Is journalism the riskiest profession?

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, has said at least 250 journalists are imprisoned globally.

Some of the countries where journalists have been incarcerated are China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The report, written earlier this December by Elana Beiser, Editorial Director of the CPJ, provides only a list of journalists who were jailed as at December 1, 2019. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year.

There were five fewer jailed journalists in the 2019 global survey of the CPJ, compared with an adjusted 255 imprisoned in 2018. The organisation said since it began keeping track of imprisoned journalists in the early 1990s, the highest number of journalists in jail was 273 recorded in 2016. The report said Eritrea, Vietnam, and Iran are the worst jailers after China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

“Authoritarianism, instability, and protests in the Middle East led to a rise in the number of journalists locked up in the region – particularly in Saudi Arabia, which is now on par with Egypt as the third worst jailer worldwide,” CPJ said.

In 2019, CPJ found at least 48 journalists jailed in China, which took over from Turkey as the world’s worst jailer for the first time in four years. At the time of this latest survey, there were 47 journalists in Turkish jails, down from 68 last year. The organisation said China and Turkey have frequently vied for the title of “world’s worse jailer” since it began keeping its global survey.

“The number has steadily increased as President Xi Jinping consolidated political control of the country and instituted ever tighter controls on the media,” Beiser wrote.

The author of the report said majority of journalists imprisoned are often accused of being in opposition to the state or government. Others are increasingly facing charges for spreading “false news.” In the past year, CPJ said countries, including Russia and Singapore, have enacted laws criminalizing the publication of “fake news.”

Meanwhile, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan closed down more than 100 news outlets this year and lodged terror-related charges against the staff of the outlets. Dozens of journalists who are not currently jailed in Turkey are still facing trial, according to the report.

Saudi Arabia had at least 26 journalists in prison at the end of 2019. There were also 26 journalists in Egyptian jails in the same period, as several were released during the year. The number of journalists in jail in Iran increased to 11, according to the report.

There were 39 journalists in jail in sub-Saharan Africa as at December 1, 2019. The bulk of them, the report said, are in Eritrea, where most have not been heard from for nearly two decades. Cameroon was second worst. CPJ’s report found that freedom of expression is backsliding in Nigeria and Ethiopia. This development, the organization said, does not bode well for journalists.

Other findings from CPJ’s annual report shows that 98 per cent of journalists jailed worldwide are locals covering their own country. Three foreign journalists are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, and one in China.

The report also finds that 20 of the jailed journalists – or 8 per cent – are female, compared with 13% last year. More than half of those imprisoned were reporters publishing online. Journalists who are most likely to be jailed are those covering politics, human rights and corruption as their beats.