Photographer Shahidul Alam released on 20 November in Dhaka

Hundreds of jailed journalists the new norm – CPJ census

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Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam was released from Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, near Dhaka, on Nov. 20, 2018
Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam was released from Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, near Dhaka, on Nov. 20, 2018

13 Dec 2018. A CPJ special report by Elana Beiser reveals that for the third consecutive year, at least 251 journalists are behind bars for their work, as authoritarian regimes increasingly use imprisonment to silence dissent, the Committee to Protect Journalists found. In Africa, Egypt is a major culprit.

As of 1 December 2018, CPJ found 251 journalists in jail for their work. China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia imprisoned more journalists than last year as they intensified their repression of local journalists, and Turkey remained the world’s worst jailer for the third year in a row, with at least 68 behind bars.

Amid global anti-press rhetoric, CPJ’s census found 70% of journalists were jailed on anti-state charges and 28 charged with ‘false news’ – the latter is an increase from nine in 2016. Politics was the most dangerous beat for journalists, followed by human rights.

The number of female journalists behind bars increased, with 33 imprisoned globally, including four in Saudi Arabia who wrote about women’s rights. An increase in the overall number of journalists jailed in China this year is the result in part of Beijing’s persecution of the Uighur ethnic minority.

Global assault

“The terrible global assault on journalists that has intensified in the past few years shows no sign of abating. It is unacceptable that 251 journalists are in jail around the world just for covering the news,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “The broader cost is being borne by all those who care about the flow of news and information. The tyrants who use imprisonment to impose censorship cannot be allowed to get away with it.”

The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state actors. Cases including journalists held by Houthi rebels in Yemen and a Ukrainian journalist held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are classified as ‘missing’ or ‘abducted.’

In the US, no journalists were in jail for their work on 1 December, although in the past 18 months CPJ has documented or assisted with the cases of at least seven foreign journalists who were held in prolonged detention by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after fleeing threats in their home countries.

CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2018. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year. Learn more under our methodology. CPJ’s report is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Nearer home – Shahidul Alam released

The CPJ list reveals that nearer home, in India, Aasif Sultan of Kashmir Narrator was jailed on 27 August 2018, while Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was released from prison on 20 November 2018. Alam was held after more than a hundred days behind bars since the student protests in Dhaka in August. The 63-year-old award winning photographer and activist was arrested on 5 August for making ‘false’ and ‘provocative’ statements on al-Jazeera television and Facebook during student protests. He was freed from Dhaka’s main jail late on 20 November after being granted bail the previous week.

Alam told AFP he hoped his release would “signal freedom for many others” also detained during the massive student demonstrations. “It is a fantastic feeling to be free in a free country, breathing free air. But I hope for freedom for everyone else,” he said.

Alam was held under controversial internet laws, which critics say have been wielded by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, to stifle dissent and harass journalists. Contrary to the so-called freedom of the internet news media, governments especially in Asia are tightening the space for political expression on the web.

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