At least 250 journalists were in jail in relation to their work as of December 1, nonprofit group the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday, naming China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt the biggest jailers of journalists.
The group found that the majority were imprisoned on “anti-state charges.”
In a new report, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that the number of journalists charged with “false news” rose this year, with 30 in jail in 2019, compared with 28 last year and just one in 2012.
According to the committee, use of the “false news” charge has risen steeply. Earlier this year, Russia and Singapore both introduced controversial anti-fake news laws.
The number of journalists locked behind bars remains high. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 255 were jailed in 2018, only a modest improvement from a record 273 in 2016.
“For the fourth year in a row we are seeing record numbers of journalists imprisoned for their work,” Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the group, told CNN Business.
According to the report, China was the biggest jailer in 2019, with at least 48 journalists incarcerated, followed by Turkey (47), Saudi Arabia (26) and Egypt (26).
“This year, what stands out is that China has edged out Turkey as the leading jailer of journalists for the first time since 2015,” Radsch told CNN Business, adding that President Xi Jinping continues to “consolidate political control and institute tighter controls on the media.”
While this year’s census saw fewer journalists jailed in Turkey — down from 68 in 2018 — the report notes that this reflects successful attempts by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to extinguish independent reporting and criticism, rather than greater media freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists added that dozens of journalists not currently jailed in Turkey were still facing trial or appeal.
Radsch told CNN Business that the crackdown on journalists was likely to create a “deterrent” for those who might otherwise go into the profession, adding that 98% of those imprisoned were local journalists.
A crackdown on the press, Radsch said, “impinges on the public’s right to be informed. It has the potential and likelihood of leading to greater corruption.”
“Those in power feel that they will not be subject to any independent scrutiny or accountability,” she added.