By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
232: That number represents the record-breaking total of journalists worldwide that are currently imprisoned, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
And that’s a record none of us can be proud of!
The CPJ says its 2012 worldwide tally has reached its highest point since the organization began its surveys in 1990. And it’s an increase of 53 since 2011. Governments such as Turkey (the worst jailer,) Iran, China, Eritrea and Syria use charges of terrorism, treason and subversion to hold journalists—sometimes for months and years—without formal proceedings or due process.
For example, Turkey has at least 49 journalists behind bars—many of them Kurdish reporters and editors on terror-related charges. Others are being held on vague charges of involvement in anti-government plots.
In the CJR report, a top editor of an Istanbul TV station, is quoted as saying these statutes “make no distinction between journalists exercising freedom of expression and (individuals) aiding terrorism.”
Mehmet Ali Birand says, “the government does not differentiate between these two major things: freedom of expression and terrorism.” One of the worst cases involves Tayip Temel, the editor-in-chief of the country’s only Kurdish-language daily newspaper. He’s facing more than 20 years in prison for being a member of a banned Kurdish organization. In its “proof,” the government cited not only Temel’s published works, but also his wiretapped telephone conversations with colleagues and sources.
And other offending countries are no better. Iran began a renewed roundup of journalists deemed threats to the state after its disputed 2009 presidential election. China routinely jails writers for expressing dissident political views. Members of ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetans or Uyghurs, are particularly at risk because of the political tension between the Chinese government and these groups.
Eritrea, bordered by Sudan and Ethiopia in Eastern Africa, doesn’t even recognize the concept of due process when it comes to imprisoning journalists. Of the 28 being held there, not one has been publicly charged with a crime. In fact, the government there has refused to even confirm these journalists are being held or what is happening to them, since Eritrea is known for its inhumane treatment of prisoners.
To say this report highlights a sad state of affair for journalists is an understatement. And the proliferation of online news outlets has only made reporters and editors more susceptible to persecution and punishment if their views don’t agree with those in power.
RTDNA agrees with CPJ in saying that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs. And we applaud CPJ for its efforts in working to free those wrongly held. In the past year, CPJ advocacy led to the early release of at least 58 journalists worldwide.
But these efforts must continue so long as any journalists remain in jail simply for working to bring their readers, viewers and listeners news and opinion which is important to them.