Number of imprisoned journalists is second-highest on record

December 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Over 200 journalists are being detained for their work around the world, making 2013 the second-worst year on record for journalists in prison, according to the most recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. John Larson speaks with Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the CPJ for more on the story.

JOHN LARSON: We turn now to a situation getting very little attention, the dangers facing journalists around the world. Just yesterday a freelance Syrian photographer working for Reuters was killed covering the civil war there. For more about the dangers of conflict reporting and the imprisonment of journalists we are joined now by Robert Mahoney. He is the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Robert, thank you so much for joining us.


JOHN LARSON: Every year you folks take a snapshot in the month of December, a picture of many things including the number of journalist in prison at that moment. What does the picture tell you this year?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Well, this year is the second worst on record with more than 200 journalists in jail. So, governments are continuing to use imprisonment as a way of censoring journalist and silencing critics.

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JOHN LARSON: Now, I remember the worst year was last year, correct?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Yes. I few journalists have been released and that is due in part to the advocacy of groups like the committee to protect journalists and other journalists; putting pressure on governments. But the trend is still, for ah very high.

JOHN LARSON: Now I know anytime there is a list, who is number one on the list as imprisoning the most and why do you think that is?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Well, the uh, top jailer of journalist is Turkey


ROBERT MAHONEY: Yeah.  A lot of people are surprised by that. Turkey is a democracy, member of NATO, wants to join the European Union, but uh Turkey has a government that does not want to be criticized internally and so uses jailing of journalists to silence people, to intimidate them

JOHN LARSON: Now, I remember last year China, I believe, and Iran were also in the top three. How do they fare this year.

ROBERT MAHONEY: Oh, there still up there. The top three, they’re still in the top three. And between them, those three countries they account for nearly half of the total. So, there is a clear pattern here of authoritarian countries that want to put journalists behind bars rather than deal with the problems that the journalists are reporting on.

JOHN LARSON: Now, especially China, we hear a number of things these days. Number one, abut some  American news agencies, some big ones, Bloomberg , the New York Times, maybe not getting visas to cover China for their correspondents, but as far as the correspondents and reporting in China, what type of sentences, what type of reasons, what type of reporting is the Chinese government targeting?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Of Chinese journalist it’s those journalists that are criticizing the government, criticizing the communist party, doing investigative reporting, uncovering corruption or bad government, those are the kinds of stories that many Chinese officials don’t want published. And the picture’s very mixed. There are parts of China where there are some good journalists getting out some good information in the nation and then there are other parts of China were things are very repressive.

JOHN LARSON: And now what about American reporters that are either missing or somehow being threatened overseas?

ROBERT MAHONEY: Well the worst place to be a journalist at the moment is Syria and that’s been the case for the past couple of years because of the conflict and there are a number of American journalists who have been taken hostage, some of them for the last year and a half and we have absolutely no news about them. We know that they’re alive, or we think we know they’re alive, but this is a terribly distressing situation for their family and friends.

JOHN LARSON: Robert Mahoney from the Committee to Protect Journalists thanks so much.

ROBERT MAHONEY:  You’re welcome.