Published December 8, 2011
NEW YORK The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide shot up more than 20 percent to its highest level since the mid-1990s, an increase driven largely by widespread jailings across the Middle East and North Africa, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, an increase of 34 over its 2010 tally.
Iran was the world’s worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars, as authorities kept up a campaign of anti-press intimidation that began after the country’s disputed presidential election more than two years ago. Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria, and Turkey also ranked among the world’s worst. (Read detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist.)
CPJ’s census found stark differences among regions. For the first time since CPJ began compiling annual prison surveys in 1990, not a single journalist in the Americas was in jail for work-related reasons on December 1. Imprisonments also continued a gradual decline in Europe and Central Asia, where only eight journalists were jailed, the lowest regional tally in six years. But those improvements were swamped by large-scale jailings across the Middle East and North Africa, where governments were holding 77 journalists behind bars, a figure that accounted for nearly 45 percent of the worldwide total. Asian and African nations also accounted for dozens of imprisonments.
While Iran’s 2009 post-election crackdown marked the beginning of widespread press imprisonments there, authorities have maintained a revolving cell door since that time, freeing some detainees on furloughs even as they make new arrests. Journalists freed on furloughs often post six-figure bonds and endure severe political pressure to keep silent or turn on their colleagues. “The volume of arrests, interrogations, and people out on bail is enormous,” said Omid Memarian, an exiled Iranian journalist. “The effect is that many journalists know they should not touch critical subjects. It really affects the way they cover the news because they are under constant fear and intimidation.” Among the 2011 detainees is Iranian editor Mohammad Davari, a CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner whose website exposed the abuse and rape of inmates at the now-closed Kahrizak Detention Center. More than half of the Iranian detainees are being held on antistate charges similar to those lodged against Davari