By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism, according to a report released on Thursday.
There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt, where authorities have accused reporters of anti-governmental activities.
"It looks like a trend now," the report's author, Elana Beiser, said in an interview. "It looks like the new normal."
The number of journalists imprisoned on charges of "false news" rose to 28, up from 21 last year and nine in 2016, according to the CPJ, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes press freedom.
The report criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for frequently characterizing negative media coverage as "fake news," a phrase that is also used by leaders against their critics in countries like the Philippines and Turkey.
The study was published the same week that Time magazine named several journalists as its annual "Person of the Year."
That group included Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were imprisoned one year ago on Wednesday, and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two months ago.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty in September of violating Myanmar's Official Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. They had been investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys amid an army crackdown that has driven hundreds of thousands of refugees into Bangladesh.
Lawyers for the two Reuters reporters have lodged an appeal against their conviction and sentence.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said the jailing of the reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression. In comments made the week after their conviction, she said they were sentenced for handling official secrets and "were not jailed because they were journalists."
Turkey remains the world's worst offender against press freedom, the CPJ said, with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges. At least 25 journalists are in prison in Egypt.
Turkey has previously said its crackdown is justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016. Egypt has said its actions to limit dissent are directed at militants trying to undermine the state, which saw a popular uprising in 2011 topple the county's longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
China has previously said it is making progress on human rights and has pointed to its success at lifting millions out of poverty.
The countries' governments could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
The overall number of jailed journalists is down 8 percent from last year's record high of 272, the CPJ said.
The total does not take into account journalists who have disappeared or are being held by non-state actors. The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthi rebels in Yemen.
For a graphic on Journalists in jail, see - https://tmsnrt.rs/2QSuBls
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Frances Kerry)