Coverage of protests and riots. Revelations of official corruption and graft. Major natural disasters. Investigations into deplorable living conditions. These are some of the important issues journalists cover in their role as the Fourth Estate.
Strip searches. Weapons and forgery charges. Accusations of sexual misconduct. Imprisonment. These are not the types of responses you would expect to news reporting. Yet these are the reactions authorities had to critical coverage by nine women journalists currently behind bars for their work, CPJ research shows.
Most were convicted on anti-state charges, but two have not even been charged, according to CPJ’s prison census. On International Woman’s Day CPJ is drawing attention to their cases. A Silk infographic about the nine journalists can be viewed here:
China, which hosted the UN meeting that led to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for women’s empowerment and the establishment of International Women’s Day, is imprisoning more female journalists than any other country. Of the 49 journalists jailed in China, three are women, CPJ research shows. All three worked on the Internet. Among them is website administrator Gulmire Imin, who was sentenced to life in prison after she was accused of fomenting violence through online posts.
Of the 199 journalists on CPJ’s annual prison census, only nine are women, and the charges and medium in which they work do not mirror the trends in the population of imprisoned journalists worldwide. None of the 33 journalists imprisoned in Africa are women. In Asia, four of the 71 are women; In Europe and Central Asia, two out of 29 are women, and in the Middle East and North Africa three out of 66 are women. Of the 109 online journalists on the census, seven were women. Four were freelancers, the other five worked as staff.
These journalists face an added risk compared to their male counterparts, because sexualized violence and “traditional” gender roles can make them more vulnerable. When Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist who covered corruption and was critical of Azerbaijan’s president and his ruling circle, refused to stop reporting despite receiving anonymous threats in 2012, a sex video of her was posted anonymously online, according to reports. The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter is currently serving a seven and a half year sentence on retaliatory charges, CPJ research shows.
When Atena Farghadani posted a cartoon on her Facebook page in 2014, mocking Iran’s parliament after they voted to restrict access to contraception, she was sent to Evin prison for three months. After her release in November 2014 the 29-year-old cartoonist uploaded a YouTube video describing how she was strip searched and mistreated by the female guards, which led to her being jailed again. Farghadani was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. After her trial she shook hands with her lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, leading both of them to be charged with “illegitimate sexual relations short of adultery,” and tried behind closed doors. CPJ has not been able to determine if a verdict has been issued in that case.
In some countries, even covering sensitive gender or women’s issues can result in journalists being jailed. In October 2014, CPJ documented how photojournalist Aria Jafari was jailed briefly in Iran after covering protests calling for justice for women targeted in a spate of acid attacks.
Women make up a small number of imprisoned or killed journalists worldwide, but they face distinct threats. On April 27 CPJ will release its annual publication, Attacks on Press: Gender and Media Freedom Worldwide, which explores these issues in greater detail. (Follow CPJ on Facebook for more details.) In the meantime, join CPJ in calling for the release of these nine journalists who remain behind bars on a day when the world should be celebrating the contributions of women like them.