Donald Trump's 'fake news' jabs at media offer 'framework' for countries to jail journalists, CPJ report claims

The international community has failed to pressure the world’s “worst” jailers of journalists, including Egypt, to improve press freedom conditions, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said.

For the second consecutive year, Egypt was in third place on the list of world’s top jailers of journalists, after Turkey and China, the CPJ said in a report.

President Donald Trump’s “nationalistic rhetoric” and labelling of critical media as “fake news” provided the framework for such countries to jail journalists, the committee said.

Egypt ranked second in CPJ’s 2015 census and was among the top 10 in 2014, the year President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi took office.

The country has regularly detained, jailed, and prosecuted journalists under El-Sissi, who led the military’s 2013 overthrow of an elected Islamist president.

The CPJ report, by its editorial director, said the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit a new record this year – and more than half of those jailed for their work were in Turkey, China, and Egypt.

“Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behaviour, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping,” it said.

“At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labelling critical media ‘fake news’ serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists.”

The report said that globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists were jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, had risen to a record 21.

The CPJ’s annual prison census showed that 262 journalists were behind bars around the world because of their work, a new record after a last year’s historical high of 259, with the worst three countries responsible for jailing 134 (51 per cent) of them, the report said.

Turkey remained the worst country for jailing journalists – although it freed some during the year, it still had 73 journalists behind bars, compared with 81 last year, while dozens more were facing trial and fresh arrests were regular events.

In China – where the number of journalists behind bars rose to 41 from 38 a year earlier – President Xi was “enjoying global standing”, the CPJ report said.

More than half of the journalists imprisoned in Egypt, where the number in jail fell to 20 from 25 last year, were in poor health, it said.

It added that countries appearing in its prison census for the first time in at least 12 months were Algeria, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Iraq, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Republic of Congo, Somalia, Uganda, and Ukraine.

The prison census accounted only for journalists in government custody and did not include those who had disappeared or were held captive by non-state groups, such as several Yemeni journalists CPJ believed to be being held by the Ansar Allah movement, known as the Houthis.

Picture: Reuters/Carlos Barria

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