Rise in number of journalists behind bars in 2002: report

New York March 30. The number of journalists behind bars rose sharply in 2002, while heightened awareness of journalist safety and a decline in the number of global conflicts last year contributed to a decrease in the number of journalists killed for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) annual survey of press freedom conditions around the world.

"The coverage of the Gulf War, in which two journalists have been killed and many injured, has increased public awareness of the risks that journalists take to report the news,'' said the CPJ acting director, Joel Simon. "But we must also remember that journalists in places like Colombia, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Russia, and China confront violence and government repression every day in order to do their jobs."

Attacks on the Press in 2002 documents some 500 cases of media repression in 120 countries, including assassination, assault, imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment. In documenting these attacks, the CPJ report notes several trends:

For the second year in a row, the number of journalists in prison rose sharply. There were 136 journalists in jail at the end of 2002, a 15 per cent increase from 2001 and a shocking 68 per cent increase since the end of 2000, when only 81 journalists were imprisoned. China, already the world's leading jailer of journalists for the fourth year in a row, arrested five more, ending the year with a total of 39 journalists behind bars. In Eritrea, 18 journalists languished behind bars, and 16 journalists were incarcerated in Nepal.

A total of 19 journalists were killed worldwide as a direct result of their work in 2002, a sharp decrease from 2001 when 37 were killed. It is the lowest number of journalists killed in the line of duty since the CPJ began tracking the deaths in 1985. Most of the journalists killed in 2002 were not covering conflicts but were instead murdered in direct reprisal for their reporting on sensitive topics, including official crime and corruption in countries such as Colombia, the Philippines, Russia, and Pakistan.

Government officials invoked "national security" concerns to impose new restrictions on the press and limit access to certain conflicts. In the West Bank, journalists covering the Israeli military incursion there were harassed, denied access to "closed military areas," and three journalists were killed by Israeli gunfire. Russian authorities also cracked down on the media during and after the October hostage crisis, when Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theatre. Authorities threatened journalists for interviewing hostage-takers and for questioning the Government's actions.

Justice for journalists

Although the number of journalists behind bars rose in 2002, there were some positive trends in press freedom worldwide. In Mozambique, six men were convicted in January for murdering investigative reporter Carlos Cardoso following a fact-finding mission and a special report by the CPJ.

Three Palestinian journalists detained without charge during the Israeli military's April offensive in the West Bank were released after intensive lobbying by the CPJ staff and board members. After the CPJ travelled to Vladivostok, Russia, to pressure authorities to free imprisoned journalist Grigory Pasko, he was released early this year before completing his full term.

By publicising individual attacks, the CPJ uses journalism to defend journalists, and to help ensure that they can report the news without fear of reprisal. According to the CPJ's research, local journalists are most often threatened for doing their work. As Serge Schmemann writes in his preface to Attacks on the Press in 2002, "Many of them are people who did not choose risky assignments but whose countries or beats were caught up in conflict, tyranny, or lawlessness. Telling the real story became dangerous, but they told it anyway because they believed they had to do so."

"Journalists are most vulnerable when they are invisible. The best way to fight impunity is by documenting and denouncing abuses against our colleagues," Mr. Simon said.

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