China, Iran and Egypt are the world’s leading jailers of journalists, according to a report released Tuesday by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with China toping the list with 49 journalists behind bars.
China’s 49 imprisoned journalists represents the largest number since CPJ began its annual survey in 1990. Egypt, with 23 imprisoned journalists, followed China in second place on the global list, according to CPJ.
Iran, under the reign of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni and President Hassan Rouhani, is third on CPJ’s list, with 19 jailed journalists. They include Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been imprisoned in Tehran since July 2014. Rezaian's sentence is the longest time a U.S. correspondent has been held in prison since CPJ began its investigative work.
CPJ’s annual report says 199 journalists were imprisoned across the world in 2015, a slight decline from last year, when 221 journalists were imprisoned.
The non-profit group said while the overall decline in numbers is positive, the trend of imprisoning journalists remains worrying: China, Egypt and Turkey use “systematic imprisonment to silence criticism,” the CPJ report said.
Many countries also continue to exercise legal pressure on journalists once they are released. In Iran, Vietnam and Ethiopia, CPJ notes, where fewer journalists are behind bars than in 2013, a “climate of fear persists.”
Conditions for journalists have deteriorated most in Egypt, CPJ said, blaming Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s security policies for clamping down on a free press. In 2012, not a single journalist was in jail. This year, the country held 23 journalists, compared to 12 last year.
CPJ also expressed concern over developments in Turkey, where 14 journalists are being held prisoner, twice as many as in 2013. National elections this year and the war in Syria have increased pressure on journalists to not report stories about the government's role in Syria, CPJ noted, adding that an investigation into arms smuggling across the Syrian border landed two journalists in jail.