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China worst offender in record-breaking year for jailing of journalists

News Agencies | Updated on: 16 December 2020, 8:48 IST

China, which has arrested several journalists for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, is the world's worst jailer for the second year in a row, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent press freedom advocacy organisation.

According to its annual global survey, at least 274 journalists have been jailed on December 1, exceeding the high of 272 in 2016.

"China, which arrested several journalists for their coverage of the pandemic, was the world's worst jailer for the second year in a row. It was followed by Turkey, which continues to try journalists free on parole and arrest new ones; Egypt, which went to great lengths to keep custody of journalists not convicted of any crime; and Saudi Arabia," the report highlighted.

The CPJ has pointed out that many of 47 prisoners in China are serving long sentences or are jailed in the Xinjiang "without any charge disclosed".

It further noted that at a time when the coronavirus rampaged Wuhan, Beijing arrested several journalists for coverage that went against the official narrative.

"The three still jailed on December 1 include independent video journalist Zhang Zhan, who began posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube in early February and was arrested on May 14. Her videos include interviews with local business owners and workers on the impact of COVID-19 and the government's response to it," the CPJ said.

Zhang Zhan was one of several journalists in CPJ's global census who relied heavily on social media as all other media outlets are heavily censored or controlled by the state.

"Her videos are likely still available to a global audience because they are hosted by companies outside China. But CPJ found that similar content produced by others who were later jailed had been taken down for reasons that were not clear, hindering research and underscoring longstanding concerns about transparency by global tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook," the CPJ said.

The report further stated that in China, diplomatic spats appeared putting the foreign media in increased peril. During this year, over a dozen journalists working for the US publications in China were expelled.

"Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a business news anchor for state-run broadcaster China Global Television Network, was arrested in August for allegedly endangering national security amid tension between China and Australia, making her the second Australian journalist in custody after blogger Yang Hengjun, who has been held on espionage charges since January 2019," the report highlighted.

It further said that the countries where the number of jailed journalists rose significantly include Belarus, where mass anti-government protests ensued due to the disputed re-election of the long-time president, and Ethiopia, where political unrest has degenerated into armed conflict.


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First published: 16 December 2020, 8:48 IST