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Africa tops press freedom “backsliders”

afrol News, 3 May - Africa has again topped the list of press freedom backsliders in the world. Of the 10 listed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) countries, Africa alone gets half of the backsliders.

The top African backsliders are Ethiopia, The Gambia, Congo Kinshasha, Egypt and Morocco.

In a report, the CPJ reminds the world about the erosion of press freedom in 10 countries worldwide during the last five years. The report, issued ahead of the World Press Freedom Day tomorrow, is based on the five year analysis of the press freedom watchdog’s case data

Ethiopia, where the government launched a massive crackdown on the private press by shutting newspapers and jailing editors, leads CPJ’s dishonour roll. The Gambia and Congo join Russia and Cuba to form the world’s worst “backsliders” on press freedom.

The number of imprisoned journalists in Ethiopia has risen from two to 18 thus forcing dozens into exile. “In 2006 alone, authorities ban eight newspapers, expel two foreign reporters, and block critical Web sites,” CPJ said, leaving only a handful of private newspapers to publish, although under intense self-censorship.

Under President Yahya Jammeh’s rule, the Gambian private media knows no peace. During his reign, a leading newspaper editor, Deyda Hydara was murdered in 2004. Besides, 11 journalists were jailed in 2006, with some of them becoming victims of tortures. Journalists and their institutions have become victims of arson attacks.

“The Independent, a leading newspaper, is targeted by arsonists and closed by the government. Criminal penalties instituted for defamation.”

In Congo, attacks on journalists increased from three to nine. Two journalists have been slain since 2005. Criminal libel cases have spiralled from zero to nine while imprisonments climbed from three to 11.

Besides, the leaders of press freedom group, Journaliste en Danger, were forced into hiding in 2006.

“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. Journalists in Ethiopia, Gambia, and DRC are being jailed, attacked, and censored, a picture far worse than what we saw only a few years ago.”

Cuba and Ethiopia have proven to be the world’s two leading jailers of journalists in the past five years.

“Morocco, often cited as a regional model for press freedom, is now tied with Tunisia for the dubious distinction of sentencing the most journalists to prison in the Arab world,” the report observed.

Escalating government attacks in Morocco and Egypt have coincided with increasing assertiveness on the part of independent publications.

Other backsliders include Thailand, Pakistan and Azerbaijan.

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