The number of journalists jailed for their work around the world reached a new record in 2021 with China and Belarus among the worst countries, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warned.
According to the New York-based NGO’s annual prison census released Thursday, 293 journalists were jailed for their work in the past 12 months, up from 280 in 2020.
It also noted that 24 journalists were killed because of their coverage and another 18 died in “circumstances too murky to determine whether they were specific targets.”
“It has been an especially bleak year for advocates of press freedom,” CPJ said in a statement.
China remained the top offender for the third year in a row with 50 journalists behind bars. The NGO noted that the “relentless imprisonment of journalists in Beijing is not new,” but that “this is the first time that journalists have been detained in Hong Kong in CPJ’s annual census.”
Eight journalists were jailed in Hong Kong in 2021. This is due to the implementation of a draconian National Security Law under which “secession”, “subversion”, “terrorism” and “collusion with foreign forces” they incur maximum sentences of life imprisonment.
Neighboring Myanmar, where the military junta staged a coup on February 1 following the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in a general election, rose to second place.
At least 26 journalists have been jailed since the coup when none were behind bars under an elected government in 2020. Most were detained while covering pro-democracy protests and have been charged under “a vague anti-state provision that criminalizes the incitement and dissemination of “fake news” widely, ”the NGO said.
The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of three years.
Egypt (25 jailed journalists), Vietnam (23) and Belarus round out the top five.
The Eastern European country now has at least 19 reporters behind bars, up from 10 in 2020. The “brutal crackdown on the media” began after the rigged presidential elections in August 2020 that reinstated Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth consecutive term. .
As in Myanmar, many of the journalists were detained while covering pro-democracy protests and were initially held without charge by the authorities for up to 15 days.
Many face long prison terms for retaliation and charges against the state, such as treason.
“CPJ has documented beatings of detained journalists, as well as attempts by authorities to shut down media outlets, block the Internet, raid newsrooms, harass journalists and continue to press new charges against those in jail. Many journalists have been detained several times. times, “it said.
“By the end of 2021, the Belarusian authorities had closed the most prominent independent media and popular social media channels, labeling them ‘extremist’,” he added.
Siarhei Satsuk, the editor-in-chief of Yezhednevnik, or e.g. by, online medium, is the latest journalist to have been arrested following a raid on his home on Wednesday.
Myanmar and Belarus’ rise into the top five saw Turkey and Saudi Arabia fall further, but they remain in the top ten, at sixth and ninth, respectively.
This is also due to Ankara’s release of 20 prisoners during the previous 12 months, while Riyadh released 10 journalists from detention.
But CPJ stressed that the releases are not “a sign of a change of opinion towards the press,” but rather that the crackdown that followed the failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and the horrific murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi have had a chilling effect on the media with many journalists leaving the field in both countries.
“Turkey’s prison count is also declining as the government allows more journalists on probation to await the results of the trial or appeals,” he also stated.
Russia is the only other European country on the list with 14 journalists behind bars.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism