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Report Says Number of Journalists Killed Increased in 2003 - 2004-03-11

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has documented a sharp increase in the number of reporters killed in 2003, primarily because of the war in Iraq. The survey also highlights crackdowns against the press in China and Cuba.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says 36 journalists were killed around the world last year as a direct result of their work, compared to 19 reporters killed in 2002. The killings of journalists spanned the globe, from Colombia, Iran and Ivory Coast, to the Philippines, Russia, and the West Bank.

But CPJ director Ann Cooper says more than one-third of the casualties occurred in Iraq. "2003 was a terrible year for journalists in terms of the number of journalists killed. Now the biggest factor in that, obviously, was the war in Iraq," she says. "Thirteen journalists died in hostile acts during the year in Iraq and unfortunately, even though the war has been declared over, there is still a lot of unrest and a lot of violence and journalists continue to take risks every day when they are out there doing their jobs in Iraq."

Ms. Cooper says she believes press freedom and safety in Iraq will remain a major focus in the next year. The CPJ director says the situation in Iraq has led to a fierce debate among journalists about whether traveling with armed guards blurs their role as neutral observers.

The monitoring group is also highlighting media repression, including assassination, assault, imprisonment, censorship and legal harassment. The CPJ report says in 2003, 136 journalists were imprisoned for doing their jobs in 95 nations.

CPJ recorded significant drops in the number of journalists in prison in Nepal and Turkey. But a massive government crackdown on political dissidents in Cuba led to harsh prison terms to 29 independent Cuban journalists.

Journalists are also in prison for doing their jobs in Burma, Eritrea, and Vietnam. And for the fifth year, China ranks as "the world's leading jailer of journalists," according to the group, with 39 reporters behind bars. Committee to Protect Journalists' Ann Cooper says some journalists were arrested after the government relaxed controls on covering local corruption.

"China is very determined to try to control the Internet and how it is used to disseminate information," says Ms. Cooper. "So some of these cases that we see in China are people using the Internet to try to disseminate news, often news about China's human rights record, and when these people cross this invisible line and anger the government, the government finds them and some of them end up in prison."

Ms. Cooper expressed concern that Morocco used new anti-terrorism laws to arrest journalists in 2003. Although the journalists have since been released, she says the problem is increasing throughout the world. "The truly worrisome trend that I see looking across the globe at more than the 100 countries that we monitor is how frequently governments are now using national security or fighting terrorism as excuses to crack down on the media," she says.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is also urging democracies, including the United States, to hold some of its allies in the war on terrorism in Central Asia accountable for abuses of press freedom.