Following the onset of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October, Israel has become one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, as discovered by the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2023 prison census. Tied with Iran, Israel ranks sixth, behind China, Myanmar, Belarus, Russia and Vietnam.
In contrast, Turkey’s ranking has seen a reduction in the number of journalists behind bars, dropping from one of the highest in previous years to 13 in the 2023 census. This decrease does not necessarily indicate an improvement in the press freedom environment within the country, as many journalists released are still under judicial control, facing restrictions such as mandatory police reporting and bans on foreign travel.
In the Kurdish-majority regions of Turkey, the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG) reported continued press suppression in January, according to their latest findings. The DFG highlighted that journalists in these areas face ongoing attacks, threats and pressures, with two journalists detained and another two imprisoned within the month alone.
The CPJ documented 320 journalists detained as of 1 December 2023, marking the second-highest figure since the census commenced in 1992. This alarming trend underscores the extent of authoritarianism and governments’ efforts to suppress independent reporting. Notably, the census highlighted a significant rise in the imprisonment of journalists by Israel, with most detentions occurring in the Palestinian territory of the occupied West Bank since the war began.
More than half of the journalists listed face charges related to false news or anti-state activities, often in retaliation for critical reporting. In some cases, journalists have been held without being informed of their charges, facing dire conditions and lengthy detentions without trial.
The census also sheds light on the global landscape of press repression, with China, Myanmar and Belarus accounting for over a third of all jailed journalists. China’s long-standing position as a top jailer is exacerbated by its crackdown on Hong Kong media, while Myanmar and Belarus have seen significant deteriorations in press freedom following political upheavals.
Israel’s increased detentions, primarily through administrative detention allowing detainment without charge, reflect a new development in the suppression of press freedom. These detentions often lack transparency, leaving the charges against journalists unclear, though some families believe their relatives were targeted for social media posts.
This year’s census also notes a decline in jailed journalists in Iran compared to 2022, despite continuing repression, particularly against female reporters covering women’s rights issues. Meanwhile, Russia has intensified its crackdown on independent journalism, with a notable number of foreign reporters among those detained.
The CPJ’s findings call attention to the harsh realities faced by journalists globally, including cruel prison conditions, healthcare denial, and the ongoing threat of legal and physical retaliation even after release. The report underscores the critical need for global awareness and action to protect journalists and press freedom.