Friday, December 10, 2010

Media: China, Iran propel journalist imprisonments to highest level in 14 years

(CPJ/IFEX) - China's brutal suppression of ethnic journalism and Iran's sustained crackdown on critical voices have pushed the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide to its highest level since 1996, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a new report. In its 2010 census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 145 reporters, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, an increase of nine from the 2009 tally.

With 34 imprisoned journalists apiece, China and Iran are responsible for nearly half of the worldwide total. Eritrea with 17, Burma with 13, and Uzbekistan with six, round out the five worst jailers from among the 28 nations that imprison journalists. At least 64 freelance journalists were behind bars worldwide, a figure consistent with the 2009 census.

"The increase in the number of journalists jailed around the world is a shocking development," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "It is fueled largely by a small handful of countries that systematically jail journalists - countries that are at war with information itself."

"In the Middle East and North Africa 37 journalists are being held on vaguely worded antistate or terrorism charges," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. "Unfortunately, it seems that accusing journalists of acting against national security has become the easiest way to silence critical voices in that part of the world."

Globally, journalists are most commonly held on antistate charges (72 cases) or even no charge at all (34 cases). Both China and Iran rely heavily on the use of vague antistate charges. But CPJ found that the abusive application of antistate charges - such as treason, subversion, or acting against national interests - occurs worldwide and constitutes the single greatest cause of journalist imprisonments.

"Iran, currently engaged in nuclear talks with the international community, is confident that its abysmal treatment of imprisoned journalists and other perceived opponents will continue to be a nonissue; it is up to the international community to prove Tehran wrong and hold it accountable for its actions," said Abdel Dayem.

Data from Iran show imprisonments extend beyond the post-election crackdown of 2009, forming a sustained assault on critical voices that continues to this day. In the last two months alone, CPJ found, Iranian authorities have detained four journalists. In China, the increase was propelled by the imprisonment of Uighur and Tibetan journalists covering ethnic issues and the violent regional unrest of recent years, topics that are officially off-limits. These journalists are also unrecognized by the state or Communist Party, which authorize all news media in China.

CPJ's annual census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1, 2010. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at . Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by nonstate entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups are not included on the prison census. Their cases are classified as "missing" or "abducted."