More journalists have been imprisoned this year by governments around the world than at any time in nearly 30 years, primarily because of the crackdown in Turkey after the failed coup in July.
According to the annual survey compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there were 259 journalists in jail as of 1 December, and at least 81 of those were in Turkish prisons.
All of the editors, writers, cartoonists and photographers detained in Turkey are facing anti-state charges, the press freedom organisation said in its report.
It is believed to be the highest number of journalists ever held in one country at one time. Dozens of other journalists are imprisoned inTurkey, but CPJ was unable to confirm a direct link to their work.
Some observers, as Elif Şafak noted in a New Yorker essay, believe the total could be as high as 140.
The CPJ report states: “In Turkey, media freedom was already under siege in early 2016, with authorities arresting, harassing, and expelling journalists and shutting down or taking over news outlets.”
A state of emergency has been in force in Turkey since the July coup attempt and the resulting government crackdown on alleged coup sympathisers has landed thousands in jail and forced tens of thousands of people from their jobs.
Western governments, human rights groups and legal experts have repeatedly expressed concern over events in the country.
In a two-month period, the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan detained more than 100 journalists and closed down at least 100 news outlets, said the report.
Outside Turkey, the total of 259 journalists in jail around the globe compares to 199 at the same time last year. It is the highest number since the CPJ began keeping detailed records in 1990.
Those numbers do not include journalists who have disappeared, or who are in the hands of non-state groups. For example, the freelance British journalist John Cantlie, held by Islamic State, is classified as “missing” or “abducted”.
After Turkey, the worst offender in 2016 was China, where 38 journalists were in custody on 1 December. China was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in the previous two years.
The report says: “In recent weeks, Beijing has deepened its crackdown on journalists who cover protests and human rights abuses.”
Egypt was listed in third place, with 25 journalists incarcerated. Many of them have spent years in jail without facing trial. Eritrea and Ethiopia are fourth and fifth worst jailers of journalists.
This year marked the first time since 2008 that Iran was not among the top five worst offenders. The report points out that many of those detained and convicted in a post-election crackdown in 2009 have served their sentences and been released.
“Journalists working to gather and share information are performing a public service and their rights are protected under international law. It is shocking therefore that so many governments are violating their international commitments by jailing journalists and suppressing critical speech,” said CPJ’s executive director Joel Simon.
“Turkey is at the vanguard of this authoritarian trend. Every day that Turkey’s journalists languish in jail in violation of that country’s own laws, Turkey’s standing in the world is diminished.”
COURTESY: THE GUARDIAN