Report: Biggest Jailer of Journalists is Communist China

By Michael W. Chapman | January 2, 2019 | 4:35pm EST
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( -- The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2018 report on deadly attacks and abuses against journalists shows that the "biggest jailer of journalists," as of December 2018, is Communist China, which is holding 60 reporters. 

In second place behind China is Egypt (38 reporters jailed), then Turkey (33 reporters jailed), Saudi Arabia (28) and then Iran (28). Worldwide, 348 journalists are being held in prisons, according to the RSF, 324 men and 24 women.

Among the 348 detained reporters, 179 are professional journalists, 150 are non-professional -- bloggers, online reporters, citizen journalists -- and 19 media workers, according to the RSF report.

Communist China's authoritarian president, Xi Jinping.  (Getty Images)

"After clamping down on the traditional media, countries such as China, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are improving their repressive apparatus in various ways including the adoption of 'cyber-laws' that make it easier for them to target those reporting online," said the non-profit, Paris-based organization, which has bureaus in 17 cities and correspondents in 130 countries. 

As for Communist China and its 60 jailed reporters, 46 of them are non-professional reporters "who have tried to compensate for the Communist Party’s increasingly tight control on the traditional media," said the RSF. 

"As a result of tougher Internet regulations, non-professional journalists are being held in often inhuman conditions for nothing more than a post on social networks or messaging services," states the report. "News and information providers who don’t toe the official line are increasingly subjected to censorship, surveillance, arrest, and arbitrary detention. Many detainees are mistreated and some are tortured."

"RSF is aware of at least 10 non-professional journalists who are in danger of dying in Chinese prisons," said the watchdog group.  "They include Ilham Tohti, a 2016 Sakharov Prize nominee, who is serving a life sentence, and Huang Qi, a recipient of the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2004, who has been held without trial for more than two years."

The RSF continued, "Jamal Khashoggi was murdered because he had become a prominent critic of the Saudi regime. At least 28 other journalists, columnists, and bloggers are currently detained in Saudi Arabia for the same reason: their columns or posts questioned the established order. Some were arrested several years ago, under King Salman or his predecessor, King Abdullah."

"They include blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for 'insulting Islam,'" according to the report.  "Others, such as the well-known blogger and women’s rights activist Eman al Nafjan, were arrested during the crackdown launched in the autumn of 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Most are still awaiting trial."

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"When sentences are finally passed, they can be shocking," said the RSF.  "Religious intellectual and blogger Salman al Awdah was sentenced to death in September 2018. Fayez Ben Damakh, a journalist and poet, has simply disappeared. There has been no trace of him since September 2017, when he was about to launch a TV news channel in Kuwait. Kuwaiti media report that he was extradited to Saudi Arabia and imprisoned there."

In explaining its data, the organization said its "detention figures are based on a rigorous methodology that aims to establish on a case-by-case basis that the detained journalist was arrested in connection with their work as a journalist and not for another reason. Of the approximately 100 journalists detained in Turkey, RSF is currently able to confirm that at least 33 are being held because of their journalism. Many other cases are currently being investigated."

The RSF further reported that worldwide there are 60 journalists being held hostage. These hostage-journalists "are being held by non-state actors who threaten to kill or injure them or continue to hold them as means of pressure on a third party (a government, organization or group) with the aim of forcing the third party to take a particular action," said the RSF.

For the reporters being held hostage, 31 are in Syria, 17 are in Yemen, 11 in Iraq and 1 in Ukraine, according to the RSF.  Fifty-nine of the 60 journalists are being held in Middle Eastern countries. The main hostage-taker in the Middle East is the Islamic State.

"Armed groups operating in war zones abduct journalists both for ransom and for the purpose of intimidating their colleagues and thereby obtaining their complete submission," said the RSF. 

"No release was reported in Iraq where 11 journalists continue to be held hostage although the three-year war against Islamic State was officially declared over in December 2017," said the report.  "The lack of news about the fate of these hostages makes us fear the worst."

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"In Yemen, a country embroiled in civil war fuelled by regional rivalry since 2015, more journalists fell victim to the widespread practice of abduction in 2018," according to the RSF. "A total of 17 are now illegally detained, up from 12 in 2017."

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