2023 CPJ prison census shows incarceration of journalists near record high News
ReadyElements / Pixabay
2023 CPJ prison census shows incarceration of journalists near record high

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2023 prison census shows near-record levels of journalist imprisonment, with Israel jumping from being tied at 24th place to ranking at sixth place amongst the world’s leading jailers of journalists.

The census revealed the top five jailers of journalists as China, Myanmar, Belarus, Russia and Vietnam, respectively. Israel’s journalist imprisonment rate ascended to sixth place to tie with Iran. This is the country’s highest ranking on CPJ’s annual list, with its 17 imprisoned journalists recorded as Palestinians arrested after the Israel-Hamas War began on October 7.

CPJ’s annual prison census documented that 320 journalists across 38 countries were imprisoned as of December 1, 2023. This is the second-highest recording since the CPJ census began in 1992. While the recording is lower than 367 in 2022, the Committee admits this is primarily due to the release of journalists in Iran on bail to await charges or sentencing, not a sign of reduced repression on the media.

The dataset records the incarceration of journalists in association with their work. The majority of the imprisoned journalists face anti-state charges relating to “terrorism” and “false news.” Human rights organizations have responded to many of these charges, condemning them as an attack on freedom of the press. Just one day before the release of CPJ’s census, Human Rights Watch addressed the criminal charges against independent media outlets in Kyrgyzstan, describing the government’s escalating pressure on independent media as intimidation and harassment.

CPJ CEO Jodie Ginsberg attributed the near-record number to the government campaigns to avoid scrutiny and silence dissent. “Our research shows how entrenched authoritarianism is globally, with governments emboldened to stamp out critical reporting and prevent public accountability,” said Ginsberg.

In many cases, journalists are being imprisoned without being told of the charges against them and often face dangerous conditions in retaliation for their work. The dangerous conditions faced by journalists, particularly in conflict zones, have created what UNESCO calls “zones of silence.” These zones open up where there is a significant threat to media infrastructure and journalists, which prevents public access to information. These threats are generally those of “physical attack, detention, the confiscation of equipment or denial of access to reporting sites,” says UNESCO, and the threats have caused large numbers of journalists to flee these areas or stop working.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released data on December 31, 2023, detailing the arbitrary imprisonment of journalists worldwide. The data recorded a total of 779 journalists detained for at least 48 hours in 2023, with 547 currently being detained or under house arrest across 45 countries. The 2023 total is the highest amount recorded by RSF, up from 533 in 2022.

RSF Secretary-general Christophe Deloire commented on the 2023 finding, stating:

Each journalist in prison is by definition a journalist prevented from working. But it’s also a journalist who will be intimidated in the future. And it’s hunfred or even thousands of collegues feeling a threat handing over their head. So, the right to news and information of millions of people could be violated. Behind these statistics, there are human tragedies and political consequences.

The treatment of detained journalists has raised international concern. UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Liz Throssell expressed worry Tuesday about the detainment of 14 journalists in Kyrgyzstan. Throssell emphasized that punishing journalists for freedom of expression does not align with international human rights law, urging authorities to safeguard press freedom.

Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk Jeanne Cavelier also advocated for the protection of journalists, stating “investigating corruption is not a crime and police should not be used as a tool of intimidation.”