A Record Number of Journalists Were Imprisoned in 2016

New figures released last week show that 2016 was a dire year for press freedom, with more journalists imprisoned over the last twelve months than any since records began in 1990. Why is this happening, and which countries have the highest number of imprisoned journalists?

Roughly 251 journalists were jailed this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalism (CPJ) which compiles this tally every year. The number specifically refers to journalists imprisoned for no other reason than doing their jobs, so this doesn’t account for other offenses that journalists may commit in their private lives.

Due to the nature of journalistic investigation, it’s difficult to produce an exact figure. Thus, the CJP discounts any imprisonments it can’t directly link to a person’s journalism work. It’s worth bearing in mind that the figures could actually exceed this conservative number. At the least, this tally provides a baseline to identify the worst offenders.

While this survey includes incidents from across the globe, this year’s figures were primarily inflated by the crackdown on media outlets that is occurring in Turkey. The CPJ notes that 81 of the jailed journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey.

The CPJ reports:

Amid an ongoing crackdown that accelerated after a failed coup attempt in July, Turkey is jailing at least 81 journalists in relation to their work, the highest number in any one country at any time, according to CPJ’s records. Turkish authorities have accused each of those 81 journalists–and dozens more whose imprisonment CPJ was unable to link directly to journalistic work–of anti-state activity.


In Turkey, media freedom was already under siege in early 2016, with authorities arresting, harassing, and expelling journalists and shutting down or taking over news outlets; the unprecedented rate of press freedom violations spurred CPJ to launch a special diary, “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle,” in March. The pace of arrests exploded after a chaotic attempt failed on July 15, 2016 to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a military coup. 

The extent of the jailings in Turkey is unclear at the moment. The CPJ reportedly reviewed a number of other cases, but the organization was only able to directly confirm that individuals were jailed due to their journalistic work in 67 instances.

In part, this is because Turkish civil administrators have sealed court documents and otherwise obscured the initial arrest reports and subsequent charges. This figure also does not include journalists who have disappeared within the past year.

The high number of imprisonments comes against a wider backdrop of political unrest in Turkey. Following the failed coup attempt in July, President Erdoğan’s government gave itself emergency powers.

That move has allowed it to detain, however briefly, hundreds of journalists and shutter news outlets it believes may be fueling sedition. In total, more than 35,000 people have been arrested under suspicion of suspected collusion.  

After Turkey, China had the highest number of imprisonments, with 38 journalists in custody at the December 1 cutoff. Again, the true number is likely to be higher, but this represents the incidents confirmed by the CPJ.

China has a long history of using state powers to quash media freedom. The CPJ warns that there has been an uptick in jailings coming from Beijing in the past few weeks, particularly involving journalists who have attempted to cover human rights abuses.

Egypt also placed highly, coming in third with 25 people in prison. Many of the journalists counted in that figure have been detained for several years now without trial or hope for due process.

One somewhat more positive note is that Iran was not among the top offenders this year. The CPJ notes that while there may be a number of human rights concerns involving the country, many of the journalists who were infamously jailed in previous crackdowns have now served their sentences and have been released.

Earlier this year, reports described a crackdown on Iranian social media users. The findings suggest that Iran may still be attempting to interrupt the spread of information considered to be against the state.

What these figures show us in a broader sense, however, is a worrying desire to curtail media freedom under the guise of creating “stability” and “political harmony.”

With Turkey at the forefront of that push, this may raise further questions about the refugee crisis, for example. Are we actually getting the true picture of how Turkey is handling the influx of Syrian refugees? This also throws up a red-flag for Turkey’s EU membership candidacy.

As such, if Turkey wishes to join the EU —  and to show that its political process is truly as open as it has claimed — it must allow journalistic freedom and end its crackdown on the media. After all, press scrutiny is a key tool for a healthy democracy.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fookabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing

William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Marija M
Marija Mabout a year ago

Who is afraid of Journalists?

Danuta W
Danuta Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a year ago

Criminal gangs in Mexico are notorious for abducting and murdering journalists.

Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a year ago

Turkey has long been hostile to journalism and it has increased as the leader does not want Europe to know how much of a religious extremist nutter he and his mates really are.

Bill Eagle
Bill Eagleabout a year ago

Take care, America isn't Turkey or Syria, but we are imprisoning Journalists here as well. .. look at what they tried to do to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. I would not expect much in the way of press freedom under Trump...and I shudder at the thought of Trump appointed judges.

Berenice Guedes d
Berenice Guedes de Sáabout a year ago

So bad!!! This should not happen!!

Siyus C
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.