Detentions of journalists increase in Latin America and the rest of the world, according to expert reports

Currently, at least 250 journalists worldwide have been detained in relation to their reporting work, according to recent reports by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and international nonprofit Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

In Latin America, CPJ reported that four journalists in Cuba (2), Panama (1) and Venezuela (1) have been jailed. In comparison, this organization did not record any imprisonments in the Latin American region in its 2015 statistics.

As of Dec. 1, 2016, 259 journalists have been detained worldwide, according to CPJ’s annual report of incarcerated journalists. This figure is the largest recorded by this organization since 1990, the year it began to record these kinds of statistics. The number breaks the record of 232 detentions of journalists in 2012, CPJ reported.

RSF, which recently released a similar report, said journalists detained worldwide in 2016 totaled 348.

In Cuba, Manuel Guerra Pérez, director of the news bulletin Cimarrón de Mayabeque, and editor of the same media, Lisbey Lora, were detained on Nov. 28 without charge, according to Diario de Cuba.

According to colleague Vladimir Turro Páez, an editor who collaborated at the media outlet, the journalists were arrested while looking for stories to publish in the bulletin.

Turro told CPJ that police searched the homes of both journalists and confiscated bulletin materials, a laptop and a printer that were used to produce the publication.

Guerra Pérez and Lora are detained in a cell without drinking water, Turro published in Cubanet.

El Cimarrón de Mayabeque is a free publication of independent journalism that consists of four pages. It reports on local news from the province of the same name and is sponsored by the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP for its acronym in Spanish), CPJ reported.

It recently reported in an editorial on restricted access to internet, low teacher salaries and on the international report known as the Panama Papers, CPJ said in its report.

In Panama, according to the CPJ report, Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein has been detained since Nov. 15. The journalist, who founded the blog Bananama Republic, was arrested upon arriving at the country’s international airport. It was related to a 2012 conviction against him, which sentenced him to 20 months in prison for criminal defamation.

Meanwhile, in Venezuela, Chilean-Venezuelan journalist Braulio Jatar Alonso has been detained for three months.

Jatar Alonso, an independent journalist who is critical of the government of President Nicolás Maduro and is director of the site Reporte Confidencial, was detained by agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) on Sept. 3, 2016 on Margarita Island. He was on his way to a local radio station in the city of Porlamar.

A day before his detention, the journalist had published a video on his site on a street protest against Maduro.

According to information collected by CPJ, Venezuelan authorities say they found Alonso in possession of US $43,000 and therefore accused him of money laundering.

His family and his lawyers have reported irregularities in the process that followed, as well as inhumane prison treatment that has “seriously” deteriorated his health.

Worldwide, both CPJ and RSF agree that the three countries that are most dangerous for the practice of journalism are Turkey, China and Egypt.

In RSF’s report, secretary general of the organization, Christophe Deloire, said “the persecution of journalists around the world is growing at a shocking rate.”

At the gateway to Europe, an all-out witch-hunt has jailed dozens of journalists and has turned Turkey into the world’s biggest prison for the media profession. In the space of a year, the Erdogan regime has crushed all media pluralism while the European Union has said virtually nothing,” he said.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon also expressed the view that journalists’ rights are protected under international law since they provide a service to society by collecting and disseminating information.

“It is shocking therefore that so many governments are violating their international commitments by jailing journalists and suppressing critical speech,” he added.

CPJ also indicated in its study that 20 percent of journalists jailed this year suffer from health problems.

Most of the imprisoned journalists in the world are accused of committing crimes against the State, CPJ concluded in its report. Since 2011, governments have used national security laws to silence the critical press, the political opposition, among others, the document noted.

For its part, on the dangers faced by journalists in the exercise of their profession, RSF reiterated the call for a “special representative for the safety of journalists” to be appointed under the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The organization stressed the urgency of journalists to carry out their work in a safe environment, and called for an end the impunity enjoyed by their aggressors.

These attacks have affected the right to information of millions of citizens, RSF said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.