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The number of journalists imprisoned around the world is at its highest level since 1996, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says in a new census.

The New York based CPJ identified 145 reporters, editors and photo-journalists held behind bars on December 1, an increase of nine over the 2009 tally, and blamed the increase on what it called China’s “brutal suppression of ethnic journalism” and Iran’s “sustained crackdown on critical voices.”
“With 34 imprisoned journalists apiece, China and Iran are responsible for nearly half of the worldwide total,” the CPJ reported. Eritrea (17), Burma (13) and Uzbekistan (6) were the other worst jailers from among the 28 nations that imprison journalists. At least 64 freelance journalists were behind bars worldwide.

“The increase in the number of journalists jailed around the world is a shocking development,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It is fueled largely by a small handful of countries that systematically jail journalists – countries that are at war with information itself.”

Click here for country-by-country accounts of imprisoned journalists.

“In the Middle East and North Africa 37 journalists are being held on vaguely worded antistate or terrorism charges,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “Unfortunately, it seems that accusing journalists of acting against national security has become the easiest way to silence critical voices in that part of the world.”

Globally, journalists are most commonly held on antistate charges (72 cases) or even no charge at all (34 cases). China and Iran both rely heavily on the use of vague antistate charges, the CPJ said, adding that abusive application of antistate charges – such as treason, subversion or acting against national interests – occurs worldwide and is the single biggest cause of journalist imprisonments.

“Iran, currently engaged in nuclear talks with the international community, is confident that its abysmal treatment of imprisoned journalists and other perceived opponents will continue to be a non-issue; it is up to the international community to prove Tehran wrong and hold it accountable for its actions,” said Abdel Dayem.

Data from Iran show imprisonments extend beyond the post-election crackdown of 2009, forming “a sustained assault on critical voices that continues to this day.” In the last two months alone, CPJ found, Iranian authorities had detained four journalists. In China, the increase was propelled by the imprisonment of Uighur and Tibetan journalists covering ethnic issues and the violent regional unrest of recent years, topics that are officially off-limits. These journalists are also unrecognised by the state or Communist Party, which authorise all news media in China.

CPJ’s annual census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1, 2010. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at http://www.cpj.org. http://www.cpj.org Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by non-state entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups are not included in the prison census. Their cases are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”

Originally posted here.