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South Asia Becoming Dangerous For Media, CPJ Says

On the streets of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, a poster reads "Stop Killing Journalists." The poster bears photographs of media personnel killed in the line of duty.

On the streets of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, a poster reads "Stop Killing Journalists." The poster bears photographs of media personnel killed in the line of duty.

MANILA (Reuters) -- Escalating violence in South Asia has been putting more journalists at risk, a New York-based media watchdog has said, although the most dangerous places for the profession remained Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.

Those three nations, all in a state of war, have the worst records for failing to solve murders of journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

About 523 journalists have been killed across the world since 1998 in an "impunity index" compiled by the CPJ, listing at least 14 states with high numbers of unsolved journalist murder cases against the size of the population.

"The political situation in South Asia is deteriorating," Shawn Crispin, CPJ Asia program consultant, told Reuters after the group announced its second "impunity index."

"These countries are entering now into eras of sustained armed conflict and as soon as that happens, journalists are immediately at risk," Crispin said.

Crispin said some journalists in Sri Lanka, for example, were being directly targeted by the state, while those in Pakistan were getting caught between opposing political forces.

There were nine unsolved murder cases involving journalists in Sri Lanka in the 10-year period, putting it at number four behind Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. Pakistan has 10 cases of unsolved journalist killings and is ranked 10th in the index.

"The situation in Pakistan is quickly eroding," said Crispin, a former foreign correspondent based in Southeast Asia. "There are more and more journalists getting caught, not necessarily in the crossfire itself, but by competing groups. They don't like the coverage of the journalist, they target the journalist."

Threat To Media Freedom

Elizabeth Witchel, another CPJ official, said six of 14 states in the index were from South Asia, including India, which is not at war and has functioning legal and law enforcement systems. It is ranked 14th with seven cases of unsolved murders.

Other South Asian states on the CPJ list are Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Russia was the only European state on the list, while Brazil was on list for the first time, joining Mexico and Colombia.

Witchel said the CPJ's list only included countries that have failed to solve cases of journalists killed in the line of work.

The CPJ again called on Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to do more to establish the rule of law outside the capital, Manila, where most of the killings of journalists in the country have taken place.

"The Philippines is first and foremost the country of concern," Crispin said, describing the 24 cases of unsolved murders of journalists since 1998 as "outrageous."

"There is no greater threat to press freedom than the unpunished murders of journalists," Crispin said, adding 90 percent of the killings in the Philippines were linked to coverage of corruption, crime and politics.