Pro-Trump protesters scale a wall as they storm the U.S. Capitol building during clashes with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

The most-read press freedom stories of 2021

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2021 began with protestors threatening journalists covering the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. The news at the end of the year isn’t much brighter, with Ethiopia using its emergency law to ramp up arrests of journalists and the first documented death of a journalist in custody in Myanmar since the country’s February coup. Over this year, China essentially snuffed out what was left of a free press in Hong Kong; violent attacks against journalists continued unabated in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover; and multiple reports emerged of governments around the world allegedly targeting journalists with spyware.

Press freedom news this year paints a bleak picture. Yet, there were also many times when we witnessed the power of advocating for freedom of the press. As CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon writes in a new piece for the Columbia Journalism Review, it’s never been more critical to stand up for people who report the news amid threats.

At CPJ, we think it’s vital to remember the stories of journalistic resilience especially at year’s end; they remind us that journalism matters more than ever.

Most-read press freedom stories of 2021

  1. “Three people threatened to shoot me.” Journalists describe covering mob violence at the US Capitol — Katherine Jacobsen, CPJ U.S. and Canada program coordinator and Lucy Westcott, CPJ emergencies director, January 7
  2. Section 230 reform could have unintended consequences for the press — Madeline Earp, consultant technology editor, January 11
  3. Ten years after the Arab Spring, the region’s media faces grave threats. Here are the top press freedom trends — Justin Shilad, Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, M ElHaies and Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program, January 21
  4. How Vietnam-based hacking operation OceanLotus targets journalists — Madeline Earp, consultant technology editor, February 1
  5. Brazilian journalist Patrícia Campos Mello sued President Bolsonaro’s son for moral damages – and won — By Renata Neder/CPJ Brazil correspondent, March 2
  6. Morocco’s new tactic to punish journalists: charge them with sex crimes — M ElHaies, CPJ Middle East and North Africa correspondent, March 18
  7. ‘I had escaped death’: 64 Tianwang journalist Wang Jing recounts her traumatic imprisonment in China — Iris Hsu, CPJ China correspondent, March 29
  8. Equipped by US, Israeli firms, police in Botswana search phones for sources — Jonathan Rozen, CPJ senior Africa researcher, May 5
  9. ‘Complex, fast changing, and extraordinarily dangerous’: PBS’ Jane Ferguson on the ground in Kabul — Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator, August 18
  10. ‘It is becoming unbearable:’ Journalists say they have become ‘scapegoats’ at anti-vaccine protests — By Attila Mong/CPJ Europe Correspondent, October 4
  11. Ethiopia’s civil war dashes once-high hopes of press freedom — Muthoki Mumo, CPJ sub-Saharan Africa representative, December 8

CPJ’s 2021 special reports and campaigns

  • The number of journalists jailed around the world set another record this year. CPJ’s 2021 census of journalists imprisoned and killed worldwide found 293 reporters jailed for their work and at least 24 journalists have been killed because of their coverage so far this year
  • No one has been held to account in 81% of journalist murders during the last 10 years, CPJ’s 2021 Global Impunity Index found
  • Myanmar’s junta has effectively criminalized independent journalism since the February 1 coup. A special report on Myanmar by CPJ’s senior southeast Asia representative, Shawn W. Crispin, documents this bitter reversal
  • Sophisticated spyware products marketed to governments to fight crime have been used to target the press, CPJ research shows. CPJ mapped incidents of journalists or commentators–and those close to them–targeted with spyware since 2011

Global press freedom updates

  • Multi-year prison terms for Egyptian journalists Alaa Abdelfattah and Mohamed Oxygen ‘unacceptable’
  • In Middle East and North Africa, a drop in attacks on journalists belies dire state of press freedom
  • CPJ urges U.S. House committee to drop subpoena of journalist Amy Harris’s phone records

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