North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Belarus make an appearance in the list of countries the organisation says are cracking down on press freedoms.
Eritrea has topped a new list of the 10 most censored countries in the world, as authorities around the globe increasingly use surveillance technology and internet restrictions to clamp down on the press, says a new report.
Published on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ report examined government attacks on journalists and other press workers in the 10 most censored countries.
The CPJ report’s evaluations were based on restrictions on private or independent media, laws prohibiting defamation or spreading fake news, surveillance of reporters, blocking foreign press, and blocking websites, among other factors.
“Repressive governments use sophisticated digital censorship and surveillance alongside more traditional methods to silence independent media,” the report noted.
In Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan—the top three most censorious countries, respectively—government control of media has eliminated most independent journalism, save for reporting conducted outside the countries’ borders.
The list is rounded off with seven other countries: Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Belarus, and Cuba.
According to the report, in Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan—the top three most censored countries, according to the list—media outlets serve as a “mouthpiece of the state” and “any independent journalism is conducted from exile”.
“The few foreign journalists permitted to enter are closely monitored,” the report adds.
In Eritrea, where independent media was shut down since 2001, many journalists have been jailed and several newspapers have been shuttered by the government. At least 16 journalists were imprisoned as of December 2018.
“We know so little about what takes place in these three countries because they have total control on information,” Elana Beiser, the editorial director at CPJ, told TRT World. “Nothing gets in for their populace, and nothing gets out either.”
Whereas North Korea allows “extremely limited access” for foreign reporters, Eritrea topped the list because it “doesn’t allow any kind of bureau” and “there are extremely rare chances for foreign journalists to go in,” Beiser added.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has ruled the country since 1993, when the country’s War of Independence concluded.
In North Korea, ruled by Kim Jong Un since his 2011 takeover after his father died, the majority of news derives from the Korean Central News Agency, described by CPJ as a “highly restricted” state-run outlet.
North Korean courts have sentenced South Korean journalists to death in absentia over their reporting on the country’s affairs, the CPJ report adds.
Surveillance and legal crackdowns
In Saudi Arabia, authorities, under the rule of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have used anti-terror and cybercrime laws to crackdown on critical reporters, the report continues.
During the first half of 2019, Saudi authorities arrested at least nine journalists, adding to the 16 already behind bars as of December 2018, says CPJ.
“The trend of arrests seems to be continuing if not accelerating,” adding that “these cybersecurity laws are a very convenient excuse for repressive authorities. It’s a very convenient way to lock people up who they don’t’ want to hear questions from.”
Saudi Arabia’s repression of journalists and independent media hit the world spotlight in October 2018, when a government-sent hit squad killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
One of the world’s leading jailers of media workers, China deploys “the world’s most extensive and sophisticated censorship apparatus” to silence critical reporting, CPJ says.
Vietnam and Iran regularly imprison media workers, while Equatorial Guinea, Belarus and Cuba tightly restrict media outlets.
In many cases, the technology used for enforcing censorship comes from western countries, a fact that CPJ’s Beiser describes as a “disturbing trend”.
“Technology is meant to help countries go after legit criminals and terrorists, but it’s got plenty of scopes for being abused,” she added.
“It’s easy for people to dismiss censorship halfway across the world, but that’s not really the case,” Beiser said, adding that information needs to “move across borders, too”.
Although the new CPJ report focuses solely on censorship, rights groups and press freedom watchdogs have time and again sounded the alarm on other countries not included on this list for cracking down on media workers.
In many other countries- such as Syria, where armed conflict has gripped the country since 2011- other factors have painted a grim picture for reporters.
So far this year, Reporters Without Borders has documented the killings 28 reporters, six citizen journalists and two media assistants.
Among those press workers imprisoned around the globe are 235 journalists, 138 citizen journalists and 17 media assistants.