Jailed journalist numbers near record high in 2023

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Israel has emerged as one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists following the October 7 start of the Israel-Gaza war, CPJ’s 2023 prison census has found. Israel ranked sixth—tied with Iran—behind China, Myanmar, Belarus, Russia, and Vietnam, respectively.

Overall, CPJ documented 320 journalists behind bars for their work as of the census date December 1, 2023, down from more than 360 in 2022. The number was the second-highest recorded by CPJ since the census began in 1992—a disturbing barometer of entrenched authoritarianism and the vitriol of governments determined to smother independent voices.

Those jailed often face gratuitously cruel conditions. Due process is frequently subverted as authorities prolong pre-charge and pre-trial detention of journalists, and journalists’ lawyers themselves face retaliation around the world.

Prolonged pretrial detentions and cruel treatment are common, while some governments, such as Russia and Ethiopia, have even persecuted journalists across borders. In Vietnam, Egypt, and other countries, even after their release, journalists continue to face travel bans, other movement restrictions, and measures that effectively curtail their freedom.

Read more in the report, which is available in nine languages: English, 中文 (简体) , عربي, Русский, Español, Français, Português, Kurdî, and አማርኛ.

Jailed journalists by the numbers:

💥 More than 65%—209 journalists—listed in the census face anti-state charges such as false news and terrorism in retaliation for their critical coverage.

💥 More than 60 journalists around the world were being held without having any charge disclosed—and almost all jailed journalists in Israel were held without a charge.

💥 Globally, at least 57 journalists imprisoned around the world are serving sentences of over 10 years or life in prison in retaliation for their work—this is nearly 20% of all jailed journalists.

💥 Almost 30% of jailed journalists have health problems—and many lack access to medications or doctors.

Dive deeper 🔎

💡Read our special feature about how Israel’s rank draws in a large part from Israel’s practice of using administrative detention, in which an individual can be held indefinitely and without charge under the premise of preventing them from committing a future offense.

🎥 Watch: “Authoritarian regimes will misuse and abuse the law”
➡️ View our database of journalists imprisoned for their work since 1992
🗺️ Explore our interactive map of jailed journalists in 2023

Regional repression

A perimeter fence around what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in 2018. Police in Dabancheng detained two Reuters journalists for more than four hours after this photo was taken. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

This year, in a huge test for democracy, billions of voters across the world will participate in national and local elections. The vast majority (277) of imprisoned journalists in 2023 were reporting on politics, showing that the risk of politicized crackdowns leading to journalist arrests during electoral periods is high. A closer look at regional results in CPJ’s census gives a fuller picture of journalist jailings:

➡️ Asia remains the region with the highest number of journalists in jail. In addition to the leading jailers—China, Myanmar, and Vietnam—who consistently rank on our census year after year, journalists were also behind bars in India, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.

➡️ In Europe and Central Asia, Belarus, Russia, and Turkey are among the worst jailers of journalists in the world. Additionally, Russia holds a disproportionate number of foreign reporters in its jails: 12 of the world’s 17 nonlocal jailed journalists are held by Russia, including U.S. citizens Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva.

➡️ In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of journalists jailed on December 1 grew to 47 this year, with Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Cameroon ranking as the three worst jailers in the region. Those held in Eritrea include some of the longest-known cases of journalists imprisoned around the world, none of whom have ever been charged.

➡️ Beyond Israel’s unprecedented rise in journalist imprisonment, the Middle East and North Africa remains a region ripe with criminalization of reporters. Iran’s numbers saw a sharp decline from its 2022 designation as the worst jailer of journalists yet many of the journalists released on bail await charges or sentencing.

➡️ While few journalists were jailed in Latin America and the Caribbean on the census date—one each in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba, respectively—threats to the media continue to undermine press freedom, including journalists being forced into exile.

Read the full report here.

Global press freedom updates

  • CPJ calls for release of all jailed Iranian journalists after bail granted to Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi
  • Targeting suspected in Ukraine hotel shelling that injured at least 2 journalists
  • Kyrgyzstan authorities raid news outlets 24.kg and Temirov Live, arrest journalists
  • CPJ welcomes Turkish court’s annulment of law that allowed takedown of online news
  • Chinese anti-corruption journalist Shangguan Yunkai sentenced to 15 years
  • Somaliland journalist Mohamed Abdi Sheikh detained after discussing diplomatic row

What we are reading

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