UN Secretary-General António Guterres is appalled by rising cases of attacks against journalists and media workers around the world, according to his office.
In a note to UN correspondents, Mr Guterres decried the number of “restrictions and attacks against journalists, who are only doing their jobs”.
Among the aggressors, according to him, are repressive governments using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to arrest, detain or restrict journalists’ freedom.
The UN chief was reacting to grim statistics from the 2020 report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an American nongovernmental organisation that defends the rights of journalists.
In the report released on Tuesday, CPJ said it found that as of December 1, a record of 274 journalists were in jail worldwide in relation to their work.
It said the 2020 figure exceeded the high of 272 recorded in 2016, and marks the “fifth consecutive year that repressive governments have imprisoned at least 250 journalists”.
CPJ said China, “which arrested several journalists for their coverage of the pandemic, was the world’s worst jailer for the second year in a row.”
It said Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia followed by trying journalists free on parole, arresting new ones and going to great lengths to detain those not convicted of any crime.
“Within the United States, no journalists were jailed at the time of CPJ’s prison census, but an unprecedented 110 journalists were arrested or criminally charged in 2020.
“Around 300 were assaulted, the majority by law enforcement, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
“At least 12 still facing criminal charges, some of which carry jail terms,” the non-profit said in a statement accompanying the report.
Mr Guterres lamented that many journalists have been subjected to harassment, acts of intimidation, sanctions, killings, and arbitrary detention.
“The Secretary-General calls again on governments to immediately release journalists who have been detained solely for exercising their profession.
“He reiterates his previous calls for concerted efforts to tackle widespread impunity for such crimes.
“In our day to day life, journalists and media workers are crucial to helping us make informed decisions.
“As the world fights the pandemic, we can see that those decisions are even more crucial and can make the difference between life and death,” the note read.