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IFJ marks World Press Freedom Day by calling for release of jailed journalists

(IFJ/IFEX) - 2 May 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates are marking this year's World Press Freedom Day by calling for the release of journalists held for their professional activities. The IFJ says that reform of criminal defamation law and anti-terror legislation is urgently needed as they account for the majority of reporters' detention cases.

“We are witnessing unprecedented levels of criminal litigation against journalists in many countries,” said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha. “This is one of the worst forms of censorship facing media and governments must repeal criminal defamation law and review the anti-terror laws which represent a major obstacle to genuine press freedom.”

Over 150 journalists are currently in jail around the world, some of whom have been detained for years without trial. In China, over 20 journalists have been arrested as the authorities continue their attempts to control and censure independent reporting.

In Eritrea, at least 25 journalists have been detained without ever being charged with any criminal offences. Some of them have spent over a decade in jail following the government's drive to suppress independent media in the country.

Seven journalists are believed to be held in Ethiopia, including two Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson who have been convicted on terrorism charges.

In Iran, the IFJ affiliated organisation, the Association of Iranian (AoIJ) Journalists estimates that 30 journalists remain behind bars following the media clampdown in the wake of the disputed presidential election of June 2009. Turkey, meanwhile, has the record of held journalists with over 60 of them in prison facing terror-related accusations.

Journalists often face rough justice, including denial of due process and justice. The Federation says the detention of Yemeni journalist AbdelHadi Al Shaye is a case in point. Al Shaye was pardoned by former President Ali Abdallah Saleh but is being kept behind bars to serve out his three year jail term at the behest of the US administration for alleged links with al Qaida.

The IFJ welcomed the recent release of all detained journalists in Burma but warns that for many of their colleagues around the world, World Press Freedom Day rings hollow when their rights are routinely ignored and freedoms violated.

“Governments should stop paying lip service to press freedom and live up to their international obligations, including enforcing journalists' rights,” added Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary. “In this regard, they should make the release of all detained journalists their top priority.”

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