This month saw 20 journalists in Ethiopia go into hiding after being fired from the state-run Oromia Radio and Television Organization. A Somalian journalist was assassinated. And others around the world feel the pain of the Al Jazeera journalists recently tried and convicted by a kangaroo court in Egypt.
In America, the idea that the truth will set you free is something we take for granted. The fact is that in a lot of places, not only does the truth not set you free, it can actually put you behind bars for a very long time—or worse.
Here are some of the worst offenders:
When Turkey is not busy fighting for human rights in Gaza, it apparently spends a lot of time stomping on them at home. According to Al Jazeera, Turkey, which currently has 40 incarcerated journalists, is the “world’s biggest prison” for media. In fact, 2013 marked the second year in a row that Turkey was the global leader in imprisoned journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalism’s rating system.
Nobody knows that better than journalist and human rights activist Ragip Zarako, who has been arrested in the country more than 70 times. His most recent arrest came in 2011, when he was convicted of spreading propaganda to support the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) because he contributed to The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State, a book about the Kurdish struggles as a stateless minority.
“I’ve been writing in the Kurdish press for 20 years. I witnessed the killing of a 72-year-old editor,” Zarako told Taraf. “Such things aren’t experienced any more. But should we be thankful simply for the fact that we’re not killed, or like Uğur Mumcu, we’re not assassinated? Turkey is currently at the end of a 10 year process. But despite constant reforms and improvements being spoken of for 10 years, journalists are still in jail for political reasons, and there are still people who have been in prison for 30 years for political reasons. We have to examine this.”
Unfortunately, the Turkish government seems pretty happy with the results of their war on free speech.
“We have to underline that cases we’ve opened against press have been quite a deterrent; the wording of columnists has noticeably changed especially since 2003,” said Ali Özkaya, a lawyer for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Reporters and columnists do not exceed the dose when making criticisms anymore; insulting comments or columns have been reduced to minimum.”
Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index Ranking: 154 out of 180
2013 was an election year in Iran, which was not good news for reporters. In January of last year, Iranian security forces raided at least four newspapers and went on a journalist-arresting spree, an act of intimidation before the June elections.
Plainclothes government goons raided the newspapers and arrested at least 10 journalists for cooperating with “anti-revolutionary” Persian-speaking media organizations. Iran has a long history of arresting journalists who work with Persian news agencies outside of Iran.
“The situation for independent journalists is Iran is worsening by the day,” said Rob Mahoney, the deputy director of Committee to Protect Journalism. “High-profile persecutions and imprisonments are an attempt by the authorities to intimidate the media into silence and self-censorship. The international community must speak out against such actions.”
Mahoney wasn’t exaggerating. Seven journalists were among those beaten in Iran’s Ivan Prison last April, when guards and intelligence officials raided the section of the prison holding political prisoners. Siamak Ghaderi is still languishing in prison for having the temerity to interview homosexuals. Ghaderi was one of 14 political prisoners who were flogged during another beating in 2012.
Meanwhile, unbelievably gutsy journalists such as Saba Azarpeik stay committed to filing stories no matter how many times they are arrested. Iran finished the year with 35 journalists in prison. The situation is so bad for pretty much anybody with an opinion that Iranian.com even posts a series about Iran’s prisoner of the day.
Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index Rating: 173 out of 180
It’s no secret the people who make up the People’s Republic of China needs to watch what they say in public. That goes double for journalists. China’s government has long sought to suppress free speech, but journalistic liberties have gotten even worse in recent years, and the internet’s threat to the status quo has led to increased pressure on both domestic and foreign reporters.
China had 32 journalists in prison in 2013, and so far in 2014, it looks like they’re trying to build on that number. In April, authorities arrested three citizen journalists for reporting on incidents that took place in Tiananmen Square, including a self-immolation.
Huang Qi, noted human rights activist and contributor to Chinese news site 64tianwang, was among the arrested journalists. His mother, Pu Wenqing, recounted his arrest, which comes straight out of a journalist’s worst nightmare: “Seven police officers came directly to our home, some of them Beijing police,” Pu said. “They said they wanted to understand a situation.”
While it might be difficult for Chinese authorities to understand the situation, it’s a lot easier for international observers. Freelance journalist Paul Mooney, who has covered China for almost 20 years, writes that Chinese journalists are facing increasing danger as the Chinese government makes it extremely uncomfortable for foreign journalists to do their jobs, sentiments echoed by Hu Jia, a prominent rights activist in Beijing.
“The authorities rely on secret security police to threaten individual citizens, to unceasingly harass and arrest citizens who express their freedom of expression through microblogs,” Jia said, “and to create fear among bloggers and netizens to make everyone feel insecure and to self-censor and remain silent.”
Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index Rating: 175 out of 180
It’s tough for anybody to survive in Syria, and it might just be the toughest place on Earth to report from these days. While Syria “only” had 12 journalists in custody in 2013, the civil war is making it very dangerous for journalists. Stories like that of Jihad As’ad Mohamed, who has not been seen since he was taken away by security forces last August, are becoming all too common.
Not that it’s ever been safe to be a journalist in Syria. Since 1992, there have been 65 journalists killed in Syria, and seven of those were murders. None of the murders were ever prosecuted.
Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index Rating: 177 out of 180
The only people who would be surprised to see North Korea on this list are likely living in North Korea. The problem in North Korea isn’t so much the number of incarcerated journalist as it is the fact that it’s illegal to report anything not officially sanctioned by the government. Ruling elites have access to the web, but if most North Koreans want to get any news beyond state propaganda, they have to depend on bootlegged foreign TV, radio signals, and smuggled DVDs.
Although they can’t censor foreign journalists, they don’t make it easy. Foreign journalist are always shadowed by a “minder,” and there are plenty of instances of journalists being sentenced to labor camps for doing their jobs. Reporters Without Borders offers a gruesome archive of North Korea’s crimes against reporters.
Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index Rating: 179 out of 180
Eritrea took the bottom spot on Reporters Without Borders World Freedom Index Rating, ending North Korea’s dynasty. And if any country is ever ranked worse than North Korea at anything, you know it’s bad.
CPJ reported 22 journalists were imprisoned in Eritrea in 2013. Since September 2001, there has been a brutal crackdown on free speech in the country. Seven independent media offices were shut down, and 10 journalists were imprisoned that year, but that was just the beginning. CPJ rates the country as the most censored in the world.
Only state news media are allowed to operate in Eretria, and there is no editorial freedom. Journalists can be jailed for long periods of time without charges simply for allowing information to leave the country.
Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index Rating: 180 out of 180