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Media Watchdog Urges Obama To Stop Detention Of Journalists By US

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UNITED NATIONS — A media watchdog group is urging President Barack Obama to end the U.S. military's practice of detaining journalists without charges, and asked Tuesday for a full investigation into killings of journalists by U.S. military forces.

Officials with the Committee to Protect Journalists said the detention of journalists without trial by U.S. authorities in such countries as Iraq has emboldened other countries to do the same.

Paul Steiger, the group's chairman, said he sent a letter to Obama's transition team last month, pointing out that 14 journalists have been held without due process for long periods in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

"America has always stood as a beacon for freedom of the press, and it would be a great time to reaffirm those principles," Steiger said.

A freelance photographer working for Reuters, Ibrahim Jassam, is the only one who remains jailed. He was detained by U.S. forces in Baghdad on Sept. 2, Steiger said in his letter to Obama dated Jan. 12.

"To assert moral authority we must first put our own house in order," Steiger wrote.

There has been no response from the Obama administration, the group's executive director, Joel Simon, said in an e-mail after the news conference.

Steiger also said 16 journalists have been killed by U.S. fire in Iraq since 2003.

"We don't believe that these are deliberate attacks, but they have not been adequately investigated," Simon said.

Notably, the number of journalists who died because of their work declined worldwide for the first time since 2001, the watchdog group said as it released its annual study of attacks against journalists. Deaths were 41, down from 63 in 2007. Simon attributed the decline to increased security in Iraq, a decreased presence of international media there _ including local Iraqi employees _ and a reduction in combat-related fatalities.

Iraq remained the most dangerous country for journalists, with 11 killed in 2008. That is down from the 32 killed in both 2007 and 2006.

The number of journalists in prison declined slightly, with 125 journalists in jail as of Dec. 1, compared with 127 the previous year.

The "Attacks on the Press" report found that gangs, paramilitaries and drug traffickers routinely terrorize journalists in such countries as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. It said Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia have been following China's model of controlling the Internet and punishing those who get around restrictions.

Reporters in Africa rely on text messaging, though the technology also is being used to send threatening messages to reporters and editors, the group found.

"Attacks on the Press" also warned of a new regional agreement that threatens independent satellite stations in the Middle East.

The plan, approved by Arab information ministers, imposes fines and other punishments for broadcasts that "harm social peace, national unity, and public morals" and requires stations to "respect the dignity" of Arab nations _ vague terms that many critics said aim to muzzle the stations.

At a press conference in Cairo, CPJ Middle East coordinator Kamel Labidi urged the United States and the European governments to take up press freedom as a serious issue with the Middle East governments.

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Associated Press writer Salah Nasrawi in Cairo contributed to this report.