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Jailed reporters at 14-year high: CPJ

Reporter_JailThe number of reporters in detention around the world has reached the highest level in 14 years, with China and Iran claiming top spots as jailhouses for journalists, according to the annual Attacks on the Press report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), writes Andrea Lunt.

14 March 2011

In a study of more than 100 countries, the CPJ survey revealed 145 journalists, editors and photojournalists were behind bars worldwide at the end of last year, while a further 44 had been killed on the job.

As of December 2010, China and Iran both had 34 reporters in detention, while Pakistan was the deadliest place, recording at least eight media fatalities. Other countries on the blacklist included Eritrea, Burma and Uzbekistan.

Launching the report at United Nations headquarters in New York, CPJ executive director Joel Simon took the opportunity to criticise the international community's record of protecting press freedom, singling out institutions such as the U.N. and the Organisation of American States.

"While valiant special rapporteurs at various institutions battle anti-media violence, their efforts are stymied by a halting political will to guarantee press freedom," Simon said.

The report charges that the U.N., in particular, has been inconsistent in its defence of media rights, naming Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's failure to congratulate Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner and jailed activist and writer Liu Xiaobo, as an example.

"Ban obviously succumbed to pressure, and set a disappointing example for the entire U.N. system," Simon said.

Asked to respond to the criticism, the spokesperson for the Secretary General, Martin Nesirky, told reporters in February that Ban was committed to advocating press freedom.

"The secretary-general has consistently spoken out about the importance of press freedoms both in public settings and behind the scenes," Nesirky said. "And very often, as the CPJ knows very well, it's the behind the scenes work that has helped to secure the release of journalists."

He went onto say that the "secretary-general was extremely vocal on the (recent) incidents in Egypt when journalists were set upon, and I don't think you could get much clearer than the language he used at that point."

The yearly CPJ survey, which provides in-depth reports of jailed, missing and murdered journalists across the world, says reporters continue to face threats, imprisonment, intimidation and killings, with autocratic regimes often involved in the attempts to silence media.

Trends highlighted in the report include the increasing attacks on online journalists, who comprise about half of those in prison worldwide. Internet media outlets and bloggers are now facing threats ranging from electronic monitoring to email hacking and denial of service attacks.

And despite positive reports emerging last year, including Cuba's release of 17 journalists in a deal brokered by Spain and the Catholic Church, the jailing of media professionals is on the increase in many regions.

"In Cuba, just the fact that those journalists were released demonstrates the importance of sustained and engaged advocacy," Simon told reporters. "This took a long time to resolve and it would not have been resolved and those journalists would still be in jail without the sustained international attention to the issue."

In Iran, current detainees include Issa Saharkhiz, an internationally-known veteran journalist, and 18-year-old Navid Mohebbi, a women's rights blogger and the youngest person on CPJ's census.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, told IPS the imprisonments were part of the Iranian government's "protracted battle" with opposition media.

"Iranian prisons for journalists have a revolving door policy, people are going in and out all the time, and the numbers might go up or down by as much as a half a dozen in any given week," Abdel Dayem said.

"The Iranian government wants to limit adversarial media and independent media and media that is not in line with the official government line," he added. "They've done that, really over decades, but in a very persistent and systematic and methodical way since June 2009."

Abdel Dayem said fighting the press crackdown in Iran required constant pressure from the international community.

"The Iranian government, as with any other government, engages in a constant cost-benefit analysis with regard to all their policies, but in particular with regards to their human rights policies or abuses which includes attacks against journalists," he said.

"The Iranian government has proven in the past that when the right amount of pressure by the right people is applied they have let journalists go… so we cannot have a complacent attitude that Iran doesn't care what the international community thinks."

This article first appeared on IPS.

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