World News

Number of jailed journalists hits record high, advocacy group says

Posted December 13, 2017 12:33 a.m. EST

The number of journalists jailed around the world in connection with their work has reached a record high of 262, according to a new report, with just over half of them imprisoned in Turkey, China or Egypt.

Nearly three-quarters of the detained journalists were jailed after being accused of anti-government activities, many of them under broad and vague counterterrorism laws. A record number, 21, were jailed on charges of “false news,” a term that has gained resonance as strongmen have embraced President Donald Trump’s attacks on “fake news” to silence critics.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group that does an annual count of detained journalists, said in its report that Trump had “cozied up to strongmen” and done little to stand up for human rights.

“President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media ‘fake news’ serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists,” the group said.

The 262 journalists imprisoned as of Dec. 1 represented a slight increase from the 259 recorded last year, according to Elana Beiser, the author of the report.

After Turkey, with 73 jailed journalists, China, with 41, and Egypt, with 20, the countries with the most journalists in prison were Eritrea (15), Vietnam and Azerbaijan (10 each), Uganda (8), Saudi Arabia and Syria (7 each), Bahrain (6) and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iran and Russia (4 each).

The group said that if anything, the numbers might be an underestimate, because its methodology required a clear link between jailing and journalism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists had cited Turkey as an egregious offender even before a press crackdown that began early last year and accelerated after an attempted coup in July 2016.

It cited the case of Ahmet Sik, an investigative journalist who has been imprisoned since 2011. He was originally charged after exposing the influence of followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen in the Turkish government; now, after a falling-out between Gulen and the government, Sik has been accused of collaborating with Gulenists.

The group’s report cited the cases of several Chinese journalists who have been detained despite being in poor health, including Yang Tongyan, who died of a brain tumor in November shortly after his release from prison, and of Huang Qi, a journalist with kidney disease.

Similarly, a photographer in Egypt, Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, suffers from anemia and needs blood transfusions but has been denied hospital care, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. He was jailed after covering deadly clashes between the military and supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the ousted Islamic president, in August 2013.

Shortly after Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, visited the White House in April, the group said, Egypt’s government passed a new anti-terrorism law that allows authorities to put journalists acquitted of terrorism-related charges on watch lists that restrict their financial activities and other rights.

The group found that 97 percent of the journalists were jailed in their home countries; that 22 (8 percent) were female; and that 75 were freelancers, accounting for 29 percent of the total.

According to the group, the prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody; it does not include those who have disappeared or are believed to be held captive by nonstate groups, like the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have abducted several journalists there.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that the longest-imprisoned journalist in its census was Yusuf Ruzimuradov, arrested in 1999 in Uzbekistan. It said that Eritrea’s 15 imprisoned journalists were all being held without charges, including Ghebrehiwet Keleta, a reporter arrested in 2000, and 11 journalists arrested the following year.