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    U.S. ranks Russia among seven least free countries for press

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    The U.S. State Department said Wednesday Russia is among the seven worst offenders in terms of press freedom, along with Afghanistan, Venezuela, Pakistan, the Philippines, Egypt and Lebanon.

    WASHINGTON, May 2 (RIA Novosti) - The U.S. State Department said Wednesday Russia is among the seven worst offenders in terms of press freedom, along with Afghanistan, Venezuela, Pakistan, the Philippines, Egypt and Lebanon.

    The State Department circulated the assessment after the U.S. human rights watchdog Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom, made public in Congress Tuesday.

    The Freedom House report, entitled Freedom of the Press 2007: A Global Survey of Media Independence, said that more than 110 journalists have been killed in 2006 worldwide, "making it the bloodiest year on record for journalism."

    The document also mentioned "aggressive efforts by the Russian government to further marginalize independent media voices, punctuated by plans to regulate the Internet."

    "The tragic murder of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya is but one of the latest examples of what has become a disturbing global trend," the report said.

    The most recent high-profile murder of a Russian reporter occurred in October 2006, when investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in an elevator in her apartment bloc in Moscow, the victim of an apparent contract killing.

    Politkovskaya, 48, known for her criticism of the Kremlin's policy in Chechnya, had written a book on the widespread abuse of local civilians by federal troops in the North Caucasus republic.

    Human rights advocates in Russia and abroad have criticized the Kremlin for tightening its grip on democracy and human rights ever since Vladimir Putin took office in 2000. However, polls show that a majority of Russians support the country's leader for the stability and economic growth Russia has enjoyed during his tenure.

    A recent survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists has determined that Iraq is the most deadly place for journalists. A total of 32 journalists were killed in the country in 2006.

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