Exacerbated by President Donald Trump's anti-press rhetoric, a record number of journalists worldwide are currently behind bars for reporting or commenting on news events according to an annual survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The numbers reflect not only a "bleak climate" for journalists around the globe, but also a "dismal failure" by countries including the U.S. to address the ongoing crisis.
Turkey, China, and Egypt were the three worst offenders in CPJ's report, jailing a combined 134 journalists out of the total 262 who are currently imprisoned worldwide. Trump, the report noted, has expressed admiration for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping, both of whom have been criticized for their authoritarian leanings, and has praised Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, saying they both "agree on so many things."
"Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen," said the CPJ.
When the president visited Xi in November, he made no public mention of human rights abuses in China, despite a crackdown which has led to the jailing of 41 journalists there, up from 38 in 2016. Trump has also hosted Erdogan at the White House in May, weeks after 19 reporters were sent to jail for a second time for their alleged involvement in 2016's coup attempt, after a court ordered their release. The judges who had demanded they be set free were suspended.
In addition to Trump's friendships with leaders who swiftly arrest journalists on "anti-state" charges, said the CPJ, the president's "nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling 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 president's favored phrase, employed frequently when news outlets report on his low poll numbers and other negative news coverage of his administration, has taken off in repressive countries this year. A record 21 journalists are currently behind bars for spreading "false news," according to the CPJ.
In Myanmar, where Amnesty International accuses the military of waging a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya minority group, a security official recently told the New York Times, "There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news." Two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the issue were detained there on Wednesday, and human rights groups claim local reporters have been abducted in recent weeks by the military.
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Meanwhile, Chinese state media on Tuesday joined Trump in turning the phrase against the Western media.
"If the President of the United States claims that his nation's leading media outlets are a stain on America, then negative news about China and other countries should be taken with a grain of salt since it is likely that bias and political agendas are distorting the real picture," read an op-ed in the People's Daily.
On social media, journalists and free press advocates drew attention to the widespread imprisonment of members of the press, as well as Trump's contributions to an increasingly hostile environment for the news media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists' annual prison census is grim and extraordinarily important for all who care about #PressFreedom. The worst offenders for jailing journalists? #Turkey #China and #Egypt @pressfreedom https://t.co/15cdQTRWTJ— Nieman Foundation (@niemanfdn) December 13, 2017
As Trump repeatedly attacks them, the number of journalists jailed and imprisoned around the world has just hit a record high.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) December 13, 2017
This is a crisis. https://t.co/Rrz9zcpnqR