The number of journalists jailed reached a record high this year amid an aggressive crackdown by government authorities.
A total of 262 reporters were put behind bars for their work in 2017, a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed on Wednesday.
“It is shameful that for the second year in a row, a record number of journalists are behind bars,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon in a statement on Wednesday.
“Countries that jail journalists for what they publish are violating international law and must be held accountable,” he added.
For the second, successive year, Turkey emerged as the country with the highest number of reporters imprisoned, at 73.
The crackdown on Turkish press is part of a wider government campaign under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following a failed military coup in June 2016.
China and Egypt followed Turkey’s lead, with 41 and 20 cases, respectively.
The report comes as Al Jazeera reporter Mahmoud Hussein approaches one year of detention in an Egyptian cell.
Hussein, an Egyptian national based in Qatar, was detained and questioned by Egyptian authorities on December 20 after travelling to Cairo for a holiday.
He is accused of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”.
Al Jazeera has rejected the allegations against him and urges his unconditional release.
Besides Hussein, other Al Jazeera reporters have also come under fire.
A social media campaign with the hashtag #FreeAJStaff was launched by the Doha-based network to draw awareness of its detained journalists.
Over the past few years, Egyptian authorities have arrested several Al Jazeera employees, raising concerns over media freedom in the country.
Journalists are being targeted for only being journalists and performing their job professionally.
In May 2016, a Cairo court sentenced a former editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera Arabic, Ibrahim Helal, to death, charging him in absentia with endangering national security.
Al Jazeera’s Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste – along with seven colleagues outside Egypt – were accused of spreading “false news” during their coverage of the aftermath of the military overthrow of then-president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the year they were taken into custody.
Mohamed and Fahmy spent 437 days in jail before being released in 2015. Greste spent more than a year in prison.
“I believe this is the darkest era when it comes to press freedom and journalists,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohamed, who rejoined the network’s headquarters in Doha in October 2015.
“Journalists are being targeted for only being journalists and performing their job professionally,” he added.
In its annual census, the US-based non-profit CPJ found that nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws.
According to the media rights group Reporters Without Borders, North Korea ranks the lowest in terms of press freedom.
Iraq and Syria were the deadliest countries for reporters in 2017, CPJ numbers revealed.
Politics reporters, who comprise 87 percent of those jailed, are most at risk of being jailed.
“It is certainly a dangerous time to be a journalist, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, where throwing journalists behind bars seems to be a form of censorship for which countries pay a small price politically,” Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director, told Al Jazeera.
Journalists and media observers believe the limitations imposed by heads of states prevents reporters from doing their jobs effectively.
“The political situation in some countries has deteriorated and the tolerance for criticism has decreased,” said CPJ’s Mahoney.
“Authoritarianism is on the rise and journalists are paying the price,” he added.
Despite the fear of crackdown and intimidation by authorities, many are still determined to continue doing their jobs.
“Myself, I’ll always chase the truth. I’ll not stop being a journalist,” said our correspondent Mohamed.
“There are hundreds of thousands of brave journalists who will continue to do the job even better than me.”
Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz