Dozens of journalists have been forced into exile in the last 12 months, fearing imprisonment or death at the hands of their own governments, according to a report released Wednesday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued its “Journalists in Exile” study on Wednesday, showing that at least 82 reporters were forced to flee to another country between May 2014 and June of this year.
According to CPJ figures, that number is the smallest since the press freedom advocacy group started keeping figures in 2010-2011, when 84 journalists went into exile. In 2012-2013, a record 97 journalists were forced out ot their home countries.
In the last five years, according to CPJ, at least 452 writers and photographers were exiled, mostly from Syria, Cuba, Mexico, Iran and Ethiopia.
The real figure is likely higher as the CPJ number represents only the reporters the organization tried to help through its Journalist Assistance Program, which finds refuge and funds for journalists in danger.
The report revealed about 50 percent of journalists exiled since May 2014 said the likelihood of imprisonment was the primary reason they fled with another 28 percent blaming threats of violence.
But the problems don’t end at the border, said Nicole Schilit, the author of the report.
“The best possible circumstance for journalists forced to flee is that they are able to, if they wish to, continue practicing journalism,” Schilit said. “It’s very difficult to do.”
Of the journalists who fled over the last year, only two are currently working in their chosen field, according to the CPJ.
In addition, intimidation by their persecutors doesn’t always stop. “They’re also afraid their family is at risk, if they left their family at home,” she added.
Kenya, Turkey and the United States rank as the top three destinations for exiled journalists. Since May of last year, Ethiopia forced 34 journalists into exile, more than twice as many as the country that produced the second most exiles, Syria with 16.
Ethiopia’s place at the top of the list comes amid deteriorating conditions for their local press, with the ruling party using harsh laws to throw dissident writers into jail, the report said. The forced departures of journalists were concentrated in the run up to Ethiopia’s election in May, which the ruling party swept, as expected.
According to Human Rights Watch, since 2010, 60 Ethiopian journalists have "fled into exile, including 30 in 2014 alone. Another 19 or more journalists languish in prison. Government harassment and intimidation caused at least six independent publications to close in 2014."
Syria, the number two exile-producing country, is perhaps the most dangerous country in the world for newsgathering. Schilit said that while international journalists have the choice of whether or not to accept risky assignments in the country, some native Syrian journalists wake up every morning under threat.
“When it became too dangerous, they had the option to not go into Syria, whereas the Syrian journalists, when they were being individually targeted by hostile militias, their only option was to flee their home. They can’t turn around and go back. They don’t have the luxury of not entering,” she said.
The report provides accounts from four exiled Syrian journalists. Although they succeeded in escaping the groups bent on stopping their reports, the journalists, three of whom made it to Western Europe and one to Turkey, now have to endure being a refugee in an often expensive and unwelcoming environments.
Awad Alali, a dissident Syrian journalist who filmed the 2011 Arab Spring protests, was forced to escape to Jordan and then eventually to Germany, where he told CPJ he was safe but that life wasn't easy.
“In exile, with regards to living in Germany, I am very thankful,” Alali said. “However, being far from your country is hard. We are alone. There are a number of refugees, but no real community.”