A near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism, according to a report.
As of December 1 there were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs the Committee to Protect Journalists said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt, where authorities accuse reporters of anti-government activities.
“It looks like a trend,” report author, Elana Beiser, said in an interview. “It looks like the new normal.”
The number of journalists imprisoned on charges of “false news” rose to 28, up from 21 last year and nine in 2016, according to the CPJ, a US-based non-profit organisation promoting press freedom.
The report criticised President Donald Trump for frequently characterising negative media coverage as “fake news,” a phrase also used by leaders against critics in countries including the Philippines and Turkey.
The study was published the same week Time magazine named several journalists as its annual “Person of the Year.”
That included Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, imprisoned a year ago on Wednesday, and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two months ago.
Wa Lone (32) and Kyaw Soe Oo (28) were found guilty in September of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. They were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys amid an army crackdown that has driven thousands of refugees into Bangladesh.
Lawyers for the Reuters reporters lodged an appeal against their conviction and sentence.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the jailing of reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression. In comments made a week after their conviction, she said they were sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists.”
Turkey remains the world’s worst offender against press freedom, the CPJ said, with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges. At least 25 journalists are in prison in Egypt.
Turkey previously said its crackdown is justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow government in 2016. Egypt said its actions to limit dissent are directed at militants trying to undermine the state, which saw a popular uprising in 2011 topple the county’s long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
Asked about journalists being jailed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “Legal measures are not taken because of these suspects’or criminals’professions. This is unrelated.”
The overall number of jailed journalists is down eight percent from last year’s record high of 272, the CPJ said.
It does not take into account journalists who disappeared or are being held by non-state actors. The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthi rebels in Yemen.