CAPSULE REPORT - INTERNATIONAL
21 June 2007At least three journalists a month forced into exile to escape threats of
violence, imprisonment, or harassment, CPJ report finds
SOURCE: Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York
(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 19 June 2007 CPJ
Journalists in Exile
At least three journalists a month flee their home countries to escape
threats of violence, imprisonment, or harassment.
By Elisabeth Witchel and Karen Phillips
Nearly six years ago, Eritrean authorities raided the offices of the
country's private newspapers, shut them down, and detained at least 10
journalists. Tipped off by friends, Milkias Mihreteab, then editor-in-chief
of the independent weekly Keste Debena, went into hiding, narrowly escaping
arrest. He began a harrowing journey on foot across local borders before
securing passage to the United States, where he eventually was granted
Since coming to the United States, Mihreteab has worked a variety of jobs,
including as a coffee shop server and a security guard, but none related to
journalism. He attempted to launch a new version of his paper for other
Eritrean expatriates but couldn't afford to keep it going. He has watched
his once ardent hope of returning home within a few years wane, as more
than a dozen publishers and editors continue to languish in prison in
Eritrea today. Mihreteab still wants to go home, but the prospect is not
His is one of 243 cases of journalists forced into exile that the Committee
to Protect Journalists has documented over the past six years.
Among the key findings: At least three journalists a month flee their home
country to escape threats of violence, imprisonment, or harassment; more
than two-thirds of the 209 journalists currently in exile have not found
opportunities to continue in their profession; and only one in seven
journalists who flees ever returns home.
Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director, deplored the conditions that have led
to the exodus of journalists in so many countries and called on governments
to do the following: investigate and offer protection when journalists are
assaulted or threatened; prosecute all parties when a journalist is
murdered; cease unlawful arrests of journalists; and reform criminal
"The fact that in two out of three cases, the exiled journalists were
driven out of the profession altogether, only finishes the job of those who
seek to silence the press," Simon said.
( . . . )
The survey found that the leading reason journalists flee their homelands
is the threat of violence, followed by imprisonment or threat of
imprisonment, and harassment.
CPJ determined that 94 journalists fled their homelands after violent
assaults or death threats from fundamentalist militias, paramilitaries, and
political gangs. In some cases, they heeded ominous warnings from military
or government officials. The worst offenders in this category were
Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Rwanda, where, according to CPJ research,
50 journalists went into exile at some point during the survey period in
fear of violent attack. In many cases, authorities could not or would not
provide adequate protection for journalists, and attempts to relocate
within their countries did not bring an end to the threats.
Colombian investigative reporter Jenny Manrique moved from Bucaramanga
province to Bogotá in 2006 after receiving a steady stream of death threats
in response to her reporting on paramilitary abuses in the region. But the
threats didn't stop. Manrique finally left Colombia with the help of
regional and international press freedom organizations, including CPJ.
"When I learned that the people who were harassing me had located my house
in Bogotá and they made threatening calls that put my loved ones at risk, I
decided that it was time to do what they'd been 'requesting' me to do for
the last eight months: shut up. I had to leave the country," Manrique told
In the other cases, 76 journalists fled upon their release from prison or
under threat of imprisonment for their work, and 73 left after enduring
The 243 journalists surveyed by CPJ came from 36 countries, with more than
half hailing from just five: Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Colombia, and
Uzbekistan. Sixty percent were from African countries, where porous borders
and harsh press freedom conditions contribute to a steady exodus of
North America, Europe and Africa host the most journalists in exile, with
the United States, Britain, Kenya and Canada ranking as the top four
countries of refuge in the CPJ survey.
Nearly three-quarters of the journalists currently in exile landed outside
their region; 123 sought and obtained asylum on their own or were resettled
by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. At least three dozen ended up in
neighboring countries, in many cases unable or not permitted to find work.
Most of those are living in extreme poverty, and some have been harassed by
police who routinely shake them down, threatening to send them to refugee
camps or report them to officials in their home countries.
Over the period surveyed, 34 journalists who had gone into exile eventually
returned home when conditions seemed safer for them. Of those who returned,
86 percent resumed work in journalism, either in their former positions or
in comparable jobs. This is in sharp contrast to the journalists who
remained in exile: Just 30 percent were able to obtain jobs related to
journalism (a category that includes teaching), though larger numbers have
continued to contribute sporadically to expatriate media or media outlets
in their homelands. The vast majority, however, have had to take jobs
requiring a lower level of skills.
Pakistani journalist Majid Babar has been working in a gas station in the
United States since getting asylum in 2004. He fled Pakistan the previous
year after being harassed by authorities for working with foreign
correspondents covering terrorism.
He can't find work as a journalist even though he spent his first year in
the United States as a Humphrey Fellow in Journalism at the University of
Maryland and has kept in touch with members of the U.S. media with whom he
worked in Pakistan.
"Although I have so many friends in the mainstream media here in the United
States . . . I can't get any job with these media, because I am no longer
considered a journalist," Babar told CPJ. "I am just one among the millions
Forward Maisokada, coordinator of the Exiled Journalists Network, which
supports journalists in exile in Britain, urged the media in host countries
to provide a platform for exiled journalists to write about their
experiences and to keep the spotlight on mistreatment of the press.
"They can open their doors to journalists who have faced persecution," he
Elisabeth Witchel is CPJ's Journalist Assistance Program Coordinator and
Karen Phillips is the Journalist Assistance Program Associate.
To read the full report, see:http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2007/Exiles/exiles_07.html
For further information, contact Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz or Asia
Program Senior Researcher Kristin Jones at CPJ, 330 Seventh Ave., New York,
NY 10001, U.S.A., tel: +1 212 465 1004, fax: +1 212 465 9568, e-mail:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Internet: http://www.cpj.org/
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