For the second year in a row the number of journalists in jail because of their work has gone up, a new report says. But it also notes that, alarmingly, the number of Internet-based journalists in prison for their work has doubled in just three years and those people now make up more than one-third of the total.

According to the report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of Dec. 1, 2006, there were 134 journalists imprisoned, up nine from one year earlier, with China, Cuba, Eritrea and Ethiopia the top four prison-keepers.

Journalists in prison, listed by year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists

“Print reporters, editors, and photographers continue to make up the largest professional category, with 67 cases in 2006, but Internet journalists are a growing segment of the census and now constitute the second largest category, with 49 cases,” the report said.

Journalists in prison, by type of work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists

“The number of imprisoned journalists whose work appeared primarily on the Web,
via e-mail, or in another electronic form has increased each year since CPJ recorded the first jailed Internet writer in its 1997 census,” the report said.

“We’re at a crucial juncture in the fight for press freedom because authoritarian states have made the Internet a major front in their effort to control information,”” said Joel Simon, the executive director of the organization. “China is challenging the notion that the Internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world.”

Many of the claims against journalists, especially in China, Cuba and Ethiopia, include subversion, divulging state secrets, acting against the interests of the state and other similar counts, the report said.

But the CPJ also noted that a rising number of journalists are being held without any charge or trial, including at least two held by the United States.

“Twenty imprisoned journalists, or 15 percent, have been denied even the most basic elements of due process,” the report said. “Eritrea, which accounts for more than half of these cases, keeps journalists in secret locations and withholds basic information about their well-being.

“The United States has imprisoned two journalists without charge or trial: Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, now held for eight months in Iraq without due process; and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, jailed five years and now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” the group said.

The case of the AP photographer has been addressed by WND columnist Michelle Malkin, who wrote about the circumstances of Hussein’s detention and the news organization’s actions regarding that arrest.

The CPJ report describes itself as a “snapshot” of those incarcerated on the date of the report, and notes that it does not include the journalists imprisoned and released through the year. The report also does not address journalists who either disappear or are abducted by non-state entities, such as criminal gangs, and there’s no comment in the report whether any of the charges against any of the journalists actually could be legitimate.

“In Cuba and in China, journalists are often jailed after summary trials and held in miserable conditions far from their families. But the cruelty and injustice of imprisonment is compounded where there is zero due process and journalists slip into oblivion. In Eritrea, the worst abuser in this regard, there is no check on authority and it is unclear whether some jailed journalists are even alive,” Simon added.

For the eighth straight year, China leads the world with 31 reporters, writers or editors in prison, mostly under a variety of “anti-state” laws. Nineteen of those cases involve Internet journalists, including Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year term for posting notes online detailing the nation’s propaganda department instructions on information that could be distributed about the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

No. 2 was Cuba, with 24 journalists behind bars, many following a 2003 nationwide attack on dissidents and any independent press organization.

“Nearly all of those on Cuba’s list had filed news and commentary to overseas Web sites,” the report said. “These journalists used phone lines and faxes, not computers, to transmit their reports; once posted, their articles were seen across the world but almost never in Cuba, where the government heavily restricts Internet access.”

There are 23 journalists in prison in Eritrea, and even information about whether they remain alive is withheld by the government, and Ethiopia has 18 in prison, most arrested during a crackdown on dissent in 2005.

Burma is fifth, with seven jailed journalists, and Uzbekistan has five. The U.S., Azerbaijan and Burundi each have three.

The report also noted:

  • Governments sometimes used unrelated counts such as drug possession to jail journalists.

  • Spreading ethnic or religious hatred also was cited in some cases.

  • About three percent of the cases cited criminal defamation by the journalist.

  • A handful of the journalists were cited for violating censorship rules.

Also in the United States Internet reporting is under attack through the intimidation of civil lawsuits.

A claim seeking a judgment of $165 million from WND is an example.

Joseph Farah, founder and editor of WND, wondered about the lack of attention by First Amendment activists, journalistic colleagues and the national media establishment to what is arguably the biggest defamation case in the country’s history.

“It’s not WorldNetDaily on trial in Tennessee, it’s the First Amendment,” said Farah. “Where in heaven’s name have the American Civil Liberties Union and the big media been for the last six years as our little company carries the full load of responsibility for defending something as basic to our country’s founding principles as freedom of the press?”

Farah continued: “Not only is this a huge defamation case in terms of possible judgments, it is also huge because it involves critical reporting about the 2000 presidential election. Politically protected speech and reporting doesn’t get much more basic than that.”

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