One in 6 jailed journalists are held without charge [Archives:2007/1111/Viewpoint]

December 13 2007

The Editorial Staff
In a new analysis, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found that worldwide one in six journalists are being held without publically disclosed charge. The analysis rated 24 countries and found that bloggers, online editors, and Web-based reporters constitute about 39 percent of journalists jailed worldwide. Print journalists make up the largest professional category, accounting for about half of those in jail.

CPJ's annual worldwide census of imprisoned journalists found 127 behind bars on December 1, a decrease of seven from the 2006 tally. The drop is due in large part to the release this year of 15 Ethiopian journalists who were either acquitted or pardoned of antistate charges stemming from a broad government crackdown on the press.

The problem with this report is that it only narrates the case of 24 countries where CPJ could obtain information. Yemen for example is not on the list. However, it is a good indicator of what is happening in reality around the world.

Over half of the journalists are in prison for simply not complying with the state's policies. Their crimes range from jeopardizing state secrets, to acting against national interests. We have a journalist here in Yemen who could very well face a death penalty for “hurting the military's moral”, that is, if the later had any moral to begin with.

However, the proportion of journalists held without any charge at all increased for the third consecutive year. Most of these journalists who are in jail without charge are there under the pretext of security, which has become the best excuse to get rid of people you don't like after 9/11. Houthism, is the term for it in Yemen. If you don't like someone, just “inform” the authorities that so and so is displaying some “Houthi” sentimental, or has a relative among the Houthi group etc. Instantly, you would clear him out of the way, and without an actual record that he exists in prison.

Yemen Times has been following the case of over 48 detainees in Hajja, who are there under this pretext. None of them have files, or have actually been charged. They are just “suspects”, and have been there a little less than a year now, two of which were under 18 when imprisoned, and one was only 15 years old.

Guantanamo Bay Prison is another excellent example of how sheer fear can make security people whose job is to protect security, the first ones who violate it. Yet, apparently it is China, according to the CPJ's analysis that has won the leading position worldwide for the ninth consecutive year by having imprisoned without charge, the largest group of journalists.

This is a very difficult time for people who support freedom of expression. Not only for the traditional reasons such as dictatorship regimes, or influential gangsters. It is all the more scary when the news that one more journalist is dead or imprisoned, becomes regular second page news, and receives less attention than a celebrity getting a divorce.