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Number of imprisoned journalists sets record

Dec. 11, 2012 4:35 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 16, 2012 7:21 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Turkey, Iran and China lead the world in the number of imprisoned journalists within their borders, a new report said Tuesday.

The report, compiled by the New York-based group Committee to Protect Journalists, said the number of journalists jailed reached a record of 232, among them at least three Palestinians.

The Palestinian journalists in Israeli custody are Amer Abu Arafa of Shihab news agency, Sharif Alrjoub of Al-Aqsa Radio and Mohammed al-Tamimi of Tamimi Press Agency.

Abu Arafa has been held in administrative detention since August 2011 and, according to his family, is accused of being a "security threat," although no formal charges have been filed. He had been detained in 2010 by Palestinian intelligence agents and sentenced to three months.

Alrjoub, Hebron correspondent for Al-Aqsa Radio, was detained in June during an early-morning raid at his home. He is being held under administrative detention at Ofer prison. He had previously been held for seven months in 2007, also without charge, the group says.

Al-Tamimi, a reporter and editor for his family-run agency, was detained in October during an early-morning raid at his home in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. The Ofer military court later sentenced al-Tamimi to three months in prison and a fine of 3,000 shekels ($784) on charges of "participating in illegal protests," according to the agency.

Meanwhile two of the 15 journalists held by Syria -- freelance blogger Tal al-Mallohi and Bilal Ahmed Bilal -- reported extensively on Palestinian issues.

Al-Mallohi's blog was devoted to Palestinian rights and was critical of Israel. In February 2011, she was sentenced by a state security court to five years in prison on a fabricated charge of disclosing state secrets, according to the CPJ report and Syrian media.

Bilal worked as a reporter for the TV station Palestine Today. Intelligence agents arrested him in September 2011 at his home in Damascus and took him to an army recruitment center in the town of Daraya, his family told local media. In April, a former prisoner said he had seen Bilal in Sednaya Prison, according to CPJ. Authorities have not disclosed any information about his status, whereabouts, or the charges against him as of late 2012, the report said.

In November a Palestinian media rights group said two Palestinian journalists -- Bashar Qaddoumi and Muheeb Nawati -- were missing in Syria. Mada said Nawati, from Gaza, went missing in January 2011 and Qaddoumi went missing in August along with a Turkish colleague. Both Palestinians were presumed to be in Syrian custody, but Damascus has yet to announce their whereabouts.

Turkey, Iran 'helped' set record

Tuesday's report said Turkey, Iran and China "helped lift the global tally to its highest point since CPJ began conducting surveys," in 1990, surpassing the previous record of 185 in 1996.

The extensive use of vague anti-state laws in the three countries helped break the record, including codes that ban political views including those expressed by ethnic minorities.

The report noted that Eritrea and Syria also ranked among the world's worst, each jailing numerous journalists without charge or due process and holding them in secret prisons without access to lawyers or family members.

Worldwide, 63 journalists are being held without any publicly disclosed charge, the report said.

The others that CPJ's report called the 10 worst countries were Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia.

"CPJ believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs," the group said. It says CPJ's advocacy on behalf of detained journalists led to at least 58 being released in 2012.

The group compiled its report based solely on where and how many journalists were jailed on a single day in 2012 -- Dec. 1 -- to provide a snapshot of the situation of journalists facing imprisonment around the world.

The rise in 2012 marks a 29.6 percent increase over 2011, which is the largest percentage jump in a decade and the second consecutive annual increase of more than 20 percent.
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