For a second year running, the number of journalists imprisoned for their work has hit a historical high, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a journalist rights organisation.
In its annual prison census, CPJ found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, a new record after a historical high of 259 last year.
The constant rise in the numbers is attributed to failure by USA and other Western powers to rein in the world’s worst jailers –Turkey, China, and Egypt – into improving the press freedom climate.
Despite releasing some journalists in 2017, Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer for the second consecutive year, with 73 journalists behind bars, compared to 81 last year. Dozens more still face trial, and fresh arrests take place regularly.
According to CPJ, journalists are people who cover the news or comment on public affairs in media, including print, photographs, radio, television, and online. In its annual prison census, CPJ includes only those journalists who it has confirmed have been imprisoned in relation to their work.
Ninety-seven per cent of jailed journalists are local. Of the total imprisoned worldwide, eight per cent are female journalists.
Freelancers account for 29 per cent of the cases. The report also found that politics is by far the most dangerous beat, covered by 87 per cent of those jailed.
Even when the CPJ report doesn’t clearly state the situation in countries like Uganda, which appeared on the census for the first time, press freedom is being trampled on each year and attacks on journalists have so far gone up according to two previous reports by the local Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ).
Many critical journalists have been arrested and charged with unconvincing cases like criminal defamation, disturbing the peace of the president or other government officials.
In November 2017, Stanley Ndawula, a journalist with an online platform, The Investigator was arrested and charged with disturbing police chief Kale Kayihura’s peace by posting stories critical of the police he heads.
A few weeks later, three Red Pepper newspaper editors and five directors were also arrested and slapped with related charges for publishing a story that alleged President Museveni intended to overthrow Rwanda president Paul Kagame. The eight are still behind bars.
Other countries appearing on the census for the first time in at least 12 months are Algeria, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Iraq, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Ukraine.
The Uganda Communications Commission has constantly issued warnings to upcountry media outlets for hosting opposition politicians and many radio show hosts have been forced to resign by their employers due to government pressure.
Some like Top radio/TV in Kampala have been forced into self-censorship. The station recently warned its workers against hosting opposition politicians and making anti-government utterances on air.