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The Number of Journalist Imprisoned in the World Has Never Been Higher

By: April Carson

WASHINGTON — According to an annual report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists imprisoned by governments attempting to shut down critical reporting reached its highest point ever in 2021.

As of December 1, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 293 journalists were jailed in 37 nations, up from 280 in 2020. China was by far the worst offender, jailing 50 reporters. Other countries imprisoning a significant number of journalists included Myanmar, Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus.

"In nations all over the world, journalists are being imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression," said Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ's advocacy and communications director. "There is a consistent message in countries where journalists are imprisoned.

“Democracy and democratic values have been on the decline worldwide, not just in the media, for a long time now. Authoritarian governments especially paint journalists as biased untruths and criminals.” “The second narrative is a narrative that serves to aggravate political polarization in the world and also contributes to the erosion of people's trust in free and independent media across the globe.”

Kaiser described how authoritarian governments have sought to pass new laws that allow them to persecute journalists, such as section 505A, a provision added to the Penal Code in Myanmar in December 2017. It prohibits vague acts like “causing fear.”

The CPJ census is designed to represent a one-time snapshot of the media industry. The count covers journalists imprisoned as of 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2021. It does not include those detained for part of 2021 but freed ahead of the census date.

Democracy summit

A day before the White House hosted a Democracy Summit, which was attended by more than 100 nations that the U.S. claims are dedicated to democratic principles, CPJ published its study.

However, according to CPJ, seven of the nations listed by the State Department as participants are currently imprisoning journalists. They are Brazil, The Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria and the Philippines.

“We think it's critical to communicate with nations that are engaging in authoritarian behavior,” Kaiser stated. She went on to say that one of the Biden administration's main goals at the summit will be to address the issue of media sustainability. This puts the seven nations directly at odds with one of the summit's central objectives.

“If journalists are unable to report freely and independently, achieving media sustainability is impossible,” Kaiser continued.

Notable changes

The first time journalists from Hong Kong have been included on the list was this year, as a result of China's new national security law enacted in response to pro-democracy demonstrations last year. The 50 journalists jailed in China include eight from Hong Kong, including Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily and Next Digital. Lai was named CPJ's 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award winner for his efforts to combat press suppression in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its own count of Chinese journalists currently imprisoned in Beijing, which put the total number at over 127. Another reason for the discrepancy is that RSF includes non-professional journalists among those imprisoned.

Myanmar has gone from one imprisoned journalist in 2020 to 26 this year, according to CPJ. After ousting the country's elected government in February, a military junta sparked a sudden increase. CPJ said it underestimated the severity of press repression in the country because many were released before the census date.

The Ethiopian Civil War has coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of journalists imprisoned by Abiy Ahmed, the former political reformer who took power in 2018. The government of Ahmed was jailing nine journalists, putting it second on the continent for jailing reporters, behind Eritrea's 16.

Brazen action by Belarus

In 2021, Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko scrambled fighter jets to force down a commercial plane flying through his country's airspace, one of the most brazen assaults on a journalist in years.

He intended to shoot Raman Pratasevich, a NEXTA-Live Telegram presenter who was on the flight and arrested when it touched down in Minsk. Pratasevich, whose platform has millions of followers, has been actively covering rallies after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election, and he had spoken about persecution in his nation.

Belarus detained more journalists in 2019 than it did in 2020, and CPJ recorded 19 imprisoned journalists this year, up from 10 the previous year.

With repression, an exodus

The number of imprisoned journalists has decreased considerably in a number of countries that had previously occupied the top ten ranks, including Turkey, where the count dropped to 18 from 38 in 2020. Likewise, after releasing 10 jailed journalists, Saudi Arabia had 14 people in jail.

However, CPJ warned that the drop in prison populations in countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia is not all good news.

The extraordinary abuse journalists in both countries have faced, including the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, is said to have been carried out at the behest of the Saudi government. Many journalists have fled or left journalism altogether as a result of this.

Dangers in America

In the United States, Canada, and Mexico, no journalists are incarcerated as of July 2018 according to CPJ data. However, since January 2018, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has recorded the arrest or detention of 57 journalists in the United States.

This year's figure is far lower than the 162 arrested last year, notably during a summer when Black Lives Matter protests followed the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

According to the Press Freedom Tracker, in 2021, 46 journalists were arrested worldwide—nearly double the number from 2010. For years prior to 2020, the average was far lower. The majority of arrests happen during protests, as police "kettle" a large number of people in order to carry out mass detentions.

“Journalists have always been in danger at protests,” she added. That's when you see police kettles... and they're much more dangerous for assaults, whether targeted or not.”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police did not respond to a VOA request for comment.

The organization added that it recorded 140 attacks on journalists in the United States this year.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav







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