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Threats to journalists multiply around the world in 2008

LONDON - Attacks on journalists throughout the world are multiplying -- from organised crime in Latin America, to repressive regimes in the Middle East and Africa -- in a year when 68 journalists and media workers were killed.

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The number killed in 2008 at 68 is down on the 94 killed in 2007. However, last year 44 were killed in Iraq alone, which has this year enjoyed some stability with deaths down to six.

That figure is still high and the war in Iraq remains the deadliest armed conflict for the media since the Second World War.

In August, Reuters expressed disappointment with a decision by Israeli authorities not to prosecute the crew of a tank that killed the news organisation's cameraman Fadel Shana, along with eight bystanders. The 24-year-old was killed in the Gaza Strip in April after an Israeli tank crew fired on the car he was driving, despite the fact it was clearly marked as a press vehicle.

It marked the second time a Reuters cameraman had been killed by so-called friendly fire. In the early days of the war in Iraq, US troops in Baghdad mistook a television camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and killed Mazen Dana, 41.

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) said in its half-year review of press freedom worldwide that 39 have been killed since June, with Mexico emerging as a serious danger zone.

Other states in the Middle East which remain dangerous for journalists include Saudi Arabia. In the latest case, a high-ranking Saudi religious leader, Sheikh Saleh al-Luhidan, issued a fatwa on September 12 calling for the murder of owners of Arabic satellite television stations that spread "depravity".

WAN said that in the Middle East and North Africa, the past six months have been marked by a number of setbacks in the area of press freedom, mainly due to autocratic regimes that do not hesitate to take repressive measures against the independent press.

Bloggers also face arrest and prosecution. The Saudi blogger Roshdi Algadir was arrested on November 4and reportedly beaten up and forced to sign an agreement to never again publish his work on the internet. The reason behind the attack was a poem that Algadir had posted on his blog.

The report said that bloggers throughout the region continue their battle to spread news and information ignored or censored by the mainstream media. This has led to the arrest of a number of individuals including Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan.

The report said that in Mexico journalists have increasingly been targeted by drug traffickers and the country is now one of the deadliest places for journalists in the world, with 23 killed since 2000. Seven others have disappeared in Mexico since 2005.

The rise in disappearances suggests a significant shift in the dangers facing the Mexican press. All seven of the disappearances remain unresolved today.

Miguel Angel Villagómez Valle, editor and founder of the daily newspaper La Noticia de Michoacán, was executed hours after being kidnapped on October 9 in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The newspaper is a small regional tabloid that regularly covers crime and politics. A month before his death, Villagómez mentioned receiving a threatening call on his mobile phone.

On November 13, José Armando Rodríguez Carreón, a senior crime reporter for the local daily El Diario, based in Ciudad Juárez on the border with the US, was shot at least eight times by an unidentified assailant. In the week prior his murder, Rodríguez had covered the murder of two police officers.

Deborah Bonello, editor of MexicoReporter.com, said: "Three journalists were killed in Mexico in November alone, and those who cover organized crime here are especially at risk because drug-related violence is soaring.

"The Government's indifference is so striking that local NGOs recently launched a media campaign to try and raise more awareness about the issue and challenge the impunity enjoyed by those who kill or commit other crimes against journalists."

Closer to home issues of press freedom in parts of Europe and Central Asia include death threats against or prosecution of journalists reporting on conflict zones, war crimes, and organised crime remain, with four journalists killed in the Caucasus in August alone.

The report, with region-by-region details, is available on the WAN web site.

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