Lions, tigers, and bloggers! Oh, my!

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a report on the "10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger" last week, just days before World Press Freedom Day, today.

Anjum Naveed/AP
Pakistani journalists rally on World Press Freedom Day, Sunday, May 3 in Islamabad. Fifteen journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in the past 12 months.

Bloggers scare governments.

In a world of celebrity tweets, a billion IPhone apps, and a million-plus Facebook friends, it’s easy to forget how much technology that gives ordinary people a voice can frighten those in power.

Take Turkmenistan. In 2007, it jumped headlong into the digital age with its first Internet cafes – and posted armed soldiers outside.

Turkmenistan landed on the list of the "10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger" issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The CPJ issued its report to mark World Press Freedom Day (today, May 3).

This list isn’t full of surprises. Burma (Myanmar), Cuba, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, China, Vietnam, and Tunisia. Most nations are governed by leaders afraid of democracy and the ideas their own people might be exposed to if they have too much contact with the world or each other.

For example: Blogger Maung Thura, a Burmese comedian, is now serving a 59-year term in prison. His offense? Posting video footage of the wreckage left behind by Cyclone Nargis exactly one year ago.

Even before Nargis, this was a nation where only 1 percent of the population had private Internet access. Maybe that has something to do with the punitive cost: $1,300 for a broadband connection. The average Burmese household income is $40 a month, reports Soe Myint, the editor of Mizzima News, a news website in India run by Burmese.

Iran, which calls itself a democracy, is staying abreast of the times by creating a special prosecutor’s office for Internet crimes. New legislation will make it a crime to create a blog that’s determined to be promoting “corruption, prostitution, and apostasy.”

The new penalty? Death.

Do they need this law? Iranian blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi, jailed for insulting the country’s religious leaders, died in Evin Prison in March under circumstances that have not been fully explained, reports CPJ.

In Tunisia, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali warned against examining government “mistakes and violations.” That, he added, would be “an activity that is unbecoming of our society and is not an expression of freedom or democracy.”

It’s a relief to know that democracies don’t make mistakes.

For a more detailed look at international Internet access, usage, and restrictions, it’s worth checking out a special report released a month ago by Freedom House. The report covers 15 countries, including 5 of CPJ’s 10 Worst Blogger nations.

For a more global perspective, check out the Freedom House annual report of press freedom. The freedom map is pretty cool.

Out of the 195 countries and territories covered in the study, 70 (36 percent) are rated Free, 61 (31 percent) are rated Partly Free and 64 (33 percent) are rated Not Free. This represents a modest decline from the 2008 survey in which 72 countries and territories were Free, 59 Partly Free and 64 Not Free. The new survey found that only 17 percent of the world's population lives in countries that enjoy a Free press.

Freedom House says that three nations went from “Free” to “Partly Free”: Israel, Italy, and Hong Kong.

Israel was dinged for its restrictions on coverage of its Gaza offensive. Beijing is curbing Hong Kong’s media. And Italy saw its speech limited by courts, libel laws, intimidation by organized crime and right-wing extremists.

Lest one get the impression that freedom of speech is eroding everywhere, the Freedom House report notes progress in Guyana, Haiti, Uruguay, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

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