Editorial: Dictators silencing more journalists as US power recedes

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Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, on April 18, 2023. Gershkovich has been imprisioned by the Russian government for nearly 14 months.

The Associated Press File Photo

The Wall Street Journal

Friday was World Press Freedom Day and a grim reminder of how many voices have recently been silenced by the world’s authoritarian regimes. Our colleague Evan Gershkovich remains wrongfully imprisoned by Russia, where he is being held without a trial or even formal charges. He is one of far too many imprisoned journalists, and those numbers are growing.

Hong Kong newspaper owner Jimmy Lai remains in prison on accusations of endangering China’s national security. The charges against him, including sedition and colluding with foreign forces, are a farce, but Beijing is happy to hold out his high-profile detention as a warning to others who dare to speak for freedom. Hong Kong’s recent passage of a new national-security law known as Article 23 ensures that press freedom in the territory will continue to contract until it vanishes as in mainland China.

In China, journalist and women’s rights activist Huang Xueqin has spent more than two years in prison and could face 15 more after sentencing, according to the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK). China has the most jailed writers in the world, exceeding 100 for the first time, according to the Pen America Freedom to Write Index, released on May 1. Around the world there were 547 journalists in jail at the end of 2023, according to Reporters Without Borders.

In Iran, 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi has been jailed for her fight against the state’s oppression of women. In Burundi, reporter Sandra Muhoza is in custody and could face life in prison for comments on a WhatsApp group. Some of these names were projected on London’s Tower Bridge Thursday night and close to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., by the CFHK.

Authoritarian regimes lock up journalists to control what their citizens can read and see, and in some cases as leverage to trade with the West to get back spies or murderers. As American power has receded in the world, so has the West’s ability to protect journalists. That’s something American journalists might reflect on when they criticize their country for its imperfections. They’d be arrested elsewhere.

Rising numbers of arrests mean growing risks for reporters who continue the important work of finding and telling the truth. Evan Gershkovich was arrested for doing precisely that.