SURREY – Committee To Protect Journalists, renewed independent and non-governmental organization devoted to promotion press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal, issued recent two important annual reports. According to CPJ’s report on journalist imprisonment in 2011 number of those put behind bars jumped worldwide and Iran is leader, while Pakistan is a worldwide deadliest nation. 

PAKISTAN AGAIN DEADLIEST

“Pakistan remained the deadliest country for the press for a second year, while across the world coverage of political unrest proved unusually dangerous in 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in it year-end survey of journalists fatalities. CPJ’s analysis found notable shifts from historical data: Targeted murders declined while deaths during dangerous assignments such as the coverage of street protests reached their highest level on record. Photographers and camera operators, of the most vulnerable during violent unrest, died at rates more than twice the historical average”, reports CPJ.

In 2011 43 journalists were killed around the world in direct relation to their work duties. Pakistan leads this year list with seven deaths marking heaviest losses in a single nation, on 2nd and 3rd place are Iraq and Libya each five deaths, followed by Mexico with three deaths in 2011. In comparison with 2010 global tally is consistent, CPJ recorded 44 direct related deaths in 2010. Additional investigations were started in another 35 deaths in 2011 to determine wether they were work-related. CPJ’s analysis for 2011 identified significant changes in the nature of journalist fatalities, dangerous assignments claimed 16 journalists this year, majority of them while covering chaotic and confrontations between authorities and protesters during recent uprisings in Arab world better known as “Arab Spring”.

Khadzhimurad Kamalov, Dagestan journalist killed on December 15th

“Journalists working in this environment are in no less than war correspondents covering an armed conflict. The greatest danger journalists are facing today in post-revolution Arab countries is the targeting of journalists by political forces hostile to anyone who exposes them”, said to CPJ Ahmed Tarek, a reporter for the Middle East News Agency who was assaulted by police while covering protests in Alexandria, Egypt.

Number of 2011 targeted murders is on a lowest level since 2002, with 19 murders. As it was expected Russia found it’s space at the top of the list, followed by Philippines. CPJ points out recent death of Dagestan independent journalist and Chernikov newspaper editor Khadzimurad Kamalov, shot to death on December 15th, and a case of Philippines radio commentator Romeo Olea who was shot in the back while riding his motorcycle to work.

“Photojournalists suffered particular heavy losses in 2011. Photographers and camera operators constituted about 40 percent of the overall death toll, about double the proportion CPJ has documented since it begin keeping detailed fatality records in 1992. Among those killed was Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, a photographer for European Pressphoto Agency who was struck by a tear gas canister fired by security forces trying to quell a massive January protest that led to ouster of President Zine El Abiding Ben Ali”, said CPJ’s report.

What I’m found interesting as that is also pointed out by CPJ increase in worldwide tally constituted by online journalists is increasing steadily, total number of online journalists killed in 2011 is eight. Main reason for this trend is an greater proportion of the front-line reporting corps composed by online journalists. Significant and worrying fact is that almost one third of overall tally is constituted by freelance journalists, CPJ’s analysis points out case of Azerbaijani freelance reporter Rafiq Tagi who died last month after being stabbed on a Baku street.

“Anti-press violence continued at high levels in Pakistan, where 29 journalists have died in direct relation to their work in the past five years. The 2011 victims included Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for Asia Times Online, who was murdered after exposing links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s navy. Five of the seven fatalities in Pakistan were targeted murders, and all are unsolved. Long-term CPJ research shows Pakistan to be among the worst countries in the world in bringing the killers of journalists to justice. ‘The solution is simple and very difficult at the same time,’ said Pakistani reporter Umar Cheema, who was himself abducted and brutally assaulted in 2010. ‘The government should be taking it seriously and realize it is their duty to protect journalists. If a journalist is threatened, the culprit should be brought to justice. Even if in one case the culprits were brought to justice, that would be a clear message that the crime will not go unpunished”, said report.

IRAN WORLDWIDE LEADER

“The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide shot up more than 20 percent to its highest level since the mid-1990s, and increase driven largely by widespread jailings across the Middle East and North Africa, the CPJ has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, and increase of 34 over its 2010 tally”, says analysis in opening lines.

On December 1 Iran was the world’s worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars, as authorities kept up a campaign of anti-press intimidation that began after the country’s disputed elections almost three years ago. Iran’s followers on the list of the worst are Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria and Turkey. Positive news are coming from Americas were CPJ for the first time since 1990 didn’t record any imprisoned journalists, while Europe and Central Asia are following with gradual decline – currently only eight journalists are behind bars. Middle East and Nortg Africa, recently hit by uprisings against dictatorship regimes, accounted nearly 45 percent of the worldwide total, with 77 imprisoned journalists, Asia and Africa accounted for dozens of imprisonments.

Russian police arrests journalists during recent anti-Putin protest in Moscow

“While Iran’s 2009 post-election crackdown marked the beginning of widespread press imprisonments there, authorities have maintained a revolving cell door since that time, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests. Journalists freed on furloughs often post six-figure bonds and endure severe political pressure to keep silent or turn on their colleagues. “The volume of arrests, interrogations, and people out on bail is enormous,” said Omid Memarian, an exiled Iranian journalist. “The effect is that many journalists know they should not touch critical subjects. It really affects the way they cover the news because they are under constant fear and intimidation.” Among the 2011 detainees is Iranian editor Mohammad Davari, a CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner whose website exposed the abuse and rape of inmates at the now- closed Kahrizak Detention Center. More than half of the Iranian detainees are being held on antistate charges similar to those lodged against Davari”, said report.

While some of countries mentioned in this report are holding journalists behind bars without pressing any charges or due to lengthy processes as I mentioned in my previous blog post Turkey holds some journalists up to three years without being charged or trial process even started. China as one of the worst oppressors against journalists continues ruthless crackdown on editors and writers who sought to give voice to the nation’s Tibetan and Uighur minority groups. According to this year report seventeen of 27 journalists jailed in China covered minority groups, while the rest were online writers expressing dissident political views.

“An ongoing crackdown against online reporting and commentary made Vietnam the world’s fifth worst jailer. All nine of the Vietnamese journalists behind bars on December 1 were bloggers who covered politically sensitive topics or the affairs of religious minorities. Among the detainees was Pham Minh Hoang, a blogger who wrote about official corruption, environmental degradation, and perceived government foreign policy failures. Worldwide, 86 journalists whose work appeared primarily online were in jail on December 1, constituting nearly half of the census. The proportion is consistent with those seen in CPJ’s previous two surveys, which had followed several years of significant increases in the numbers of imprisoned online journalists. Print journalists constituted the second largest professional group, with 51 jailed worldwide. The other detainees were from radio, television, and documentary filmmaking”, states report.

Few other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s analysis:

  • The worldwide total is at its highest point since 1996, when CPJ recorded 185 journalists behind bars, a figure driven by Turkey’s suppression of ethnic Kurdish journalists. The increase over the 2010 tally was the biggest single-year jump in a decade.
  • At least 78 freelance journalists were in prison worldwide, constituting about 45 percent of the census, a proportion consistent with those seen in the previous two surveys. Freelance journalists can be vulnerable to imprisonment because they often do not have the legal and monetary support that news organizations can provide to staffers.
  • Anti-state charges were the most common charge used to jail journalists. Violations of censorship rules, the second most common charge, were applied in 14 cases.
  • In 11 cases, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to retaliate against critical writers, editors, and photojournalists. Such charges range from drug possession to tax evasion. In the cases included in this census, CPJ has determined that the charges were most likely lodged in reprisal for the journalist’s work.
  • Charges of criminal defamation, reporting “false” news, and engaging in ethnic or religious “insult” constitute the other charges filed against journalists in the census.
  • For the first time in more than a decade, China did not lead or jointly lead the list of countries jailing journalists. That it was supplanted in 2011 was a reflection of the high numbers in Iran rather than a significant drop in China. The total of 27 journalists jailed in China on December 1 was consistent with figures documented over the past several years.
  • For the first time since 1996, no Cuban journalists appeared on CPJ’s census. The Cuban government was holding as many as 29 journalists in 2003, following a massive crackdown on dissent. The last of those detainees was freed in April 2011. Although no Cuban journalist was jailed on December 1, CPJ research shows that authorities continue to detain reporters and editors on a short-term basis as a form of harassment.
  • In the past year, CPJ advocacy led to the early release of at least 65 imprisoned journalists worldwide. Among those freed were two CPJ International Press Freedom Award winners: Cuban writer Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez and Azerbaijani editor Eynulla Fatullayev.
  • Two other CPJ awardees, Shi Tao in China and Davari in Iran, remained in jail on December 1. Shi was serving a 10-year prison term in China for divulging a propaganda department order that was retroactively declared a state secret.
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