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Report: Iran Leading Jailer Of Journalists In 2009

February 11, 2010

(RFE/RL) -- According to the International Press Institute's (IPI) annual review of world press freedom, Iran has become the leading jailer of journalists in the world.

In its report, the IPI says that under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran has implemented some of the world's most repressive policies towards the media.

In 2009, Iran became the leading jailer of journalists in the world, imprisoning over 100 reporters and bloggers in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election.

The managing editor of the IPI's "World Press Freedom Review," Anthony Mills, says Iran was one of the focal points of the year.

"The government cracked down on all forms of transmission of information, on bloggers, on journalists, on anybody that was transmitting any kind of information about the disputed presidential election in June," Mills says.

"It's an example of a government seeking to stifle dissent, by stifling independent reporting, by trying to make sure that no news, written or visual, comes out about events that are having an enormous impact on the country."

Furthermore, the report says that numerous Iranian pro-reform newspapers had their licenses revoked and were forced to halt publication.

Deadly Work

In addition to reviewing the state of the media in countries around the world, the IPI report includes a list of journalists killed during the year and also during the past decade.

It shows that 110 journalists were killed around the world in the course of their work in 2009, making it the most deadly year of the decade for journalists.

Of the 735 journalists killed worldwide because of their jobs in the past decade, 170 were killed in Iraq, making it the most dangerous country in the world for journalists in the last 10 years.

"This decade is unlike any other, because, in conflict countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan, it has seen the deliberate targeting of journalists," Mills says. "Such a departure has changed the face of conflict reporting, leading to less coverage and therefore a worrying vacuum in the understanding of these complex events."

Turning to Russia, the report notes that it occupies a high fifth place on the list of slain journalists, with 35 killed between 2000 and 2009 -- five of them last year. And it says that hopes for a less violent year for journalists in Russia were crushed from the very start, with the brutal killing of young "Novaya gazeta" reporter Anastasia Baburova on a Moscow street on the afternoon of January 19.

"There has been in Russia a culture of impunity for years now when it comes to the murder of journalists," Mills says, "and in the vast majority of cases, the assailants were never caught, never punished, never prosecuted, and when you have a culture of impunity like that, it simply emboldens other would-be killers, other would-be attackers to do the same thing."

Areas Of Concern

The IPI, however, finds an improving situation in Iraq, the most dangerous country in the world for journalists during the decade, and where 41 media workers died in 2007 alone. It notes that only four journalists were killed last year, though Mills adds that "there are still very grave concerns about the state of media freedoms in the country."

He points out that suggestions for new legislation with a number of vaguely worded clauses could represent a "sliding back" to the stifling of independent reporting seen in many other countries of the region, and during the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

In Central Asia, IPI had raised serious concerns over Kazakhstan's unsatisfactory press-freedom record throughout the year, particularly in view of the country's chairing of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental organization that views media freedom as one of its core values.

Violent attacks against individual journalists, either for supporting dissenting opinions or for investigating criminal activities, were widespread in Central Asia, where the murder of Kyrgyz opposition journalist Gennady Pavlyuk in mid-December was the latest in a spate of attacks against journalists.

In Pakistan, eight journalists were killed last year, where heavy fighting between the Pakistani Army and Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, near the Afghan border, and attacks in other parts of the country, had disastrous consequences for the flow of information.

Five journalists were slain in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. At one point, the situation became so dangerous that journalists had to flee the Swat Valley and local newspapers stopped publishing, leaving the government's military offensive against the Taliban virtually unreported.

IPI members in Pakistan noted that, while Pakistan has long been a dangerous place for journalists, in 2009 the media were specifically targeted by militants. On December 22, a suicide bomber tried to enter the Peshawar Press Club and, when stopped, blew himself up among bystanders.

Finally, Afghanistan remained a dangerous working environment with three journalists killed over the year, including Afghan journalist and translator Sultan Munadi who was shot during a mission to free a kidnapped "New York Times" colleague.


Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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