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Press Advocacy Group: East Asian Journalists Face Many Risks - 2002-03-27

The new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) details a range of pressures and problems facing journalists in East Asia.

According to the report, titled Attacks on the Press in 2001, China remained the world's number one jailer of journalists last year. Ann Cooper, executive director of the CPJ says, "In China, the world's leading jailer of journalists, three years in a row now, another eight journalists were arrested last year. So, China ended the year with a total of 35 journalists behind bars."

Those 35 include a prominent journalist, Jiang Weiping, jailed for reporting on corrupt local officials. Although Chinese authorities have publicly encouraged journalists to work on uncovering crime and corruption, the CPJ report says those who go beyond certain boundaries face severe reprisal.

CPJ points to what it calls attempts to stifle critical reporting about Communist party leadership and plans for succession. And it details what it calls the first documented case of a reporter being killed - a journalist, Feng Zhaoxia, for a newspaper in Xian province.

Kavita Menon is Asia program coordinator for CPJ. She says there is a battle going on in China about the role of the press, and journalists can easily become the victims.

"The press over the past couple of years has been doing much more aggressive reporting on the subjects of crime, and local corruption, but there are clearly limits on what they can cover and what sorts of abuses they are permitted to expose, and if they run afoul of certain local authorities there really are no protections," she said.

In Vietnam, there was no change in strict control of the media. CPJ says despite Vietnam's closer ties with the international community, journalists face harsh punishments for everything from writing about top leaders to what the government defines as state secrets, including the most basic economic information.

The report says Vietnamese government controls on the Internet impede circulation of independent news and opinion. Websites containing information on dissident movements are blocked, although these tactics were often not effective.

The CPJ report expresses concern about press freedom in three countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Journalists in Indonesia were subject to physical attack, and self-censorship was common. CPJ says there was no progress on drafting constitutional changes aimed at protecting the press.

In the Philippines, the report refers to what it calls an "alarmingly high incidence of violence against journalists," with 37 killed since 1986, the highest of any country in the world.

In Thailand, considered to have the freest press in Southeast Asia, the CPJ report says press freedom suffered setbacks as the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra attempted to pressure journalists.

In early 2002, a period not covered by the CPJ report, the Thai government tried unsuccessfully to expel two foreign journalists for articles they wrote mentioning criticism of the prime minister by Thailand's king.

Strict government controls continued in Singapore and Malaysia. CPJ says mainstream Malaysian media were kept on a tight leash through political pressure, threats and licensing restrictions. In Singapore, foreign media were prevented from covering local politics, and new regulations came into force to prevent independent political commentary on the internet.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, military government control over the press in Burma remains absolute. Although a prominent journalist, San San Nwe, was freed from jail in 2001, 12 others remained in prison, including U Win Tin.

In Laos, the CPJ report says the press remains among the most restricted in Asia, with criticism of the country's leadership prohibited, and foreign news reports censored.