Monday, March 23, 2009

Violence threatens journalists in South Asia: CPJ

MANILA - Journalists in South Asia face 'severe risks' amid escalating violence in the region, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a report released in the Philippines Monday.

Attacks on media workers in Sri Lanka and Pakistan have increased and four other countries in the region -- Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and India -- also qualified for the CPJ's "impunity index."

The index, launched last year, lists countries where journalists are routinely killed or attacked and where governments have failed to solve the crimes.

"South Asian journalists face particularly severe risks. The region's nations make up nearly half of CPJ's index," said the report, released in Manila to mark the fourth anniversary of the murder of Marlene Esperat, a local journalist killed for reporting on official corruption.

Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia topped the list for the second year running, with a total of 103 journalists killed since 1999.

But the CPJ said there had been a surge of violence in Sri Lanka, including the fatal stabbing of a television cameraman, as the government battles the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Journalists in Pakistan meanwhile are under threat from militant and criminal religious organisations, while political groups frequently attack media workers in Nepal, it said. "We're distressed to see justice worsen in places such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan," said Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director. "Our findings indicate that the failure to solve journalists' murders perpetuates further violence against the press."

"We call on the Philippine government to take the hard steps needed to gain convictions," said Elisabeth Witchell, CPJ's campaign coordinator, adding that government should assign special prosecutors and move trials in safer venues.

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