Online journalists now jailed more than those in any other medium

Reflecting the rising influence of online reporting and commentary, more Internet journalists are jailed worldwide today than journalists working in any other medium. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, released today, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors. Online journalists represent the largest professional category for the first time in CPJ’s prison census.

CPJ’s survey found 125 journalists in all behind bars on December 1, a decrease of two from the 2007 tally. (Read detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist.) China continued to be world’s worst jailer of journalists, a dishonor it has held for 10 consecutive years. Cuba, Burma, Eritrea, and Uzbekistan round out the top five jailers from among the 29 nations that imprison journalists. Each of the top five nations has persistently placed among the world’s worst in detaining journalists

At least 56 online journalists are jailed worldwide, according to CPJ’s census, a tally that surpasses the number of print journalists for the first time. The number of imprisoned online journalists has steadily increased since CPJ recorded the first jailed Internet writer in its 1997 census. Print reporters, editors, and photographers make up the next largest professional category, with 53 cases in 2008. Television and radio journalists and documentary filmmakers constitute the rest.

“Online journalism has changed the media landscape and the way we communicate with each other,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But the power and influence of this new generation of online journalists has captured the attention of repressive governments around the world, and they have accelerated their counterattack.”

Antistate allegations such as subversion, divulging state secrets, and acting against national interests are the most common charge used to imprison journalists worldwide, CPJ found. About 59 percent of journalists in the census are jailed under these charges, many of them by the Chinese and Cuban governments.

About 13 percent of jailed journalists face no formal charge at all. The tactic is used by countries as diverse as Eritrea, Israel, Iran, the United States, and Uzbekistan, where journalists are being held in open-ended detentions without due process.

Here are other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s analysis:

· In about 11 percent of cases, governments have used a variety of charges unrelated to journalism to retaliate against critical writers, editors, and photojournalists. Such charges range from regulatory violations to drug possession. In the cases included in this census, CPJ has determined that the charges were most likely lodged in reprisal for the journalist’s work.

· Violations of censorship rules, the next most common charge, are applied in about 10 percent of cases. Criminal defamation charges are filed in about 7 percent of cases, while charges of ethnic or religious insult are lodged in another 4 percent. Two journalists are jailed for filing what authorities consider to be “false” news. (More than one type of charge may apply in individual cases.)

· Print and Internet journalists make up the bulk of the census. Television journalists compose the next largest professional category, accounting for 6 percent of cases. Radio journalists account for 4 percent, and documentary filmmakers 3 percent.

· The 2008 tally reflects the second consecutive decline in the total number of jailed journalists. That said, the 2008 figure is roughly consistent with census results in each year since 2000. CPJ research shows that imprisonments rose significantly in 2001, after governments imposed sweeping national security laws in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Imprisonments stood at 81 in 2000 but have since averaged 128 in CPJ’s annual surveys.

· The United States, which is holding photographer Ibrahim Jassam without charge in Iraq, has made CPJ’s list of countries jailing journalists for the fifth consecutive year. During this period, U.S. military authorities have jailed dozens of journalists in Iraq—some for days, others for months at a time—without charge or due process. No charges have ever been substantiated in these cases.

CPJ does not apply a rigid definition of online journalism, but it carefully evaluates the work of bloggers and online writers to determine whether the content is journalistic in nature. In general, CPJ looks to see whether the content is reportorial or fact-based commentary. In a repressive society where the traditional media is restricted, CPJ takes an inclusive view of work produced online.
The organization believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs. CPJ has sent letters expressing its serious concerns to each country that has imprisoned a journalist.

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. Here’s a link to Paul Goble’s post (yes, THAT Paul Goble, but there’s a lot of interest in his blog) on Russia’s proposed new legislation against Internet journalism:
    In the name of fighting extremism, a group of United Russia Duma deputies has proposed new legislation that would allow the government to impose sanctions on those who distribute what Moscow believes are “extremist” materials via the Internet and to close down the sites they post them on.
    But just how expansive their understanding of “extremism” may be and how much of a threat what they are proposing to do poses to the free flow of information is suggested in an article posted on one Moscow analytic site day which defines as “extremist” many things that most people would consider simply to be news and information.
    And even though the nature of the world wide web is such that Russian government efforts in this area are unlikely to be fully effective, such moves against what many consider to be the last free media space in Russia represent a further act of intimidation by Vladimir Putin and his associates against the embattled members of civil society in that country.
    Five United Russian deputies from the Duma committees on information policy, security and nationality affairs on Wednesday introduced legislation that would among other things define websites as media outlets and subject them to the same regulations that the print media now experience.

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