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Freelance journalists fill jail cells, says CPJ prison census

Freelancers make up 45 percent of all journalists in jail, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its 2009 prison census. CPJ recorded a total of 136 reporters, editors and photojournalists behind bars on 1 December, an increase of 11 from the 2008 tally. At least 60 freelancers are behind bars; double the number from three years ago.

China is the worst jailer of journalists, says CPJ. Iran, Cuba, Eritrea and Burma are included in the top five jailers from a list of 26 countries that imprison journalists. Freelancers are especially vulnerable to imprisonment because they don't have the legal and financial support of a media organisation. Also, as news outlets cut costs, they rely on freelancers for international coverage. The rise of online journalism has also created a new generation of reporters who publish on their own.

At least 68 bloggers, Web-based reporters and online editors are imprisoned, making up half of all journalists currently in jail. And at least 51 print reporters, editors and photographers are in jail, with television and radio journalists constituting the rest. Sedition is the most common charge used to imprison journalists. Meanwhile, governments are increasingly bypassing due process for detained journalists and filing no charges. At least 20 journalists are being held in secret locations.

In China, 22 of the 24 journalists imprisoned are freelancers. This includes Dhondup Wangchen, a documentary filmmaker detained in 2008 for recording footage in Tibet.

In Eritrea, the government has refused to reveal whether its detainees are still alive. There are 19 journalists being held in the gulag of Eritrean prisons scattered throughout the country.

In Iran, most journalists currently in prison were rounded up in the recent post-election crackdown. Half of those detained are online journalists.

Most of the 22 writers and editors in prison in Cuba were swept up in Fidel Castro's brutal crackdown in 2003. Many have suffered a decline in health because of inhumane and unsanitary prison conditions.

There are nine journalists incarcerated in Burma. A video-journalist known as "T", who reported for the Oslo-based media organisation Democratic Voice of Burma, has been detained for helping to make a documentary called "Orphans of the Burmese Cyclone".

Internet and print journalists comprise the bulk of the census. In other cases, journalists are charged for violations of censorship rules or with charges unrelated to journalism, like regulatory violations or drug charges. During the past year, CPJ advocacy has helped release at least 45 imprisoned journalists.

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