In the wake of a broad crackdown on free expression since President Xi Jinping took office, China is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with 44 behind bars, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in its annual report on imprisoned journalists released today.
In Iran, where President Hassan Rouhani has also failed to meet expectations for liberal reform, 30 journalists are in prison. The list of the top 10 worst jailers of journalists is rounded out by Eritrea, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Syria, Egypt, Burma, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.
All told, CPJ identified 220 journalists in jail around the world in 2014, the second-highest number since CPJ began taking an annual census in 1990. In 2013, 211 were jailed, while 2012 saw the record high of 232.
“We may live in the information age, but those who bring us the news are being jailed in record numbers,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “From China to Iran and from Egypt to Burma, hopes for reform have been dashed as authoritarian governments suppress critical speech at a terrible cost to journalists.”
Turkey, which was the world’s worst jailer in 2012 and 2013, released dozens of journalists this year, bringing to seven the number of journalists behind bars on the date of CPJ’s census. However, on December 14, Turkey detained several more journalists and accused them of conspiring against the Turkish state. The detentions were born of a political struggle between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party and the movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, and included the editor-in-chief of one of Turkey’s largest dailies, Zaman, which is aligned with Gülen.
The number of journalists in Chinese jails is the largest CPJ has ever documented in that country. Almost half of those jailed are Tibetan or Uighur, including academic and blogger Ilham Tohti and seven students who worked on his website.
A state crackdown on independent publications and bloggers in Ethiopia this year more than doubled the number of journalists imprisoned to 17. The number jailed also more than doubled in Egypt to 12, including three journalists from the international network Al-Jazeera. Burma had 10 journalists in jail, the first on CPJ’s census since 2011.
Worldwide, 132 journalists, or 60 percent, were jailed on anti-state charges such as subversion or terrorism. Online journalists accounted for more than half, or 119, of the total imprisoned, while roughly one-third were freelancers.
CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2014. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year. The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those in the captivity of nonstate groups. For example, CPJ estimates that approximately 20 journalists are missing in Syria, many of whom are believed held by the militant group Islamic State.