2002: Safer Year For Journalists

Fewer journalists were killed while on assignment last year but the number of reporters and editors imprisoned rose sharply over the previous year, a U.S. press group said Monday in its annual report.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that 19 journalists were killed in 2002, down from 37 killed a year earlier. The 19 represented the lowest number of journalists killed since the group began counting in 1995. But the number of journalists sent to jail rose to 136, a 15 percent increase over the 118 who were imprisoned in 2001.

Joel Simon, acting director of the advocacy group, said fewer journalists were killed last year because there were no major conflicts. In 2001, on the other hand, the United States responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by attacking the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

During the ongoing war in Iraq this year, two journalists have been killed and six have been reported missing, said Joel Campagna, the group's Middle East program coordinator. "Iraq is the single most dangerous place in the world now for reporters," he said.

China has jailed more journalists than any other country, 39, an increase of five over 2001. Eritrea and Nepal combined have jailed 34 journalists. Those three countries account for more than half of all journalists behind bars.

"Coverage of the Gulf War, in which two journalists have been killed and many injured, has increased public awareness of the risks that journalists take to report the news," Simon said. "But we must also remember that journalists in places like Colombia, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Russia and China confront violence and government repression every day to do their jobs."

In Russia, for example, after Chechen militants took over a Moscow theater, the government threatened journalists who attempted to interview the militants and then questioned the Russian response to the takeover, the group said. The three-day standoff ended with the deaths of 41 militants and 129 hostages, almost all of them from the knockout gas pumped into the building.

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