Wed, 19 Jun 2019

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 13 December 2018.

Fresh waves of repression in China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia sustained the global crackdown on press freedom in 2018 for the third consecutive year. In its annual global survey, the Committee to Protect Journalists found at least 251 journalists in jail in relation to their work, as Turkey - still the world's worst jailer of journalists - released a small number.

The past three years have recorded the highest number of jailed journalists since CPJ began keeping track, with consecutive records set in 2016 and 2017. Turkey, China, and Egypt were responsible for more than half of those jailed around the world for the third year in a row.

The majority of those imprisoned globally - 70 percent - are facing anti-state charges such as belonging to or aiding groups deemed by authorities as terrorist organizations. The number imprisoned on charges of false news rose to 28 globally, compared with nine just two years ago. Egypt jailed the most journalists on false news charges with 19, followed by Cameroon with four, Rwanda with three, and one each in China and Morocco. The increase comes amid heightened global rhetoric about "fake news," of which U.S. President Donald Trump is the leading voice.

The higher number of prisoners in China - with 47 behind bars - reflects the latest wave of persecution of the Uighur ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region. At least 10 journalists in China were detained without charge, all of them in Xinjiang, where the United Nations has accused Beijing of mass surveillance and detention of up to a million people without trial.

In the highest-profile example, Lu Guang, a freelance photographer and U.S. resident whose work on environmental and social issues in China has won awards from the World Press Photo Foundation and National Geographic, disappeared in Xinjiang in early November. Authorities later confirmed his arrest to his family, but have not disclosed his location or reason for detaining him.

More broadly, President Xi Jinping has steadily increased his grip on power since taking office in 2013; this year, authorities stepped up regulation of technology that can bypass the country's infamous firewall, issued lists "of "approved" news outlets, and disbarred lawyers who represent jailed journalists, CPJ has found. While President Trump has continually pressed Beijing over its trade and technology practices, human rights - such as press freedom and the crackdown in Xinjiang - have not figured into the headlines.

In Egypt, at least 25 journalists are in prison as the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has increasingly arrested journalists and added them to existing mass trials. Mohamed Ibrahim, a blogger known as "Mohamed Oxygen" who covered allegations of election irregularities and police abuse, is one of more than 40 defendants in one case charged with false news and being members of a banned group. National security prosecutors have repeatedly renewed Mohamed Oxygen's 15-day pretrial detention since his April arrest.

Even after trial, Egyptian authorities go to transparently ridiculous lengths to keep critical journalists behind bars. Photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, has been in prison since August 14, 2013, when he was arrested covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. First, authorities held him for two years without charge; then they put him on trial for weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder. On September 8, 2018, a court convicted Shawkan of murder and membership of a terrorist group and sentenced him to five years in prison - time he had already served. Now authorities are holding Shawkan for an additional six months for unpaid fines relating to unspecified damages during the 2013 protests, according to his lawyer. CPJ honored Shawkan with an International Press Freedom Award in 2016.

Saudi Arabia - under intense scrutiny for the murder of exiled, critical Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate in October - stepped up its repression of journalists at home, with at least 16 journalists behind bars on December 1. The prisoners include four female journalists who wrote about women's rights in the kingdom, including the ban on women driving that was lifted in June.

Even as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan has been the fiercest critic of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi, his government continued to jail more journalists than any other on the planet. CPJ found at least 68 journalists jailed for their work in Turkey, which is slightly lower than previous years. In the course of the year, dozens more have been jailed or released, as prosecutors continue to seek arrest warrants and apply new charges, and courts ordered some journalists released pending trial and acquitted others. For the third consecutive year, every journalist imprisoned in Turkey is facing anti-state charges.

Read the full report on CPJ's site.

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