The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Thursday denounced that the number of journalists jailed for their reporting work has reached a historic Zenit in 2021, with 293 of them imprisoned worldwide, 50 of whom were in China.
Among them, 8 are from Hong Kong, including Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper and Next Digital. Lai won CPJ’s 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had estimated earlier this week that the number of Chinese journalists currently imprisoned amounted to 127, although RSF also includes non-professional journalists among those jailed.
The CPJ also said that Burma, which a year ago was not on the list, has soared to second place after the military coup in February, which resulted in 26 people in custody who have been identified as journalists, although there could be more, according to some reports.
Belarus is also making the news with its highest number of journalists in prison since data collection began in 1992. The CPJ particularly underlined the extreme measures taken by the Government of President Aleksander Lukashenko to arrest Raman Pratasevich.
Nine journalists are detained in Ethiopia amid a civil war between government forces and the popular liberation front of Tigray.
In Latin America, there are six journalists in prison. Three in Cuba, two in Nicaragua and one in Brazil, the CPJ said.
With global concern focused on COVID-19 and climate change, repressive governments are clearly aware that public outrage over human rights abuses is dampened and democratic governments have less appetite for political or economic retaliation, the CPJ argued.
Regarding the number of journalists killed in action, there were 24 of them worldwide in 2021, in addition to 18 others who died in circumstances yet to be determined. Four reporters were killed in India and three in Mexico.
Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ’s advocacy and communications director, has explained there was a common theme across countries jailing journalists: “There's been a demise in democracy and democratic principles globally pretty much in every area, not just press freedom,” she said. “In particular, authoritarian governments are portraying journalists as unfair liars and criminals. That narrative serves political polarization plaguing the world and is also a critical component in erosion of trust in the free and independent media worldwide.”
Countries attending a virtual Summit on Democracy hosted by US President Joseph Biden and which currently hold at least one journalist in detention are: Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria and the Philippines.
The Belarusian incident was one of 2021's most iconic moments concerning freedom of the press: Pratasevich, editor of the NEXTA-Live Telegram channel, was arrested when a commercial airliner in which he was traveling over Belarusian skies was forced to land at Minsk by Air Force jets. Pratasevich, whose outlet has millions of subscribers, had actively reported on protests after Lukashenko claimed victory in a disputed presidential election, and had testified about repression in his home country. Belarus nearly doubled the number of journalists it held in prison, with CPJ counting 19 this year, up from 10 in 2020.
The CPJ data does not list any journalists in prison in the United States, Canada or Mexico. But information gathered by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, found that 57 journalists have been arrested or detained in the United States since the beginning of the year, far below the 142 arrested in 2020, mostly during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Other countries jailing journalists are Egypt, Vietnam, Belarus, Turkey, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and Ethiopia.