6 February 2008

Africa: Ten Journalists Killed in Deadly Year

Washington, DC — Ten journalists were killed in Africa in 2007, making it the deadliest year for journalists working in Africa since 1999, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"The general trend that we are noticing is that democracy and press freedom are not always walking in lock step," Tom Rhodes, the Africa director for CPJ, told AllAfrica in an interview.

"Quite often, countries will have an election, and then will start squashing the press soon after the elections are carried out."

Earlier this week, CPJ released its annual report,  Attacks on the Press in 2007, which highlighted the worsening conditions for journalists in countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Gambia.

CPJ called Ethiopia the biggest press freedom backslider in the world in 2007. The group said more than 30 journalists are in exile and three-quarters of the newspapers that were publishing in 2005 have closed.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranked fourth on a list of the world's backsliders. "The government in general is fairly antagonistic to the independent press, and unfortunately we monitor a lot of cases of harassment, imprisonments, and even murders that are carried out with impunity," Rhodes said.

The Gambian government continues to drift toward isolation. President Yahya Jammeh did not show up at two African Union summits last year, and most of the press is under state control. A journalist was arrested in 2006 for supposedly wanting to publish a story critical of the president, and continues to be held at a secret location.

Although the report highlighted these three countries, Rhodes also singled out Eritrea and Somalia for criticism.

Eritrea continues to be the leading jailer of journalists, where at least 14 journalists remain in high-security prisons. Rhodes said that "things have not really changed" since a major crackdown on the press in 2001.

The most dangerous country on the continent though is Somalia, where seven journalists - at a conservative estimate - were killed last year.

"In Somalia, journalists are actually targeted for their reporting," Rhodes said. The threats came from both sides in the conflict.

Rhodes said, however, that there have been some "promising signs" in Somalia. Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who was appointed in November, has said that the violations against the press should end.

Rhodes highlighted Sierra Leone and Togo as countries where press freedom had improved. Sierra Leone has had an "amazing turnabout" and the press is "flourishing," he said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is a New York-based advocacy group.

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