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article imageOp-Ed: Press freedom in 2009? So far, not so good

By Miriam Mannak     Oct 13, 2009 in World
2009 will be remembered for many things, from Obama's victory and Michael Jackson kicking the bucket to swine flu and the economic meltdown. It will also be remembered for some serious violations of press freedom.
With another two and a half months to go before, as the Chinese call it, the year of the Pig draws to a close, various reports with regards to press freedom and freedom of speech leave nothing to the imagination. So far, 2009 has been a pretty crap year for journalists, reporters, photographers, bloggers, and other media workers.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 52 journalists have been killed since January. Of these cases, the motives behind 31 have been confirmed while 21 deaths are still under investigation.
Among the dead is twenty-five-year old Anastasiya Baburova, a freelance correspondent for the independent Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She was shot in the back of the head on January 19, in broad daylight, while walking in downtown Moscow with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov - who was shot as well.
A few months ago, Natalya Estemirova, a writer for Novaya Gazeta and Kavkazsky Uzel in Chechnya was kidnapped and shot in the head and the chest. According to witnesses, she died because of her relentless reporting on human rights violations committed by federal and regional authorities in Chechnya.
But violation of press freedom goes much further than a mere body count. According to international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 183 journalists and media workers as well as 82 so-called cyberdissidents are currently behind bars for reporting on and disclosing what they thought deserved to be known by the public.
China tops the list, with 30 journalists and 57 cyberdisidents in jail. Among them is Lin Youping, who was initially sentenced to death for launching the Ziyou Bao (Freedom Report) publication in 1982, together with journalists Chen Renjie and Chen Biling. The trio was arrested and subsequently found guilty of "propaganda and incitement to overthrow the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and of the socialist system" as well as spying for Taiwan. Youping's sentence was commuted to a life sentence, while Biling was executed a few months after his arrest. Chen Renjie is also serving life in prison.
Cuba and Eritrea, with respectively 25 and 29 journalists behind bars, are not doing well on the press freedom front either. RSF stats show that of the Cuban media prisoners, 18 were arrested between 18 March and 20 March 2003.
One of the countries were press freedom has recently deteriorated significantly, is Guinea, where several journalists who were reporting on the political turmoil have been targeted, assaulted and 'roughened up' by government forces.
These chilling, horrific statistics leave me sad and angry. From a journalist's perspective, 2009 when it comes to press freedom, does not pose many reasons to celebrate.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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