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The deadliest year for a decade: 53 journalists killed

Reporters Without Borders annual roundup

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At least 53 journalists were killed in 2004 while doing their job or for expressing their opinions, the highest annual toll since 1995. Fifteen medias assistants (fixers, drivers, translators, technicians, security staff and others) were also killed.

In 2004:
-  53 journalists and 15 media assistants were killed
-  at least 907 journalists were arrested
-  1,146 were attacked or threatened
-  and at least 622 media censored

In 2003:
-  40 journalists and 2 media assistants were killed
-  at least 766 journalists were arrested
-  1,460 were attacked or threatened
-  and at least 501 media censored

On 1 January 2005 107 journalists and 70 cyber-dissidents were in prison around the world

For the second year running, Iraq was the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. Nineteen reporters and 12 media assistants were killed there during the year. Terrorist strikes and Iraqi guerrilla attacks were the main cause, but the US army was held responsible for the death of four of them. Ali al-Khatib and Ali Abdel Aziz, of the satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, were shot dead near a US checkpoint on 18 March. Ten days later, the US army admitted responsibility but said it was an accident. Assad Kadhim and Hussein Saleh, who worked for the TV station Al-Iraqiya, were killed on 19 April, also by US troops.

Journalists killed in 2004
-  Bangladesh 4
-  Brazil 2
-  Colombia 1
-  Dominican Republic 1
-  Gambia 1
-  Haiti 1
-  India 1
-  Iraq 19
-  Mexico 3
-  Nepal 2
-  Nicaragua 2
-  Pakistan 1
-  Palestinian Authority 1
-  Peru 2
-  Philippines 6
-  Russia 2
-  Saudi Arabia 1
-  Serbia-Montenegro 1
-  Sri Lanka 2

Exposing corruption and reporting on organised crime was the next main reason for journalists being killed.

Journalists were murdered in Asia - especially in The Philippines (6) and Bangladesh (4) - just for investigating delicate matters such as corruption, drug-trafficking and gangsterism. The Philippine press ran a collective editorial in early December saying it would "remember 2004 as a year of infamy" and that "with every murder of a journalist, or a judge, an environmentalist, an anti-corruption activist, a human rights worker, democracy dies a little."

The murder in Gambia of journalist Deyda Hydara in December was a reminder that in Africa too journalists are killed.

The new breed of kidnappers

At least a dozen local and foreign journalists were kidnapped in Iraq during the year by Islamist groups. One victim, Italian Enzo Baldoni (56), a freelance reporter for the Italian weekly Diario, was executed in late August by the "Islamic Army in Iraq." He had been seized on 24 August on his way to the besieged holy city of Najaf. The kidnappers, in a video broadcast by the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, gave the Italian government 48 hours to pull its troops out of Iraq. Baldoni’s family and Italian opposition politicians accused the government of not doing all they could to save him.

Two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were freed on 21 December after four months in captivity. They had been kidnapped with their guide and interpreter, Mohammed al-Joundi, on their way to Najaf on 20 August. A few days later, the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility and demanded withdrawal of a new law in France banning children from wearing religious symbols in school. A huge diplomatic and media campaign was mounted for their release. Al-Joundi was found in Falluja on 11 November. Malbrunot (41) is a freelance for the French dailies Le Figaro and Ouest-France and for the radio station RTL, while Chesnot (38) works for Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Radio France.

Two cameramen are still missing - Frenchman Fred Nérac, working for the British TV station ITN, (since 22 March 2003) and Iraqi Isam Hadi Muhsin al-Shumary (since 15 August 2004).

French-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer (54) has been missing in Côte d’Ivoire since 16 April, when he was seen for the last time in a shopping centre in the capital. Kieffer, married with two children, worked for the French-based La Lettre du Continent and several Ivorian newspapers. Michel Legré, brother-in-law of President Laurent Gbagbo’s wife Simone and the last person to see him before he vanished, was put under formal investigation for kidnapping by French examining magistrate Patrick Ramaël in October.

Four journalists have been kidnapped by Maoist rebels in Nepal and one, Dhana Rokka Magar, has been held since August 2002.

Middle East paralysed by war in Iraq

The press freedom situation in the region remains very delicate. In Syria and Saudi Arabia, authorities continue to ruthlessly block the emergence of a free and independent media. Self-censorship is the rule there and a large number of topics cannot be mentioned. Iran routinely arrests and imprisons journalists and cyber-dissidents (about 30 were jailed during the year) and the legal system is controlled by hardliners still bent on destroying the opposition press. Political instability in the Palestinian Occupied Territories has also affected the media and a journalist was murdered and many others attacked in Gaza.

But fewer attacks on press freedom were recorded in Israel and Lebanon. Press freedom is still not guaranteed in the Maghreb. More arrests in Algeria (22), continued legal hounding of the media in Morocco and very tight control of news in Tunisia are obstacles to true freedom of expression in this region.

Asia still trailing behind

The countries with least press freedom in the world are in East Asia. North Korea, Burma, China, Vietnam and Laos are the region’s worst offenders. North Korean journalists are forced to glorify dictator Kim Jong-il and dozens of them have been "re-educated" in camps because of often trivial "professional errors."

China (26 journalists imprisoned) and Burma (12) are the region’s biggest prisons for the media. Despite the proliferation of new publications and broadcast media, the ruling Chinese Communist Party still brutally reminds journalists they are not free to say what they want. The foreign media present in China remains tightly controlled.

Journalists and cyber-dissidents were fiercely repressed in The Maldives during the year.

Physical violence against the media is still very common in the region, with daily attacks on journalists in Nepal and Bangladesh instigated by governments, political groups and gangsters. Such attacks in India and Indonesia, where they are fewer, have not stopped the growth of independent media.

A mixed record in Europe

The countries of the European Union, including its ten new members, respect press freedom, but the situation is sharply different in some former Soviet republics and in Central Asia.

In Russia, the government’s total control of nationwide TV stations was shown by flagrantly biased TV coverage of the school hostage tragedy in Beslan (North Ossetia). Many Russian and foreign journalists are prevented from working and censorship concerning Chechnya has spread to neighbouring republics. The Agence France-Presse correspondent in the region went missing and two journalists were killed, including in Moscow the editor of the Russian edition of the US magazine Forbes.

The October presidential elections in Ukraine saw many attacks on press freedom and pro-opposition journalists and some foreign media were censored. Physical attacks were very frequent during the year and the killers of journalists, including Georgy Gongadze, remained unpunished.

In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko tolerated no criticism and made every effort to systematically silence the few dissident voices. In the run-up to the 17 October referendum, a dozen independent newspapers were shut down or suspended by the information ministry on false bureaucratic pretexts. The investigation into the disappearance in 2000 of opposition journalist Dmitri Zavadski was closed despite the virtually certain involvement of the highest government officials. The heavy prison sentence imposed on a journalist and human rights activist in Uzbekistan for "homosexuality" was an example of that regime’s brutal repression of the independent media. Such independence has been almost non-existent in Azerbaijan since the October 2003 presidential election. Journalists there no longer work in adequate conditions and during the year a pro-opposition journalist was jailed for five years.

Striking progress was made in Turkey with the passage of laws in readiness for the country’s membership of the European Union, but in practice these measures have not yet significantly improved press freedom.

Violence on the rise in the Americas

Twelve journalists were killed in South and Central America during the year, up from seven in 2003. In Mexico, Brazil and Peru, the murder of journalists once more became a real concern.

Despite the release of four jailed journalists, including the well-known poet and dissident Raúl Rivero, at the end of the year, Cuba remained (after China) the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with 22 detained. All local criticism of President Fidel Castro’s regime is considered a crime.

There is genuine news diversity in Colombia, but journalists pay for it with their lives and one was killed during the year. Exposing abuses by armed groups (paramilitaries and guerrillas) and corrupt politicians is still more dangerous than elsewhere in the continent and about 50 journalists were threatened or physically attacked during the period.

Press freedom situation has improved in Haiti since the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in January. But difficulties in the countryside and persistent and worrying problems in investigating the murders of journalists Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor show there is some way to go.

North America has genuine press freedom, but problems with defending the secrecy of journalistic sources became an important issue in the media. In the United States, the government for the first time put a TV station (the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah Al-Manar) on its list of terrorist organisations, thus silencing its broadcasts in the country. While Al-Manar has unquestionably broadcast unacceptable anti-Semitic statements, the US government may have set a dangerous precedent by putting any kind of news media in the same category as a terrorist group.

Problems for the independent media in Africa

Journalists in Côte d’Ivoire, in both Abidjan (the capital in the south) and Bouaké (the main town in the rebel-held north), take big risks each day in doing their jobs. Forty were threatened or physically attacked during the year, nine arrested and 12 media outlets censored or had their premises ransacked.

The situation is very bleak in Eritrea, where there is no longer any privately-owned media, freedom of expression or foreign correspondents. Fourteen journalists and editors have been imprisoned in secret places without trial.

Things are not much better in Zimbabwe, where repeated government attacks on the Daily News have reduced the independent press to a couple of privately-circulated weeklies. In preparation for general elections in 2005, the government has banned the main opposition party from the state-owned media.

Press freedom has improved in several countries and journalists in Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa now enjoy freedoms close to those of their colleagues in Europe.

Impunity still reigns however in Burkina Faso, where nobody has been punished six years after the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo.

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2005 progress Report
I. The state of press freedom worldwide in 2007
II. The year 2006
III. Reporters Without Borders’ field of work
IV. How to help us

Accounts 2006
Income and expenditure
State of accounts at 31 December 2006