Guatemala, Ecuador and Venezuela in CPJ's annual census of journalists imprisoned around the world

Three Latin American journalists appear on the Committee to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) annual census of journalists imprisoned around the world. Guatemalan Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, Ecuadoran Enrique Rosales Ortega and Venezuelan Braulio Jatar are three of the 262 journalists imprisoned around the world, according to the census, which was published Dec. 13.

According to CPJ, which has published this survey since 1990, for the second consecutive year, the number of journalists arrested for doing their job has reached a record high. In 2016, the organization counted 259 professionals arrested during this same time period.

Of the 262 names on the 2017 list, 134 (or 51 percent) are behind bars in Turkey, China and Egypt. The other 128 are spread across 35 countries, with Eritrea (15), Azerbaijan (10) and Vietnam (10) also highlighted for the high number of imprisoned journalists. For the first time in at least 12 months, Guatemala and Ecuador appear on CPJ’s list.

According to the organization, Guatemalan Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales, who works at the site Prensa Comunitaria, has been jailed since Nov. 11 on charges of incitement to crime, threats and illegal detention for his alleged participation in a protest of fishermen against a mining company in the department of Izabal, in eastern Guatemala, in May.

His colleagues say he only covered the protest and was properly identified as a journalist at the time. One of his colleagues told CPJ that Morales had been threatened by the mining company and local authorities since the beginning of 2017 due to his coverage of the protests of the fishermen, who accuse the company of environmental damage in the Izabal Lake region.

Since Nov. 30, Ecuadoran journalist Enrique Rosales Ortega, who writes an opinion column in El Universo, has served a two-year prison sentence for defamation. He was convicted in a lawsuit filed by former congress woman Vanessa Fajardo, of the governing Alliance PAIS, after accusing her of influence peddling during a July 2015 radio show, Ecuador Noticias reported on the occasion.

Venezuela is again included on the CPJ census, with the case of journalist Braulio Jatar. He has been incarcerated since September 2016 on a charge of money laundering, but his family and his lawyer claim he is a political prisoner, a target of retaliation from the government of Nicolás Maduro. He was arrested a day after he published a video of a protest against the Venezuelan president on the site of the media outlet he directs, Reporte Confidencial. Jatar was finally placed under house arrest after nine months in jail.

"In a just society, no journalist should ever be imprisoned for their work and reporting critically, but 262 are paying that price," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, according to the organization’s press release. "It is shameful that for the second year in a row, a record number of journalists are behind bars. Countries that jail journalists for what they publish are violating international law and must be held accountable. The fact that repressive governments are not paying a price for throwing journalists in jail represents a failure of the international community."

CPJ considers journalists to be "people who cover the news or comment on public affairs in media, including print, photographs, radio, television, and online," and said that it only includes on its list the names of those who it was able to confirm were arrested in connection with their work. Click here to access the CPJ database with all 262 journalists imprisoned at the end of 2017.

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.