2013 is the second worst year for jailed journalists

There are currently 211 journalists in prison worldwide, and over 50 have been killed doing their job.

This year has been the second worst year for jailed journalists, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Around the world, 211 are currently in jail, compared to a historic peak in 2012 when 232 were behind bars. Turkey still imprisons more journalists than any other country – there are currently 40 journalists in Turkish jails – followed by Iran (35) and China (32).

Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Uzbekistan rounded off the list of ten countries detaining the largest number of journalists. More than half of the journalists jailed (124) were charged with anti-state offences, like terrorism or subversion – but 45 have not been formally charged at all.

The CPJ’s list does not include journalists who have been abducted or are missing – there are, for instance, at least 30 journalists missing in Syria. It is possible that this figure is even higher, but it is not uncommon for a media blackout to be imposed on kidnap cases to protect hostages. 

Overall 52 journalists have died this year according to CPJ (although Reporters without Borders places this figure at 71) – including 21 in Syria, 6 in Egypt and 5 in Pakistan. This is fewer than last year, when 73 died (including 21 in Syria alone), but still far too high. Over the past 21 years, since CPJ started collecting this data, over a thousand journalists have died doing their jobs, with Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, Russia and Syria the most deadly places for journalists to work.

It can be hard to appreciate in the UK, where the press is still tainted by phone-hacking scandals, but journalists – and in particular those brave enough to report on war-zones or challenge authoritarian governments – can be among of the most powerful weapons against state brutality and oppression; the death and detention of journalists is more than just a personal tragedy.

It would be nice to think that next year will be a safer year for journalists, but I see little evidence that things will change.

Somali journalists protest against the imprisonment of their colleague, Abdiaziz Abdinor Ibrahim in January 2013. Photo: Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.