Increased government intolerance of independent reporting pushed the number of imprisoned journalists worldwide to a record high of 293 this year, more than a quarter of them in China alone, a monitoring group said in an annual survey released on Thursday.
The total is up from 280 in 2020 and is the sixth consecutive annual record for the number of jailed journalists worldwide as tallied by the monitoring group, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Since the group established the database of imprisonments in 1992, it has become a global benchmark for measuring repression of journalists.
Joel Simon, the group’s executive director, and Arlene Getz, its editorial director, said in releasing the survey that the relentless climb in the number of jailed journalists reflected differing circumstances by country, but that a common denominator was an increasing unwillingness among authoritarian governments to abide the public release of information that they considered a threat.
“The number reflects two inextricable challenges — governments are determined to control and manage information, and they are increasingly brazen in their efforts to do so,” Mr. Simon said. “Imprisoning journalists for reporting the news is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”
The survey, which counted those imprisoned as of Dec. 1, offered a counterpoint to China’s aggressive efforts aimed at showcasing itself for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February and portraying the ruling Communist Party as a defender of democratic liberties.
Fifty journalists are known to be imprisoned by China, the survey found, more than anywhere else, and for the first time including journalists from Hong Kong, the Chinese territory subjected to a harsh security law in 2020 after pro-democracy protests there.
No. 2 this year is Myanmar, where a military junta seized power in February, arrested many reporters and imprisoned at least 26. Egypt with 25, Vietnam, 23, and Belarus, 19, round out the top five on the survey list, followed by Turkey, 18, Eritrea, 16, Saudi Arabia and Russia, both 14, and Iran, 9.
Ms. Getz acknowledged that some countries that historically have been among the top jailers of journalists defied the trend. Turkey, for example, which was No. 1 in 2018, receded in the rankings after its release of 20 journalists last year.
But in Turkey’s case, its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, effectively silenced the domestic media in a crackdown that followed the failed 2016 coup. Many journalists have shifted to other professions, while others awaiting prosecution have been paroled.
Ms. Getz said that “it would be naïve to see lower prisoner numbers as a sign of a change of heart toward the press.”
Understanding the Coup in Myanmar
A recent military coup. Following a military coup on Feb. 1, unrest has been growing. Peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations have given way to insurgent uprisings against the Tatmadaw, the country’s military, which ousted the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is a polarizing figure. The daughter of a hero of Myanmar’s independence, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi remains very popular at home. Internationally, her reputation has been tarnished by her recent cooperation with the same military generals who ousted her.
The coup ended a short span of quasi-democracy. In 2011, the Tatmadaw implemented parliamentary elections and other reforms. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi came to power as state councillor in 2016, becoming the country’s de facto head of government.
The coup was preceded by a contested election. In the Nov. 8 election, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 83 percent of the body’s available seats. The military, whose proxy party suffered a crushing defeat, refused to accept the results of the vote.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi faces years in prison. On Dec. 6, a court sentenced her to four years in a closed-door trial that the U.N. and foreign governments have described as politically motivated. While this initial sentence has since been reduced to two years, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is facing a series of rulings that could keep her locked up for the rest of her life.
No journalist has been imprisoned in North America as of Dec. 1, the group said, but it noted that the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a collaboration of the group and other press advocacy organizations, reported at least 56 arrests and detentions of journalists across the United States this year, 86 percent of them during protests. That total nearly equals the totals for 2017, 2018 and 2019 combined.
The group also reported that the number of journalists killed worldwide in retaliation for their work totaled at least 19 this year as of Dec. 1, compared with 22 for all of 2020. Three other journalists were killed this year while reporting from conflict zones, the group said, and two others were killed covering protests or street clashes.
Mexico remained the deadliest country for reporters in the Western Hemisphere, according to the group, with three people killed in retribution for their reporting. The group said it was investigating six other killings of reporters in Mexico to determine the motives of the killers.
India was home to the highest number of journalists killed in retribution for their reporting — four — and a fifth was killed covering a protest, the group said.