A third of all journalists currently imprisoned around the world publish their work on the internet, according to a new report by a watchdog group which reveals that China continues to jail more reporters than any other nation. The group says the growing number of jailed web journalists shows that repressive regimes are acting to suppress the radical opportunities presented by internet.
While print reporters and photographers continue to make up the largest professional category accounting for 67 of the 134 journalists known to be imprisoned, internet reporters make up 49 of the total – the largest ever number in this group.
“We’re at a crucial juncture in the fight for press freedom because authoritarian states have made the internet a major front in their effort to control information,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which published the report.
The report says that of the 31 journalists imprisoned in China, 19 of them published primarily on the internet. Among the 31 is Shi Tao, an editor with a newspaper based in Hunan Province who was jailed for 10 years in 2004 after he published details of a government directive to the media on how to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Much of his work was published on the internet and court documents from his trial show that internet giant Yahoo helped the government identify him through his email account.
The country with the second largest number of jailed journalists is Cuba, with 24, with Eritrea, which has imprisoned 23 reporters in third position. Mr Simon added: “In Cuba and in China, journalists are often jailed after summary trials and held in miserable conditions far from their families. But the cruelty and injustice of imprisonment is compounded where there is zero due process and journalists slip into oblivion. In Eritrea, the worst abuser in this regard, there is no check on authority and it is unclear whether some jailed journalists are even alive.”
The US is listed in joint 7th place, with three journalists currently detained. One of those, Sami al-Haj, an al-Jazeera cameraman has been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years. Another, Bilal Hussein, is a photographer with the Associated Press who has been held for eight months without charge.
Zakary Katz-Nelson of the UK-based group Reprieve, which represents 36 prisoners held at Guantanamo, including Mr Haj, said: “Sami appears to be held purely for his link with al-Jazeera. There have been more than 100 interrogations and they have all been about al-Jazeera and not Sami. They are trying to show a link between al-Jazeera and terrorism and they are using Sami as a pawn in their game.”