The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide shot up more than 20 percent to its highest level since the mid-1990s, an increase driven largely by widespread jailings across the Middle East and North Africa, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ identified 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1, an increase of 34 over its 2010 tally.

Iran was the world’s worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars, as authorities kept up a campaign of anti-press intimidation that began after the country’s disputed presidential election more than two years ago. Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria, and Turkey also ranked among the world’s worst. (Read detailed accounts of each imprisoned journalist.)

CPJ’s census found stark differences among regions. For the first time since CPJ began compiling annual prison surveys in 1990, not a single journalist in the Americas was in jail for work-related reasons on December 1. Imprisonments also continued a gradual decline in Europe and Central Asia, where only eight journalists were jailed, the lowest regional tally in six years. But those improvements were swamped by large-scale jailings across the Middle East and North Africa, where governments were holding 77 journalists behind bars, a figure that accounted for nearly 45 percent of the worldwide total. Asian and African nations also accounted for dozens of imprisonments.