As the graph above shows, 232 individuals were identified as being behind bars on 1 December, an increase of 53 over the 2011 total.
All three nations – the world’s worst jailers of the press – each made extensive use of vague anti-state laws to silence dissenting political views, including those expressed by ethnic minorities.
Overall, anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason, and subversion were the most common allegations brought against journalists in 2012. At least 132 journalists were being held around the world on such charges.
Eritrea and Syria also ranked among the world’s worst, each jailing numerous journalists without charge or due process and holding them in secret prisons without access to lawyers or family members. In total, 63 journalists are being held without any publicly disclosed charge.
Here, country by country, are the 10 worst jailers…
Turkey, the world’s worst jailer of journalists
Turkey has 49 journalists behind bars, with dozens of Kurdish reporters and editors held on terror-related charges. A number of other journalists are detained on charges of involvement in anti-government plots.
In 2012, CPJ conducted an extensive review of imprisonments in Turkey and found that broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes have allowed the authorities to conflate the coverage of banned groups and the investigation of sensitive topics with outright terrorism or other anti-state activity.
These statutes “make no distinction between journalists exercising freedom of expression and [individuals] aiding terrorism,” said Mehmet Ali Birand, an editor with the Istanbul-based station Kanal D. He calls the use of anti-state laws against journalists a “national disease.”
Birand said “the government does not differentiate between these two major things: freedom of expression and terrorism.”
Iran, the second-worst jailer
Iran has 45 journalists behind bars following a sustained a crackdown that began after the disputed 2009 presidential election. The authorities have followed a pattern of freeing some detainees on six-figure bonds even as they make new arrests.
The imprisoned include Zhila Bani-Yaghoub, an award-winning editor of the Iranian Women’s Club, a news website focusing on women’s issues. She began serving a one-year term in September on charges of “propagating against the regime” and “insulting the president” for articles she wrote during the 2009 election. Her husband, journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, is serving a five-year prison term on anti-state charges.
China, the third-worst jailer
China has made extensive use of anti-state charges to jail online writers expressing dissident political views and journalists covering ethnic minority groups. Nineteen of the 32 journalists held in China are Tibetans or Uighurs imprisoned for documenting ethnic tensions that escalated in 2008.
The detainees include Dhondup Wangchen, a documentary filmmaker jailed after interviewing Tibetans about their lives under Chinese rule. CPJ honoured Wangchen with one of its 2012 International Press Freedom Awards.
“Journalists who report on areas deemed ‘most sensitive’ by the state—China’s troubled ethnic regions of Tibet and Xinjiang—are most vulnerable,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
“Journalists living and working in those areas are not just concerned with the red lines set by the state for all journalists but also the shifting gray lines, where the Chinese government’s security footing is at an ongoing, all-time high.”
Eritrea: journalists arrested without charge
Eritrea, with 28 journalists in detention, is the fourth-highest jailer. No Eritrean detainee has ever been publicly charged with a crime or brought before a court for trial.
President Isaias Afwerki’s government has refused to account for the whereabouts, legal status, or health of the jailed journalists, or even confirm reports that as many as five have died in custody due to inhumane treatment.
“If you write anything contrary to what the state says, you end up in prison,” said Bealfan Tesfay, who worked as a reporter and editor for a number of Eritrean state media outlets before fleeing the country.
Syria: detainees held incommunicado
At least 15 journalists are held by President Bashar al-Assad’s authorities, making the country the fifth-worst jailer. None of the detainees have been charged with a crime, and the authorities have been unwilling to account for the detainees’ whereabouts or well-being.
Among those being held incommunicado is thought to be Austin Tice, a US freelancer who was reporting for the Washington Post and several other news outlets. “As the uprising became more militarised, there was a greater risk of getting picked up,” said Rania Abouzeid, a Beirut-based correspondent for Time magazine.
Vietnam: cracking down on bloggers
With 14 journalists behind bars, Vietnam was the sixth-worst jailer of the press. In each of the past several years, Vietnamese authorities have ramped up their crackdown on critical journalists, focusing heavily on those who work online.
All but one of the reporters imprisoned in 2012 published blogs or contributed to online news publications. And all but one were held on anti-state charges related to articles on politically sensitive topics such as the country’s relations with China and its treatment of the Catholic community.
Azerbaijan: user of fabricated charges
Azerbaijan, the world’s seventh-worst jailer, viciously cracked down on domestic dissent while hosting two major international events – the Eurovision 2012 song contest and the Internet Governance Forum.
The authorities imprisoned at least nine critical journalists on a variety of retaliatory charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, and extortion. CPJ concluded that the charges were fabricated in reprisal for the journalists’ work.
Ethiopia: ‘journalism is criminalised’
With six journalists in prison, Ethiopia was the eighth-worst jailer in the world. The authorities broadened the scope of the country’s anti-terror law in 2009, criminalising the coverage of any group the government deems to be terrorist, a list that includes opposition political parties.
Among those jailed is Eskinder Nega, an award-winning blogger whose critical commentary on the government’s extensive use of anti-terror laws led to his own conviction on terrorism charges.
“Basically, they are criminalising journalism,” said Martin Schibbye, a Swedish freelance journalist who was jailed along with a colleague, Johan Persson, for more than 14 months in Ethiopia.
They were convicted of terrorism charges because they had travelled with a separatist group as part of research for a story.
Uzbekistan: two have spent 13 years in prison
Uzbekistan has four journalists in jail. They include Muhammad Bekjanov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov – the two longest-imprisoned journalists on CPJ’s survey – who were jailed in 1999 for publishing a banned newspaper.
Saudi Arabia: columnist faces death penalty
Saudi Arabia also has four journalists in jail. One of them, newspaper columnist Hamza Kashgari, faces a potential death penalty on religious insult charges stemming from Twitter postings that described a fanciful conversation with the Prophet Muhammad.
One imprisoned journalist, Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti, died in custody. He was arrested in October on charges of “acting against national security.” Fellow prisoners said Beheshti, was beaten during interrogation and suspended from the ceiling.
Now for the good news…
For the first time since 1996, Burma is not among the nations jailing journalists. As part of the country’s transition to civilian rule, the authorities released at least 12 imprisoned journalists in a series of pardons over the past year.
NB: CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01am on 1 December 2012. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year. And journalists who either disappear or are abducted by non-state entities, such as criminal gangs or militant groups, are not included in the census.