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CPJ Survey Shows 129 Journalists Imprisoned in 24 Countries
Annual Book Spotlights Abuses in Middle East and North Africa

Washington, D.C., March 26—At least 129 journalists were in prison in 24 countries at the end of 1997 for doing their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported today in Attacks on the Press in 1997, its annual worldwide survey of press freedom conditions. There were 15 in jail in China, 8 in Burma, 7 in Kuwait, 5 each in Syria and Vietnam, and 4 in Peru.

The 443-page Attacks on the Press in 1997 was released this morning at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The book provides detailed reports of press freedom conditions and issues in five regions and 117 countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian National Authority, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen.

In Algeria, authorities continued efforts to quash independent reporting of the country’s bloody six-year civil conflict. While no journalists were killed in Algeria in 1997—nearly 60 have been assassinated since May 1993—journalists there still live in constant fear for their lives. In Jordan, a kingdom that portrays itself as an emerging democracy, state restrictions on independent media left press freedom hanging in the balance. In May, King Hussein put his stamp of approval on draconian press amendments that nearly eliminated the country’s feisty weekly newspapers, known for their independent reporting on government policies.

In Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, and Syria, the state controls the broadcast media and press, allowing no outlets for dissenting voices…and the Palestinian press has become more submissive to the heavy-handed practices of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority… In Lebanon, the government instituted prior censorship of news and political programs broadcast abroad by satellite, while the media remain subject to broadcast and press laws that restrict news content…Press laws in Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen enable authorities to prosecute journalists for reporting on alleged government corruption and other controversial domestic issues…International and Arabic satellite networks have become a popular alternative for news programming for residents of Tehran, Damascus, and Algiers, providing a means to circumvent government-imposed restrictions on the flow of information…Internet use has begun to spread gradually in many countries through the region despite government efforts to limit its use.

Compiled from the first-hand research of CPJ’s professional staff, Attacks on the Press in 1997 is the single most authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date source of information on the status of press freedom around the world. The book documents in compelling detail nearly 500 attacks carried out to silence journalists and news organizations through physical assault, imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment. And it describes CPJ’s action on behalf of hundreds of journalists through emergency response and fact-finding missions, personal appeals by CPJ board members and staff, grassroots efforts, diplomatic channels, and media campaigns.