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The Press Under The Gun - Literally

Washington (UPI) Jan 04, 2006
For the third year in a row Iraq turned out to be the world's most dangerous country for members of the media: 24 journalists and 5 media assistants were killed, according to the Paris based media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders.

In all, 76 journalists and media assistants have been killed since fighting broke out in Iraq in March 2003 -- surpassing those killed during the entire Vietnam War.

Terrorist strikes and guerrilla attacks were the main causes, but the U.S. Army is accused of causing the deaths of three journalists.

Iraqi TV producer Wael al-Bakri, 30, was fatally shot by U.S. troops on June 28. The next day, a U.S. Third Infantry Division spokesman in Baghdad said that a U.S. unit was involved in his death and an enquiry had been opened. No result has yet been announced regarding this or the other investigated killings.

Physical attacks on politicians and journalists rocked Lebanon last year, where two leading journalists were brutally killed -- Samir Qassir (in June) and Gebran Tueni (in December). Qassir was a columnist for the daily An-Nahar and Tueni was the paper's publisher. May Chidiac, a well-known TV anchorwoman working for Lebanese Broadcasting Company, survived a bomb attack on her car in September but lost a hand and a leg.

In the Philippines too, journalists were killed while on the job. The culprits are no longer armed groups but politicians, businessmen and drug-traffickers ready to silence journalists who exposed their crimes. Despite the conviction in 2005 of the killer of journalist Edgar Damalerio -- who was murdered in 2002 on the island of Mindanao -- impunity has prevailed.

Africa also saw an increase in violence against journalists where several were murdered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Somalia and their killers (some of them known) have yet to be arrested.

The investigation into the December 2004 murder of Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara, the local correspondent of Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders, has been stalled because the authorities are doing all they can to prevent the perpetrators from being identified and to ensure their immunity.

In the Americas two journalists were killed in Mexico for investigating drug smuggling and oil racketeering.

Several journalists were murdered under suspicious circumstances in Russia and Belarus -- some of them apparently related to their work. The often biased and politically influenced investigations conducted in those countries rarely lead anywhere.

About 50 journalists in Nigeria and Peru were beaten up by police, soldiers, or thugs working for local politicians.

The annual report from Reporters Without Borders shows that violence against the press is escalating. The statistics for 2005 are grim: 63 journalists killed, 1,308 physically attacked or threatened; at least 807 journalists arrested; and 1,006 media outlets censored.

While the number of journalists killed is up from the previous year when 53 journalists and 15 media assistants were killed, there were 100 fewer journalists arrested (907).

However members of the media who came under attack or threatened were down from 1,308 to 1,146. And 622 media outlets were censored.

As of 1 January 2006, 126 journalists and 70 cyberdissidents remain in jails worldwide.

- Africa: 5 journalists killed, 256 arrested, 213 physically attacked or threatened, 86 media outlets censored

- Americas: 7 journalists killed, 20 arrested, 229 physically attacked or threatened, 10 media outlets censored

- Asia: 17 journalists killed, 352 arrested, 583 physically attacked or threatened, 745 media outlets censored

- Europe and former Soviet Union: 7 journalists killed, 92 arrested, 179 physically attacked or threatened, 120 media outlets censored

- North Africa and Middle East: 27 journalists killed, 87 arrested, 104 physically attacked or threatened, 45 media outlets censored

- At last 63 journalists were killed in 2005 for doing their job or expressing their opinions -- the highest annual toll since 1995 (when 64 were killed, 22 of them in Algeria). Five media assistants (fixers, drivers, translators, technicians, security staff and others) were also killed.

- Burma: 5

The same countries are still the world's biggest prisons for journalists, whose detention time seems longer every year. On January 1, 2006, 126 journalists and 3 media assistants were being held in 23 countries (for the complete list, see

- In China, journalist and art critic Yu Dongyue has been behind bars since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, serving an 18-year sentence for "counter-revolutionary propaganda." He lost his sanity as the result of his torture.

- Cuba is still the world's second-biggest prison for journalists. Twenty of the 27 journalists arrested in the spring 2003 crackdown are serving sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years. Four others were jailed in summer 2005 and two of them are still awaiting trial.

- Last year in Burma, the country's best-known journalist/democrat, Win Tin, began his 17th year in prison. The ruling generals have stubbornly refused to release the 75-year-old former editor of the newspaper Hanthawathi.

- Libyan writer Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi al-Darrat is the longest jailed journalist according to RWB: he was arrested in 1973 and very little is known about him. Libyan officials have never answered repeated requests for updates on his condition. It is not known whether he is still alive.

The privately owned press was abolished in Eritrea in autumn of 2001, and its former editors and publishers are still in prison. Their hunger strike in 2002 produced no results. Their place of detention remains unknown and their families are still not allowed to visit them.

Cases of censorship have jumped more than 50 percent.

At least 1,006 cases of censorship were recorded in 2005 (622 in 2004). The big increase was due mainly to the much worse situation in Nepal, where more than half (567) of all worldwide cases were recorded.

Since the state of emergency declared by King Gyanendra on February 1, the media has been repressed with growing harshness, which has included a ban on FM radio station news broadcasts, blocking of Web sites, seizure of equipment and politically inspired distribution of government advertising.

In China, Voice of Tibet, the BBC, Sound of Hope and Radio Free Asia were among the radio stations jammed by the regime, using equipment supplied by the French firm Thal¿s. The government's propaganda department provides media and Web site editors and publishers with a virtually daily list of topics to avoid.

Censorship continues to rule in Belarus, Kazakhstan and most of Central Asia, where newspapers are still being shut down for criticizing the government. Printers and distributors are often used to exert pressure on independent or opposition publications.

The Internet is still tightly controlled by some repressive governments. Reporters Without Borders has drawn up a list of 15 "enemies of the Internet" (Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, the Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam).

These countries reserve the harshest treatment for those who exercise online freedom of expression. They censor independent news Web sites and opposition publications, spy on Internet traffic in order to silence dissident voices, and harass, threaten, and occasionally imprison Internet users and bloggers who deviate from the government line.

In Tunisia, for example, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's family controls national access to the Internet. He has built up very effective censorship, blocking the Web sites of all opposition publications and many news sites. The regime also dissuades people from using Web mail, which is harder to monitor than standard e-mail.

Reporters Without Borders' web site is also off-limits in Tunisia, where authorities imprison any Internet users who defy them. Pro-democracy lawyer Mohammed Abbou was given a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence in April 2005 for criticizing the president online.

The information ministry in Iran boasts that it blocks access to hundreds of thousands of Web sites. They target any kind of sexual content, as well as independent news sites. Iran has the grim distinction of having arrested and jailed the most bloggers -- a score of them were thrown in prison between autumn 2004 and summer 2005. Mojtaba Saminejad, a 23-year-old blogger, has been in jail since February 2005. He was given a two-year sentence in June for insulting the country's "Supreme Guide."

Source: United Press International

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Washington (UPI) Dec 20, 2005
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