2014: The sec­ond-worst year for Jour­nal­ists jailed

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By

Par­vaz@dpar­vaz

are at least 220 jour­nal­ists im­pris­oned around the world, with 132 of them held on anti-state charges of ter­ror­ism or sub­ver­sion, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased last week by the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists (CPJ).

The CPJ cen­sus on jailed jour­nal­ists in­di­cates that 2014 is the sec­ond worst year for jailed jour­nal­ists since the or­ga­ni­za­tion started con­duct­ing its an­nual cen­sus in 1990. The worst year was 2012, when 232 jour­nal­ists were jailed.

The re­port does not count jour­nal­ists be­ing held by non­state ac­tors, such as the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL), which the CPJ es­ti­mates is hold­ing 20 jour­nal­ists.

The num­ber of jour­nal­ists held by non­state ac­tors — about 80 have been taken by var­i­ous groups since the Syr­ian con­flict started in 2011 — is un­prece­dented, ac­cord­ing to Robert Ma­honey, deputy di­rec- tor at the CPJ.

“We’ve never seen so many jour­nal­ists held cap­tive — for ran­som or other rea­sons — by non­state ac­tors,” he said.

Ma­honey said it is clear that the jour­nal­ism land­scape is shift­ing. “The tar­get­ing of jour­nal­ists has been in­creas­ing to alarm­ing proportions,” he said. “Jour­nal­ists are now los­ing the pro­tected ob­server sta­tus that they had, and now they’ve be­come the story rather than be­ing the wit­ness to the story to some groups.”

The world’s lead­ing jailer of jour­nal­ists is China, which is hold­ing 44 re­porters, ac­cord­ing to the CPJ.

Gao Wenqian, a pol­icy ad­viser with Hu­man Rights in China, said that one of the prin­ci­pal rea­sons for the new round of crack­downs is the in­creased out­spo­ken­ness of jour­nal­ists “in re­sponse to prom­ises made by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping dur­ing his early days in of­fice.’

Said Gao: “The es­ca­lated crack­down on jour­nal­ists over the past year has been an ef­fort by the au­thor­i­ties to con­trol the me­dia as they re­al­ized that things would get quickly out of their con­trol if peo­ple re­ally prac­ticed what Xi Jin­ping said.” Gao added that th­ese fears are “com­pounded by the eco­nomic slow­down in re­cent years,” which he said has “sharp­ened so­cial con­flict.”

Also worth not­ing, said Gao, is that more than half the de­tained jour­nal­ists are Ti­betan or Uighur. “The per­se­cu­tion of eth­nic mi­nori­ties is part of the over­all hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “The fear is that separatist dis­sent could pro­duce a chain re­ac­tion in Tai­wan and Hong Kong.”

The Hong Kong prodemoc­racy protests have played a role in China’s me­dia crack­downs, said ac­tivist and blog­ger Wen Yun­chao. “The um­brella revo­lu­tion [in Hong Kong] will cer­tainly make the lives of Chi­nese jour­nal­ists harder,” he said, adding that over 100 Chi­nese cit­i­zens have been de­tained and ar­rested for sup­port­ing the protests, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists.

“Un­der the name of pro­tect­ing se­crecy, the gov­ern­ment has fur­ther tight­ened the con­trol of the press. There­fore, more Chi­nese jour­nal­ists got ar­rested last year,” said Wen. “This doesn’t mean that jour­nal­ists are more out­spo­ken to­day than they were be­fore. In fact, jour­nal­ists have been quite silent.”

In­creas­ingly, the CPJ study notes, gov­ern­ments are en­act­ing laws that fa­cil­i­tate me­dia crack­downs based on the no­tion of state se­cu­rity, as is the case with a new law in Ja­pan.

It is an ar­gu­ment used by ma­jor jail­ers of jour­nal­ists, such as China, Iran and Egypt, where the num­ber of jailed re­porters has dou­bled since 2013, to 12 iden­ti­fied cases.

Egypt has held three Al Jazeera jour­nal­ists — Peter Greste, Mo­hamed Fahmy and Ba­her Mo­hamed — since De­cem­ber 29, 2013, with sen­tences rang­ing from seven to ten years. Their ap­peal is sched­uled to be heard on Jan­uary 1, 2015.

Although Turkey, deemed “the world’s worst jailer” of jour­nal­ists by the CPJ in 2012 and 2013, re­leased a num­ber of re­porters this year, a re­cent raid re­sult­ing in the de­ten­tion of at least 23 jour­nal­ists em­ployed by news or­ga­ni­za­tions linked to a cleric who is at odds with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has raised red flags.

“In the case of Turkey, def­i­nitely, it is a re­gres­sive step. That’s a disturbing trend be­cause Turkey is an im­por­tant democ­racy in the re­gion,” said Ma­honey.

In Iran the num­ber of de­tained re­porters is down to 30 from 35 in 2013, the CPJ study says. But the July ar­rest of Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter Ja­son Reza­ian has led to con­cerns of wors­en­ing crack­downs in the coun­try.

Chi­nese po­lice in May de­tained prom­i­nent jour­nal­ist Gao Yu for al­legedly leak­ing the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee’s Doc­u­ment No. 9, which warns of the per­ils of a free

press and democ­racy. 2007 AFP

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