Who are the heavy hitters in the game of censorship and media suppression?
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is the world’s biggest NGO, specialising in the defence of media freedom and the basic human right to be informed. With half of the world’s population still denied access to news and information untainted by censorship or government influence, the values that RSF defends are central to freedom of thought and at the heart of pluralistic, fair societies.
In our review of RSF’s important mission, we look at a few faces in their ‘rogue’s gallery’ of leaders, autocrats and despots who wage war on journalists and the stories they represent.
Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi – President of Egypt
Al-Sissi came to power after a coup he led as chief of Egypt’s powerful army. He enacted a law that forces journalists to report certain terrorist activities according to the state’s official version and permits police harassment of journalists, lengthy pre-trial detentions and lengthy imprisonments of reporters. Since Al-Sissi became president in 2013, 6 journalists have been killed and 27 imprisoned in Egypt.
Hamed bin Isa Al Khalifa – King of Bahrain
Al Khalifa is well-known for his intolerance to any media that criticises his royal will. Journalists in Bahrain are often threatened with the removal of their citizenship for reporting unfavourably. Reporting the brutal suppression of protests in 2011 has landed 12 journalists in prison. Human rights defender Nabeele Rajab has been jailed since 2015 for 2 tweets, one concerning his own torture.
Nicolas Maduro – President of Venezuela
Maduro’s regime arrests journalists that produce content that, according to Venezuelan law, ‘calls into question the legitimacy of constituted authority,’ which pretty much makes journalists targets for the president’s vitriol. With 22 newspapers now out of business, the media landscape is controlled by acolytes and supporters. Local journalists are arrested and harassed, foreign correspondents are denied entry to the country and external news reports are criticised by state machinery.
Nguyen Phu Trong – General Secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party
This leader knows all about journalism, as he was one for most of his career, editing a Communist-friendly publication that disseminated state propaganda. While journalists are no longer welcomed to be members of Vietnam’s Communist Party, another 15 – including citizen bloggers – are in prison for ‘abusing democratic freedoms,’ ‘carrying out propaganda activities’ and ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government.’ Pluralism in Vietnam is banned and there are tight controls on internet content.
Ramazan Kadyrov – President of the Chechen Republic (Russia)
Kadyrov makes no pretence of his hatred for liberal media, branding all journalists with dissenting views as ‘national traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people.’ Controlling the news media was Kadyrov’s route to suppressing Islamic insurgency in Chechnya and journalists covering the crackdowns and violence were not spared the wrath of his intolerance. Even today, a loose comment on social media can result in security services detaining citizens while failure to show enthusiasm for Kadyrov’s rules will also result in harassment and the threat of jail.
Lee Hsien Loong – Prime Minister of Singapore
Singapore, all lovely and modern and progressive, is led by a man who frequently sues bloggers who are critical of him using SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) tactics. Journalists and bloggers end up retracting stories or simply not publishing, as Loong’s legal threats force submission due to economic pressure and eventually, silence. Despite the modern image, Loong’s actions are proof that Singapore’s most powerful man is intolerant of freedom of speech.
Press freedom and human rights
In 1948, the United Nations said in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that ‘freedom of opinion and expression’ implies the right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’ RSF represent the principled ideal that there can be no freedom of thought without knowledge of reality.
For more information on the important work of Reporters Without Borders visit rsf.org