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Attacks against journalists on the rise worldwide, says WAN-IFRA report

World Press Freedom Review January-May 2010

(WAN-IFRA/IFEX) - Düsseldorf, Germany, 7 June 2010 - Journalists in many countries face violence and persecution from public officials, criminals and terrorists, with attacks and harassment becoming a daily occurrence for many who challenge repressive governments, report on conflicts and investigate corruption and crime, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) said in its half-year review of global press freedom.

The report, presented Monday (7 June) to the Board of WAN-IFRA, meeting in Düsseldorf, Germany, shows press freedom under attack in many countries on every continent. Ninety-nine journalists were killed in 2009 and at least 33 have been killed since the beginning of 2010. Hundreds have been arrested and at least 140 remain in jail today. Hundreds more have been forced into exile.

"The story of each one of them is different, but all are fundamentally the same too. They were sanctioned for pursuing the human right to inform and to express ideas freely, the condition for achieving any other right," the report said.


Americas

Media professionals face threats from both governments and powerful crime syndicates in the region. Organised crime and high-level corruption remain the most sensitive subjects for journalists, in a region where a deep-rooted culture of impunity prevails and where authoritarian and populist regimes do not tolerate scrutiny or dissent.

With six journalists killed in Honduras in just over a month, the small Central American republic is the deadliest place for journalists so far in 2010. Mexico also remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists to practice their profession, with five killed so far this year, mostly for their coverage of drug trafficking. Most analysts remain sceptical of the government's ability and will to protect journalists.

In Cuba, independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas went on a hunger strike immediately after the death of jailed dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience and jailed journalists. Zapata had refused food for two months before his death. With at least 24 journalists in jail, Cuba is the world's third biggest jailer of journalists and one of the most repressive environments for media.

Middle East and North Africa

The majority of those in power in the Middle East and North Africa resort to harassment, censorship, prosecution, fines and imprisonment of news media professionals as a means of controlling information.

In Iran, some 50 journalists remain in prison, more than a third of all journalists imprisoned worldwide. Harassment, defamation lawsuits and other measures are being used, notably, in Bahrain, Yemen, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, and Tunisia to control the press and limit free and independent information.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the widespread use of defamation and libel laws to silence critics, journalists and citizens continue to vigorously and courageously campaign for freedom of expression in Africa. Nevertheless, sub-Saharan Africa remains a dangerous place for the media. Journalists are subject to harassment, violence and threats by heads of state, elected officials, corrupt authorities and militia.

Cases of violence, prosecutions, imprisonment and censorship occurred in Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda during this period. By contrast, Kenyans are expected to approve a new Constitution in August that includes the right to freedom of expression and information. And Niger held a three-day national conference in March on putting an end of the criminalisation of press offenses; a draft law has been approved, the Niamey Press Club has reopened and prison sentences for journalists have been repealed.

Europe and Central Asia

A culture of harassment, intimidation and assaults against journalists continues in some countries in Europe and Central Asia. A growing number of nations are proposing legislation aimed at stifling press freedom, particularly in the name of anti-terrorism.

Bulgaria remains a country where it is difficult for journalists to report freely and safely, due to organised crime, assaults, death threats and broken promises. Pledges by the new government for a more independent press have not materialised.

Russia remains among the world's most difficult media environments. In April, legislation was introduced to counteract terrorism that broadened the definition of extremism to include criticism of officials. The legislation gives the Federal Security Service powers to order editors to remove articles that "aid extremists" and "appear undesirable." The penalties for non-compliance include fines and jail terms.

In March, six newspapers in Estonia published blank pages to protest against a proposed law that would reduce the protection afforded to journalists' sources. Insult laws remain a real danger for journalists and publishers in Uzbekistan, Belarus and Turkey. By contrast, the National Assembly of Armenia has approved the decriminalisation of defamation, including libel and insult. If signed into law, the measure would remove imprisonment from the list of penalties for defamation.

Asia

Governments across Asia continue to apply a range of methods to restrict press freedom as a means of controlling their societies and limiting the spread of dissent. The continent remains one of the most repressive areas in the world for independent media, which face state interference, impunity for acts of violence against journalists and lack of protection for media professionals.

Kidnapping and the deliberate targeting of journalists continue to make Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for media professionals. Four journalists have been killed in Pakistan so far this year.

Surveillance of the internet in China continues to worsen, with the government announcing new legislation that requires website operators to meet with regulators in person. Google's decision to stop censoring its Chinese search engine has at the very least launched a debate in China on the issue of the 'Great Firewall'. Before the dispute, only 5 percent of Chinese internet users were aware that the web they saw was censored.

Over 200 people were indicted on 9 February in the Philippines for involvement in the November 2009 massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, in an election dispute. Authorities have been asked to act swiftly to protect eyewitnesses who fear they will be targeted in a case that allegedly involves local police, military and political personnel.

Read the full report

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