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Press freedom groups use International Women's Day to highlight plight of jailed female journalists

About 30 female journalists are being held in “appalling prison conditions” worldwide, press freedom groups have highlighted on International Women’s Day today alongside a call for the UN to take action.

According to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres), 27 of the 334 journalists currently in jail around the world are women, equal to eight per cent – up from three per cent five years ago as more women join the news industry.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has said at least 33 of the 251 journalists in jail at the time of its 2018 prison census were women, although Turkey released Kurdish journalist Zehra Dogan two weeks ago.

RSF said that of the 27 women journalists being detained, seven each are in Iran and China – the two biggest jailers of journalists globally.

They are followed by Turkey, which continues to detain four women journalists. Three women are being held in Saudi Arabia, two in Vietnam and one each in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and Nicaragua, RSF said.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said the female journalists had been “deprived of their freedom because of what they wrote or because they spoke out courageously”.

He added: “They are spared nothing. They are often the victims of disproportionate and iniquitous sentences. They are subjected to the most appalling prison conditions, like their male colleagues, and they are sometimes also tortured and harassed sexually.

“We call for their immediate release and we urge the United Nations to take up these cases.”

Imprisoned female journalists in 2019. Picture: Reporters Without BordersCPJ found that several of the women journalists featured in its census have been abused in custody or subject to invasive strip searches.

“These journalists are jailed for their coverage of corruption, human rights, and politics,” the group said. “Some are detained for their work on equality – Saudi Arabia imprisoned four female journalists who are vocal on the kingdom’s ban on women driving.”

RSF shared examples of treatment faced by women journalists in prison, saying “physical torture is compounded by the threat of rape and sexual harassment”.

The group said that Egyptian photojournalist Shorouq Amjad Ahmed al Sayed, who was arrested in April last year, was beaten unconscious, insulted, and threatened with rape in order to force a confession.

RSF also raised concerns about Saudi citizen journalists and bloggers Eman al Nafjan and Nouf Abdulaziz Al Jerawi who were reportedly among several women activists tortured following arrest in spring last year. Some of them were also sexually harassed, forced to undress, and photographed naked.

Meanwhile female journalists detained in Iran are “constantly denied proper medical care” leading them to undertake dangerous hunger strikes, RSF said.

The campaign groups also highlighted inhumane prison conditions, life sentences used to silence women from speaking out against those in power, and women being tortured and “spared none of the worst forms of mistreatment”.

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