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Fewer Journalists Killed In 2008, Rights Group Says

A poster reading "Stop Killing Journalists" and bearing photographs of media personnel killed in the line of duty is posted on a Baghdad wall in June.
PARIS (Reuters) -- Fewer journalists were killed this year doing their jobs than in 2007 due to a big fall in the number of deaths in Iraq, a media watchdog has said.

Sixty journalists around the world died in 2008, down from 86 in 2007, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in an annual report, adding that the decline in fatalities did not signal an improvement in global press freedom.

"The figures may be lower than last year's, but this should not mask the fact that intimidation and censorship have become more widespread, including in the West," the RSF report said.

"The quantitative improvement in certain indicators is often due to journalists becoming disheartened and turning to a less dangerous trade or going into exile," it added.

Iraq remained the deadliest country for reporters with 15 deaths over the past 12 months, but that was down significantly from 47 in 2007 and 46 in 2006.

Although violence has dropped sharply in Iraq five years after a U.S.-led invasion, car bombs, suicide attacks and assassinations are still routine.

After Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Mexico were the most dangerous countries for reporters, while the death toll in Africa dropped from 12 in 2007 to 3 in 2008.

RSF said this was because many journalists there had simply stopped working, with news media gradually halting coverage of war zones such as Somalia."

Censorship, Intimidation Widespread

The report also found that fewer journalists were detained, censored, kidnapped, physically attacked, or threatened in 2008.

Some 673 journalists were arrested this year, compared to 887 in 2007 and 29 were kidnapped against a previous 67.

But the watchdog said censorship and intimidation were still widespread.

"As the print and broadcast media evolve and the blogosphere becomes a worldwide phenomenon, predatory activity is increasingly focusing on the Internet," it added.

RSF said for the first time in 2008, a man acting as a "citizen journalist" was killed.

Chinese business man Wei Wenhua was beaten to death in rural China after he filmed police clashing with villagers over a disputed garbage dumping site. Four security officers were later jailed for up to six years for their role in the killing.

RSF said China was at the forefront of Internet repression, with 10 cyberdissidents arrested, 31 physically attacked or threatened, and at least three tried and convicted. In all, 38 reporters were arrested in China, many linked to the Olympics.

Online censorship was recorded in 37 countries, with China, Syria, and Iran leading the way. In Myanmar, outspoken journalists and bloggers were jailed in a crackdown by the military government.

"Every year, repressive governments acquire new tools that allow them to monitor the Internet and track online data," RSF said.