Reporters at Risk
War and lawlessness increasingly turn foreign correspondents into targets
(Page 2 of 3)
In Algeria, fundamentalists target journalistsSkip to next paragraph
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ALGERIA is a case in point. Islamic fundamentalists waging a civil war there have specifically targeted journalists for execution. Since 1993, more than 50 have been killed. While one French correspondent has died, most victims have been local.
''On any street corner you can be shot down,'' says Horria Saihi, an Algerian television producer and reporter who has been condemned to death by name by Islamic fundamentalists.
Ms. Saihi won acclaim as a journalist in the mid-1980s for challenging government censorship and documenting the victims of the terrorists' campaign in which tens of thousands of civilians have been tortured, maimed, and murdered.
She now is constantly on the move, sleeping in a different place each night, traveling incognito, caught between the Islamic militants and an increasingly repressive military regime.
Monday, Saihi emerged in New York to accept a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF).
''We're not only journalists looking for pictures and action, we're also part of this struggle,'' she said afterward. ''The struggle going on in Algeria is a fight against the forces of darkness, against fascism.''
Saihi says she has no choice but to be a participant as well as an observer in Algeria's civil war. She says the fundamentalist forces that claim to have a lock on the truth want to stamp out the free press, which she sees as central to any thriving society.
She refuses to stop working, saying she has a moral responsibility to convey the events of daily life to other Algerians and the world.
''I know what awaits me in the end is a bullet in the head, but what kills me more is censorship,'' she says. ''That would be a symbolic death.''
Intimidation continues in China
FOREIGN reporters in China are routinely detained for short periods, lectured about their coverage, followed, interrupted in the midst of interviews, warned to stay away from dissidents, and followed some more.
For the local press, the situation is more grim.
Twenty-six Chinese journalists are reportedly in jail, more than any other country in Asia. And as uncertainty about the future leadership and the takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 nears, the vise appears to be tightening. Human rights groups say reporters now are facing longer sentences in prison and reeducation camps for crimes that are more vaguely defined.
Gao Yu is a highly respected economics and political writer, known for her voluminous memory, and unyielding good humor. She was arrested in October 1993, two days before she was to leave for a fellowship as a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York.
She was not heard from for a year. Last November, Chinese authorities finally admitted Ms. Gao had been charged, tried, and convicted in secret. She is now serving a six-year sentence for ''leaking state secrets.'' She is considered to have a serious heart ailment.
''One of the dangers is that one can never tell where the line is drawn, what is permissible and what is not in the eyes of the Chinese authorities,'' says Yuet-Wah (Daisy) Li, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
Gao, the former deputy editor in chief of the now-defunct Economic Weekly, wrote regularly for Hong Kong papers. Her offending stories focused on the prospects for China's economic reform and ironically had appeared in one of Hong Kong's pro-China papers.
Gao's arrest and conviction was interpreted as a direct message from Chinese authorities to Hong Kong journalists that, come 1997, they will be expected to play by a different set of rules.
''Freedom of the press does not just belong to the journalists, it actually belongs to the society,'' Ms. Li says. ''If a journalist gets jailed or harassed, it's damage the whole society has to bear.''
The Chinese government views Hong Kong journalists with particular sensitivity. That's because many Chinese officials use the independent Hong Kong press to anonymously express their dissent when they are unhappy with official policy.
Li and her colleagues are determined to maintain their independent status after 1997.
''We believe it's our obligation and duty to speak up for our Chinese counterparts,'' Li says, who was in New York on Monday to accept an IWMF Courage in Journalism Award on behalf of Gao. ''We're still operating in a free world. If we don't speak up for them now, who will be there to speak up for us in the future if the need arises?''