Journalists still risk loss of freedom and death

Ethiopia tops a list of 10 countries, including three in sub-Saharan Africa, where press freedom has deteriorated over the past five years, a media advocacy group said yesterday.

Ethiopia tops a list of 10 countries, including three in sub-Saharan Africa, where press freedom has deteriorated over the past five years, a media advocacy group said yesterday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the nations "reflect a mixture of relatively open countries that have turned increasingly repressive and traditionally restrictive nations where press conditions, remarkably, have worsened".

Three countries on the list - Ethiopia, Gambia and Congo - show that "democracy's foothold in Africa is shallow when it comes to press freedom," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said.

"These three African nations, as diverse as they are, have won praise at times for their transition to democracy, but they are actually moving in reverse on press issues," Simon said.

"Journalists in Ethiopia, Gambia and the DRC [Congo] are being jailed, attacked and censored, a picture far worse than only a few years ago."

Other nations on the list are Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Morocco and Thailand. Countries in which conflict was ongoing, such as Iraq and Somalia were not included.

Ethiopian government spokes-man Zemedkun Tekle defended his country's media system.

"No one is expecting freedom of the press," Zemedkun said.

"Freedom of the press does not mean they are going to do whatever they want, unlawful things.

"We can only talk about press freedom when the press is going to respect the law of the land."

In Pakistan, the CPJ said, eight journalists have been slain since 2002, but arrests and convictions have been won in only one case.

In Russia, 11 journalists have been killed in the last five years, but no case has been solved.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and journalist leaders yesterday condemned legislation granting police the power to seize reporters' records as reckless and liable to be used to suppress investigative work.

The Northern Ireland law permits police to seize computers, other electronic records, notepads and documents, and hold them for up to 96 hours if they suspect the journalist has information about a crime that has been, or might be, committed.

But journalists say the police's true motive in such cases could be to harm a reporter who has published material that embarrassed the police.

Seamus Dooley, secretary of the Irish chapter of the National Union of Journalists, said European human rights law should guarantee journalists' rights to privacy and to freedom of expression, but this "has been ignored ".

The statement was timed for World Press Freedom Day today. - Sapa-AP

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