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Media group asks US to stop detaining journalists

A media watchdog group said it has urged President Barack Obama to end the US military's practice of detaining journalists without charges and asked for a full investigation into killings of journalists by US military forces.

world Updated: Feb 11, 2009 14:47 IST
Maria Sanminiatelli
Maria Sanminiatelli

A media watchdog group said on Tuesday it has urged President Barack Obama to end the US military's practice of detaining journalists without charges and asked for a full investigation into killings of journalists by US military forces. The Committee to Protect Journalists also noted in its annual study of attacks against the press that Iraq remained the most dangerous country for the profession, with 11 journalists killed in 2008. That number is down from 2007 and 2006, when 32 journalists died each year.

The total number of journalists who died because of their work also declined worldwide for the first time since 2001 to 41, down from 63 in 2007. Five died in Pakistan, and four in India, the committee reported.

Joel Simon, the group's executive director, attributed the decline in Iraq to improved security in the country, a decreased presence of international media there _ including local Iraqi employees _ and a reduction in combat-related fatalities. The number of journalists in prison also declined slightly in 2008, with 125 journalists in jail as of Dec. 1, compared with 127 the previous year.

Officials with the New York-based group took the United States to task, saying the detention of journalists without trial by U.S. authorities in such countries as Iraq has reduced America's standing in the world and emboldened other countries to do the same. "America has always stood as a beacon for freedom of the press, and it would be a great time to reaffirm those principles," said Paul Steiger, the group's board chairman. Steiger is editor-at-large for The Wall Street journal and a vice president of Dow Jones & Co., which publishes the Journal.

Steiger said he sent a letter to Obama's transition team last month shortly before Obama was inaugurated as president. He noted in it that 14 journalists have been held without due process for long periods in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Sixteen journalists have been killed by US fire in Iraq, he said.

"We don't believe that these are deliberate attacks, but they have not been adequately investigated," Simon said. There has been no response from the Obama administration to the committee's letter so far, but "we plan to follow up," Simon said in an e-mail after the news conference.

Journalists detained by U.S. forces in Iraq include Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who was held without charges for two years before being released in April 2008.

A freelance photographer working for Reuters, Ibrahim Jassam, is the only journalist who remains jailed. He was detained by U.S. forces in Baghdad on Sept. 2, Steiger said in his letter to Obama dated Jan. 12.

"To assert moral authority we must first put our own house in order," Steiger wrote.

Worldwide, the report found that violent criminal gangs, paramilitaries, drug traffickers and street gangs routinely terrorize journalists in such countries as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia have been following China's model of controlling the Internet and punishing those who get around the restrictions.

The report, titled "Attacks on the Press," also noted that reporters in Africa rely on text messaging, though that same technology also is being used to send threatening messages to reporters and editors, the group found. It criticized the control over television coverage of the conflict in South Ossetia by the Russian and Georgian governments, and warned of a new regional agreement that threatens independent satellite stations in the Middle East.

In addition to the deaths in Iraq, India and Pakistan, three journalists were killed in Georgia and the same number in Thailand; two died in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Russia, Somalia and Sri Lanka; while Bolivia, Cambodia, Croatia, Israel and the occupied territories, and Mexico each saw one journalist killed.

First Published: Feb 11, 2009 14:43 IST