North Korea Rated World's Worst Violator of Press Freedom

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - A global press advocacy group says North Korea is the world's biggest violator of press freedom and includes it with Cuba, Iran and Turkmenistan as among the countries that deserve to be called the "worst predators of press freedom."

In its fifth annual World Press Freedom Index, released October 24, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked North Korea at the very bottom of 168 countries listed in the survey.  The organization compiled the index by asking various freedom-of-expression organizations, assorted journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists about press freedom in their respective countries.

The organization said the countries ranking at the bottom of its list had received similar low scores in previous years.

Independent journalists in such countries as North Korea and Cuba still are risking death or imprisonment "for trying to keep us informed," Reporters Without Borders said.  "These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly."

In reaction to the report, the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor said in an October 24 statement that a "free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a healthy democracy.  The rights to opinion, expression, and media freedom are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."  (See full text of declaration.)

The State Department added that the United States "will continue to support the work of journalists under pressure by repressive regimes," including through the newly established Global Internet Freedom Task Force.

That task force, launched February 14, includes State Department officials in international communications policy, human rights, democracy, business advocacy and corporate responsibility who will work with U.S. businesses, nongovernmental organizations, the European Union and other governments to address Internet freedom issues.  (See related article.)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in October 21 remarks in Moscow that "people need information in order to hold their government accountable.  And only through an independent press can that information be developed and communicated.  And whether it is in fighting corruption or questioning government policies or communicating to the government the concerns of people, an independent press plays an extremely important role."  (See related article.)

Reporters Without Borders said the world's two worst predators of press freedom - North Korea and Turkmenistan - have clamped down further against journalists in their countries.

The press advocacy organization said the all-powerful leader of North Korea's police state, Kim Jong Il, continues "to totally control the media," while in Turkmenistan, Reporters Without Borders said, the torture death in September of journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country's leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, is "willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticize him."  (See related article.)

Reporters Without Borders said Muradova was a former correspondent of U.S. radio stations Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty who had been sentenced to six years in prison in late August along with two other human rights activists.

The State Department said in a September 14 statement that it was very concerned about Muradova's death, adding that the Turkmen judicial system lacks independence.  The United States, the statement said, has "overall concerns about lack of due process in both criminal and civil proceedings" in Turkmenistan.

In Cuba, Reporters Without Borders said, 22 journalists "who wanted to break free" of the Cuban regime's "domination of news and information" remain imprisoned.  Arrested in March 2003, those journalists are "serving prison terms of up to 27 years in terrible conditions," while "journalists who are not in prison are constantly threatened with the same fate," said Reporters Without Borders.  (See related article.) 

The organization said predators of press freedom have the "power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists."

The full text of the World Press Freedom Index is available on the Reporters Without Borders' Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Press Freedom.