Imprisonment of journalists worldwide reached a record high in 2012, driven in part by the widespread use of charges of terrorism and other anti-state offenses against critical reporters and editors, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 232 individuals behind bars on December 1, an increase of 53 over its 2011 tally.
Large-scale imprisonments in Turkey, Iran, and China helped lift the global tally to its highest point since CPJ began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990, surpassing the previous record of 185 in 1996. The 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. Worldwide, 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, CPJ’s census found.
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. Worldwide, 63 journalists are being held without any publicly disclosed charge.
Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia rounded out the 10 worst jailers. In two of those nations, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the authorities used retaliatory charges such as hooliganism and drug possession to jail critical reporters and editors. In 19 cases worldwide, governments used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to silence critical journalists. In the cases included in this census, CPJ determined that the charges were fabricated.
In Turkey, the world’s worst jailer with 49 journalists behind bars, the authorities held dozens of Kurdish reporters and editors on terror-related charges and a number of other journalists on charges of involvement in anti-government plots. In 2012, CPJ conducted an extensive review of imprisonments in Turkey, confirming journalism-related reasons in numerous cases previously unlisted on the organization’s annual surveys and raising the country’s total significantly. CPJ found that broadly worded anti-terror and penal code statutes have allowed Turkish 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, a top editor with the Istanbul-based station Kanal D. Calling 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.” Among the imprisoned is Tayip Temel, editor-in-chief of Azadiya Welat, the nation’s sole Kurdish-language daily, who faced more than 20 years in prison on charges of being a member of a banned Kurdish organization. As evidence, the government has cited Temel’s published work, along with his wiretapped telephone conversations with colleagues and news sources.
Related: Database of Jailed Journalists