By Leigh Hartman

In September, a court in Burma sentenced a television reporter to three years in prison and hard labor. In October, four journalists from Belarus’ now-banned BelaPAN news agency received lengthy prison terms, one as long as 14 years. And Russia’s authorities recently detained 18 journalists covering two nights of protests against President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.

Authoritarian governments “are determined to control and manage information, and they are increasingly brazen in their efforts to do so,” Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon said in December 2021, noting an increasing number of journalists behind bars. “Imprisoning journalists for reporting the news is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”

So far in 2022, 216 journalists and media workers have been imprisoned, according to rights groups. This follows the jailing of 294 journalists in 2021, the sixth consecutive record high. Reporters Without Borders lists Belarus, Burma, China, Iran, Russia and Syria among the worst offenders for jailing journalists in 2022.

Today, at least 526 journalists currently remain behind bars.

Journalists recently sentenced to prison or detained for their reporting include:

Htet Htet Khine was sentenced in Burma to three years in prison with hard labor. Her lawyer has called the case against the freelance and former BBC journalist politically motivated and “filed without any evidence.”

Authorities of Burma’s military regime arrested Khine in August 2021, six months after seizing power in a February 2021 coup that prompted widespread protests. Khine is one of more than 120 journalists arrested in Burma in the year following the coup.

BelaPAN news agency journalists received yearslong prison terms October 6. The sentences handed down to Andrey Alyaksandrau, Iryna Zlobina, Dzmitry Navazhylau and Iryna Leushyna continue the Lukashenka regime’s full-scale crackdown against pro-democracy activists, independent media and ordinary Belarusians that commenced following the nationwide mass protests against the fraudulent presidential election August 9, 2020.

18 journalists covering protests in Russia were detained September 21–22 as authorities cracked down on demonstrations against Putin’s announced partial mobilization to perpetuate his war against Ukraine. Since Putin came to power, the Kremlin has arrested hundreds of journalists, including 19 currently imprisoned, forced hundreds more to flee the country, and labeled over 180 media outlets or reporters “foreign agents,” subjecting them to harassment and fines.

Supporting independent news

The United States funds Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia to provide independent news in countries where a free press is threatened. It also works to protect journalists around the world, with efforts including:

  • $30 million to the International Fund for Public Interest Media for under-resourced outlets or those operating in unstable settings.
  • $5 million to improve the financial viability of independent media outlets.
  • Up to $9 million for the global Defamation Defense Fund for Journalists for liability coverage for journalists targeted with unjust litigation.
  • Up to $3.5 million for a new Journalism Protection Platform to provide physical and digital security training to at-risk media professionals and assistance for journalists under pressure.

“The United States commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, is unwavering, and it’s unwavering because it’s the bedrock of a healthy democracy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a freedom of expression roundtable on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly September 19.

Banner image: Journalists have been imprisoned after covering public opposition to authoritarian regimes. In Minsk, Belarus, police corral protesters at a September 2020 rally against the Lukashenka regime. (© Misha Friedman/AP Images)