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US among top 10 nations jailing scribes

By Dharam Shourie in New York
December 14, 2005 11:40 IST
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China, Cuba, Eritrea, and Ethiopia were the world's leading jailers of journalists in 2005, together accounting for two-thirds of the 125 editors, writers, and photo journalists imprisoned around the world, while US was for the first time listed among the top 10, the Committee to Protect Journalists has said.

The United States, which is holding journalists in detention centers in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rose to sixth among countries jailing journalists, just behind Uzbekistan and tied with Myanmar, it said.

"Anti-state" allegations, including subversion, divulging state secrets, and acting against the interests of the state, were the most common charges used to imprison journalists worldwide. Seventy-eight journalists were jailed under such charges, many by the Chinese and Cuban governments, CPJ said.

A sudden and far-reaching crackdown on the Ethiopian press this fall fueled an increase in the number of journalists jailed worldwide, according to CPJ's census of those held on December 1, 2005. The global tally is three more than the 122 imprisoned journalists CPJ found in its 2004 census.

Twenty-four countries imprisoned journalists in 2005, reflecting an increase from the 20 nations included in the 2004 census.

"We're disturbed to see the number of jailed journalists rise, and we're particularly troubled that the list of the worst abusers includes new countries such as Ethiopia and the United States," CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said.

"Journalists covering conflict, unrest, corruption, and human rights abuses face a growing risk of incarceration in many countries, where governments seek to disguise their repressive acts as legitimate legal processes," Ann added.

For the seventh consecutive year, China was the world's leading jailer of journalists, with 32 imprisoned. Fifteen, or nearly half, of the cases in China involve Internet journalists; more than three-quarters of the cases were brought under vague "anti-state" laws.

Cuba ranked second, with 24 reporters, writers, and editors behind bars, most of them jailed in the country's massive March 2003 crackdown on dissidents and the independent press.

Eritrea was the leader among African countries, with 15 journalists in prison, many of them held incommunicado in secret jails for reasons the government would not fully explain, according to CPJ.

Neighbouring Ethiopia imprisoned 13 journalists, all of whom were swept up by authorities seeking to quell dissent amid civil unrest in November. Ethiopian police blocked most private newspapers from publishing; raided newspaper offices,
confiscating computers, documents and other materials; and issued a "wanted list" of editors, writers, and dissidents.

Uzbekistan ranked fifth among countries, with six journalists in prison. Myanmar and the United States followed, with five each. US detention centers in Iraq were holding four journalists, while the US Naval Base at Guantanamo held one.

Forty-one journalists whose work appeared primarily on the Web or in other electronic forms were in jail, accounting for just under one-third of imprisoned worldwide.

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Dharam Shourie in New York
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