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RSF's Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007: Eritrea ranked last for first time while G8 members, except Russia, recover lost ground

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of an RSF press release:

Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007
Eritrea ranked last for first time while G8 members, except Russia, recover lost ground
Journalists still scapegoats of African political crises

Eritrea has replaced North Korea in last place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world, published today by Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year running.

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G8 members, except Russia, show slight improvement

After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, G8 members have recovered a few places. France (31st), for example, has climbed six places in the past year. French journalists were spared the violence that affected them at the end of 2005 in a labour conflict in Corsica and during the demonstrations in the city suburbs. But many concerns remain about repeated censorship, searches of news organisations, and a lack of guarantees for the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeera's Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.

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Fickleness of young democracies

Some non-European countries have made their first appearance in the top 50. They are Mauritania (50th), which has climbed 88 places since 2004, Uruguay (37th) and Nicaragua (47th). We hope these improvements will be lasting ones, Reporters Without Borders said. Bolivia (68th) rose dramatically last year, but that improvement unfortunately seems to have been purely circumstantial as it has fallen many places this year because of serious press freedom violations.

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War and peace

War is largely responsible for the low position assigned to some countries. The increase in fighting in Somalia (159th) and Sri Lanka (156th) has made it very hard for journalists to work. Several have been killed and censorship has been stepped up as clashes became frequent. The belligerents refuse to recognise journalists' rights and accuse them of supporting the other side.

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Political tensions in Africa

The long crisis in Ethiopia (150th) that began with the November 2005 round-ups began to abate in the spring of this year with the acquittal of some of the imprisoned journalists. An additional step was achieved in July with the release of leaders of the opposition party that had been accused of trying to overthrow the government, and with them, the release of the last of their journalist co-defendants. As a result, Ethiopia has risen from the bottom rungs of the ranking even if the frequent imprisonment of journalists, the climate of self-censorship and the unclear status of political prisoners, including two Eritrean journalists captured in Somalia, still weigh heavily.

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Government repression no longer ignores bloggers

The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.

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To read the full press release, see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24025

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