On Press Freedom Day, journalists note that their freedom has declined around the world this year

[Associated Press]

Gains in press freedom have been reversed around the world by more oppressive new governments and crackdowns on newly assertive reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

The group cited Morocco and Thailand as countries whose relatively good records on press freedom have been marred by rollbacks over the last five years. Its report, on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, also said conditions are worsening in some countries, such as Cuba, that already have long records of restrictions on the press.

"The behavior of all of these countries is deeply troubling, but the rapid retreats in nations where the media have thrived demonstrate just how easily the fundamental right to press freedom can be taken away," said Joel Simon, the Committee to Protect Journalists' executive director.

In its report, titled "Backsliders," the group said press freedoms have deteriorated the most since 2002 in Morocco, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Pakistan, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Gambia and Ethiopia.

"We want to highlight those countries where we think pointing out the deterioration can maybe make a difference and maybe halt that slide or reverse it," CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said.

Morocco's press is among the most outspoken in the Middle East, with newspapers that are openly critical of the king and government. But the openness has led to a rollback of press freedoms, the report said.

"In the last two years, the courts have effectively banned three of the most independent editors in the country," said Joel Campagna, CPJ's senior Middle East program coordinator

According to the report, Morocco is now tied with Tunisia as the Arab countries that sentence the most journalists to prison. Campagna said the country also has seen an increase in civil defamation suits against journalists. The judiciary, which is not independent, is ruling heavily against the journalists, he said.

In Thailand, where a September military coup overthrew the elected prime minister, the junta has ordered broadcast outlets to put out news prepared by the military, and blocked foreign programs that mention the former leader, the group said.

In Egypt, some newspapers have started openly criticizing the president, something that the committee said was unthinkable five years ago. In response, the report said, there have been more than 90 prosecutions of journalists over the last 2 1/2 years.

"With this greater assertiveness has been this push back by the government, a retaliation against outspoken journalists, and we're seeing that in this troubling pattern of criminal prosecutions," Campagna said.

In the latest case, an Al-Jazeera producer who filmed a documentary accusing Egyptian police of torturing their prisoners was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail Wednesday for allegedly harming the country's interests by fabricating scenes in the program.

Phone calls seeking comment from the U.N. missions of Morocco, Thailand and Egypt were not immediately returned.

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