While the number of state-imprisoned journalists declined slightly in 2013 from the record number of the previous year, Turkey, Iran and China held steady as the worst offenders, according to an NGO that promotes freedom of the press.
As of December 1, there are 211 reporters, editors and bloggers imprisoned by state governments, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in its 2013 report. That number is down from 2012’s record high of 232, but still represents the second-highest figure by a fairly large margin. Before 2012, the highest recorded number of journalists behind bars worldwide was 185 in 1996.
Turkey headed the list for the second year in a row despite reducing the number of journalists imprisoned in the country from 49 last year to 40. However, of those released, some are awaiting trial and could still find themselves back behind bars.
In addition, other prisoners were released for time served while awaiting trial. In his November acceptance speech for the International Press Freedom Award, Turkish journalist Nedim Sener noted that it is common for journalists to sit in jail for lengthy periods in Turkish prisons without being brought to trial.
“I was released after a full year behind bars with no verdict against me,” he said. “I am still on trial and can be imprisoned for 15 more years. This is how Turkish justice works – instead of bringing journalist killers to trial, journalists are tried as terrorists.”
Seder has authored several books, including one in which he alleged government involvement in the murder of a Turkish-Armenian journalist in 2007.
Iran was holding 35 journalists in prison at the time of the CPJ survey, compared to 45 in 2012. Some of the prisoners from the year before finished their jail terms, while other were released “on furlough” and could be summoned to finish their terms at any time, according to CPJ, which also noted that Iran had continued making new arrests and handing down “lengthy prison sentences” to reformist journalists even after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, a presumed moderate.
China came in at number three on the list, with 32 journalists still in its jails, and is the only one of the top offenders whose previous year’s number held steady.
Meanwhile in the tumultuous Middle East, the number of journalists officially detained in Syria declined from 15 last year to 12 in 2013, although CPJ noted that it did not take into account the number of journalists who were abducted and are being held by rebel groups. “As of late 2013, 30 journalists are missing in Syria,” it said.
In Egypt, journalists have been under more scrutiny since a military-backed coup toppled former president Mohammed Morsi. Last year, there were no journalists officially jailed in the country, but this year, CPJ recorded five, noting that of the dozens of local and foreign journalists who had been arrested and detained in the wake of the coup for allegedly sympathizing with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, most had been released.
In Israel CPJ found that, just as in 2012, there are currently three journalists being held in Israeli jails, all three from the West Bank: Walid Khalid Harb, the West Bank director of the Gaza-based Falastin; Muhammad Anwar Muna, the Nablus correspondent of the UK-based Quds Press News Agency, who is currently serving a six-month detention on undisclosed charges; and Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a reporter for Jerusalem-based Al-Quds and Al-Rai, who was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport upon his return from a trip to Cairo, according to CPJ, which could not ascertain the charges against Khdeir.
Eritrea was the worst offender in Africa. While the number of jailed journalists was down to 22 from 28 the previous year, none of those being held have ever been publicly charged with a crime or brought before a court, according to CPJ.
Most commonly, journalists being held in official prisons are charged with anti-state crimes, with 124 such cases in 2013. In 45 cases there have been no charges at all.