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China is world's worst jailer of the press; global tally second worst on record

More than 200 journalists are imprisoned for their work for the third consecutive year, reflecting a global surge in authoritarianism. China is the world's worst jailer of journalists in 2014.

Warden Yang Di of Beijing Prison stands outside his model jail during a rare visit by foreign journalists, 21 April 1999
Warden Yang Di of Beijing Prison stands outside his model jail during a rare visit by foreign journalists, 21 April 1999


This statement was originally published on on 17 December 2014.

A special report by Shazdeh Omari

The Committee to Protect Journalists identified 220 journalists in jail around the world in 2014, an increase of nine from 2013. The tally marks the second-highest number of journalists in jail since CPJ began taking an annual census of imprisoned journalists in 1990, and highlights a resurgence of authoritarian governments in countries such as China, Ethiopia, Burma, and Egypt.

China's use of anti-state charges and Iran's revolving door policy in imprisoning reporters, bloggers, editors, and photographers earned the two countries the dubious distinction of being the world's worst and second worst jailers of journalists, respectively. Together, China and Iran are holding a third of journalists jailed globally - despite speculation that new leaders who took the reins in each country in 2013 might implement liberal reforms.

The 44 journalists in Chinese jails are a jump from 32 the previous year, and reflect the pressure that President Xi Jinping has exerted on media, lawyers, dissidents, and academics to toe the government line. In addition to jailing journalists, Beijing has issued restrictive new rules about what can be covered and denied visas to international journalists. Coverage of ethnic minority issues continues to be sensitive; almost half of those jailed are Tibetan or Uighur, including academic and blogger Ilham Tohti and seven students imprisoned for working on his website, Uighurbiz. Twenty-nine of the journalists behind bars in China were held on anti-state charges. (Read detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist.)


The administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also maintained repressive measures against the press. This year, Iranian authorities were holding 30 journalists in jail, down from 35 in 2013 and a record high of 45 in 2012. CPJ's 2014 International Press Freedom Award winner Siamak Ghaderi was released from prison in July, but that same month, Iranian authorities jailed Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter. By late 2014, the government had still not disclosed the reason for Rezaian's arrest or the nature of charges against him.

The list of the top 10 worst jailers of journalists was rounded out by Eritrea, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Syria, Egypt, Burma, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. 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.

Read the full analysis on CPJ's site.

Database of all imprisoned journalists.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • In China, mainstream media as well as dissidents under increasing pressure

    In recent years, the generally rising numbers for China have been driven by the detention of journalists from ethnic minorities, mostly Tibetans and Uighurs. Many straddle the increasingly blurry line between journalism and activism. But in 2014 there was a surge from 16 to 22 in the number of more mainstream, non-minority journalists who found themselves behind bars.

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