China leads world in jailing journalists for third consecutive year

China leads world in jailing journalists for third consecutive year


The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the worst jailer of journalists in the world, according to two recent reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that advocate for freedom of the press.

The PRC topped the list of offenders with 127 journalists imprisoned as of December 1, 2021, according to an annual study compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The PRC was also the worst jailer in 2019 and 2020, said RSF, which published its findings December 14.

The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit a record 488 in 2021, RSF said.

A report released December 9 by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also ranked China as the worst offender in 2021 and found a record number of journalists were detained worldwide for the sixth year in a row.

That number rose about 20% in 2021, compared with 2020, in large part because of government crackdowns on media in Belarus, Hong Kong and Myanmar, the reports said.

The PRC’s imposition of its national security law on Hong Kong, in particular, contributed to the increase, the reports said. The law has served as the justification for the repression of at least 12 journalists and press freedom defenders, including media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-closed Apple Daily, who face life sentences, RSF said in a related report. (Pictured: Jimmy Lai leaves Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal in February 2021. He faces multiple charges under China’s national security law in Hong Kong and has been detained for more than a year.)

Meanwhile, Myanmar jumped to the second-worst jailer slot with 53 journalists imprisoned after a crackdown following a military coup February 1, 2021, RSF reported. Egypt was third with 25 jailed journalists.

More journalists may be jailed in Myanmar than the studies found because many news outlets are wary of identifying their freelancers, stringers or other nonstaff reporters for fear they could face more punishment, CPJ said in its report.

CPJ pinned the number of journalists detained worldwide at 293 because, unlike RSF, it does not count citizen journalists or media assistants.

CPJ reported that 24 journalists were killed in 2021, including 19 in retaliation for their work, while RSF placed the total at 48.

RSF found in another study, released December 7, 2021, that 71 of the 127 journalists jailed in the PRC are Uyghurs.

The finding implies that the PRC’s detention of journalists is not only part of its autocratic campaign to suppress freedom of the press but also part of its scheme to subjugate Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities through mass detention, forced labor and other human rights abuses, experts said.

The earlier RSF study, titled “The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China,” reveals the Chinese regime’s unprecedented campaign of repression in recent years against journalism and the right to information worldwide.

The PRC’s jailing of journalists also does not bode well for the 2022 Winter Olympics in February when journalists from around the world will be in Beijing, placing them at risk of detention, experts said.

The PRC’s national security law threatens imprisonment of journalists under vague provisions, including separatism, subversion and collusion with foreign forces and terrorism, according to the RSF report.

“The simple act of investigating a ‘sensitive’ topic or publishing censored information can result in years of detention in unsanitary prisons, where ill-treatment can lead to death,” the report found. In 2020, the PRC extended similar national security law provisions to Hong Kong.

Moreover, foreign journalists are not welcome in China, according to the report. “China’s intimidation of foreign reporters, based on surveillance and visa blackmail, forced 18 of them to leave the country in 2020. Gui Minhai, Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei, three foreign journalists of Chinese descent, are now being detained on espionage charges,” the report said.

Overall, the PRC ranked 177th out of 180 countries on the RSF World Press Freedom Index in 2021, two slots above North Korea. Hong Kong was 80th after being ranked 18th just 20 years ago.