As the world prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day for the 30th time on 8 March, Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about an increase in violence against women journalists worldwide.
“More and more women journalists are the victims of murder, arrest, threats or intimidation,” the press freedom organisation said. “This increase is due to the fact that more and more women are working as journalists, holding riskier jobs in the media and doing investigative reporting likely to upset someone.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The most striking case is Anna Politkovskaya’s (photo) recent murder in Moscow. This mother of two paid with her life for her opposition to the Russian government’s policies in Chechnya. We pay tribute to her and all the other women who go beyond the call of their journalistic duties to defend their right and the right of their fellow citizens to free expression.”
More and more women journalists murdered
Of the 82 journalists killed worldwide in 2006, nine (11 per cent) were women. Nearly 13 per cent of the journalists killed in the course of their work in 2005 were women. The proportion of women journalists killed was never so high. In 2004, 7.5 per cent of the media workers killed were women, while in 2004, it was 2.5 per cent. There is just one piece of good news in all these grim statistics - so far no woman journalist has been killed in 2007.
The former Soviet Union was especially tough for women journalists in 2006. Ogulsapar Muradova, Radio Free Europe’s correspondent in Turkmenistan, died in prison in September, probably as a result of blows she had received to the head. She was arrested in June after producing reports critical of the authorities and helping a French journalist to make a TV documentary in Turkmenistan. In neighbouring Uzbekistan, journalist and human rights activist Umida Niyazova has been detained since 22 January. She faces a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison for circulating the accounts of victims of the 2005 crackdown in Andijan.
Women reporters have been among the victims of the violence by armed groups in Iraq. Atwar Bahjat of the Al-Arabiya TV station was killed after being abducted with her crew while covering the aftermath of the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006. Unusually in Iraq, her murderer was caught and sentenced to death a few months later.
Reem Zeid of another Iraqi television station, Sumariya TV, was kidnapped together with a colleague, Marwan Khazaal, 13 months ago, on 1 February 2006. We have had no news of her since then. In all, eight women, including six foreign reporters, have been taken hostage in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. One, Iraqi news presenter Raeda Wazzan, was executed by her captors.
In Lebanon, LBC television star presenter May Chidiac was badly wounded and maimed by a bomb in September 2005. She went back to work after 10 months of treatment and rehabilitation.
Seven women in jail
A total of seven women journalists are currently in prison worldwide. They are Munusamy Parameshawary (Sri Lanka), Saidia Ahmed (Eritrea), Serkalem Fassil (Ethiopia), Rabiaa Abdul Wahab (Iraq), Umida Niyazova (Uzbekistan), Agnes Uwimana Nkusi (Rwanda) and Tatiana Mukakibibi (Rwanda). All are being held in connection with their work.
The publisher of three weeklies, Fassil was arrested in November 2005 along with her husband, who is also a journalist. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby boy in her cell last June. After keeping the baby with her for six months, she entrusted him to a relative and now rarely sees him.
Mukakibibi has been in prison for longer than any other woman journalist. Arrested in 1996, she is still awaiting trial. She is being held in a municipal prison in Gitarama, south of the Rwandan capital, where she continues to insist on her innocence and to demand justice.
Press freedom activists
Reporters Without Borders would also like to salute the courage of women involved in the fight for press freedom. Sihem Bensedrine in Tunisia, Tadjigul Begmedova in Turkmenistan, Rozlana Taukina in Kazakhstan, Zhanna Litvina in Belarus and Sayda Kilani in Jordan are some of the women who run NGOs dedicated to defending freedom of the press.
They wage their fight in especially difficult conditions, having to deal with harassment from the authorities and intimidation from sectors that often target journalists and their defenders. To escape reprisals, they are often forced to seek refuge abroad.
This brief survey would not be complete without referring to women bloggers, these new free expression activists who use the Internet to escape censorship. There are many of them in Iran, where the Ahmadinejad government cracks down on feminist movements. About 20 were recently arrested in Tehran while demonstrating for women’s rights. In Saudi Arabia, the authorities block access to an anonymous blog by a young woman calling herself Saudi Eve, who relates her love life and talks freely about religion.
We cannot forget the situation in Afghanistan, either. There, conservatives think there are too many women on the local TV stations and want to have a law that will, among other things, ask women journalists to respect “religious dress codes.”