A press advocacy group says 2009 was a deadly year for reporters around the world, with at least 71 killed. But the Philippines saw the deadliest single attack ever on the press, with the execution of 31 journalists and media workers by militiamen loyal to a powerful political clan. Meanwhile, China and Iran topped the Committee to Protect Journalists' list of countries that have the most reporters in their jails.
The Committee to Protect Journalists - or CPJ - says in its Attacks on the Press report that 2009 was the worst year for journalists' deaths in the nearly three decades since it started keeping records.
"It was a bad year for journalist deaths, it was also a bad year for authoritarian and repressive governments putting journalists behind bars," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "We saw an increase in the number of journalists imprisoned. Some 136 were imprisoned when we did our census in December, and since then, things have got worse."
He cited the media crackdown in Iran that began after the disputed June presidential election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to power and saw scores of reporters and bloggers thrown into jail. As of the end of December, 23 remained behind bars, making Iran the second largest jailer of the media after China.
Maziar Bahari, a correspondent for the U.S. magazine Newsweek, found himself part of that crackdown. He spent 118 days in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, most of it in solitary confinement, accused of spying for the foreign media.
"The function of my arrest - and the function of myself - was supposed to be connecting the reformist opposition to the Western governments," said Bahari. "So, many hours of interrogation spent on asking me about different reformist politicians that I didn't know really. And they wanted to force me to confess that yes, I was spying for foreign government and yes, I was in touch with different reformist politicians, and I was giving them guidelines in regards to what they should do based on what I heard from that Western government."
Bahari warned that the Iranian authorities have also stepped up their campaign against the country's Internet bloggers.
"I think the government of Iran in the beginning it did not pay attention to the cyber space, but recently they have passed a series of cyber crime laws and digital crime laws, that also includes the mobile texts and any kind of digital, as they call it "misinformation", that can be criminalized," he said.
Bloggers are also under attack in China. CPJ's Asia expert, Bob Dietz, said that although China has the most Internet users in the world, it also has the largest and most overt Internet censorship apparatus.
"The vast majority of Chinese journalists who are in jail at this point, are in jail because of on-line activity. I think we put the number at 24 journalists imprisoned at the end of this year [sic]. I think the figure is two-thirds, isn't it, of those people in jail are in jail for Internet activity," he said.
The CPJ report also singled out abuses against the press in other parts of the world.
In Africa, the report said high numbers of local journalists have fled or been forced into exile after being assaulted, threatened or imprisoned. While in the Middle East and North Africa, journalists that are reporting on human rights violations are under pressure from their governments. In Latin America, reporting on crime and corruption can be a dangerous occupation. And CPJ warns that the northern Caucuses of Russia remain one of the most dangerous regions in the world for journalists to work.
The advocacy group credits its work with contributing to the release of 45 jailed journalists last year.