Journalists are being jailed in record numbers around the world.
That information comes from the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, an independent, non-profit group based in the United States. It reported last week that 262 reporters, writers and other news media workers were detained for their work at the end of 2017.
"The jailing of journalists is a…form of censorship” and it is having a strong effect on the flow of information around the world, says CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon. He spoke at a press freedom event at the United Nations.
At the end of last year, Turkey’s government had 73 journalists in detention, the largest of any single country. China was second, with 41 detentions, followed by Egypt with 20.
CPJ says that more than half of all detained journalists were jailed for reporting on human rights violations.
Joel Simon said the United Nations has never been a strong enough voice on the issue of press freedom. He said that is because the UN has a culture of rarely criticizing its members.
The press freedom event was called, in part, to publicize the cases of five reporters CPJ says have been unjustly detained. The five are citizens of Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt and Myanmar.
The two most famous cases are that of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar. They work as reporters for the Reuters news agency. The two men were detained in December 2017 while they were investigating the killing of Rohingya men and boys by villagers in Rakhine state.
Most Rohingya are Muslim, but close to 90 percent of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist. The military launched an operation on the minority Rohingya in August 2017 after Rohingya militants attacked and killed 12 Myanmar police officers. Within a few months, 700,000 Rohingya fled the country to neighboring Bangladesh.
Survivors reported horrible abuses, including rape, torture and the destruction of homes. UN officials have said the actions were a perfect example of ethnic cleansing.
British lawyer Amal Clooney is representing the two reporters. She says Myanmar officials did not want the story about their military operations in the Rakhine state village, Inn Din, to be published.
Clooney said, "...police planted government documents on the journalists while other officers lay in wait outside to arrest them...The journalists were arrested and were then prosecuted and subjected to a show trial.”
The guilty finding, she added, was already decided.
Last month, the two men were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating a law on state secrets. Clooney said they are asking for a presidential pardon. This appears to be the only way to win their freedom.
"The attack on them is a…warning to other journalists,” said Reuters’ President Stephen Adler. He added that Myanmar is not the only country that wants to stop reporters and let those in power act without facing any threat of legal action for wrongdoing.
In Kyrgyzstan, journalist Azimjon Askarov has been serving a life prison sentence since July 2010. CPJ's Simon says he was jailed for reporting on deadly ethnic battles in the summer of 2010. Askarov and his lawyer were both attacked during his trial.
CPJ opened its own investigation into the case in 2012. The group found that the charges against Askarov were in answer his reporting on corruption and abuse by police and government lawyers, Simon said.
In Bangladesh, photojournalist and commentator Shahidul Alam was arrested last month while reporting on student protests. A Dhaka court ordered that he be held for seven days to decide if he violated an information law against spreading propaganda and false information.
"When Shahidul was brought into court, he screamed that he had been tortured. He was unable to walk without assistance," Simon said. Shahidul Alam remains in detention.
CPJ reported that since 2013 Egypt has been among the world's worst jailers of journalists. The government often detains reporters on politically fueled anti-state charges.
The Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abdelfattah is one of them. He has written about politics and human rights. He is serving a five-year sentence on charges that he organized a protest and attacked a police officer.
The CPJ believes the charges are false and are meant to answering Alaa’s reporting on suspected human rights abuses by the police and security forces, Simon said.
"We are witnessing a growing hatred of journalists worldwide,” said Margaux Ewen, North American director of Reporters Without Borders. She said the hatred was not limited to non-democratic governments and that rights groups will continue to speak out against attacks on the press.
U.S. President Donald Trump often describes news reports critical of him and his administration as "fake news." Journalists at Trump events have reported feeling hostility from his supporters.
The CPJ reports that at least three American journalists have been arrested this year and 34 were detained last year. In June, five people were killed in the newsroom of an Annapolis, Maryland newspaper.
I’m Caty Weaver. And I'm Pete Musto.
VOA’s Margaret Besheer reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.
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Words in This Story
censorship – n. the act of examining books, movies or letters, and removing things that are considered offensive and harmful to society
prosecute – v. to hold a trial against a person who is accused of a crime to see if that person is guilty
scream – v. to shout
fake – adj. false, untrue