Twenty-four journalists were killed in 2021 and 293 have been jailed concerning their work, making this year the most dangerous on record for media workers, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Meanwhile, the death toll in Europe rose to four in the same period.
Journalists and media workers are increasingly coming under attack as the war on disinformation and the struggle for democracy continues.
The CPJ noted:, “The number of journalists jailed around the world set another record high in 2021. Invoking new tech and security laws, repressive regimes from Asia to Europe to Africa cracked down harshly on the independent press.”
In terms of imprisonments, the total of 293 in 2021 is an increase from the 280 recorded the previous year. Asides from the 24 murdered because of their work, a further 18 were killed in “circumstances too murky to determine whether they were specific targets.”
China was the worst offender for imprisoning journalists for the third year in a row, with 50 behind bars. Myanmar came in second place, followed by Egypt, Vietnam, and Belarus.
CPJ said that the increasing number of journalists’ in jail is related to “a growing intolerance of independent reporting” from “autocrats” who ignore due process and flout international norms to keep themselves in power.
“In a world preoccupied with COVID-19 and trying to prioritise issues like climate change, repressive governments are aware that public outrage at human rights abuses is blunted and democratic governments have less appetite for political or economic retaliation,” the report said.
In Belarus, at least 19 journalists are behind bars, an increase from nine in 2020. The report notes the case of Raman Pratasevich, who was arrested after a RyanAir flight he was on was forcibly diverted to Minsk. The report describes President Aleksander Lukashenko as using “extreme measures” and not caring about public opinion, preferring to focus on staying in power.
CPJ noted that “In this grim year for free expression,” the kind of intolerance in Belarus, “leaves little room for optimism that the number of jailed journalists will stop setting records anytime soon.”
The CPJ report did not mention the murder of four journalists in Europe, including two in EU countries in 2021.
In April, Greek crime and police journalist Giorgos Karaivaz was gunned down outside his home in Athens. The execution-style murder caused shockwaves worldwide, and despite promising to solve the crime, the Greek authorities have made no progress in the case.
Then in July, Dutch veteran-journalist Peter R. de Vries was shot in the head while leaving a TV studio in Athens. He died nine days later in hospital. Again, no one has been arrested in connection with his murder.
The other two deaths took place in Azerbaijan. Siraj Abishov and Maharram Ibrahimov were killed in cross-fire on 4 June near the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It was reported that a vehicle they were travelling in hit a landmine, killing them both instantly.
Attacks against women journalists in Europe also increased during 2021. The number of reported violations rose by almost 17% compared to 2020, according to the Coalition For Women In Journalism.
During the nine-month period this year, CFWIJ recorded a total of 149 violations, covering situations like legal attacks, detentions and expulsions, and physical and verbal assaults.
One of the biggest obstacles in tackling attacks on journalists is impunity, as the vast majority of crimes against them go unpunished.
On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 2 November, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, and Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova spoke of the issue of impunity and its impact on media freedom in the EU and around the world.
“Unfortunately, the stories and voices of many independent journalists continue to be silenced all over the world, including in the EU. They face an increasing number of threats and attacks, including assassinations in the most tragic cases,” they said.
They launched the first-ever Recommendation to the member states on the safety of journalists as a concrete step to improve the situation for media workers in the union. It includes recommendations to project journalists during protests, ensure better online safety, and support female journalists.
“There is no democracy without media freedom and pluralism. An attack on media is an attack on democracy,” they concluded.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]