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The price of truth

September 11, 2009

Economist.com

Journalists in jail

The price of truth

Sep 3rd 2009
From The Economist print edition

For reporters, a moment of fear

AFP A Sri Lankan newsman pays dearly

SRI LANKA was always a hard place for hacks; but by any standards, 20 years’ jail is a harsh penalty for a newsman doing his job. That term was meted out this week to J.S. Tissainayagam on terrorism charges, after he criticised the army’s treatment of Tamil civilians. The government says he stoked ethnic discord with false reports; human-rights groups say the state is cracking down harder in an already dire environment. Some 14 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

All in all, this is proving a bad year for journalists. More are in jail than at any time since the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group, began keeping records. Of the 174 held, some may go free soon; but as a crackdown in Iran demonstrates, there is also a risk that more will join them.

Indeed, Iran is chiefly responsible for these ghastly data. At least 41 journalists have been arrested there since the election in June. Some are now free, but the whereabouts of others is unknown.

Iran now holds at least 27 journalists, almost as many as China (30), and more than Cuba (25). Once inside (in Iran especially) things can get worse. Omidreza Mirsayafi, a blogger who was given 30 months for mocking Iran’s leaders, died in jail in March. Press freedom is also under attack in Iraq.

The internet, long seen as a way of dodging dictators, can be dangerous. At least 25 bloggers have been arrested this year. The repression of online journalism is intensifying in China, Vietnam, Burma and Iran, says Clothilde Le Coz of Reporters Without Borders, a group that defends journalists.

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