Wednesday, December 8, 2010

China, Iran propel journalist imprisonments to highest level in 14 years

  • in Sub-Saharan Africa, four out of five held incommunicado without charge or trial

  •   Eritrea, Africa’s largest prison for journalists & world’s third jailer



 New York, December 8, 2010—China’s brutal suppression of ethnic journalism and Iran’s sustained crackdown on critical voices have pushed the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide to its highest level since 1996, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a new report. In its 2010 census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 145 reporters, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, an increase of nine from the 2009 tally.

With at least 17 journalists who have disappeared in governnment custody and are being held without charge or trial for months and years, Eritrea was the world’s third foremost jailer of journalists, CPJ research shows. Secret detention centers in the reclusive Red Sea nation held the most journalists in Africa, an unbroken record for Eritrea since 2001 following the government’s brutal shutdown of the private press and the arrests of 10 editors. With four journalists behind bars, neighboring Ethiopia lagged behind as it has since 2005, despite similar crackdowns. In 2010 CPJ recognized the work of Dawit Kebede, an Ethiopian journalist who was released from prison and remains at the helm of the country's leading independent weekly.

As of December 1, at least 23 journalists were detained in prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa in connection with their work. From these, four out of five have been held incommunicado in secret detention centers without charge or trial for several years.

With 34 imprisoned journalists apiece, China and Iran are responsible for nearly half of the worldwide total. Eritrea with 17, Burma with 13, and Uzbekistan with six, round out the five worst jailers from among the 28 nations that imprison journalists. At least 64 freelance journalists were behind bars worldwide, a figure consistent with the 2009 census.

Detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist are available here.

“Eritrea, Ethiopia and The Gambia are leaders among the few African nations accustomed to detaining members of the press incommunicado without charge or trial,” said Mohamed Keita, CPJ Africa advocacy coordinator. “Without formal charges to fight or a trial in sight, prospects are grim for these journalists to gain freedom and for others to defy the chilling effect such imprisonments have.”

Globally, journalists are most commonly held on antistate charges (72 cases) or even no charge at all (34 cases). Both China and Iran rely heavily on the use of vague antistate charges. But CPJ found that the abusive application of antistate charges—such as treason, subversion, or acting against national interests—occurs worldwide and constitutes the single greatest cause of journalist imprisonments.

CPJ's annual census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1, 2010. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by nonstate entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups are not included on the prison census. Their cases are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”


CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide

Note to editors:

1 An analysis of CPJ’s 2010 imprisoned census is available here:

2 Documentation on each case is available here:

3 A video report featuring J.S. Tissainayagam, a Sri Lankan columnist freed from an unjust imprisonment, is available here:

Over the past year, CPJ advocacy led to the early release of Tissainayagam and at least 45 other imprisoned journalists.





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