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China retains top position in global rankings on countries with maximum number of imprisoned journalists

The Chinese government had imposed restrictions on free speech and the freedom of media outlets to publish reports not approved by the Communist party

For the second year in a row, China is leading the global rankings on the maximum number of imprisoned journalists in 2020. As per a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published yesterday, 47 journalists were lodged in Chinese jails as on December 1, including those jailed this year and those serving longer sentences. Last year, 48 journalists were jailed in the country.

Steven Butler of the CPJ, who assembles annual data based on public records, media reports and calls to local officials, prosecutors and prisons, said that about half of those imprisoned in China this year were Uyghurs living in the Xinjiang Uyghurs Autonomous Region. “Many of these journalists (in Xinjiang) are in jail for things like being ‘two faced’ which means, of course, in name of supporting the Communist Party but (being) accused of undermining it in secret”, said Butler.

Jailed for critical reporting on pandemic

According to the report, there are 274 journalists lodged in prisons across the globe this year as compared to 272 journalists imprisoned in 2016. This numbers for this year do not include the journalists who had been released, paroled or assaulted in the course of performing their duties. Researchers have reportedly attributed the imprisonment of these journalists to criticial coverage of the pandemic by them. Among the journalists jailed in China are citizen journalists who publish reports or videos largely through social media. The CPJ report said that some citizen journalists were jailed for their coverage of the government’s response to the pandemic. Zhang Zan is one such journalist who is under detention since the month of May was formally indicted last year for charges of spreading false information. 37-year old Zhan who is a former lawyer was accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” which is said to be very common charge invoked against critics and activists in China.

Restrictions on press worsened under Xi Jinping

According to reports, the Chinese government had imposed restrictions on free speech and the freedom of media outlets to publish reports not approved by the Communist party. The situation is said to have worsened under the Jinping regime as in 2016 he had directed the state-owned media outlets to have the party name as their family name.

The CPJ attributed the deteriorated situation of journalists in China working with foreign news outlets to the growing hostility in the relations of China with other major countries. In August this year, an Australian news anchor Cheng Lei was detained in China on the suspicion of endangering national security. A journalist, Haze Fan, who was working for Bloomberg in Beijing was detained was last week on similar charges. Chinese officials had declared the case as an internal affair of China.

As per the CPJ report, dozens of journalists were arrested in Belarus included 10 currently lodged in jail. At least seven journalists were imprisoned in Ethiopia mostly charged with anti-state crimes. Iran had 15 journalists in jail till December 1. A journalist named Ruhollah Zam was executed in Iran on December 12.

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