Celebrating Women Journalists for International Women’s Day

By Anna Chen and Jen Wilson

Canadian Journalist for Free Expression (CJFE) is celebrating the centenary of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2011, by highlighting the work of four female journalists who have courageously worked under difficult and often dangerous conditions: Jila Baniyaghoub from Iran, Li Jianhong from China, Irina Khalip from Belarus and Jineth Bedoya Lima from Colombia.

In 2010, 87 journalists were killed worldwide and many more were subjected to intimidation and harassment. Women make up a third of working journalists worldwide and like their male colleagues, they are often vulnerable to arrests, imprisonment and attacks. “Any true democracy strives for an informed citizenry. Threats against journalists challenge our right to freedom of expression and access to information and diminish us all,” said CJFE Executive Director Annie Game.

Many other free expression and media organizations are also marking International Women’s Day, including Reporters Without Borders, who released a report called “News Media: A men’s preserve that is dangerous for women”,  International Women’s Media Foundation who will be releasing “The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media” at the International Conference for Women’s Leaders held on March 22 to 25 in Washington, D.C. and the IFEX-Tunisia Monitoring Group who are commemorating the day with a joint action.

CJFE calls on the governments of Belarus, China, Colombia and Iran to respect the right to free expression and access to information, and investigate any abuses or violations made by private groups or security forces. We urge the protection of the rights of journalists and encourage members of the public to sign petitions, write protest letters and raise awareness about these issues.

The following profiles provide examples of the difficult, and sometimes dangerous, circumstances female journalists are exposed to while reporting.   

Jila Baniyaghoub (Iran)

Jila Baniyaghoub is an Iranian journalist, editor and women’s rights activist. In her life-long career in journalism, she has written for a variety of Iranian daily newspapers, published a book entitled “Journalists in Iran”, and in 2004 founded the online news website Kanoon Zanan Irani (Focus on Iranian Women). Her work focuses on social and governmental injustice, with a focus on women’s issues.

Baniyaghoub is one of many journalists working under a repressive government in Iran. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iran and China are the worst jailers of the press, with 34 imprisoned journalists each as of December 2010.

Since June 2006, 40-year-old Baniyaghoub has been beaten, arrested and imprisoned several times for covering peaceful women’s rights protests. She has been accused of acts against national security, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and the disruption of public order. In June 2009, she was arrested during the post-election protests in Tehran with her husband, journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amoyee. She was released on bail a month later while her husband remained in jail. In June 2010, the Revolutionary Court of Iran sentenced her to one year’s imprisonment and imposed a 30-year writing ban. As of February 2011, she is still awaiting a call from the court to serve her sentence.

Read CJFE’s protest letter to Iranian Chargé d’Affaires Bahram Ghasemi.

Li Jianhong (China)

Li Jianhong is a 43-year-old Chinese journalist and writer who uses the pen name “Xiao Qiao”. She is a vocal government critic and founded two Chinese websites, Qimeng Luntan (Enlightenment Forum) and Ziyou Zhongguo Luntan (Free China Forum), which have been blocked by the Chinese government.

Since January 2005, she has been harassed and detained by government authorities for writing articles critical of the government, being a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre and supporting the Charter ’08 petition to the Chinese government calling for democratic reforms.

In October 2009, Li Jianhong was barred entry into China after spending a year and a half in Stockholm, Sweden as a Guest Writer with the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) program. Rendered stateless, Li was able to return to Stockholm with the support of campaigners and Swedish officials. Chinese embassy officials in Sweden have refused to renew her passport since it expired in late October 2009. In 2010, Li obtained refugee status in Sweden and continues to visit the Chinese embassy regularly to protest against her unlawful treatment.

Read CJFE’s protest letter to His Excellency Zhang Junsai.

Irina Khalip (Belarus)

Irina Khalip is a 44-year-old Belarusian reporter and editor in the Minsk bureau of Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper known for being critical of governments of the former Soviet Republics. Khalip’s work covers anti-government demonstrations, civil and human rights abuses, government corruption, and political corruption. She has been frequently detained for her work, subjected to all-night interrogations by police, arrested, beaten and kept under surveillance. She has also had her home office searched and property confiscated.

In 1999, Khalip was detained, interrogated and had her computer and travel documents confiscated. She was charged with libel after linking a prosecutor general to a corruption scandal. She was detained in 2000 for covering a demonstration related to protest activities in commemoration of the nation’s founding. Her articles on corruption in the prosecutor’s office caused the newspaper she was working for in 2003, Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta, to be suspended and eventually close in 2006.

Khalip maintained her commitment to free expression and refused to be silenced by harassment, intimidation or assault. In December 2010, she was arrested while giving an interview to the Russian radio station Echo Moskvy and beaten by police. Khalip was held in isolation by the Belarusian State Security (KGB) for one month and charged with “organizing and participating in mass disorder.” In January 2011, she was released from prison and placed under house arrest with two KGB stationed at her apartment. She is banned from leaving her home, has been denied access to the internet, telephone and newspapers, and is restricted to visits from her mother and three-year-old son. Khalip’s mother has been granted legal custody of her son, after concerns that he may be placed in institutional care. Her husband, presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, remains in detention.

Read CJFE’s protest letter to Belarusian Counsellor and Chargé d’Affaires Mr. Roman Sobolev.

Jineth Bedoya Lima (Colombia)

Jineth Bedoya Lima is a 37-year-old legal issues editor for the daily El Tiempo in Bogota, Colombia. In 1999, while working for the newspaper El Espectador, she survived an attempted murder when two unknown assailants on motorcycles tried to run her over. Bedoya had written about criminal gangs that kidnapped for ransom just before the incident.  

In early 2000, Bedoya covered a jail house dispute between inmates belonging to right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia and other prisoners. Her report suggested that leaders of the paramilitary group may have ordered execution style killings inside the prison. In what is believed to be a retaliatory move, Bedoya was kidnapped, drugged, brutally beaten and raped.

Bedoya recovered from the attack and returned to work soon after, vowing to continue reporting on conflict in the country. In both the 1999 attempted murder and 2000 kidnapping, her attackers were never brought to justice. Colombia has the highest level of impunity in journalists’ crimes in South America, according to Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2010 Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population.

In November 2010, Bedoya received threats after the publication of her book about a recently assassinated Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader. On the day the book was launched, a FARC aligned news agency, Noticias Nueva Colombia, published a headline on its website saying “Jineth Bedoya, journalist or military intelligence agent?” Colombian police and military intelligence agents considered this as a threat against her, and assessed her at a high level of risk.

Read CJFE’s protest letter to Her Excellency Clemencia Forero Ucros.

For more information about all of these cases, please visit the CJFE website.