Media suppression in China, Myanmar, and Vietnam makes Asia the continent with the highest number of imprisoned journalists — a total of 119 — in the past year, according to the latest report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“In a year marked by conflict and repression, authoritarian leaders doubled down on their criminalization of independent reporting, deploying increasing cruelty to stifle dissenting voices and undermine press freedom,” read the CPJ report.
Globally, 363 journalists were imprisoned, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year. This year’s top five jailers of journalists are Iran, China, Myanmar, Turkey, and Belarus.
In China, authorities tightened online censorship during recent protests over the government’s zero-COVID lockdown policies and several journalists are reported to have been briefly detained while covering the demonstrations.
The CPJ report said that the slight drop in the known number of journalists jailed in the country – from a revised total of 48 in 2021 to 43 in 2022 – “should not be interpreted as any easing of the country’s intolerance for independent reporting.”
In Hong Kong, independent media outlets have been silenced following Beijing’s punitive targeting of those like pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai.
Myanmar, meanwhile, catapulted into CPJ’s census rankings as the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2021, when a February military coup ousted the country’s elected government and cracked down on coverage of the new regime.
According to the human rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, that retaliation took a countrywide toll of more than 2,500 dead and more than 16,000 detained on political charges.
The number of Myanmar journalists known to be jailed on December 1 rose to at least 42 – up from a revised 30 last year – as the regime doubled down on its efforts to mute reporters and disrupt the country’s few remaining independent media outlets, said the report.
Many news organizations remain reluctant to identify their detained staff and freelancers to avoid the harsher sentences often meted out to journalists.
Nearly half of those detained were sentenced in 2022, most under an anti-state provision that broadly penalizes “incitement” and “false news.”
In another case in November, journalist Myo San Soe was sentenced to 15 years in prison on terrorism charges for contacting members of People’s Defense Forces, an array of insurgent groups fighting the regime.
The report said that Vietnam, which holds 21, shows little tolerance for independent journalism, invoking tough sentences for those convicted of anti-state crimes, read the report released on Wednesday, December 14.
The report noted that in October, a court in Vietnam sentenced Le Manh Ha to eight years in prison, to be followed by five years of house arrest. In August, the country sentenced blogger Le Anh Hung to five years for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, organizations and individuals.”
Among other detainees are Pham Doan Trang, a winner of a CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2022. Trang is serving a nine-year prison sentence under a law that bans making or spreading news against the state.
India, with seven journalists in jail, continues to draw criticism over its treatment of the media, in particular its use of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law, to keep Kashmiri journalists Aasif Sultan, Fahad Shah, and Sajad Gul behind bars after they were granted court-ordered bail in separate cases.
Afghanistan, with three imprisoned journalists, appears on CPJ’s census for the first time in 12 years. Hundreds of Afghan journalists fled the country after the Taliban took back control of the country in August 2021; those who stayed face sometimes violent pressure to conform to its fundamentalist ideology.