CAIRO: Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released on Thursday its annual summary on press freedom around the world, citing an astounding 244 percent increase in journalist deaths over the past five years.
According to the organization, 86 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2007 – more than half of them in Iraq.
“No country has ever seen more journalists killed than Iraq, with at least 207 media workers dying there since the March 2003 US invasion – more than in the Vietnam War, the fighting in ex-Yugoslavia, the massacres in Algeria or the Rwanda genocide, stated RSF.
Several journalists also lost their lives in Pakistan and Somalia, which the organization claims are among “the deadliest countries for journalists.
“Somalia and Pakistan saw more journalists killed than they have for several years. Somalia is still very much a country of outlaws where the strongest rule and the media are easy targets. Journalists in Pakistan are caught in the crossfire between the army, Islamist militants and criminal gangs, continued RSF.
The number of journalists killed in 2007 is the highest since 1994 when 103 media workers were murdered.
RSF’s summary report also marked an increase in physical attacks and kidnappings of media workers around the world. A total of 887 journalists were reportedly arrested and 1,511 were physically attacked or threatened.
The organization documented 67 kidnappings of media workers in 2007.
The majority of journalist arrests took place in Pakistan, Cuba, and Iran while Iraq and Afghanistan marked the most common places for kidnappings. Numerous victims were executed by their kidnappers. At least 14 journalists are purportedly still held as hostages in Iraq.
Meanwhile, 2007 has seen a decrease in the killing of media assistants, such as drivers and interpreters. Twenty assistants were reportedly killed in 2007 compared to 32 in 2006.
Moreover, RSF highlighted the alleged impunity surrounding journalist murders, stating that “about 90 percent of murders of journalists go entirely or partly unpunished.
The organization has in the past year called on several governments, including those of Burkina Faso, Russia, and Gambia to properly investigate murders of journalists.
It also urges the upcoming trials of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Turkish-Armenian Hrant Dink to be conducted properly.
“The two murders, committed on the fringes of Europe, must be conducted in an exemplary manner and both the hit men and those who ordered the crime must be severely punished. The outcome of these trials will partly affect the future of not just Turkish and Russian journalists but also of all those who make sensitive investigations in dangerous countries, stated RSF.
The free flow of information provided by the Internet appears to have caused problems for a number of regimes, with more than 2,600 websites and blogs shut down in 2007.
China allegedly practices the most extensive censorship, blocking more than 2,500 websites, blogs, and online forums in the span of a few weeks last year.
Another avid practitioner of Internet censorship is Syria, according to RSF’s research. At the end of 2007, the Syrian government blocked access to more than 100 websites and online services such as the social networking site Facebook, accusing them of being infiltrated by the Israeli secret police.
In Burma, the country’s military junta shut down Internet access during the Buddhist monks’ demonstrations in October to prevent the news from being sent out from the country.
“The governments of China, Burma and Syria are trying to turn the Internet into an Intranet – a network limited to traffic inside the country between people authorized to participate, said RSF.
As of January 1,135 journalists and 65 cyber dissidents remain behind bars in prisons around the world. Fifty-four journalists are in custody in Iran while China hosts 33 jailed journalists and 50 web activists. In Egypt, student blogger Kareem Amer is serving a four-year prison sentence for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak and Islam on his blog.