Friday, December 08, 2006

Jailed media worldwide hits record: U.S. watchdog

Jailed media worldwide hits record: U.S. watchdog
By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of journalists jailed worldwide for their work rose for the second year with Internet bloggers and online reporters now one third of those incarcerated, a U.S.-based media watchdog said on Thursday.

A Committee to Protect Journalists census found that a record 134 journalists were in jail on December 1 -- an increase of nine from the 2005 tally -- in 24 countries with China, Cuba, Eritrea and Ethiopia the top four nations to imprison media.

While print reporters, editors and photographers again made up the largest number of jailed journalists -- with 67 cases -- there were 49 imprisoned Internet journalists, making them the second biggest category, the New York-based committee said.

"We're at a crucial juncture in the fight for press freedom because authoritarian states have made the Internet a major front in their effort to control information," Committee Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement.

"China is challenging the notion that the Internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world."

Among those jailed in China were Zheng Yichun, a Chinese freelance contributor to overseas online news sites who wrote a series of editorials criticizing the Communist Party.

The census also found there were eight television journalists, eight radio reporters and two film/documentary makers in jail.

Other countries where journalists were imprisoned were Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Iran, Maldives, Mexico, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, United States, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said 84 journalists were jailed for "anti-state" allegations like subversion and divulging state secrets, with many of those imprisoned in China, Cuba and Ethiopia.

The census also showed 20 imprisoned journalists were held without any charge or trial and that Eritrea accounted for more than half those cases.

The committee said the United States imprisoned two journalists without charge or trial -- Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, now held for eight months in Iraq, and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, jailed for five years and now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Joshua Wolf, a freelance blogger who refused to turn over video of a 2005 protest to a U.S. federal grand jury, was also in jail.

For the eighth year in a row, China led the way in jailing journalists with a total of 31 imprisoned on December 1, the census found, followed by Cuba with 24 reporters behind bars, Eritrea with 23 in jail and Ethiopia with 18 journalists jailed.