Saturday, December 6, 2008

Online Journalists Face Heavy State Oppression

BOULDER, Colorado -- The Committee to Protect Journalists released their annual report on imprisoned journalists Thursday, and online reporters now make up the largest segment of those behind bars.

As of December 1, there are 125 journalists in prison across the world, and 45% of them work online; print media was close behind with 42%. The total figure is an increase of two over last year's number. China tops the list with 28 journalists languishing in prison, followed by Cuba with 21, Burma with 14 and Eritrea with 13.

Russia currently has only two journalists in prison, but this hardly reflects their poor record on press freedom. Boris Stomakhin, the former editor of the newspaper Radikalnaya Politika, has been in prison since March 2006, charged with inciting ethnic hatred and extremism. Anatoly Sardayev, editor of the now-defuct Mordovia Segodnya, was arrested in June 2007 for fraud and allegedly misusing the paper's funds, though the prosecution is thought to be linked to his outspoken criticism of the Mordovian president, Nikolai Merkushkin.

Journalists in Russia face a variety of threats and challenges in addition to imprisonment. Detentions and beatings are common, and the government has resurrected the old Soviet practice of committing dissident reporters to psychiatric hospitals against their will. All media outlets face heavy pressure from the state to run stories supporting the ruling party and keep opposition voices out of the press.

They also face the threat of death, either at the hands of government or private interests. Since 2000, the CPJ reports that 17 journalists have been murdered in Russia, while Reporters Without Borders puts the number at 21. Only Iraq is a more dangerous environment for reporters. So far this year, at least four journalists have been killed, and all of them had ties to the increasingly violent North Caucasus region, particularly Ingushetia and Dagestan.

The most high-profile case this year involved an online journalist, Ingushetian opposition writer Magomed Yevloyev, who operated the news website On August 31, Yevloyev was met at the airport in the Ingushetian capital, Nazran, by a police escort after returning from a trip to Moscow. While being transported in a police vehicle, he was shot in the head by an officer, and his body was dumped on the doorstep of a local hospital.

Like most cases involving the murder of journalists in Russia, prosecutors are dragging their feet on investigating this case, and the official version of events remains that Yevloyev was shot when he tried to grab the gun of an officer riding in the vehicle with him.

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