Journalists jailed in record numbers worldwide – for second year in a row

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The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide has reached a record high for the second consecutive year – an alarming trend that has emerged in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ latest prison census.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of jailed journalists stands at 45, with Ethiopia’s civil war having seen a significant regression in media freedom in the region. Southern Africa, however, has no recorded arrests of journalists for 2021.

The number of journalists behind bars worldwide reached a record high of 293 this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) annual prison census and survey of attacks on the press. 

“The number reflects two inextricable challenges – governments are determined to control and manage information, and they are increasingly brazen in their efforts to do so,” said Joel Simon, executive director at CPJ, in the organisation’s press release on the census.

The number of journalists imprisoned in 2020 stood at 274, which at the time made it the fifth consecutive year with at least 250 journalists imprisoned, the CPJ said on 15 December 2020. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 45 journalists are currently imprisoned, which is about the same number recorded in this region in 2020, according to CPJ data. All jailed journalists are local, meaning that the lives and careers of 45 African individuals are being severely affected by the failure to uphold media freedom.

The countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the most imprisoned journalists are Eritrea and Ethiopia, with 16 and nine respectively. Other countries with jailed journalists include Rwanda, Cameroon, Benin, Somalia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

There has been a rapid rise in the number of Ethiopian journalists behind bars over the past four years, from none in 2018 to one in 2019 and seven in 2020, CPJ data show.

The census accounts for all those journalists incarcerated as of 1 December 2021, and does not include those imprisoned and released throughout the year. This is the second year in a row that the CPJ has reported a record number of journalists imprisoned around the world.

(Graphic: Tamsin Metelerkamp. Source: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Analysis by Muthoki Mumo, the CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, suggests that the new media restrictions in Ethiopia can be attributed largely to the escalating civil war in this region. In the conflict, which has been ongoing for just over a year, the federal government’s forces have clashed with those of Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

On 2 November 2021, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency, giving it the power to ban any broadcaster or publication suspected of any moral or related support of the group. It further allows anybody suspected of relations with the group to be detained without an arrest warrant, according to an article by Fana Broadcasting Corporate from November 2021.

The jailed journalists in Ethiopia are Bikila Amenu and Dessu Dulla of Oromia News Network, Melese Diribsa of Oromia Media Network, Hirsi Mohamed Mahad, Ibrahim Hussein, Mohamed Qassim and Salman Mukhtar of Nabad TV, Kibrom Worku of Ahadu Radio and Television, and Tesfa-Alem Tekle of Nation Media Group. This is according to CPJ’s record.

(Graph: Tamsin Metelerkamp. Source: Committee to Protect Journalists)

In Eritrea, the state of media freedom has been consistently abysmal for the past 20 years, with the majority of the country’s imprisoned journalists having been without their freedom since the early 2000s, according to the CPJ’s record for this region. Recently, the CPJ joined 15 other journalists, human rights organisations and experts in calling on the Canadian government to impose targeted sanctions on senior Eritrean officials for human rights abuses, “including the 20-year imprisonment of newspaper editor Dawit Isaac and other journalists”, according to a CPJ article from 6 October 2021.

Isaac, along with several other journalists, was arrested in 2001 following a crackdown on independent media by the Eritrean government, according to the CPJ’s record of imprisoned journalists. He was last seen in 2005, when he was briefly released for a hospital visit, but his present status remains unknown.

There are no imprisoned journalists in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia or South Africa as of 2021, according to CPJ data. South Africa has no record of imprisonments over the past 20 years, suggesting a state of media freedom that – while not perfect – can be appreciated by all media professionals seeking truth within the country. The CPJ’s arrest census is a grim reminder that this freedom is not only a privilege, but something that should be guarded fiercely. DM


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  • Ethical journalists is like the Scorpions,they lift out atrocities, corruption, money laundering,genocides, murders,political shenanigans.In other words they are hated by the powerful, the presidents,the ministers, the politicians the criminals,the fraudsters etc.I lift my hat to Caryn Dolly Pieter Louis Myburgh ,Pauli van Wyk,Quanitah Hunter,Adriaan Basdon,Jaques Pauw(even if he made a boo boo)Vincent Cruywagen Marianne Thamm and a few I can’t remember now.They are true-life flag bearers for the tax payer, the middle class the poor, the marginalized, the down trodden.The victims of ruthless goverments ,and power hungry moguls and criminals who think of themselves as demi gods.Our Avengers, only a true cop will know what they go through with harassment intimidation, attempts on their life ,etc.They don’t do it for the money they do it for the citizens for society.They aren’t appreciated as they should be,showing the underbelly of criminality in goverment and private sector.They suffer from the same things genuine cops go through.PTSD ,stress,etc.They are HEROES.i don’t include piet ramped and likewise ilk.

    • Welcome back JC, and a very good comment. However, and I am sure you will agree, not all journalists are beyond scrutiny. And that includes South African journalists. Many are nothing more than glorified PR agents. There might be some heroes, and the names you mentioned are some of them. But like in any job, journalism is about integrity, not just the journalist, but the editor of the medium. And I believe ,are an immense number of failures, even in South Africa. Journalists that write an article based on sensationalism, with the headline the defining point of whether you will get readers or not. Naming names will be unfair, but I will place the whole bunch of reporters at Independent Media under that umbrella. And apart from the names of reporters at News24 that you have mentioned, there are not many others that can honestly call themselves “reporters”.
      Unfortunately, most people tend to believe what they read, and sadly so. And then write comments in response with a lack of real knowledge or wisdom.
      But that being said, the blatant murder of credible journalists worldwide, especially in Africa, is heart breaking.

      • Thanks Coen was a bit busy, although I’m retired i still gather info free of charge for the tax payer.Problem is my connections are overloaded with work.Nowadays everybody are eating elephants piece by piece,(talking bout the good citizens and real south africans who try to put the country 1st).The future looks like a rough ride.Being a true south african I miss rugby the most!!!

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