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French Version

2005 sees worst press persecution in decade

"It is tragic and unacceptable that the number of journalists killed in the line of duty has become a barometer for measuring press freedom," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said in a speech to mark World Press Freedom Day.

A report released Wednesday by France's global media freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said the year 2005 was "a bloody one, with at least 63 journalists and five media assistants killed worldwide and over 1,300 media workers attacked or threatened - the highest toll since 1995."

According to a global survey of media freedoms released last week by the Washington-based non-governmental organization Freedom House, 43 percent of the world's population lives in countries that lack a free press.

The survey said only 17 percent of the world's population live in countries where the press is free, while the remaining 40 percent reside in a "grey zone of partial media freedom."

RSF's report said Iraq remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with at least 86 media workers killed and 38 kidnapped during three years of war.

According to RSF "press freedom isn't threatened just in Iraq. Next door, in Beirut, journalists live in fear of being attacked. Lebanon has the best record for press freedom in the Arab world but is now moving toward self-censorship. The best-known political commentators are moving about carefully and no longer dare to openly criticize neighboring Syria, accused by many of being behind the attacks. Others have gone into exile, to France and elsewhere."

The report goes on to identify what the group has named "the predators of press freedom."

This year, the group said "this very exclusive club expanded to include new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made inflammatory remarks as soon as he took office and forced reformist newspapers to close down.

"In 2006, other fears have arisen, such as with the victory in Palestinian elections of Hamas, which has little time for critical or independent media ... Heads of state sometimes develop a sudden urge, after years in power, to crack down hard on personal freedoms."

Five regional leaders were among the 37 predators on the list.

Syrian President Bashar Assad "is accused of being behind the murder of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri and several anti-Syrian journalists in Lebanon in 2005 and is more and more isolated internationally. He continues to strictly control all news in Syria and officials of the ruling Baath Party censor the press beforehand.

Under King Abdullah Ibn Al-Saud, "Saudi Arabia is one of the world's 10 most repressive countries for the media. Timid reforms begun in 2004 were slowed by religious hard-liners, the fight against Islamist terrorism and the determination of the Saud family to stay in power. The Sauds ruthlessly control news and tell the media how far they can go."

Iran, the "biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East, is ruled by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," who was also on the list with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The hard-liner Ahmadinejad, a former revolutionary guard, took office as elected president of the Islamic Republic on August 3, 2005, and immediately purged the Culture Ministry of reformists and replaced them with hard-liners. These new officials had in 1999 set up their own intelligence service enjoying complete impunity and having a private police force that cracked down regularly on the country's intellectuals."

In Libya, led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, "human rights continue to be abused in the country and press freedom has been stamped out by the brother leader."

According to CPJ's report, "Libya's media is the most tightly controlled in the Arab world. The government owns and controls all print and broadcast media, an anachronism even by regional standards. The media dutifully reflects state policies and does not allow news or views critical of Gadhafi or the government."

North Korea was the most censored country in the world, followed by Burma, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, and Libya, rounding out the top five nations on CPJ's list of the "10 Most Censored Countries." Syria comes in at ninth place.

Beirut 09-05-2006
The Daily Star

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