The Committee to Protect Journalists on Wednesday released its annual Attacks on the Press report,
which describes 2013 as a deadly and dangerous year for journalists, with 70 killed and more than 200 imprisoned worldwide.
According to research by the New York-based advocacy group, Syria remained the most dangerous country in the world for journalists in 2013. With 29 killed and media kidnappings on the rise, the group says dozens of Syrian reporters have fled the country.
But, Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, says Syria is not the only grim spot in the region, pointing to Iran, Iraq and Egypt as other areas of serious concern.
"Iran remains the second [biggest] jailer of journalists around the world; we have documented 35 journalists behind bars at end of the year," he said. "We are still waiting to assess whether President [Hassan] Rouhani is going to deliver on his promises in terms of press freedom."
Sherif also said Egypt has seen the most significant deterioration in its press record. For the first time it is ranked on CPJ's list of the world's top jailers of journalists, placing ninth, and became the third deadliest place for press to work, following only Syria and Iraq.
Iraq saw 10 media workers killed in 2013 and many leaving the country; CPJ also says Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional authorities repeatedly try to silence critical voices through detentions, denial of credentials and raids of broadcast stations.
CPJ also warns that Russia and Turkey have become more repressive over the past year. Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova says the international spotlight on Russia because of the Sochi Olympic Games has not helped ease restrictions on the Russian press in the past 12 months.
"Russia censored directly or intimidated into self-censorship media outlets and individual journalists through bureaucratic harassment, preventative detentions, politically-motivated inspections and prosecutions," she said, adding that "obstruction and air brushing of critical coverage and harassment of sources" were also cited.
For the second consecutive year Turkey has ranked the world's biggest jailer of journalists, just ahead of Iran and China, with 40 media workers imprisoned.
In Asia, the report says, Hong Kong, once a safe haven for media reporting about mainland China, has seen increased self-censorship and less investigative reporting about China.
The group also says African press freedoms are at risk in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gambia. There have also been negative trends in some more democratic countries including Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, Liberia and South Africa.
The committee, which has been tracking media conditions across the globe for nearly 30 years, also warned that government surveillance programs and the use of digital surveillance programs reported in the recent NSA spying case in the United States pose a new challenge for a free press and the free flow of information.
CPJ Executive Editor Joel Simon said the United Nations has a critical responsibility in ensuring the right to free expression is respected in practice.