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CAPSULE REPORT: CPJ analyses global trends in imprisonment of journalists; one in six held without charge

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is an abridged CPJ press release:

CPJ: One in 6 jailed journalists are held without charge
Census shows an overall decline; China remains the leading jailer

New York, December 5, 2007 - One in six journalists jailed worldwide are being held without any publicly disclosed charge, many for months or years at a time and some in secret locations, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found in a new analysis.

CPJ's annual worldwide census of imprisoned journalists found 127 behind bars on December 1, a decrease of seven from the 2006 tally. The drop is due in large part to the release this year of 15 Ethiopian journalists who were either acquitted or pardoned of antistate charges stemming from a broad government crackdown on the press. CPJ and others had waged an intensive advocacy campaign on their behalf.

China, which has failed to meet its promises to improve press freedom before the 2008 Olympics, continued to be the world's leading jailer of journalists, a dishonor it has held for nine consecutive years. Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, and Azerbaijan round out the top five jailers among the 24 nations that imprison journalists.

Antistate allegations such as subversion, divulging state secrets, and acting against national interests remain the most common charge used to imprison journalists worldwide, CPJ found. About 57 percent of journalists in the census are jailed under these charges, many of them by the Chinese and Cuban governments.

The proportion of journalists held without any charge at all increased for the third consecutive year. Eritrea and Iran account for many of these cases, but the United States has used this tactic as well. U.S. authorities have not filed charges or presented evidence against Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, held for more than five years at Guantánamo Bay, or Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, held in Iraq for more than 19 months. The U.S. military said in November that Hussein's case would be referred to Iraqi courts for prosecution but continued to withhold details explaining the basis for the detention.

"Imprisoning journalists on the basis of assertions alone should not be confused with a legal process. This is nothing less than state-sponsored abduction," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "While we believe every one of these 127 journalists should be released, we are especially concerned for those detained without charge because they're often held in abysmal conditions, cut off from their lawyers and their families."

The practice of holding journalists without charge has eroded basic standards of fairness and accountability. Iranian authorities, for example, jailed Mohammad Seddigh Kaboudvand in July, but they have yet to file formal charges or bring the editor before a judge. Kaboudvand's lawyer has not been allowed to see him or review the government's case. Eritrean authorities will not even confirm whether the journalists in its custody are alive or dead. At least 19 journalists worldwide are being held in secret locations, CPJ found, with Eritrea the worst offender in this regard.

Continuing a decade-long trend, Internet journalists make up an increasing proportion of CPJ's census. Bloggers, online editors, and Web-based reporters constitute about 39 percent of journalists jailed worldwide. Print journalists make up the largest professional category, accounting for about half of those in jail.

The rise of Internet journalism and its risks are evident in China, where 18 of the 29 jailed journalists worked online. China's list includes Shi Tao, an award-winning journalist serving a 10-year sentence for e-mailing details of a government propaganda directive to an overseas Web site. The Internet giant Yahoo supplied account information to Chinese authorities that led to Shi's 2004 arrest and triggered an ongoing debate over corporate responsibility.

China continues to rely heavily on the use of vague antistate charges, imprisoning 22 journalists on accusations such as "inciting subversion of state power." Despite China's 2001 promises to the International Olympic Committee that it would ensure "complete media freedom," its leaders continue to jail reporters and operate a vast system of censorship, CPJ found in a special report in August. CPJ has urged the IOC and the Games' corporate sponsors to hold Beijing accountable to its word.

"China has remained the world's worst jailer of journalists from the day the Games were awarded through today, just months before the Olympics are scheduled to begin," said CPJ's Simon. "China and the IOC have an obligation to make good on the broad promises made when Beijing was selected. For the torch to be lit in Beijing next August as 29 journalists languish in jail would mock the ideals of the Olympic movement."

(. . . )

CPJ's list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1, 2007. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at http://www.cpj.org . Journalists remain on CPJ's list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody.

Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by nonstate entities, including criminal gangs, rebels, or militant groups, are not included on the imprisoned list. Their cases are classified as "missing" or "abducted." Details of these cases are also available on CPJ's Web site.

For the full press release, with additional links, go to: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2007/imprisoned_07/imprisoned_07.html

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org

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