Freedom of speech is under attack, not in specific countries, but across the world.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed at the United Nations General Assembly at least 262 journalists were detained at the end of 2017 for doing their jobs.
The top three countries that jailed the most journalists were:
- Turkey, with 73 in detention,
- China with 41, and
- Egypt with 20
"The jailing of journalists is a brutal form of censorship that is having a profound impact on the flow of information around the world," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon stated during a press freedom event at the U.N.
CJP also found the one factor that led to the imprisonment of more than half of the journalists was reporting on human rights violations.
An honorary mention was the United States, where President Donald Trump, for nearly two years, has been maligning the mainstream media as the "enemy of the people" and, of course, "fake news."
In fact, Trump's hate-mongering against the media has not only made it difficult for journalists to report facts, it has also endangered their lives.
Most recent examples include the C-Span caller who, August, threatened to shoot CNN host Don Lemon, alleging the reporter had started a media "war" while citing Trump as credible source of the information.
Trump is staunchly anti-mainstream media, especially CNN.
These are just two examples of what a government's constant labeling of media as the "enemy of the people" can yield.
At least five reporters, CPJ confirmed at the U.N. General Assembly, have been unjustly detained.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo -- Myanmar:
In one of the most high-profile cases of countries jailing journalists, a court in Myanmar sentenced Reuters reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, to seven years in prison for "violating a state secrets act" in September.
Facts on the ground, however, suggest foul play.
They were arrested in December 2017 while carrying official documents, which, the journalists say were provided to them by the police.
Later, the police took them into custody for possessing the same documents.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had just completed a feature on the ongoing state-sanctioned genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the Rakhine State, an operation that has killed thousands and forced over 700,000 members of the ethnic community to flee the country.
British lawyer, Amal Clooney, is representing them. She maintains the government of Myanmar did not want the feature on Rohingya genocide to be published, therefore, the official documents were "planted" on the two journalists.
“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia director. “These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government."
Azimjon Askarov -- Kyrgyzstan:
Another high-profile case in the list emerged in Kyrgyzstan.
Azimjon Askarov, a 65-year-old ethnic Uzbek, was arrested in June 2010. He was then convicted of stirring "ethnic hatred," which the Kyrgyz government alleges, led to the killing of at least one police officer in the southern Bazar-Korgan region of the country during clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Subsequently, he was handed a life sentence.
Askarov founded the group Vozduh (Air) that monitors the treatment of inmates inside Kyrgyz prisons and detention facilities. He also photographed and filmed incidents of arson attacks on mostly Uzbek homes in Bazar-Korgan as well as killings of ethnic Uzbeks.
Just like in the case of the Reuters journalists, foul play was possibly involved in Askarov's arrest.
"The charges against Azimzhan Askarov were fabricated to target him for his legitimate work as human rights defender and he must be released immediately," said Andrea Huber, who served as Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director at Amnesty International in 2010.
Shahidul Alam -- Bangladesh:
In August, Bangladesh witnessed some of the most violent clashes between the police and students activists after a small demonstration for safer roads spiraled into mass protests against political corruption, frequent bank lootings, extrajudicial killing and disappearances.
The brutal response from law-enforcement agencies against unarmed student activists aggravated the situation. There were also allegations of the police working in cahoots with militants associated with the ruling party to quell the protests.
When renowned Bangladeshi photographer, Shahidul Alam, pointed how "the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads," during an Al Jazeera interview, he was arrested.
Alam was allegedly tortured in detention to the extent that he could not walk in court.
Alaa Abdelfattah -- Egypt:
The ending of 60 years of tyrannical rule during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 did nothing to prevent attacks on freedom of speech in the country as several journalists have been jailed since.
Of them, Alaa Abdelfattah, a blogger and a software engineer, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in June 2014 for allegedly organizing a protest and assaulting a police officer.
His real crime, however, appears to be criticism of Egypt's judicial system.
“This trial is an attempt to silence criticism of a judiciary that has itself become a source of human rights violations. ‘Insulting’ public institutions or officials is not a criminal offence under international law, and no one should stand trial - let alone face imprisonment - for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International, said in December 2017.
“Instead of punishing Alaa Abdel Fattah and the 23 other defendants for expressing their opinions, the authorities should drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release them.”
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters