Press freedom: More than 300 journalists end up in jail for reporting on coronavirus

Last Updated: Monday, 14 December 2020 (16:50 IST)
Worldwide 387 people from the media industry had been put in prison by December 1 of this year, the German office of the NGO without Borders (RSF) announced in their annual report on Monday.


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Five countries were responsible for over half of all convictions - led the pack with 117 jailed journalists, followed by (34), (30), (28) and (27).
 
While the majority of imprisoned press workers were still men, the number of women arrested in 2020 increased by a third to 42.
 
Dangers of reporting on the pandemic
 
Since the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic early in the year, over 130 members of the press, be they journalists or otherwise, have been arrested for reporting on the crisis. Some 14 of those were still in jail at the time of the report’s publication.
 
 
“The high number of imprisoned journalists worldwide throws a harsh spotlight on the current threats to press freedom,” said the head of the RSF German office, Katja Gloger.
 
She condemned the response of far too many governments to protests, grievances or the crisis with repression against the “bringers of bad news.”
 
“Behind every single one of these cases is the fate of a person who faces criminal trials, long imprisonment and often mistreatment because he did not submit to censorship and repression,” Gloger added.
 
Her colleague, Sylvie Ahrens-Urbane, highlighted one particular example of reprisals for reporting on the coronavirus pandemic - the case of investigative journalist Hopewell Chino’ono from Zimbabwe who was arrested for reporting on the government’s sale of overpriced COVID-19 medication.
 
He has been sitting in prison for months and repeatedly been refused bail.
 
Worsening situation in wake of restrictions
 
Reporters without Borders gave particular attention to Belarus, where at least 370 journalists were arrested in the wake of the contested presidential election. Although most of those were released after a short period, the crackdown on journalists represents a reduction in press freedom.
 
The report also highlighted the detention of the Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently sat in Belmarsh high-security prison in the UK. RSF claimed that the conditions had become much worse following a coronavirus outbreak in the prison and that Assange had been placed in de facto isolation.
 
The report expressed concern for the health of those imprisoned journalists who have not received proper medical attention during the pandemic and who have been subjected to the psychological effects of increased isolation.
 
Five journalists were facing death sentences as of December 1, one of whom - Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam - was executed on December 12. The other four were in the custody of the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
 
RSF counted 54 media workers who had been kidnapped in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; some of them have not been heard from in years. Another four journalists disappeared under unexplained circumstances during 2020 - one in Iraq, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one in Mozambique and one in Peru.
 
The NGO began issuing its yearly report in 1995. It includes cases of journalists and other professionals working in the field of journalism. The compilers only include data if it can be carefully confirmed which sometimes leads to certain countries, such as Turkey, showing lower numbers than reported elsewhere.