387 journalists worldwide are currently detained in connection their work, while 54 are held hostage and 4 are missing, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s 2020 round-up report on abusive treatment of journalists.
The report noted that the number of detained journalists is “still at a historically high level,” with the number at the start of December 2019 being 389, and that the number of detained professional and non-professional journalists has risen 17% in the past five years.
According to the report, more than half of the detained journalists are being held in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Syria. In China, which has retained the No.1 ranking, a total of 117 journalists are currently detained, nearly a third of whom are non-professionals.
The report also notes that the number of women journalists in prison has risen by 35% from 31 a year ago to 42 now. Of the 17 new cases, 4 are held in Belarus, which the report notes “has experienced an unprecedented crackdown since the controversial election in August, 4 are held in Iran, 3 in Egypt, 2 each in Cambodia and China, and 1 each in Vietnam and Guatemala. Among these numbers is Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang, one of the recipients of the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Prize.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to additional arrests of journalists, the report said, despite calls for the urgent release of prisoners of conscience due to the increased risk of infection in crowded prisons. Data gathered by RSF for Tracker 19, a project RSF launched to track the impact of the pandemic on press freedom, also shows “a significant surge in press freedom violation during the northern hemisphere’s 2020 spring.” Of the more than 300 incidents linked to coverage of the pandemic recorded between February and November 2020, 35% involved arbitrary arrests. While most were released within a few hours or days of their arrest, 14 are still being held.
The Tracker Report condemns the decree issued in March in Thailand under which the government, on the pretext of regulating coronavirus information, gave itself the right to decide what is true and what is false, noting that the freedom to inform must be respected at this crucial time.
The report noted that most journalists detained in relation to their Covid-19 pandemic coverage are in Asia. 55 journalists have been arrested in the Asia-Pacific region, 10 of whom are still being held. In China, at least seven journalists, whistle-blowers, and influential political commentators who have been arrested in connection with the pandemic are still being held, including Zhang Zhan, a lawyer and non-professional journalist who was arrested for her tweets and YouTube live-streams from Wuhan, and Cai Wei and Chen Mei, two non-professional journalists who were arrested for republishing censored media reports and interviews on the pandemic.
According to the report, 54 journalists are also currently held hostage worldwide, 5% fewer than in 2019, all of whom are located in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, while four journalists have been reported missing in 2020.