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Press Freedom Group Calls Attention to Imprisoned Journalists

A leading media advocacy group says more than 100 journalists are being held in prisons worldwide, simply for doing their jobs. The group Reporters Without Borders set aside November 24 as Jailed Journalists' Support Day, to call attention to the issue.

Among the 128 jailed journalists is Cuba's Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso. The editor of a magazine called De Cuba, Mr. Gonzalez Alfonso was arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, as part of a crackdown on dissidents.

Reporters Without Borders says he is in a Cuban prison alongside dangerous criminals, for publishing stories highlighting racism and calling for peaceful democratic reforms.

The media group's Washington representative, Lucie Morillon, says Mr. Gonzalez Alfonso firmly believes his role as a journalist is to break the government's monopoly on the news, not to perpetuate it.

"We are kind of worried for him," she said. "He staged a hunger strike in December 2003 to protest against being put among common law prisoners hostile to him, and the problem of prison harassment has continued since."

Reporters Without Borders is dedicated to ending harassment of the press.

As it has for the past 15 years, the international organization encourages media outlets worldwide to observe Jailed Journalists' Support Day to highlight the plight of a particular imprisoned journalist through news stories, programs or special events.

Ms. Morillon says the goal is to remind oppressive governments that the imprisoned journalists are not forgotten.

She says some journalists have been freed after their cases received international attention, such as Burmese journalist San San Nweh, released in 2001, after serving seven years of a 10-year sentence.

"She had been released after a lot of media, a lot of news organizations decided to voice their concern for her," she added. "In Russia, also, Gregory Pasko has been released after he received a lot of publicity. It's hard to tell that we are responsible for them being released, but we know it helps."

Ms. Morillon adds that in the past month, a few Cuban journalists have also been released, but she warns that it is not a sign of widespread improvements.

"Two or three journalists have been released this last month in Cuba," she noted. "But it's not proof that the situation is getting better. We have to go on letting them know what is going on and know that sometimes the campaign for the release of a journalist can lead to better conditions of detention because the regime holding them knows they are not forgotten and that the international community's attention is focused on the journalist."

Reporters Without Borders says in addition to the 128 jailed journalists, 70 cyber-dissidents are in prison for publishing reports critical of their governments on Web sites or in e-mailed newsletters.