authorities have adopted various tactics with the opposition and media in response to attempts to hold Arab-style demonstrations in Baku. Facebook activists have been jailed. Reporters for the opposition newspaper Azadlig have been kidnapped and threatened. Journalists trying to cover the protests have been arrested and beaten. The Internet has been blocked.

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To read the full press release, click here

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