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Number of imprisoned journalists reaches 15-year high, says CPJ report

As of 1 December 2011, 179 journalists are in jail worldwide, says CPJ
As of 1 December 2011, 179 journalists are in jail worldwide, says CPJ


The number of journalists in prison around the world is higher than it has been in 15 years, says a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report. As of 1 December, 179 writers, editors and photojournalists were detained, according to CPJ's annual survey.

The jump is largely attributed to beyond-the-law military regimes in Middle East and North Africa, most notably in Iran, which topped the list with 42 journalists imprisoned. Many Iranian journalists are only released after threatened or tortured into confessing to and implicating others in fabricated crimes, paying six figure sums and/or vowing to secrecy, the report notes.

In Iran and elsewhere, the most common charges levied against journalists are treason, subversion or acting against national interests, CPJ says. Even worse, however, is that approximately 65 journalists are being held without charge, many in secret prisons that family members and lawyers can't access.

In Eritrea, the world's second worst jailer, not a single one of the 28 imprisoned members of the media has been charged. Fears run especially high for Dawit Isaak, who has spent more than a decade in a secret jail and is rumoured to be dead as family members desperately seek information of his whereabouts.

According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, 11 former Eritrean government officials who wrote letters criticising the government - as well as the 10 journalists who published the letters - have also spent the last decade in prison cut off from family, lawyers and rights groups. Like Isaak, they have never been given court hearings. Indeed, hundreds of thousands have been jailed for "not fully supporting the regime," Human Rights Watch says, including those who try to flee forced army conscription.

No fewer than six of the world's imprisoned journalists are in fact alleged to have died due to torture, deplorable conditions and/or lack of access to health care. CPJ continues to investigate these cases.

Imprisonments shrouded in secrecy are also common in China, where those who draw attention to the plight of Tibetan and Uighur minority groups are often kidnapped without fanfare by state security forces, making it difficult for human rights organisations to advocate on their behalf.

But it's not just authoritarian regimes that are jailing journalists in record numbers. Turkey holds eight journalists in prison, many who are Kurdish editors and writers demanding an end to human rights violations in that region. CPJ and other IFEX members note, however, that the recent imprisonment of those investigating government scandals, including Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, show an ever-expanding campaign against journalists. According to CPJ, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party has "resorted to nationalist tactics by using vague defamation laws and sweeping anti-terrorism statutes to rein in not only traditional targets such as leftist and Kurdish journalists but also government critics in the mainstream media."

While quantifying a terrifying rise in the Arab world as well as some East Asian and African countries, CPJ's investigation found just the opposite on the other side the world. For the first time since CPJ began its annual prison survey in 1990, not a single journalist was imprisoned for their work in the Americas.

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  • Number of journalists in prison reaches 15-year high

    Iran, Eritrea and China are among the leading jailers, according to CPJ's annual census; nearly half of those held were online journalists, while about 45 percent of the imprisoned were freelancers.

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