(TibetanReview.net, Dec15’20) – For the second successive year, China has jailed more journalists than any other country, said New York-based press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its latest report Dec 15.
The group said at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in the country as of Dec1, including those jailed this year as well as those serving longer sentences. The number last year was 48.
Around half of those imprisoned this year were Uygurs living in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the scmp.com Dec 15 cited Steven Butler of CPJ as saying.
CPJ assembles yearly data based on public records, media reports and calls to local officials, prosecutors and prisons.
“Many of these journalists [in Xinjiang] are in jail for things like being ‘two faced’, which means, of course, in name supporting the Communist Party but [being] accused of undermining it in secret,” Butler, the group’s Asia programme coordinator, has said.
The report said the global figures had reached a new high this year, with at least 274 journalists around the world being prison for their work, eclipsing a previous record of 272 set in 2016.
Researchers have attributed the deterioration in part to the coronavirus, with authoritarian governments, including Beijing, cracking down on critical coverage of the pandemic.
The report noted that in China, a number of “citizen journalists” – individuals unaffiliated with any outlet who publish reports or videos largely through social media – were jailed this year for their coverage of the government’s pandemic response. For example, Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was arrested in May on the nebulous charge of “picking quarrels” over her live-streams about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
The report noted that the Chinese government had long imposed stringent restrictions on free speech and the ability of media outlets to publish stories that challenge the line sanctioned by the Communist Party. Critics have been cited as saying the situation had worsened under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, who in 2016 demanded that state-owned outlets “have the party as their family name”.
China is ranked 177th of 180 countries in the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders 2020 press freedom index, ahead only of Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea.