Crackdowns On Bloggers Increasing, Survey Finds

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By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Government repression in some countries has shifted from journalists to bloggers, with the vitality of the Internet triggering a more focused crackdown as blogs increasingly take the place of mainstream news media, according to Lucie Morillon, Washington director of the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

"Countries that were not sentencing journalists to prison terms anymore have been doing it these last months for bloggers. This is the case in Egypt and Jordan," she said yesterday as the group released its sixth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Egypt ranked 146th and Jordan 122nd in press freedom among the 169 countries for which data were available.

Reporters Without Borders said major industrialized countries, including the United States, made slight progress, moving up several notches, with the exception of Russia. Iceland topped the list for press freedom in the survey, and Eritrea ranked last.

While not all press freedom violations were known in the countries ranked second and third from the bottom -- North Korea and Turkmenistan -- "Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom," the group said. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has banished privately owned press outlets and jailed the few journalists who have dared criticize the government, it said. "We know that four of them have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate," the group added.

Most democracies improved their ranking, with the United States moving up to 48th place from last year's 53rd, Morillon said.

The reason the United States did not make the top 30 is because videographer and blogger Josh Wolf spent almost eight months in jail for not turning over video footage of a demonstration in San Francisco and because the confidentiality of sources is under continued attack, she said. Cameraman Sami al-Hajj, from al-Jazeera satellite television, is still being held without charges at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and journalist Chauncey Bailey was killed in Oakland, Calif., after his coverage made him a target, she added.

Outside Europe, no region has been spared censorship or violence toward journalists.

"We are particularly disturbed by the situation in Burma," Reporters Without Borders said. "The military junta's crackdown on demonstrations bodes ill for the future of basic freedoms. . . . Journalists continue to work under the yoke of harsh censorship from which nothing escapes, not even small ads."

China was at the low end of the index, in 163rd place. "With less than a year to go to the 2008 Olympics, the reforms and the releases of imprisoned journalists so often promised by the authorities seem to be a vain hope," the group said.

Concerning Uzbekistan (160th), Reporters Without Borders said it feared a wave of repression would target the handful of independent journalists left in the run-up to the presidential election in December.

In the Palestinian territories (158th), the threat has changed, according to Morillon. "Two years ago, it was coming from the Israeli forces shooting at Palestinian reporters. These days, the main threat comes from internal conflicts and the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas," she added.


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