Turkey Jails More Journalists Than Any Other Country, Group Says

Ankara tops list for second consecutive year; Iran, China are close behind.

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For the second consecutive year, Turkey jailed more journalists than any other country, with Iran and China close behind in an annual report released Wednesday by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Jailing journalists for their work is the hallmark of an intolerant, repressive society," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement accompanying the report.

The CPJ found 211 journalists were behind bars in a snapshot survey taken on Dec. 1. The report noted the figure does not include many journalists who were imprisoned and released throughout the year. The CPJ said this was the second highest number of journalists jailed in its survey, topped only by the 232 in 2012.

Other countries on the list of the top 10 worst jailers of journalists were Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Uzbekistan.

"It is disturbing to see the number of jailed journalists rise in countries like Vietnam and Egypt," Simon said. "But it is frankly shocking that Turkey would be the world's worst jailer of journalists for the second year in a row."

Despite being a democracy and a key NATO ally of the United States, a number of factors contribute to Turkey's ranking as the leading jailer of journalists. The country has broad legislation to fight terrorism that critics say allows it to prosecute government critics as terrorists.

Rebels or reporters?

Until the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began peace talks in recent years, Turkey waged a multi-decade conflict with armed rebels fighting for Kurdish autonomy that claimed thousands of lives. The Turkish government accuses many of the imprisoned journalists of being members of the rebel group, which is considered a terrorist group by Western allies.

Critics, including CPJ, say Turkey has not distinguished between news coverage of the rebels and support of them.

Similarly, many other journalists have been jailed in sweeping prosecutions in recent years involving allegations of conspiracies against the government by Erdogan's secularist adversaries.

CPJ has argued that the prosecution of Turkish journalists is a form of government pressure on the media, in a country with an increasingly authoritarian bent. But this year's report notes a slight decline in the number of jailed journalists from 49 to 40, as some were freed as they awaited trial and others were released on time served after long pre-trial detentions.

The CPJ said the number of jailed journalists in Iran fell to 35 from 45. It said some sentences expired and the government kept up its policy of releasing some prisoners on furlough. Those who are released do not know when or if they will be summoned back to jail, the CPJ said.

Iran, China, Egypt in top 10

Authorities also continued to make new arrests and to condemn minority and reformist journalists to lengthy prison sentences despite the election in June of a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who has called for human rights reforms.

In China, 32 reporters, editors, and bloggers were imprisoned, the same number as in 2012.

Egypt was holding five journalists in jail compared with none in 2012. The CPJ noted that following President Mohamed Morsi's ouster in July, dozens of local and international journalists were detained, but most were later freed.

Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria imprisoned 11 journalists in 2013, down from 15 last year. The report noted, however, that the figure does not include dozens of reporters who have been abducted and are believed to be held by armed opposition groups. As of late 2013, about 30 journalists were missing in Syria, the CPJ said.

Only one journalist was behind bars in the Americas.

Roger Shuler, an independent blogger who writes about alleged Republican corruption in Alabama, was being held on contempt of court for refusing to comply with an injunction regarding content ruled defamatory, the CPJ said.

In recent years, journalist jailings in the Americas have become increasingly rare, with one Cuban documented in prison in 2012 and none throughout the region in 2011.

Online journalists accounted for about half of the prisoners at 106, while roughly one-third were freelancers.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony in Ankara December 18, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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