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Attacks On The Press:  Committee To Protect Journalists Releases Annual Survey - 2004-03-12

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 36 journalists were killed in 2003, a sharp increase from the year before, when 19 died in the line of duty. The CPJ has released its annual survey: Attacks on the Press.

The CPJ says, “The war in Iraq is the primary reason for the increase.” Thirteen journalists – more than a third of the casualties – died there. And it says, “For the second year in a row, 136 journalists were imprisoned around the world.” The group calls China the “world’s leading jailer” for holding 39 journalists behind bars. It was the fifth year in a row China held the top spot.

Meanwhile, Eritrea – according to the report – is the leading jailer in sub-Saharan Africa. Julia Crawford is Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Eritrea is the major country of concern and the situation has not budged there since 2001 when the government conducted a massive crackdown on the press, detaining journalists, closing the whole of the independent press basically. Out of the 19 journalists who were jailed in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2003, 17 of them are in Eritrea. And those journalists are detained incommunicado, so it’s extremely difficult to get any information about where they are or their state of health. In most cases there families don’t even know where they are. There’s no independent press in Eritrea."

The government has called the detained journalists “mercenaries.” However, the CPJ says despite the allegations no formal charges have been filed and no date has been set to prosecute them.

Ms. Crawford says the organization is also concerned about the state of the press in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where civil war has claimed millions of lives.

"The lawlessness there, insecurity there have meant that journalists have had a very difficult job – still have a very difficult job. You know, they’re often being harassed, detained, and have very little recourse to the law because there has been no rule of law. There’s a lot of attempts at bribery and extortion. Everyone hopes that perhaps the situation is starting to improve or can now improve now that there’s a peace agreement."

The press situation in Ivory Coast attracted much attention following the October murder of RFI journalist Jean Helene. A police officer was sentence to 17 years in prison for the shooting death.

"Ivory Coast continues to be a country of concern. We think the government needs to refrain from any kind of support, for example, the young groups that have been destroying newspapers. And the government must take a strong stand on trying to ensure there’s an atmosphere for a free and responsible press to operate and to ensure security for journalists."

Ms. Crawford says the Committee to Protect Journalists continues to watch developments in Zimbabwe, where it says the “government has pursued a relentless crackdown on the private press through harassment, censorship and restrictive legislation.”

"As you know, for the last four years now the Zimbabwean government has been conducting a systematic campaign of harassment of the independent press. They’ve introduced this repressive new law, which virtually, the effect is that it’s a crime to practice journalism without authorization from the government."

Togo, along with Eritrea, has made the list of the “World’s Worst Places to be a Journalist.” CPJ says Togo has “a press code that imposes sentences of up to five years in prison and a hefty fine for insulting the Head of State.”

In all, three journalists were killed in Africa in 2003, two in Ivory Coast and one in Somalia.

The Attacks on the Press 2003 report says media professionalism in sub-Saharan Africa is a cause for concern, especially because of low pay and lack of training. Both of which, it says, “may increase the temptation for journalists to accept bribes.”

The CPJ also says, “Radio remains the only effective way to bring information to the majority of people in most Africa countries, where high rates of illiteracy and the costs of print media often confine newspapers’ influence to elite circles.”