“WHAT BREAKS my heart is to see how much he aged since being imprisoned. He used to be a man full of energy and vigor. Now, he is old, sickly, skinny, and there’s no way out of this situation for him.” So reported Khadicha Askarova, the wife of Kyrgyzstan journalist Azimjon Askarov, last year after visiting her 68-year-old husband in a jail where, we are sad to say, he still remains. It has been well established that Mr. Askarov is innocent of any crime. But he has spent nine years in prison after receiving a life sentence on trumped-up charges because of his truth-telling reporting on human rights violations.

Mr. Askarov’s case has been ranked as the most urgent by the One Free Press Coalition in advance of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday. But what is most striking and shameful is that Mr. Askarov is far from alone in a world where journalists’ freedoms have come under increasing assault. In 2019, at least 250 journalists were imprisoned, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and so far this year, six journalists have been killed and 64 are missing globally. The worst offenders are the authoritarian regimes in Turkey, Egypt and China.

Solafa Magdy, a freelance multimedia journalist in Egypt, has been jailed (along with her husband) on charges that include “spreading false news.” Four Yemeni journalists — Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansouri — have been sentenced to death on charges of spreading false news. Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger in Vietnam, has been sentenced to 10 years after a half-day trial on charges of “abusing his position and power while on duty.”

Some journalists — Elena Milashina in Russia; Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman in Pakistan; Yayesew Shimelis in Ethiopia — have been targeted for their reporting on covid-19. The pandemic not only underscores the vital role that journalists play in providing critical information to the public, but it gives real urgency to the need to free journalists who have been jailed for simply doing their jobs. Prisons and detention facilities have become hot spots for the deadly virus, and journalists such as Mr. Askarov, who was tortured and is in declining health, are at high risk.

“Freedom,” said Ms. Askarov, “is his main wish and goal. He lives for it.”

Read more: