The group Reporters Without Borders says the number of journalists and media workers killed or imprisoned around the world in 2006 was the highest in more than a decade. In its annual report, the organization calls for democratic countries to take more action to defend freedom of speech and the press. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.
Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) Washington representative Lucie Morillon says the group's report focuses on what she calls the "most flagrant violations of press freedom" in more than 90 countries. She described North Korea, Eritrea, Cuba and Turkmenistan as "especially major perpetrators."
The group says 110 journalists and media workers were killed last year, which Morillon added was the highest toll since 1994.
"A disturbing, record number of journalists and media workers were killed in 2006, and we are also very concerned with 2007," she said. "Six journalists and four media assistants have already been killed this year."
The most dangerous country for journalists was Iraq, where 65 reporters, most of them local journalists, were killed and 20 were kidnapped, in 2006. Iraqi reporter Huda Ahmed, who is the United States on a fellowship, said for her colleagues, doing their jobs is always dangerous.
"They do not have bodyguards," he noted. "They do not live in secure areas. They do not drive in armored cars. They do not have the help of American forces, if they get attacked or assaulted anywhere. They have to do it on their own."
The report says the second most deadly country in the world last year was Mexico, where nine journalists were murdered and three went missing. Mexican journalist Jose Carreno pointed out that his country is not at war, in the traditional sense.
"It is an aggression being waged by criminal organizations, especially drug trafficking, against society," he explained. "And the government, the law enforcement authorities at different levels, appear to be until now either unable, incapable or disinterested to face that challenge."
Reporters Without Borders calls China the world's largest prison for journalists. Watson Meng runs a U.S.-based independent Website that focuses on news about China.
"According to RSF's latest report, China has 52 people in jail because of Internet expression. This actual number is unknown because it is a state secret," he said.
The report accuses the Chinese government of withholding information and forcing Chinese media to self-censor. But Reporters Without Borders' Morillon says her group holds out hope, following recent meetings with Chinese government officials in Beijing.
"We held talks with the authorities and raised the issue of press freedom and how to improve it," she added. "Government officials said they were ready to reconsider the status of journalists and Internet users currently in jail in the country."
Morillon says Reporters without Borders welcomes the Chinese government's promises of greater media freedom, but will be closely watching to see if Beijing follows-up on its commitment. She adds that the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing present an opportunity for the international community to, in her words, "pressure Chinese authorities on human rights and freedom issues."