Just five countries account for 70% of all reporters in prison
THIS MONTH Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar, had appeals against their sentences rejected. Both were investigating their government’s campaign of violent repression of the country’s Rohingya minority, and both were given seven-year terms for violating the Official Secrets Act—a colonial-era law that allows any government information to be classified as an official secret. These reporters were sadly just the most recent examples of a disturbing trend. Last year 251 journalists languished in jails as a result of doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based NGO. It marked the third year in which at least 250 journalists were imprisoned around the world, though it was also the first decline since 2015.
The most censorious governments follow a familiar pattern of suppressing the media and locking up dissenters. Turkey, China, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia accounted for 70% of all reporters that were imprisoned last year, mostly for infractions against the regime. Of the 172 reporters being held in those countries, 163 were detained without charge or for offences classified as “anti-state”. From 2000 to 2012 the CPJ recorded a steady increase in the numbers of news staff behind bars, rising from less than 100 to over 230.
The most recent high in 2016 was mostly caused by Turkey. A government crackdown following a failed military coup suppressed and closed many media outlets. Loosely worded laws enable the Turkish government to interpret news coverage of any sort of terrorism as aiding terrorist groups. By the end of 2016, 81 reporters were being held in Turkey alone.
In 2018, despite its tally falling to 68, Turkey was still the global leader for locking up journalists. All but one were being held on charges against the government. A third of them were covering sport, but Turkey still deemed their actions as critical of the authorities. Although the imprisonment of journalists on questionable charges of some sort of sedition may be distressing, the recent fall in incarcerations gives hope for the future.