Reporters Without Borders: record number of journalists detained in 2021

Most notably, the number of journalists behind bars has increased dramatically by 20% since 2020. [benjaminec/Shutterstock]

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) noted 488 detained journalists in 2021, an increase of 20% compared to 2020, according to its annual round-up on abuses against journalists worldwide, published on Thursday (16 December).

RSF’s report looks at the repression suffered by journalists in 2021 and has logged a total of 46 killed, 65 held hostage, and 468 in prison. These figures are significantly higher than those published by the Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this month, which recorded 24 killings and 293 imprisonments.

Most notably, the number of journalists behind bars has increased dramatically by 20% since 2020.

“This increase is structural because, unfortunately, there are autocratic regimes that continue to lock up journalists arbitrarily,” Pauline Adès-Mével, RSF’s editor-in-chief, told EURACTIV.

But it is also “situational”, she said, because of “increasingly violent and repeated crises that lead to repression of journalists who denounce what is happening under these unscrupulous and authoritarian regimes”.

The report notes that three dictatorial regimes, in particular, are responsible for this increase.

These are Burma, which has been under military junta control since February, Belarus, where protests against the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko have led to the arrest of many journalists by the regime, and Hong Kong, where the new National Security Act of 2020 has enabled the local authorities to arrest at least 10 journalists.

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RSF also notes that Burma and Belarus are now among the “worst jailers” globally, with 53 and 32 journalists detained, respectively. However, they do not overtake China, with 127 journalists behind bars.

The annual report also shows a new and unprecedented figure: 60 journalists detained are women. They now represent 12.3% of imprisoned journalists, compared to 6.59% in 2017.

“Not only does this increase illustrate the fact that more and more women work as journalists and are not immune to the repression faced by the entire profession, but it is also indicative of certain regional characteristics,” the organisation explains.

Later in the report, they note that Belarus “standing out” – for holding more women (17) than men (15) – is “indicative of the end of the patriarchal tolerance traditionally displayed by Belarusian authorities, who were caught by surprise by the leading role of women at the onset of post-election protests”.

Finally, RSF notes out of the 46 journalists killed in 2021, almost two-thirds were murdered or deliberately targeted, while the other 16 were killed in the line of duty.

Although the number of journalists killed was lower than 50 in 2003, RSF points out that “an average of nearly one journalist a week is still being killed in connection with their work”.

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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