The 2nd-worst year for jailed journalists

CPJ's annual census of imprisoned journalists makes sober reading

Two hundred and eleven journalists are in jail around the world, the second-worst year on record since the Committee to Protect Journalists began its annual census in 1990. This year marks a slight improvement on 2012’s record high of 232, but the figures—which cover all reporters imprisoned as of December—still make depressing reading. The report was released December 18.

Turkey was the world’s leading jailer of journalists for the second year running, closely followed by Iran and China. Altogether, the three countries accounted for more than half of all reporters behind bars in 2013. The number of journalists in Turkish prisons fell from 49 to 40 this year: Some were freed pending trial, while others—defendants in pre-trial detentions—were released for time served. Dozens of Kurdish reporters were detained on terror-related charges; other journalists were imprisoned for allegedly supporting anti-government groups. Turkey’s anti-terror and penal laws allow its government to conflate covering banned groups with becoming active members of them, according to the CPJ.

In fact, 124 journalists have been jailed worldwide on anti-state charges, such as subversion and terrorism—a far higher number than those charged with defamation or any other activity.

In Iran, the number of imprisoned reporters dropped from 45 to 35. Some prisoners were released because their sentences expired; others were freed on furlough, without knowing if or when they will have to go back to prison.

Thirty-two journalists, bloggers, and editors are still behind bars in China, the same number as last year. Although reporters, including CPJ’s 2005 International Press Freedom Award winner Shi Tao, were released, a government crackdown on internet criticism spurred several arrests since August.

CPJ’s list of the top 10 worst jailers of journalists also included Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Uzbekistan.

Twelve reporters have been imprisoned by Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, according to the report. But that number doesn’t account for the dozens of reporters who have been kidnapped in the country and are possibly being held by opposition groups: As of late 2013, approximately 30 journalists are missing in Syria.

Only one journalist is behind bars in the Americas: Independent blogger Roger Shuler is in jail in Alabama, held in contempt of court for refusing to remove information from his blog that a judge had ruled defamatory.

Eritrea remained Africa’s worst jailer of journalists, with 22 incarcerated, down from 28 last year. The country is also the world’s worst abuser of due process. According to CPJ, no Eritrean detainee has ever been publicly charged with a crime or brought before a court.

Over half of all journalists (107) imprisoned around the world worked primarily online, while 79 worked in print. And roughly a third of the jailed reporters were freelancers.

CPJ’s census doesn’t include journalists detained and released throughout the year—only those incarcerated on December 1.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , , , ,