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December 14, 2022

Number of journalists jailed in 2022 rose 13% to record 533, RSF says

Despite the war in Ukraine, RSF said fewer journalists died there than in Mexico this year.

By Bron Maher

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has identified a record 533 journalists imprisoned worldwide in its annual round-up of media detentions and killings.

The 2022 figure is a 13.4% rise on the year before, which was itself a 20% rise on 2020.

The number of detained women journalists has risen faster still, with women now accounting for 14.6% of media workers in jail.

And after a historically low two years for killings of journalists, that figure too increased in 2022, to 57.

But despite the war in Ukraine, fewer journalists have died in that conflict than have died carrying out their work in peacetime Mexico.

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RSF said in its report published on Wednesday that of the detained journalists it has tracked, 339 (63.6%) have not been tried.

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China remains the biggest jailer of journalists, holding 110. That figure represents a modest decline from 2021, when the figure was 127.

Myanmar, which suffered a military coup in 2021, holds 62 journalists, making it the second biggest jailer in the world and the biggest relative to its population size. Iran (47) is the third most prolific jailer, Vietnam (39) fourth and Belarus (31) fifth. Those five countries account for 54% of the world’s jailed media workers.

Iran did not appear in the top five prior to September, the month that 22 year-old Mahsa Amini died following her arrest by Iranian morality police for allegedly wearing a hijab incorrectly.

The country has seen large protests and an upsurge in arrests since. RSF says 15 women journalists have been arrested in Iran since September, giving it the dubious accolade of being the country with the most gender-balanced journalist prison population, with 38% of media detainees being women. 

Among those detained are Nilufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammedi, two women who were the first journalists to cover the Amini story. Both are charged with “propaganda against the system and conspiring against national security”, which is punishable with the death penalty.

[Read more: More than a dozen journalists arrested in Iran after covering protests and death of woman accused of not wearing hijab properly]

The arrests of women journalists in Iran are the most marked reflection of a broader global trend: five years ago, RSF said, women accounted for 7% of detained journalists worldwide, but now account for 14.6%. RSF said the rise “reflects the growing proportion of women in journalism and confirms that women are not spared from the repression faced by journalists”.

In Russia, which is not in the top five jailers of journalists but has executed a media crackdown since the invasion of Ukraine, RSF said there are 18 journalists imprisoned. Eight of that group are Ukrainians arrested in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Russia this year introduced a “fake news law” threatening anyone spreading purportedly false information about the military with up to 15 years in prison.

European countries received little focus in the report, but RSF did note that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison in London. If extradited to the US, he faces up to 175 years in prison, "the heaviest sentence of anyone targeted in connection with journalism in 2022".

The number of journalists killed this year - 57 - represents an 18.8% rise on 2021. There were 50 journalists killed while performing their work in 2020 and 48 in 2021.

The war in Ukraine accounts for some of the rise in dead journalists, but the number of media workers killed in war zones in 2022 - 20 - represented 35% of the total killed, up only slightly on 2021 when that figure was 32%. RSF said in its report that killings of journalists in countries at peace also rose, possibly because global mobility increased as the world exited Covid lockdowns.

RSF put the figure for journalists killed covering the invasion of Ukraine at eight.

[Read more: Journalists under attack in Ukraine]

In comparison, it said 11 journalists have been murdered this year in Mexico. Some 46 journalists have been killed performing their job in the past five years in the country, and “at least 80” in the past ten, RSF said.

The Americas in general accounted for nearly half of all murdered journalists in 2022: most prominently among UK media, freelance journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were murdered and dismembered in Brazil while reporting on Amazon deforestation. 

Jeff German, a reporter in Las Vegas who often covered local politics and organised crime, was also murdered, allegedly stabbed to death by a public administrator about whom he was writing. Elsewhere, the death of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh under fire from Israeli soldiers in the West Bank continues to make news: Al Jazeera this month asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the journalist’s death.

RSF said 65 journalists remain hostage around the world and 49 journalists are missing. The majority of hostages were kidnapped in Syria, where 42 journalists have been taken captive. One of them is Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist who went missing in Damascus a decade ago this year.

The number of missing journalists ticked up slightly from last year, when the number had been 47. The two new missing journalists are Dmytro Khiliuk, who disappeared from a Russian-occupied village north of Kyiv while working for Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, and Roberto Carlo Flores Mendoza, who went missing in Mexico in September. He is the latest among 27 journalists missing in Mexico.

RSF’s report covers the year to 1 December 2022. The organisation said its counts include professional and non-professional journalists as well as more general media workers, adding: “We gather detailed information that allows us to affirm with certainty or a great deal of confidence that the death, detention or abduction of each journalist was a direct result of their journalistic work.”

RSF’s figures differ slightly from those of the International Federation of Journalists, which counted 67 journalists and media workers killed in 2022. The latter organisation also tracked 11 deaths in Mexico, but 12 media fatalities in Ukraine.

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