The number of journalists jailed around the world hit a new record in 2021, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday, with China and Myanmar having put a quarter of the 293 detained media workers behind bars. 

In its annual report, the CPJ listed 50 journalists imprisoned in China, 26 in Myanmar, 25 in Egypt, 23 in Vietnam and 19 in Belarus. 

press media freedom world
File photo: Wikicommons.

Adding those jailed in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the CPJ said a total of 293 journalists were in prison worldwide as of December 1 — up from 280 the year before.

“This is the sixth year in a row that CPJ has documented record numbers of journalists imprisoned around the world,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the group.

“Imprisoning journalists for reporting the news is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime,” he said in a statement. 

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.”

media press journalists press freedom journalism
File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“This has been part of a trend of creeping authoritarianism around the world,” said Robert Mahoney, the committee’s deputy head. “Governments are becoming increasingly intolerant of criticism.”

“The trend has been increasing. And I think it’s part of realization on the parts of certain governments that there is very little political price to pay for doing that,” he said. 

“It could be, you know, before one could name and shame governments, governments wanted diplomatic or commercial ties with liberal democracies that upheld these values. That seems to be less and less the case.”

The association also counted 24 journalists killed around the world this year.

Mexico “remained the Western hemisphere’s deadliest country for journalists, with three murdered for their reporting and the motives for six other killings under investigation,” the CPJ said.

India was also high on the list, with four journalists killed this year. 

Jimmy Lai
Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai (first from right) leaves the Mong Kok police station on August 11, 2020. Photo: KH/United Social Press.

The CPJ said the number of journalists behind bars reflects “increasing intolerance for independent reporting around the world.”

The report noted restrictive environments for journalists around the world, including laws used to target reporters in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the coup in Myanmar, the war in northern Ethiopia and the crackdown on the opposition in Belarus.

As well as intimidation and imprisonment, repressive governments find other ways to silence critics “which are less likely to attract international condemnation,” Mahoney said.

“Jailing, but also tying journalists up in legislation, bankrupting them with lawsuits,” he said. 

“It could be, for example, limiting them the means of communication, when there’s a big story. So we’ve seen throttling of the internet, that’s to say, slowing down the speeds of internet so it becomes virtually impossible to upload video or pictures of a protest.”

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