NEW YORK — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide has hit another new record, which it says reflects a “dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.”
In its annual survey of journalists in jail published on December 13, the New York-based media watchdog found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, a new record after a historical high of 259 last year.
The census accounts only for journalists in government custody on December 1, not those imprisoned and released throughout the year or those who have disappeared or are held captive by nonstate groups.
CPJ says that for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt, which are responsible for jailing 134 of the total.
Despite releasing some journalists in 2017, Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer for the second consecutive year, with 73 journalists behind bars, compared with 81 last year. Dozens more still face trial, and fresh arrests take place regularly. In several other cases in Turkey, CPJ was unable to establish a link to journalism. Other press freedom groups using a different methodology have higher numbers. Every journalist CPJ found jailed for their work in Turkey is under investigation for, or charged with, anti-state crimes, as was true of last year’s census.
The crackdown on the Turkish press that began in early 2016 and accelerated after a failed coup attempt that July–which the government blamed on an alleged terrorist organization led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen–continued apace in 2017. Authorities accused some journalists of terrorist activity based solely on their alleged use of a messaging app, Bylock, or bank accounts at allegedly Gülenist institutions.
The top jailers of journalists also include Azerbaijan, where 10 of them were found behind bars.
There were five journalists incarcerated in both Iran and Russia, four in Uzbekistan, and two in both Kazakhstan and Pakistan.
The CPJ census shows that Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan each imprisoned one journalist.
CPJ says the United States and other Western powers failed to pressure these countries’ leaderships into improving the “bleak climate” for press freedom.
“Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping,” the group says.
At the same time, 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. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21. The CPJ report says.