By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK - When Iranian journalist Mojtaba Saminejad was sentenced to
two years in prison for insulting the country's Supreme Leader, it was
not for an article that appeared in a newspaper. His offending story
was posted on his personal Web blog.
Nearly one-third of journalists now serving time in prisons around the
world published their work on the Internet, the second-largest
category behind print journalists, the Committee to Protect
Journalists said in an analysis released Thursday.
The bulk of Internet journalists in jail -- 49 in total -- shows that
"authoritarian states are becoming more determined to control the
Internet," said Joel Simon, the New York-based group's executive
"It wasn't so long ago that people were talking about the Internet as
a new medium that could never be controlled," he said. "The reality is
that governments are now recognizing they need to control the Internet
to control information."
Other noteworthy imprisoned Internet journalists include U.S. video
blogger Joshua Wolf, who refused to give a grand jury his footage of a
2005 protest against a G-8 economic summit, and China's Shi Tao, who
is serving a 10-year sentence for posting online instructions by the
government on how to cover the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen
For the second year in a row, CPJ's annual survey found the total
number of journalists in jail worldwide has increased. There were 134
reporters, editors and photographers incarcerated as of Dec. 1, nine
more than a year ago.
In addition to the Internet writers, the total includes 67 print
journalists, eight TV reporters, eight radio reporters and two
Among the 24 nations that have imprisoned reporters, China topped the
list for the eighth consecutive year with 31 journalists behind bars
-- 19 of them Internet journalists.
Cuba was second with 24 reporters in prison. Nearly all of them had
filed their reports to overseas-based Web sites.
The U.S. government and military has detained three journalists,
including Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who was taken
into custody in Iraq nine months ago and has yet to be charged with a
CPJ recorded the first jailing of an Internet reporter in its 1997
census. Since then, the number has steadily grown and now includes
reporters, editors and photographers whose work appeared primarily on
the Internet, in e-mails or in other electronic forms.
The increase is a testament to the increasing attention of government
censors to the Internet, media experts say.
"I refer to the freedom of the press as the canary in the coal mine,"
said Joshua Friedman, director of international programs at Columbia
University's Graduate School of Journalism. "It's a barometer of the
insecurity of the people running these governments. One of the things
that makes them insecure these days is the power of the Internet."
The rise in jailings of Internet journalists is also an indication
that reporters in authoritarian countries are increasingly using the
Web to circumvent state controls.
Shi, the jailed Chinese journalist, could have published his notes on
state propaganda in the Chinese magazine in Hunan province where he
worked as an editorial director. He chose instead to send an e-mail
from his Yahoo account to the U.S.-based editor of a Chinese language
Cuban journalist Manuel Vasquez-Portal said he posted his articles on
a Miami-based Web site for a similar reason.
"Without a doubt, the Internet provided me an avenue. It was the only
way to get the truth out of Cuba," he said through an interpreter.
Vasquez-Portal, who was jailed for 15 months in 2003, said he had to
call his stories in to the operator of the Web site, though, because
Cubans are not allowed access to the Internet.
On the Net:
Committee to Protect Journalists: http://www.cpj.org/
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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