A record number of journalists were behind bars this year, a US-based watchdog said Tuesday, accusing governments worldwide of suppressing the media and fueling misinformation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 274 journalists were imprisoned in 2020 — the highest number since the non-profit organisation began its survey in the 1990s.
The report also found that 26 journalists and media workers had been murdered this year, with Mexico listed as the world’s most dangerous country for the press.
“It’s shocking and appalling,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement.
“This wave of repression is a form of censorship that is disrupting the flow of information and fueling the infodemic,” he added.
The worst offender was China for the second consecutive year, the survey found, with 47 reporters behind bars and where authorities only last week detained a Bloomberg employee on suspicion of endangering national security.
Other top jailers were Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with Belarus and Ethiopia — where popular unrest and armed conflict flared this year — also seeing sharp increases in the number of reporters behind bars.
While the US had no reporters in jail as of the report’s release, the survey noted an “unprecedented” 110 had been arrested or detained through the course of the year.
The CPJ said the outgoing Trump administration bore some of the blame for the worsening global press freedom — not only for the US president’s lack of global leadership on human rights, but also his emboldening of authoritarians abroad with his hostility towards the media.
“The incoming Biden administration must work as part of a global coalition to bring the number down,” CPJ CEO Simon said.