TEL AVIV – Egypt is second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists, according to a new report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt, now the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide,” the report stated.
Eight journalists were imprisoned in 2015 alone, bringing the number of journalists Cairo is holding in jail to 23. In 2012, there were no journalists in jail in Egypt.
According to the report, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continues to use the pretext of national security to clamp down on dissent following his ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Many of the journalists belong to news outlets owned by Islamists.
One journalist, Ismail Alexandrani, who was arrested when he arrived in Egypt from Germany, is a freelancer whose writing focuses on the troubled region of the Sinai Peninsula.
The number of journalists jailed in Turkey also rose dramatically in 2015, doubling to 14. In 2014, the country released dozens of journalists in response to international pressure, but general elections, the precarious situation in Syria, and the tentative ceasefire with the PKK party have meant new arrests.
The 49 journalists currently in prison in China makes it the world’s worst offender for the second year in a row.
Anti-state charges are the number one excuse for jailing journalists in Iran, where the number of journalists in jail fell from 30 in 2014 to 19 in 2015. However, Iran has adopted a revolving-door policy that allows some prisoners to be temporarily released while others are arrested.
Altogether, CPJ identified 199 journalists in prison because of their work in 2015, compared with 221 the previous year. Iran, Vietnam, and Ethiopia were among the countries holding fewer journalists in prison, but the climate of fear still pervades those countries and journalists who are released often face forced exile or harsh clampdowns.
The report accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or who were abducted by non-state groups. The CPJ estimates that at least 40 journalists are missing in the Middle East and North Africa, many of whom are captives of terrorist groups including ISIS.