The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its annual global survey has revealed that at least 274 journalists were jailed in relation to their work in 2020.

The CPJ said the number of cases this year exceeded that of 2016 (272), making it the highest recorded so far.

The report states that each year, CPJ’s census results in minor adjustments to published data, as it learns of arrests, releases, or deaths in prison that occurred in previous years.

“This year, CPJ learned of the deaths in August 2019 of Samuel Wazizi in Cameroon and of Jihad Jamal in 2016 in Syria; however in the course of 2020 prison research, CPJ found three prisoners who had been jailed in 2018 or 2019 without the organisation’s knowledge.

“Accordingly, the number of journalists listed on the 2019 prison census is now 251, compared with 250 originally published, while previous years have minor adjustments. Jamal’s death led to a downward revision of the 2016 total from 273 – the previous record high – to 272.”

According to the report, “China, which arrested several journalists for their coverage of the pandemic, was the world’s worst jailer for the second year in a row. It was followed by Turkey, which continues to try journalists free on parole and arrest new ones; Egypt, which went to great lengths to keep custody of journalists not convicted of any crime; and Saudi Arabia.

“Countries where the number of jailed journalists rose significantly include Belarus, where mass protests have ensued over the disputed re-election of the long-time president, and Ethiopia, where political unrest has degenerated into armed conflict.”

“This marks the fifth consecutive year that repressive governments have imprisoned at least 250 journalists. Lack of global leadership on democratic values – particularly from the United States, where President Donald Trump has inexhaustibly denigrated the press and cozied up to dictators such as Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi – has perpetuated the crisis.

“As authoritarians leveraged Trump’s ‘fake news’ rhetoric to justify their actions – particularly in Egypt – the number of journalists jailed on ‘false news’ charges steadily increased. This year, 34 journalists were jailed for ‘false news,’ compared with 31 last year.”

“Within the United States, no journalists were jailed at the time of CPJ’s prison census, but an unprecedented 110 journalists were arrested or criminally charged in 2020 and around 300 were assaulted, the majority by law enforcement, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. At least 12 still face criminal charges, some of which carry jail terms. Observers told CPJ that the polarised political climate, militarised law enforcement, and vitriol toward the media combined during a wave of protests to eradicate norms that once afforded journalists police protection.”

Other findings from CPJ’s annual census include:

“Two-thirds of journalists in jail are charged with anti-state crimes such as terrorism or membership in banned groups.

“No charges have been disclosed in 19 per cent of cases; more than half of those 53 journalists are in Eritrea or Saudi Arabia.

“Nearly all journalists jailed worldwide are locals covering their own country. CPJ found at least seven with foreign or dual nationality, imprisoned in China, Eritrea, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

“Thirty-six journalists, or 13 per cent, are female. Some covered women’s rights in Iran or Saudi Arabia; several were arrested covering protests in Belarus.”

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