The number of journalists behind bars reached a global high in 2021, according to a new report from the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which says that 293 reporters were imprisoned worldwide as of December 1 this year.
At least 24 journalists were killed because of their coverage, and 18 others died in circumstances that make it too difficult to determine whether they were targeted because of their work, the CPJ said on Thursday in its annual survey on press freedom and attacks on the media.
While the reasons for jailing reporters varies between countries, the record number reflects political upheaval around the world and a growing intolerance of independent reporting, according to the United S-based nonprofit.
“This is the sixth year in a row that CPJ has documented record numbers of journalists imprisoned around the world,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon in a statement.
“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.”
“Imprisoning journalists for reporting the news is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime,” Simon added.
Between January 1 and December 1 2021, at least 108 journalists were imprisoned, totalling a record number of 293 jailed journalists across the world – the highest number since the organisation started tracking the imprisonment of journalists in 1992.
Furthermore, the report tracked that since 1992 and as of December 1, 2021, at least 1,440 journalists have been killed globally.
The journalists who were killed in 2021 include Danish Siddiqui, a Reuters photographer who died in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan in July, and Gustavo Sanchez Cabrera, who was shot and killed in Mexico in June.
The report noted restrictive environments for journalists around the world, including laws used to target reporters in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the February coup in Myanmar, the war in northern Ethiopia and the crackdown on the opposition in Belarus.
China imprisoned 50 journalists, the most of any country, followed by Myanmar (26), then Egypt (25), Vietnam (23) and Belarus (19), the CPJ said.
For the first time, the CPJ’s list includes journalists imprisoned in Hong Kong – a byproduct of the 2020 national security law, which makes anything Beijing regards as subversion, secession, terrorism or colluding with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison.
Mexico, where journalists are often targeted when their work upsets criminal gangs or corrupt officials, remains the Western hemisphere’s deadliest country for reporters, according to the CPJ.
The report notes that despite a lower count of journalists in detention in countries like Turkey – once the world’s top jailer of journalists but now ranked sixth – and Saudi Arabia, this does not signify progress.
“Authoritarian leaders are increasingly finding more sophisticated ways to block independent reporters and outlets – notably internet shutdowns and increased surveillance through high-tech spyware – than keeping them behind bars,” the report said.
The 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi agents likely acted as a deterrent for silencing journalists more effectively than any fresh wave of arrests, it added.
For 40 years, the CPJ has denounced journalists being murdered, imprisoned, censored, physically hurt and threatened.
“It’s distressing to see many countries on the list year after year, but it is especially horrifying that Myanmar and Ethiopia have so brutally slammed the door on press freedom,” Simon said.