By: George Gedda, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The number of journalists killed last year rose to 37 from 24 the year before, partly because of the war in Afghanistan, a U.S. press group says.
Eight journalists were killed in Afghanistan in 2001, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says in its annual report, out Tuesday.
But most of the journalists killed worldwide were not covering wars or other conflicts, the group said. Instead, they were murdered in reprisal for their reporting on sensitive topics, such as official crime and corruption.
In addition, the number of journalists in prison jumped nearly 50% — to 118 in 2001 from 81 the year before, the report said. That increase reversed four years of steady decline.
Much of the increase resulted from crackdowns in Eritrea and Nepal. In addition, China, already the world’s leading jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, arrested eight more, ending the year with 35 journalists behind bars, the report said.
In all, nine journalists died in Afghanistan, including one who died of injuries suffered in 1999. Three journalists were killed in Colombia, and two each were killed in Algeria, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States, and Yugoslavia.
One of the U.S. victims, William Biggart, was a free-lance photographer who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The other, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at The Sun, in Boca Raton, Fla., died of inhalation anthrax during the anthrax attacks.
One journalist was killed in each of the following countries: Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Costa Rica, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Latvia, Mexico, the Palestinian territories, Paraguay, Russia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
In Zimbabwe and other countries, “national security” concerns were invoked as justification for new restrictions on the press, the report said. Some countries which cracked down cited U.S. actions after Sept. 11, such as the State Department attempt to censor a Voice of America interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Seven of the eight journalists killed in Afghanistan — all working for European news outlets — died during two incidents. Three journalists were killed on Nov. 11 when Taliban forces fired on a northern alliance military convoy. Eight days later, gunmen dragged four journalists out of a convoy and executed them with rifles.
For the first time in the group’s 20-year history, it also included an American on its annual list of imprisoned journalists: Vanessa Leggett, a free-lance writer based in Houston, who was arrested after she refused to turn over to a grand jury her research in a murder case.
The group said in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft that Leggett’s detention “sends exactly the wrong signal to authoritarian governments who may now show even less restraint in using state power to restrict press freedom.” Leggett was released on January 4.
The report also said that:
* Chinese journalist Jiang Weiping was sentenced to eight years in prison for reporting on corruption, while one of the officials in his article was promoted to provincial governor.
* Also in China, a prominent leftist monthly was closed after sharply criticizing the president’s call for capitalists to join the Communist Party.
* In a crackdown on political dissent, Eritrean authorities suspended all the country’s privately owned newspapers until further notice.
* In Ukraine, the Internal Affairs Ministry authorized journalists covering sensitive topics, such as corruption, to carry guns with rubber bullets.
* In Iran, the government closed or suspended 20 newspapers and publications in 2001.
Find the Committee to Protect Journalists online at http://www.cpj.org/.