- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Committee to Protect Journalists yesterday declared that 2007 was the deadliest year for the press in more than a decade, with a total of 88 reporters and editors killed worldwide.

In its annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said 65 deaths were connected to journalism work while the other 23 are still under investigation.

Not all of the journalists who were killed in the line of duty were covering wars. Many were slain for their professional work in countries where weak laws failed to protect them, the report said.

“Journalists face a wide range of threats and risks for their reporting today. More and more, we are documenting cases of journalists being targeted and attacked in retaliation for reporting on sensitive issues like corruption and crime,” said Abi Wright, CPJ communications director.

“Another trend we have been tracking is the use of vague anti-state laws to jail journalists who write critically about governments in places like China and Cuba,” she said.

According to CPJ records, about 17 percent of the jailed journalists were held in prison without any charges and 57 percent were charged with “acting against national interests.”

In Russia, the report says, certain laws are enforced to criminalize journalism. Thus any alternative to the government point of view is defined as “extremism” and critical reports on public officials is a “criminal offense.”

China has imprisoned the most journalists, with 29 jailed, the report says. Press freedom in the 2008 Olympic Games host is in miserable condition. Severe censorship reached even Internet content.

When laws are not effective enough, repressive governments can still silence the journalists.

CPJ board member Christiane Amanpour writes in the report’s preface: “Murder is a terrifying reality for independent journalists around the world. A group or government embarrassed by a critical report hires a gunman rather than a lawyer to silence the messenger.”

Most murders of journalists remain unpunished.

“The numbers are grim — in the vast majority of cases, the people who murder journalists get away with it,” Ms. Wright said. “In 85 percent of the cases of journalists murdered over the last 15 years, no one has ever been held accountable in a court of law. This breeds fear and self censorship. We launched a global initiative to combat impunity.”

The 2007 report highlights progress in fighting impunity in several countries, including Russia, where the murderers of journalist Igor Domnikov were convicted, and in Ethiopia, where 15 journalists arrested in 2005 were released.

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