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Report finds journalist kidnappings rise sharply in 2010

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders finds that journalists are being kidnapped more often and becoming bargaining chips, in its review of the safety of journalists around the world during the last year.

Woman blindfolded

Kidnappings have risen 55 percent since last year

The press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders released a new report on Thursday finding that the number of journalists kidnapped around the world in 2010 has increased dramatically, while the number of killings has fallen.

The group found that the total number of journalists killed in connection with their work was 57, a 25 percent drop from last year. But Gilles Lordet, editor-in-chief at the group's headquarters in Paris, said the drop was largely due to a single incident at the end of 2009 in the Philippines, in which a staggering 34 journalists were killed.

The three worst countries for journalist killings this year were Pakistan, with 11 deaths, and Mexico and Iraq, each with seven, Lordet said. While Iraq was relatively quiet in 2009, he said the situation for journalists has gotten worse since the official withdrawal of US combat troops.

"It's a little bit a situation of political chaos in Iraq, and journalists and the press are in the crossfire of all these interests," he told Deutsche Welle. "It's very difficult to identify who is behind violence, who is leading what, who is doing what."

Killings in the EU

The report found that two journalists were murdered in European Union countries: Socratis Guiolias, a radio manager in Greece, was gunned down outside his home in July, and Grigorijs Nemcovs, a newspaper editor and publisher in Latvia, was shot twice in the head on his way to a meeting in April.

Jean-Francois Julliard

Julliard said governments must not become accomplices in the killings

Neither of the crimes has been solved, although an extremist left-wing group in Greece called Revolutionary Sect claimed responsibility for Guiolias's killing, saying he was behind a popular blog site it accused of "blackmail and slander."

Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Jean-Francois Julliard said the authorities in countries where journalists are most at risk have a "direct duty" to bring the killers of journalists to justice.

"If governments do not make every effort to punish the murderers of journalists, they become their accomplices," he said.

Bargaining chips

While the overall number of journalist killings may have gone down since last year, Reporters Without Borders said the number of kidnappings has gone up 55 percent from 33 to 51.

A prime example of that is the case of two French TV journalists and their three Afghan assistants who have been held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for just over a year now. Lordet said these kinds of kidnappings often turn journalists into bargaining chips, with the Taliban demanding ransom money and the release of 30 of its fighters.

"We know that perhaps there is bargaining between the government and the militia group," he said. "It's also a way for the militia group to say, 'Hey, we exist, we are here, we control this area, you cannot do what you want.'"

Germans in Iran

A recent story similar to the Taliban kidnapping is that of two German journalists arrested in Iran for allegedly violating visa regulations.

There has been some concern that the Iranian government might use them as leverage in nuclear talks, of which Germany is a part. But German Social Democrat foreign affairs expert Rolf Muetzenich said he did not think that was the case.

German journalist

The German journalists have been imprisoned in Iran since October

"It's important to focus on the humanitarian aspects involved and continue to make our stance on this heard in Tehran," he said. "The German government has been doing just that. And let's not forget that the Iranian authorities have already dropped any initial charges of espionage against the two journalists."

While the situation for journalists may be grim in many parts of the world, Lordet said there are countries where things are getting better. Brazil, which he said was very dangerous for journalists a few years ago, is "evolving in a good way" as the government has become more open to dialogue with press freedom groups.

"We can perhaps teach them ... what they should do to improve the law and relations between the press and political parties - sometimes in countries it's really the problem," he said. "And the first thing to do is really to be informed of the situation, to really know what is going on."

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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