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New Report Finds That More Than 250 Journalists Were Jailed For Their Work in 2018


This year has brought several reminders of the dangers that journalists face around the world for speaking out. There was the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the imprisonment of Reuters reporters in Myanmar. Now the Committee to Protect Journalists has a new report saying more than 250 journalists around the world are in jail as a result of their work. Robert Mahoney is CPJ's deputy executive director, and he joins us now. Hi, there.


SHAPIRO: This is the third year in a row that you've said more than 250 journalists are imprisoned around the world. What does that tell you?

MAHONEY: It tells us that there's a creeping authoritarianism globally. Dictators and so-called strongmen leaders are cracking down on independent journalism and criticism from the Philippines, all the way through Turkey and even here in the Americas.

SHAPIRO: I also just want to clarify that this report isn't looking at the threat journalists face in war - threats of injury or death. This is solely cracking down on people for what they've published.

MAHONEY: Absolutely. This is a form of state censorship through imprisonment. This is the deliberate targeting of journalists and bloggers by governments who do not want their voice to be heard.

SHAPIRO: Now, you mentioned Turkey. And in the last few months, Turkey has taken a leading role in illuminating Saudi Arabia's responsibility for the death of one journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. But your report shows that Turkey is actually the worst offender when it comes to jailing journalists.

MAHONEY: Yeah. Turkey has been at the top of our list for several years now, and there were some 68 journalists in jail this year. Things got really bad after the failed coup back in 2016. So it's extremely ironic that the president of Turkey, President Erdogan, should be the one that is giving us the details about the murder of a journalist when he himself continues to throw journalists behind bars.

SHAPIRO: And of course Turkey has been accusing Saudi Arabia of this. Saudi Arabia itself, according to your report, has more than doubled the number of journalists in jail compared to a year ago. The number this year is 16 up from seven. What's happening there?

MAHONEY: Well, what's happening is that despite the rhetoric and the millions of dollars that Crown Prince Salman is spending on lobbyists and PR consultants here in the United States and in Europe - behind that image of a reformer and a young modernist is a good old-fashioned authoritarian who cannot stand criticism. There are 16 journalists in jail in Saudi Arabia by our count - four female journalists, who were thrown in jail for reporting on women's rights. And then we had that appalling murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. I mean, one of the things that strikes me is that before the Arab Spring, we had 13 journalists in jail in all of the Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East. Now it's 63, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia account for a lot of that total.

SHAPIRO: Another country that figures prominently on the list is China. And one journalist we know of who disappeared recently is the photojournalist Lu Guang, a U.S. resident, who disappeared while on a trip to Xinjiang province, which is where the Uighur-Muslim minority lives. China has been clamping down on that group. Today Lu Guang's wife said police confirmed to the family that the photojournalist was in fact arrested. How does this fit in with what we've seen generally with journalists in China?

MAHONEY: Well, China has always been very intolerant of independent journalism. But this year, there was a marked uptick in the numbers arrested. And most of those were in the west of China. At least 10 of the journalists detained in China this year were in the Xinjiang region.

SHAPIRO: Here in the U.S., President Trump regularly verbally attacks journalists, calling them the enemy of the people. Are there any American journalists in the U.S. who are actually in jail?

MAHONEY: No, not in the U.S. as far as we know. I mean, journalists have been arrested and face increasing harassment whilst they're working. But from the state itself - no, there are no journalists in jail. That said, however, the atmosphere in which independent journalists are working is pretty toxic at the moment with the president of the United States using his pulpit in the White House to label them as enemies of the people and generally denigrate the work that they do in upholding democracy by holding power to account.

SHAPIRO: Robert Mahoney is deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thank you for joining us today.

MAHONEY: Thank you.