The UN’s international day to celebrate the press sheds light on journalists under attack.
Rabat – In honor of World Press Freedom Day, human rights organizations are calling for the immediate release of imprisoned journalists and bringing attention to the increase in censorship since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Journalism Without Fear or Favour.”
Today, the One Free Press Coalition used the opportunity to raise awareness of 10 journalists whose freedoms are at stake. The coalition published the names in their monthly “10 Most Urgent” list in an effort to bring attention to journalists who have been attacked for doing their jobs.
Arrested for covering COVID-19
Four of the 10 journalists on this month’s list were detained after reporting on issues related to COVID-19.
Darvinson Rojas, a freelance journalist in Venezuela, was reportedly tricked by agents who showed up at his home claiming to be conducting a COVID-19 test. The journalist was detained in March for 13 days for his reporting on the virus and charged under a controversial “Anti-Hate Law.”
Mahmoud al-Jaziri, a reporter in Bahrain, has been in prison for 15 years following charges of belonging to a terrorist group. He was moved to solitary confinement after telling the media about fears surrounding inmates’ protection against the novel coronavirus.
Elena Milashina, a journalist in Russia, is receiving serious threats after writing about quarantined Chechens, who had stopped reporting COVID-19 symptoms in fear that they would be labeled as terrorists.
Yayesew Shimelis published a report on social media that defied the narrative of the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. Shimelis was arrested and held beyond court orders until he was finally released on bail with a scheduled May 15 hearing. He is being charged for distributing disinformation and risks three years in jail.
Mir Shakil ur Rehman is the CEO of a media group that was criticizing the Pakistani government’s COVID-19 preparedness. Shakil ur Rehman was arrested on March 12. Although no charges have been filed against him, he was denied bail on April 7.
Crackdown on freedoms in Egypt
Solafa Magdy, an Egyptian freelance multimedia journalist, is also listed in One Free Press Coalition’s 10 most urgent cases. Magdy and her husband have been jailed since November 2019 and suffer from medical neglect.
Their arrest came during a period when Egyptian authorities raided several media outlets. Magdy reported the forced disappearances and arrests of multiple Egyptian journalists and researchers on Twitter. She has been charged with “membership of a banned group” and “spreading false news.”
Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, put the spotlight on Egypt after publishing a public statement titled “Egypt: Prisons are Now Journalists’ Newsrooms.”
The statement criticizes Egyptian authorities for their state control over the news narrative, heightened censorship, detention of journalists covering human rights-related topics and expressing personal views on social media, raiding and shutting down media platforms, as well as legalizing media crackdowns.
“Since 2016, the authorities in Egypt have subjected dozens of journalists and other media workers to a catalogue of violations just for doing their jobs or expressing their views. Dozens of journalists have been arbitrarily detained on spurious ‘terrorism’-related charges or had their workplaces raided,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The Egyptian authorities must end all forms of censorship, harassment and intimidation of journalists, and ease their stranglehold on the public’s access to information,” he underlined.
Keep the press free
Other journalists in the World Press Freedom Day’s top 10 urgent cases include Truong Duy Nhat (Vietnam), a blogger sentenced to 10 years behind bars under murky charges, and Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan), an award-winning journalist who received a life sentence for reporting on human rights violations.
The list also includes the group of four Yemeni journalists—Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed, and Tawfiq al Mansouri—detained five years ago and sentenced to death on charges of spreading false news.
The United Nations General Assembly declared World Press Freedom Day in 1993, marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press established by journalists in Africa in 1991.
The international day is meant to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, shed light on the need for a commitment to respect press freedom, assess and address threats to press freedom throughout the world, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives through their work.