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China leads world in imprisoned journalists for 2nd year in a row, says press watchdog

Chinese police. (Beijing Patrol/Flickr)
December 16, 2020

China imprisoned 47 journalists in 2020, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S. non-profit organization that monitors press freedom globally.

There were 274 journalists imprisoned by various countries in 2020, with China leading the count with 47 journalists imprisoned. The overall number of imprisoned journalists rose from 251 in 2019, when China also led the count with 49 imprisoned journalists that year.

In 2020, Turkey also came in second place for imprisoned journalists for the second year in a row, having imprisoned 37 for the year, down from 47 the year prior, according to CPJ data. Egypt imprisoned 27 journalists in 2020 while Saudi Arabia imprisoned 24 journalists this year.

CPJ has been collecting data on imprisoned journalists since 1993. In that 27 year span, the U.S. has only imprisoned one journalist, Roger Shuler, in 2013. According to CPJ, Shuler was arrested for contempt of court charges for publishing allegations a prominent Alabama attorney had an extramarital affair, despite a court’s preliminary injunction prohibiting him from publishing certain stories on his blog, Legal Schauzer.

According to CPJ’s data, the list of journalists still imprisoned by China in 2020 included journalists who were jailed as far back as 2009 and as most recently as August of this year, as in the case of Cheng Lei, a reporter for China Global Television Network (CGTN), a subsidiary of China’s own state-operated China Central Television (CCTV).

China’s crackdown on the free flow of information in 2020 reportedly included efforts to quiet medical experts who were among the first to encounter and raise warnings about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Chinese officials reportedly harrassed Ai Fen, the director of emergency medicine at Wuhan Central Hospital, and Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who eventually became sick with the coronavirus and died. China further detained and harassed journalists and academics during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the summer China also implemented new security laws over the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong, which broadly defined terms such as “sedition,” “subversion,” “succession” and “terrorism,” making pro-Hong Kong Independence flags, imagery and slogans potentially punishable.

CPJ’s latest data on imprisoned journalists comes just days after Chinese authorities detained Chinese national and Bloomberg news assistant Haze Fan on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security.

In September, two Australian journalists fled China after being threatened with police visits and travel restrictions.

In addition to CPJ’s ranking of China as the country to have imprisoned the most journalists in 2019 and 2020, another press freedom organization, Reporters Without Borders, ranks China as 177 out of 180 countries ranked in terms of press freedom. China’s ranking puts them ahead of Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and North Korea, which is ranked last.