Dec. 15 (UPI) — A record number of journalists were behind bars for their work in 2020, according to a report published Tuesday, with China responsible for jailing more journalists than any other nation.
The annual census of data collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows that at least 274 journalists were in prisons nationwide as of Dec. 1 for charges connected to their coverage — the most since CPJ began collecting such data in the early 1990s.
The number is two journalists more than the previous record set in 2016. It is also the fifth-consecutive year at least 250 journalists were imprisoned.
“It’s shocking and appalling that we are seeing a record number of journalists imprisoned in the midst of a global pandemic,” Joel Simon, the executive director of CPJ, said in a statement. “This wave of repression is a form of censorship that is disrupting the flow of information and fueling the infodemic.”
China topped the list with 47 journalists jailed, followed by Turkey with 37, Egypt with 27 and Saudi Arabia with 24.
The report said many jailed in China were serving long prison sentences or were detained in Xinjiang province without their charges having been disclosed.
At least two journalists in China — Cai Wei and Zhang Zhan — were arrested due to their coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, the report tallied.
Cai was arrested in April and was being held in pre-trail detention in connection to publishing articles on COVID-19 while Zhang, who covered the outbreak in city of Wuhan on Twitter and Facebook, was arrested in May, according to CPJ.
The report doesn’t include China’s arrest earlier this month of Haze Fan, a Chinese citizen who works for Bloomberg News.
China said she was arrested on suspension of endangering national security, attracting the condemnation of the European Union.
The report states that protests and political unrest have prompted many of the arrests, with Ethiopia and Belarus seeing significant increases in jailed reporters in the past year.
The CPJ report, which does not include journalists who were jailed but released, also notes that while zero reporters were behind bars in the United States for their work the Press Freedom Tracker, which CPJ is a founding member of, has tallied at least 110 journalists were arrested or criminally charged and 330 were assaulted in 2020.
The CPJ also states President Donald Trump’s criticism of journalists and their work as “fake news” permitted other countries to crack down on the professionals.
“The record number of journalists imprisoned around the world is President Trump’s press freedom legacy,” Simon said. “The incoming Biden administration must work as part of a global coalition to bring the number down.”