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Number of Exiled Journalists Points to Worst Violations in Press Freedom

June 17, 2009

Journalists are being forced into exile in record numbers, according to an extensive report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. A total of 39 journalists have fled their home countries since June of 2008, and nearly 400 journalists have been forced into exile since 2001, when CPJ began tracking the data.

The number of journalists seeking exile from each country is a strong indicator of the area’s press freedom and in the past nine years, Iraq and Zimbabwe topped the list, each expelling 48 journalists from their respective countries.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka tops the list of offenders this year, forcing almost twice as many journalists out as any other country. Sri Lankan journalists covering military operations against Tamil rebels have endured severe beatings and threats. Fifteen journalists have fled since CPJ began tracking the data, and 11 of those cases occured just in the past year. One journalist, Upali Tennakoon, editor the weekly Rivira, was on his way to work when he and his wife were severely beaten by four men weilding metal bars. Tennakoon and his wife have since sought refuge in California.

Ranked as the deadliest African country for reporters, any of exiled journalists out of Somalia seek refuge in neighboring Kenya, where training programs were set up to support the continuation of their journalism careers. After the fifth Somali journalist was killed just this year, reports out of Africa asked if there would be anyone left to tell Somalia’s story. Fighting in the capital has been going on since late 2006, when Ethiopian troops backing the Transitional Federal Government ousted the Union of Islamic Courts.

Although the country tops this year’s list right after Sri Lanka, less journalists were forced to flee from Iraq this year, after a significant spike between 2007 and 2008. The decline can be attributed to improving security conditions in the country as well as the U.S. resettlement program put in place last year that aids in Iraqi resettlement.

The majority of those who fled their countries did so in response to violent attack or the threat of assault. CPJ reports that at least five journalists were severely beaten before leaving this year while 24 journalists had received threats against their lives or those of their families.

The full report can be found here.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.