By: Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press Writer
(AP) More than 130 journalists were behind bars at the end of last year because of their work, and China was the world’s leading jailer, according to a watchdog group.
With 39 journalists imprisoned, it was the fifth year in a row that China topped the list, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report being released Thursday in Washington.
Worldwide, it said, there were 136 journalists in prison — the same number as the previous year. “The number of imprisoned journalists remained stable in 2003 because there were significant drops in Nepal and Turkey, coupled with an enormous roundup in Cuba,” said the report.
Cuba ranked second, with 29 journalists jailed since last March.
“Castro launched that crackdown right after the war began, so he didn’t get castigated as much as he might have if the whole world hadn’t been riveted on Iraq,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the New York-based group.
Also high on the list was the African nation of Eritrea, with 17 journalists imprisoned.
In January, the committee released the number of journalists killed last year. A total of 36 died in the line of duty, up from 19 in 2002.
Many of the deaths — 13 in all — were journalists killed covering the war in Iraq, marking the highest death toll for the media in a single country since 1995.
The committee said it was particularly troubled by the deaths of four journalists in Iraq killed as a result of U.S. military action. Three were killed in April, when the buildings they were in came under fire from U.S. forces; the fourth died in August after being shot by U.S. soldiers.
In addition to its concerns about the dangers journalists face in war zones, the committee found that repressive governments are increasingly moving to curb press freedoms by invoking the fight against terrorism, Cooper said.
She cited the arrests of three journalists in Morocco over an article on the history of the Islamist movement and alleged ties to intelligence services in the country. The journalists were detained under the country’s new anti-terrorism law.