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Rwanda and Syria join ranks of 10 worst countries for journalists, says RSF

Rwanda and Syria joined a list of the 10 most repressive countries toward journalists, while Northern European countries continue to lead the world in respecting free expression, according to the just released annual ranking of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

RSF said press freedom in the 10 countries - rounded out by North Korea, Burma, China, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Eritrea - continues to deteriorate. "It is getting harder to say which is worse than the other," RSF said.

Six northern European countries have topped the 178-country index since it was created - Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland - for setting an example for respecting journalists and news media and protecting them from judicial abuse, said RSF. But RSF warned that while 13 of the European Union's 27 members make the top 20, some of the others are very low in the rankings. (Italy stands at 49th place, Romania is at 52 and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70.)

"More than ever before, we see that economic development, institutional reform and respect for fundamental rights do not necessarily go hand in hand. The defence of media freedom continues to be a battle, a battle of vigilance in the democracies of old Europe and a battle against oppression and injustice in the totalitarian regimes still scattered across the globe," said RSF secretary general Jean-François Julliard.

According to the report, Asia's four Communist regimes are among the 15 lowest-ranked countries with North Korea at 177th place, China at 171, Vietnam at 165 and Laos at 168. In "hellish totalitarian North Korea," RSF says, "crackdowns have become even harsher."

The 2010 index highlights major differences in press freedom in the four emerging BRIC economies - Brazil, Russia, India and China. Brazil rose 12 places to 58 because of favourable legislative changes, while India dropped 17 places to 122, mainly due to extreme violence in Kashmir. Russia is at 140.

Political conflicts and disputed elections produced heavy falls in the rankings. Ukraine lost 42 places and is now at 131 following Viktor Yanukovych's election as President in February. The Philippines fell 34 places to 156 after last November's massacre of 30 media workers in Maguindanao. Rwanda fell 12 places to 169 following President Paul Kagame's return to power in a highly controversial election, and the closure of leading independent publications.

For the fourth straight year Eritrea closed the list at 178. RSF said 30 journalists and four media contributors are being held incommunicado "in the most appalling conditions without any right to trial."

The report and ranking are available online on RSF's website, where you can also easily compare how a country has fared each year since the index was created.

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