MORE journalists have been jailed around the world in 2016, than at any time since the global press freedom organisation the Committee to Protect Journalists began keeping detailed records in 1990.
According to a just published report by the CPJ, Turkey accounts for nearly a third of the journalists jailed in the world this year.
The global total of 259 journalists jailed as at December 1, 2016, compares with 199 behind bars worldwide in 2015, says CPJ.
The previous global record was 232 journalists in jail in 2012.
After Turkey, the worst offenders in 2016 are China, which had jailed the most journalists worldwide in the previous two years. Next is Egypt, where the total rose slightly from 2015; Eritrea, where journalists have long disappeared without any legal process into the secretive country’s detention system; and Ethiopia, where longtime repression of independent journalists has deepened in recent months.
What does one make of the state of journalists’ freedom in Africa 2016?
The patterns of journalists’s repression is striking. In north Africa, the post-Arab Spring reality has made conditions worse for journalists in Egypt, though there has been an improvement in its birthplace Tunisia. It has come with a relative uptick in freedom.
In West Africa’s case, the recent economic boom across the continent has petered out, but there has been a new wave of democratisation and improvement in press freedom. West Africa is now the region in Africa where most free elections and democratic transitions are happening through elections
The centre of prosperity on the continent has clearly shifted to East Africa and Horn (Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti), but as evidence in the case of Ethiopia and Eritrea – and lately Tanzania – the broader region has become a bigger nightmare for journalists.
Southern Africa is witnessing both economic and political stagnation, and the state of rights equally has been largely frozen – not improving or declining significantly.
Some kind of trade-offs seem to be being made by governments. Where there is economic slowdown or slide, as in West Africa, governments are probably trying not to push restless populations over the cliff with repression. Free media becomes tactically necessary for political survival, providing a way for economically citizens to get a fix by venting.
Where there is growth, and a populist crackdown on corruption as in Tanzania, governments are coming down hard on media freedoms, because well, the people can eat bread. And satisfied citizens are more likely to turn a blind eye to muzzling of the free press and arrests of journalists.
In North Africa, it seems because Tunisia reformed more quickly than Egypt after the uprising, it returned faster to the rule of law. Therefore when the wave of terrorism swept the region dramatically, especially from the start of 2015 to mid-this year, the gates didn’t close. Egypt wasn’t as lucky.
Southern Africa is stuck in lethargy, collectively hobbled by a struggling South Africa, where the corruption and incompentence of the Jacob Zuma government saps the regional power’s energy; and in Zimbabwe the 92-year-old Robert Mugabe clings on stubbornly.
In some cheerful news for the region, Angola’s strongman President Jose Eduardo dos Santos recently announced that he would step down from office before the presidential election in August 2017.
Dos Santos has ruled Angola for 37 years, becoming Africa’s longest-serving leader in the process.
Next year could see a return to media and economic dynamism in southern Africa. But for Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, this was a year when journalists really needed to be at peace with their gods.