A record high number of journalists were jailed in 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said.
In a report released on Thursday, the group said the high numbers showed how bleak the year was for defenders of press freedom.
According to CPJ’s 2021 prison census found the number of reporters jailed for their work hit a new global record of 293, up from a revised total of 280 in 2020.
“At least 24 journalists were killed because of their coverage so far this year; 18 others died in circumstances too murky to determine whether they were specific targets,” the group said in a statement.
China remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with 50 behind bars.
Myanmar soared to the second slot after the media crackdown that followed its February 1 military coup. Egypt in Africa, Vietnam, and Belarus, respectively, rounded out the top five.
The report said “Turkey, once the world’s worst jailer of journalists, is now ranked sixth in the CPJ census after releasing 20 prisoners in the last year. Eighteen remain.
Saudi Arabia’s release of 10 prisoners – it’s holding 14 after no new journalists were recorded on the 2021 census – means it is no longer among the five biggest offenders.”
Focusing on Africa the report said Egypt recorded 25 imprisonments in 2021.
“Although a decrease from last year, the ongoing detentions are emblematic of the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi government’s often blatant disregard of its country’s own laws,” the group said in its statement.
It added that “Egyptian authorities regularly work around legislation limiting prisoners’ pretrial detention to two years by filing additional charges to extend that period. In other cases, they attach conditions to the releases of those who’ve completed their sentences,”
The group named Egyptian photojournalist and CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, who for example, has spent every night in police custody since he was freed from Tora prison on March 4, 2019.
Released under “police observation,” he must report to a police station every evening for the next five years. Every evening so far, police order him to spend the night in the station’s cells. Shawkan is also prohibited from managing his financial assets and property for five years.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the biggest setback for media freedom came in Ethiopia, according to CPJ.
It said “the government of Abiy Ahmed, who became prime minister amidst an unprecedented era of reform after becoming prime minister in 2018, emerged in 2021 as the second-worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, after Eritrea.”
Numerous journalists have been arrested in the country since the start of the civil war between the federal government forces and forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) a year ago; nine reporters were still in custody on December 1.
Six were arrested in November as the conflict escalated and the government imposed harsh emergency laws. CPJ documented multiple other press freedom violations throughout the year.